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Important Steps and Deadlines

Fall 2019 Single Semester Projects Schedule

Aug. 30, 2019 Deadline to Select an IW Seminar or Adviser

Sept. 12, 2019

Attend the "Getting Started" Information Meeting 4:30p.m.

Maeder Hall auditorium - Adlinger Center 

Building: Maeder Hall

Floor: Maeder Hall, Garden Level

Room: Maeder Hall, Garden Level, Auditorium- 002


AB JIW Project Funding Information

Oct. 2, 2019 Submit a Written Project Proposal
TBD BSE Funding Deadline 
Oct. 20, 2019 Submit the Checkpoint Form, by 11:59p.m.
Nov. 11, 2019 Attend "How to Give an IW Talk"  4:30p.m. in CS 105
Nov. 18-22 Sign Up to Give an Oral Presentation
Dec. 3, 2019 Attend "How to Write an IW Paper" 4:30p.m. in CS 105
Dec. 8, 2019 Submit Slides for an Oral Presentation, by 11:59p.m.
Dec. 9-13, 2019 Give an IW Oral Presentation
Jan. 7, 2020 Submit a Written Final Report, by 11:59p.m.


Spring 2020 Single Semeseter Projects Schedule

Feb. 7, 2020

Attend the "Getting Started" Information Meeting 4:30p.m. in CS 105

TBD BSE Funding Deadline 
Feb. 23, 2020 Submit a Written Project Proposal, by 11:59p.m.
March 8, 2020 Submit the Checkpoint Form, by 11:59p.m.

March 31, 2020

Attend "How to Give an IW Talk"  4:30p.m. in CS 105

April 14, 2020

Attend "How to Write an IW Paper"  4:30p.m. in CS 105

April 19, 2020 Submit Slides for an Oral Presentation, by 11:59p.m.
TBD Give an IW Oral Presentation
May 1, 2020 Submit a Written Final Report, by 11:59p.m.


2019-20 Two Semester/ Thesis Projects Schedule

Aug. 30, 2019 Deadline to Select a Thesis/ One-on-One Adviser

Sept. 12, 2019

Attend the "Getting Started" Information Meeting 4:30p.m.

Maeder Hall auditorium - Adlinger Center 

Building: Maeder Hall

Floor: Maeder Hall, Garden Level

Room: Maeder Hall, Garden Level, Auditorium- 002


AB JIW Project Funding Information

Oct. 2, 2019 Submit a Written Project Proposal
TBD BSE Funding Deadline 
Oct. 20, 2019 Submit the Checkpoint Form
Dec. 3, 2019 Attend "How to Write an IW Paper" 4:30p.m. in CS 104
Feb. 3, 2020 Select a second reader, by 11:59p.m.
Feb. 10, 2020 Submit a Draft Paper by 11:59p.m.
March 30 - April 3, 2020  Sign up to give an In-Person Oral Presentation

March 31, 2020

Attend "How to Give an IW Talk"  4:30p.m. in CS 105

April 6, 2020 Submit a Written Final Report by 11:59p.m.
April 19, 2020 Submit Slides for Oral Presentation, by 11:59p.m.
April 20-24, 2020 Give an In-Person Oral Presentation

Selecting an IW Seminar or Advisor

The Computer Science Department offers two styles of independent work advising: seminar and individual. The IW seminars allow students and a faculty advisor with shared interests to meet weekly as a group.  Students doing individual IW projects work on their own and schedule meetings with their advisors independently.  All students except AB seniors are eligible to satisfy their IW requirements with either advising style.  AB and BSE theses must be advised individually.

Most students who plan to do independent work for the first time should sign up for an IW seminar. Specifically, this includes all AB juniors and all BSE students signed up for COS 397/8 or 497/8 for the first time.  Though the seminars will be targeted at first-time independent work students, they are open to any COS major who is not working on a senior thesis. The content of the IW seminars will include not only independent work on a project, but also guidance about how to choose projects, evaluate progress, design experiments, collaborate with others, make presentations, and other project management skills.  These skills are essential for becoming an effective researcher, and provide great training for working in a company or startup.  Thus, the IW seminars are perfectly suited for students doing independent work for the first time.  A list of IW seminars for the upcoming semester with titles and abstracts is provided to help you choose amongst the IW seminars.  The instructors and topics may change every semester. 

