Computer Science 3rd Year Project
Whilst Computer Science students don’t have to write a dissertation as such, they do have to complete a 3rd year project and submit a final report.
In case you weren’t aware, the 3rd year project is a big project worth 30 CATS which everyone needs to do. You pick your project at the end of 2nd year and work on it throughout terms 1 and 2 of 3rd year. During the project, you need to submit a specification (detailing what your project is), a progress report (explaining what you achieved during term 1), and a final report (outlining your project, what you’ve achieved, any problems you had to overcome and where your project could go in the future). You also have to do a presentation about your project to show what you’ve done (and, if you made something, how it works) to your supervisor and a second assessor.
This may sound like a lot but it is achievable!
I’m now going to go through stages of the project and give my tips for how to do well. These are, of course, subjective and you should do your project in a way that makes sense and works for you. But these tips either helped me a lot or would have if I had actually implemented them (thanks hindsight!).
Stage 1 – Choosing Your Project
Choosing your project can be one of the hardest things to do. You ideally want to pick a project that interests you, but working out what that might be can be tough!
The first thing I suggest you do is to look at the project suggestions from different potential supervisors. You can look at ideas from supervisors with similar interests to you, or just look randomly. Either way, reading project suggestions can help you to understand what makes up a good project idea and guide you towards what you might want to do. If you’re still struggling, think about the modules you’ve already done and which topics interested you the most and start exploring from there.
Once you’ve got an idea of what you’d like to do (whether that’s a project suggestion or an idea of your own), talk to some supervisors and discuss your ideas to see where they could go. The most important thing to keep in mind at this point is to pick a project that interests you (seriously, you’re working on it for at least 6 months) and a supervisor who knows the field and that you think you could get along with. Also, don’t be afraid to start broad – my project title started as “Creative approaches to CS education” and I narrowed that down to creating an app to teach Internet Safety.
Stage 2 – Summer
Summer is a time for relaxing and you may have things planned such as internships or travelling. But this time can also be really useful for your project.
I am in no way suggesting that you start working on your project as soon as 2nd year ends. Not at all. Take a break and relax!
But, if you have some time free, I recommend doing some light reading around the topics relating to your project. This doesn’t have to be in-depth with loads of notes – just get a feel for the research out their and the work that’s going on in related fields. I did some reading over the summer between 2nd and 3rd year and only 1 of the papers I read ended up in my project, but the ideas I read about guided my thinking and the direction of my project.
Stage 3 – The Actual Work
Most of your project work will be completed over terms 1 and 2 of 3rd year. What you actually do highly depends on your project but I can give a few tips for managing your workload:
- Start straight away! The deadlines may seem like a long way away, but that time quickly disappears, especially with everything else you have to do (other modules, job applications, societies, life in general…)
- Keep a diary of everything you do! Honestly, this was probably the most useful thing I did during the project. It not only allowed me to check what I had done and what was left to do whilst working on the project, it made up a bulk of my final report as well! And don’t just include an outline of what you did – write about challenges you faced and how you overcame them (including everything you tried first that didn’t work).
- Set mini-deadlines for yourself along the way! With deadlines being so spread out, it can be difficult to find the motivation to work on the project sometimes. But this can cause BIG problems later on. I found that setting targets along the way was really helpful for staying on track. These deadlines are particularly useful if you tell someone else what they are so that they can hold you accountable (your supervisor is great for this!)
- If you require ethical approval, get this done as soon as possible! It can take a while to fill out all of the paperwork and then to hear back from the Committee, so the sooner you submit it, the sooner you can do whatever you needed approval for.
- Do some work over Christmas – whilst you should definitely take a break over the holidays, getting in some work is quite important so you don’t fall behind. Don’t work too hard, but keep the project ticking over, rather than letting it stall until January.
Stage 4 – Writing the Final Report
Probably the scariest part of the project is writing the final report. It’s worth a lot and is a big piece of writing to tackle. My first suggestion is to take a deep breath and not get too stressed. If you tackle the report logically, you should be fine! I started by creating a skeleton outline of what my report would look like and what content I wanted to include. Then, it was just a case of fleshing out each section with the information and analysis required.
Stage 5 – submit
And that’s the end of the project. Submitting the final report feels a bit weird because something you’ve been working on for so long is suddenly over – but it feels good to look back and see what you have managed to achieve!
The only thing left to say is … Good Luck!
Cover photo by Firmbee.com on Unsplash