Graduate Project Frequently Asked Questions

What is the MSIN/MSISTM/MSIT-IS Project?

The MSIN/MSISTM/MSIT-IS Project is a capstone research experience that culminates your time as an INI student. It should be an original contribution in an interesting and relevant area of information networking or information security interpreted in the broad sense.

Please read the following guidelines carefully and completely as they will provide answers to all your questions regarding format and submission of your project proposal and the procedures for initiating, preparing and completing your project.

Information on the proper preparation of the final technical report or thesis are in the Guideline documents on the Graduate Project webpage. Keep this information available and refer to it first before seeking additional help.

What is the standard research timetable?

You should decide who your advisor and reader will be by the end of March in your first year. Proposals are due two weeks before the last day of spring seminar. Students wishing to extend this deadline must submit a petition clearly stating the reasons an extension is needed and providing an alternative deadline within two months of the original deadline. Students using their summer internship as a basis for their research must submit a proposal prior to or within one month of the start of the internship.

Internships in which proprietary information cannot be disclosed or published do not qualify as a research project due to the publication requirements stipulated in the project guidelines.

The project defense must be completed one week before the last day of class in the defending semester, and the final technical report or thesis must be submitted 10 days before the final grades deadline for graduating students. The expectation is that all INI students will do the bulk of their research between May and August, leaving the second fall semester to complete any remaining course and project requirements.

How do I choose a topic for research?

As noted above, the project should be in an area of research that is interesting and relevant to information networking or information security - depending on your program of study. It should also be an area where there is work that remains to be done; there should be some clearly-defined new knowledge to discover or some new techniques to be developed.

There also should be some way of quantitatively measuring your work's success. Therefore, you should choose a topic that is significant but not impossible! You also need to choose a topic that is interesting to both you and your advisor. Finally, and most importantly, you should choose a topic that you will have fun working on.

How do I find an advisor?

A good place to get ideas about potential advisors is from the websites of the ECE and CS departments, Tepper and the Heinz College. Advisors from the EPP department, the SEI, Robotics Institute and many other corners of the university also have served as advisors over the years. Also, students may use internship supervisors as external advisors. If you are completing an industry practicum, you do not have to obtain a reader, but rather you must have an internal CMU advisor to submit your final grades.

You will need one primary project advisor and one additional person to serve as a reader for your project. The eligibility requirements of people to serve as advisors are loosely drawn to allow students flexibility in their choice. CMU faculty, including research faculty, from any department may serve as advisors. On-campus pre-doctoral students generally are not permitted to serve as either advisors or readers. The INI Director has the final say on advisor eligibility in borderline cases (such as staff members with doctorates). If students are considering a staff member with a doctorate or a Ph.D. student as their reader, they must file a petition requesting permission.

Keep in mind that your project advisor(s), industry supervisor(s) and/or reader are required to be present at your defense and must be available to sign off on your technical report or thesis. This is a requirement without exception. Certification of your degree will be delayed by the absence of your advisor or reader.

How do I start a relationship with my advisor?

You should regard your first contacts with a potential advisor as a mutual courtship. You can be of great help to a potential advisor by doing good work on projects that are of interest to him or her. However, your advisor will also need to spend some time and effort in training you and bringing you up to speed on his or her research topics and operating environment. Just as you are evaluating potential advisors, they will be evaluating you. Prepare yourself for your initial meeting by learning a bit about the research of a potential advisor by looking over the information on his or her website.

You should also try to learn something about your advisor from other students who have worked with him or her. Your advisor, industry supervisor and/or reader should help monitor and guide your research progress, so choosing someone who is hard to reach can delay completion of your project and affect your graduation. It is your job to educate them on the INI timeline you must meet in order to graduate on time.

You and your advisor, industry supervisor,and/or reader should stay within the timeline created in your proposal as closely as possible. Ultimately, you are responsible for the timely completion of your project. If you are experiencing difficulties communicating with them, you should inform the INI Enrollment Services Office as soon as you become aware that there is a potential problem.

Once you and an advisor agree to work together, make sure that you and he or she have a clear idea (and the same idea!) of what you will be doing, what the scope of the project is, how you will evaluate the success of the work that was done and what your “deliverables” are. You should also have shared expectations on a likely timetable for completion. Nevertheless, you should expect that some of the specifics of your project will have to be worked out as time progresses.

What should the project proposal contain?

You should think of the project proposal as a contract between you, your advisor, your industry supervisor and/or reader and the INI Graduate Programs Office. The project proposal does not need to be very long - three to six pages is typical.

The project proposal should be in the following form:

1. Introduction and background
This section sets the stage for motivating the work you will do. Outline what has already been done in the field of interest, and in particular, describe the limitations or shortcomings of the current state of the art that your work will address or improve.

2. What you will do
State here as specifically as you can what you will do for your project work and how it differs from what has already been done before by the rest of the world.

3. Evaluation of your work
Address two important issues here: (1) how you will know when your work is completed, and (2) how you will evaluate how well you have done. While you may work on a wide variety of topics, no proposal or project will be accepted unless it includes a viable form of evaluation.

4. Deliverables
State here what artifacts you will leave behind. Minimally, this will form the basis of the MSIN/MSISTM/MSIT-IS technical report, which ultimately could contain code, a hardware prototype, a working demonstration system, etc. In the proposal, however, merely mention these "artifacts".

5. Expected timetable
Include here the major milestones in the project and the expected completion date.

Submit a hard copy of the project proposal to the INI Enrollment Services Office signed and dated along with the appropriate signature page with original signatures by you, your project team members (if any), and your project advisor(s), academic advisor, industry supervisor(s) and/or reader. The proposal should be submitted two weeks before the last day of Spring seminar. Faxed copies will not be accepted.

What do I need to do for my project presentation?

You must give an oral defense of your project research findings/results in a public presentation once all project work is complete. Your project advisor(s), academic advisor, industry supervisor(s) and/or reader must attend and an announcement must be published to the university community. Use the Project Presentation Services Request Form to notify the INI Enrollment Services Office of your intention to defend your project work. Follow the procedures indicated on the form. Lead-time for requesting a presentation date is two weeks. If you do not give two-weeks notice, we cannot guarantee your requested presentation date and location.

The oral defense must be at least 45 minutes long and summarize your work and its major contributions. Following your talk, you will answer questions by your project advisor(s), academic advisor, industry supervisor(s) and/or reader and the rest of the present audience.

Please refere to the appropriate guidelines for your project.