If you already have done a previous semester of independent work, or if 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 individually.  To do so, contact the faculty that you would like to work with to discuss potential project ideas well before the semester starts (and certainly before the IW Sign Up deadline).  Initial inquiries are probably best by email, with in-person meetings to discuss possible project topics as a follow up. A list of Independent Research Projects and Faculty is provided to help you choose advisors to contact.  Faculty will be updating this web page with new research ideas all the time. Also check out web pages and research project pages for faculty whom you know or have taken their class.  Please note that any Princeton faculty can be the advisor for your COS independent work, as long as there is a significant computer science component to your project (check with the IW Coordinators if you are not sure).  In fact, many students have done inter-disciplinary projects in the past, often advised by faculty in another department or co-advised with a COS faculty. Note that the list linked above includes non-CS faculty who have done research with CS students in the past or are looking to do interdisciplinary projects with CS students in the future.  If you are selecting an advisor who has not advised COS projects before, it is a good idea to also have a COS department co-advisor.

How to Submit: Once you have selected IW seminars or found an individual project and advisor, you must indicate your selections by filling out the IW Sign Up form.  The form asks you to choose one of the following options:

  • I will be in an independent work seminar next semester
       (the usual choice for first-time IW students)
  • I will be doing one-on-one research with a professor next semester
       (the usual choice for senior BSE students with previous IW experience)
  • I will be doing a senior thesis this year
       (the usual choice for senior AB students, plus some senior BSEs)
  • I will not be doing any form of independent work next semester

If you select the first option (I will be in an independent work seminar), then you will be asked to indicate which seminar(s) you would like to take in the "Independent Work Seminar" section of the IW Sign Up form.  The form will ask you to enter your ranked preferences for every seminar (like you did for the writing seminars during your first year) and optionally provide a paragraph of text describing your interests in independent work.  Then, we will use that information to match you to a seminar, doing the best we can to assign you to your top choice.  However, the demand for some seminars exceeds their capacity, so you may be assigned to another of your priorities. You will be notified of your assignment before the semester starts.

If you select the second or third option (you will be advised individually), then you should fill out the "Independent Work as an Individual" section of the IW Sign Up form. You will have to provide the name of the faculty who has agreed to advise you with a tentative title and 100-200 word description of your planned project.  Please work closely with your faculty advisor before the IW Sign Up form deadline to work out as detailed a project plan as possible.

You can revisit the IW Sign Up form as many times as you like to adjust your selections.  If you do not fill out the form before the deadline, then you will be assigned an IW seminar or individual advisor at our discretion.

Information Sessions

During the first few days of the semester, we will have a meeting to explain the key requirements, review the schedule for the semester, and provide information about the seminars. Attendance is mandatory for all students starting IW that semester. Here are slides from the most recent meeting.

During the second half of the semester, there will also be meetings to provide students with information and guidelines about "how to give an IW talk" and "how to write an IW paper."   These sessions will provide critical information about what content to include and what formatting to use for your work. They are mandatory for all students doing IW for the first time.  

The McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning 

Written Project Proposal

Three or four weeks into the semester, you must submit a 1-2 page written proposal describing your intended project plan.   The written proposal should have the following sections:

  • Title. Include your name, class, project title, and advisor.
  • Motivation and Goal. Give a high-level introduction to your topic area and state specifically what problem you will be addressing.  You should clearly state the goal of your project with a sentence beginning “The goal of my project is …”. Explain why that goal is important and/or interesting, perhaps with a description of applications or people enabled by achieving it.
  • Problem Background and Related Work. Place your project in context of prior work.  Give some background of what has been done before to achieve your stated goal. Include citations to closely related academic papers and/or list commercial products targeted at the same goal.  Finish this section with a brief explanation of the problem unsolved by previous work that will be addressed by your project.
  • Approach. Provide a concise description of the key idea underlying your approach to achieving the stated goal.  Provide an argument of why your approach is a good idea – i.e., why it can achieve the stated goal where others have not.
  • Plan. Describe the steps you plan to take and/or the issues you plan to address during the execution of your project.  What data sets will you have to acquire?  What algorithms will you have to develop?  What theorems will you have to prove?  etc.  For the steps that are non-trivial, provide a brief description of the issue, options, and planned approach.    Please indicate any particularly risky aspects of the project and discuss contingencies in case they do not go as planned.
  • Evaluation. Describe the methodology you plan to use to evaluate how well your project has achieved the stated goal.  Be specific.  What data will you use?  What test will you run?  What quantitative metric will you use to measure success?  etc.  This is a very important and often over-looked aspect of a project plan – please think about it before finalizing your project selection.

