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Independent Work & Theses

Welcome to the Computer Science Independent Work webpage.

The goal of undergraduate research and independent work in Computer Science is to serve as an independent or synthesizing experience in which undergraduates work on significant research or design projects.  Given the broad diversity of intellectual problems in Computer Science, and equally broad possibilities regarding future career trajectories, the style of project can vary from theoretical to systems or applications-oriented with output ranging from scholarly publications to working software or hardware.  

For BSE students majoring in CS, independent work (IW) can either be taken as 1 semester or 2 semester course, or as a 2 semester thesis option if preferred.  For AB students majoring in CS, independent work consists of 4 semesters of work in their junior and senior years.  

New: The COS department will begin offering Independent Work Seminars starting this fall.  The idea is to allow students and a faculty adviser with shared interests to meet as a group and work on related projects.  All students who plan to do independent work for the first time in the fall should sign up for an IW seminar.  If you have already done a previous semester of independent work or want to work on a project outside the scope of the topics offered in any of the IW seminars, then you can make arrangements with a Princeton faculty to advise you one-on-one.   For information about the seminars offered this semester, see Independent Work Seminar Offerings - Fall 2015.

Do This Now


IW Posters - Adam

Professor Adam Finkelstein reviews a poster presentation.

The independent work coordinators (IWCs) are Professor Thomas Funkhouser and Dr. Alan Kaplan. The IW coordinator(s) are responsible for overseeing the mechanics of the IW, providing high-level feedback on proposals, posters, etc. The IW coordinators also determine the final grade with input from your advisor and other members of the faculty. Only the IWCs can approve any changes to deadlines, etc., so please do not ask anyone else to grant extensions or allow you to skip required components of the IW. Your research advisor is the person with whom you will most closely work over the course of your research. It is up to you to find your own advisor and mutually agree on a research topic. It is your job to meet all the deadlines for the course -- your research advisor may not even be aware of them. Do not ask your research advisor to grant extensions for the course -- even if they agree, it will not be honored by the IWC.

Colleen Kenny-McGinley, the undergrad coordinator (UGC) serves as the administrative contact for the course, collects forms, and handles many of the logistics. 

To contact the IWC and UGC, please use the address .



Frequently Asked Questions: 

I have a great independent work idea that will make me rich and famous. Does the university own it?


According to the University's rules, you own the copyright in the software you write (and your research papers and works), except in circumstances that rarely apply to undergraduates, such as support by federal research grants. Having said that, it is uncommon for "independent work" to be completely independent -- students are advised by a faculty advisor and that advice often helps shape the products developed.  Moreover, the faculty advisor is an employee of Princeton and has different IP obligations to the university than the student.  I think the bottom line is that as far as we know, the university has never claimed ownership of any independent work done by undergrads.  Having said that, this page is an informal guide.  It is not a legal document, is not written by someone who is a lawyer or knows copyright or patent law, and cannot be taken as official university policy.  It should certainly not be taken as sound legal advice.

Can I continue my summer project at Yagoosoft Corp as independent work?


We strongly discourage undergraduates from undertaking independent work that is subject to confidentiality agreements with third parties or other similar restrictions, because it may violate University policy and it might limit the scope or nature of your future research at Princeton and elsewhere. Before entering into any such agreement, you must get an opinion about the intellectual property issues from the General Counsel's office and the Office of Technology Licensing.

I am an AB COS major. Can I use QCB 301 to satisfy the fall semester of my COS JIW?


The project component of QCB 301 can count as one semester of junior independent work for ABs provided that the QCB project has a substantial computational component. In addition to the requirements of QCB 301, you must officially inform the COS independent work coordinator that you are using QCB 301 as part of your COS independent work and you must fill out all the required IW forms, do the COS checkpoints, proposal presentations, and poster presentations required for normal independent work. You must also submit your final QCB write-up as part of your JIW and highlight the parts of the QCB write-up that clearly describe the computational content of your project.

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