How to Submit:

  • Create a PDF file named "written_project_proposal.pdf"
  • Submit the PDF file via the IW PORTAL, use the submit link for "Written Proposal".
  • Email the PDF file to your advisor

Checkpoint Form

By the Monday of midterms week, you and your advisor must fill out a checkpoint form. The purpose of the form is to make sure that you are making good progress on your project. It serves as a checkpoint to provide feedback to you and to the department about whether you are making consistent progress, whether you should meet with your advisor more often, and/or whether there are any potential roadblocks to completing the proposed project.

Preparing the checkpoint document is not supposed to be difficult or take much of your time. All you must do is write a brief description of what you have accomplished so far and what remains to be done. The checkpoint form is divided into three parts:

  1. Progress to date: Mention any ideas you have had, software you have built, related research you have evaluated and papers or textbooks you have read.
  2. Current difficulties: If you are having difficulty making progress on your project due to some obstacle, explain the obstacle and a plan for overcoming the problem.
  3. Next steps: Detail how you anticipate proceeding for the rest of the term.

As a guideline, you should be meeting approximately weekly with your advisor and updating him/her on your progress. Of course, this will happen naturally if you are in an IW seminar.  If you are not, setting up a schedule to meet your advisor every week at the same time is highly recommended.  Failure to meet with your advisor will almost certainly cause you to get behind schedule and could even cause you to fail the course if you do not make enough week-by-week progress. As a rule of thumb, try to allocate 10-15 hours of time per week for progress on your independent work project.


How to Submit:

  • Complete the midsemester checkpoint form via the iw portal well in advance of the deadline.  
  • Your advisor will receive an email notifying them that you have submitted the form with a link for their feedback,
  • Your advisor will review your checkpoint form and add their feedback/comments by March 27, 2019.

Oral Presentation

During the last week of the semester, you must submit a recorded IW talk describing your project. Your presentation should have a visual of your slides only, with audio of your oral presentation recorded over the slides.

Slides: You can make your oral presentation slides in any presentation tool (e.g., Keynote or PowerPoint), as long as it can export to PDF. Although there are many ways to organize your presentation and slides, we strongly recommend that yours adhere to the following outline:

  • Title slide: Include your name, class, project title, and advisor.
  • Motivation and Goal: Introduce your topic area and state specifically what problem you will be addressing. You should clearly state the goal of your project (i.e., “The goal of my project is …”). Explain why that goal is important and/or interesting. What people and/or applications would benefit? Give some examples of the problem being addressed to help make it easier to understand.
  • Problem Background and Related Work: You probably are not the first person to work towards this goal, nor will you be the last. Give some background of what has been done before. Have academics already written papers on this topic? Are there already products on the market? Why do they not solve the problem? What aspects of the problem are still uninvestigated? It is always the case that someone has done something that can be related to what you are going to do. Find out the most closely related pieces of work and explain the relationship to your proposed project.
  • Approach: Clearly explain the key idea behind the approach you are taking and explain why it is a good idea. What is your key insight to solve the problem? What makes your approach unique in comparison to previous work? It might be that you are asking a different question than others have before, or attacking the problem in a different way, or using different tools, or leveraging different data sets. In any case, describe the most interesting “key idea” behind your project and justify why you chose it. 
  • Implementation: Describe the steps you have completed and/or the subproblems you have solved to make progress on your project.   For each of them, you may want to describe: What was the main issue?  What options were available?  What solution did you create/choose and why?  How did you perform the implementation?   What tools did you use?  How well does your solution work?   What remains to be done? If your implementation is not complete, outline any logistical or technical problems you anticipate and explain any contingency plan you have for avoiding or coping with them. 
  • Results. Every project should have some means of measuring success. Explain the methods you will use to evaluate how well your implementation achieves the goal articulated at the beginning of the talk.  Perhaps you will need to describe your test data sets, your measurement techniques, your evaluation metrics, etc.   If possible, provide some quantitative comparisons of your results to alternative methods (e.g., the previous state-of-the-art, random results, etc.).  Part of (not the entire presentation) may involve giving a demo of your results.
  • Conclusion. Sum up the most important aspects of the talk concisely.

Note that some of the points may not be relevant for some types of projects, and others will probably require more than one slide. Please do not feel constrained by the number of slides, and do not feel that you have to address every point raised above.  Tell a coherent story about what you are trying to do, how you are doing it, and how well your solution works … while staying within the time limits.

Use images or graphics to support your points wherever possible, minimizing the use of text on slides.  In particular, do not put all the text you will say on your slides – so boring.   The text on slides should be short sentences or phrases that convey key points after a quick glance, not sentences and paragraphs that provide the entire script for the talk.  Many excellent research talks are composed almost exclusively of pictures and graphs. 

Your slides should be well-organized, uncluttered, easy to read, and visually appealing.  Most presentation programs have some pre-packaged slide backgrounds, etc., that have reasonable color/font schemes for text, bullets, etc. You should probably use them but do not use an overly gaudy background that distracts from the content of your slides. Similarly, do not use clipart and animations gratuitously just to make your talk zippier. The slides should convey the content as clearly as possible without distractions -- how slides are organized, sized, colored, etc. are important aspects of the presentation, as they have great effect on the ease with which a viewer can follow your ideas.

Presentations in the Fall will be given to an audience of at least one instructor and several other students.  All projects will have nine (9) minutes long for the talk, plus three (3) minutes for questions.  If your talk is too long you will be cut off in the middle – so manage your time carefully!  

Presentations in the Spring will be given to an audience of at least one instructor and several other students.  For one-semester projects, you will have at most nine (9) minutes long for the talk, plus three (3) minutes for questions. For two-semester projects, you will have at most twelve (12) minutes for the talk, plus three (3) minutes for questions. If your talk is too long you will be cut off in the middle – so manage your time carefully!  

Please read the section on giving a good talk to prepare. Also, be sure to practice in advance, by yourself and if possible to your friends, and to go over your talk with your advisor. Your advisor will be able to give you good feedback on both the content and the style of presentation. You will be assessed on both the proposal content and the clarity and effectiveness of your presentation. You should not assume that the audience has a specialized knowledge of your field. Assume your audience is a group of senior undergraduates from Princeton who have not necessarily taken the courses that are most closely related to your research area.

Feedback will be provided by both an instructor and other students.  You are expected to stay for and pay attention to all of the talks in your one-hour time slot and fill out a feedback form for each one.  Theses feedback forms will be collected and distgributed to the other students in your group to provide them tips that will help them improve their presentation skills.

How to Sign-up for a Time Slot:  

  • Sign up for a one-hour time slot for your presentation via WASS.  During your time slot (starting and ending on the hour), your talk will be one of approximately four or five.   You are required to stay for the entire hour and listen closely to the other talks.

How to Submit Slides: 

  • Create a zip file named "oral_presentation.zip" containing all the files needed for your talk
  • Submit the PDF file as firstname_lastname.PDF via the IW PORTAL, use the submit link for "Oral Presentation Slides" by midnight on the Sunday before the week of the oral presentations. You may update the presentations by going to https://dropbox.cs.princeton.edu/COSIW_S2019/Oral_Presentation, if desired, by midnight on the day before your talk.  No changes will accepted or made after this time.   Failure to follow these instructions will result in a failing presentation grade.
  • Email a PDF file with your slides to your advisor

Second Reader (thesis only)

Every thesis must have both an adviser and a second reader. The second reader reviews your thesis and provides input to your grade.  So, you may want to choose and involve a second reader early in your project.  If your adviser is a faculty member who is not in the Computer Science Department then your second reader must be a faculty member in the Computer Science Department.

How to Submit:

  • Complete the second reader form, please log into the iw portal 

Draft Paper (thesis only)

Students doing 2-semester IW or a Thesis must submit a written draft paper. This is not expected to be a full thesis, but it should include a complete outline and give you some practice with technical writing. It should be at least 4-5 pages long (single-spaced).

You should discuss the exact requirements for the paper with your advisor. However, in general, the paper might contain (one or more of) the following components:

  1. Background information and problem description. What is the general area of research and the specific problem that will be tackled?
  2. Related research. Have there been previous academic papers on this or related topics? Are there companies that have developed related software products? What is the historical context? Be sure to cite related research properly. Include a bibliography at the end of your paper.
  3. Progress so far. Explain your major accomplishments so far. Be as precise as possible. What papers have you read? What are they about? Give examples, charts, diagrams and proofs to back up your ideas wherever possible and appropriate. What new algorithms have you defined? -- describe them in detail if they are sufficiently interesting and novel. Have you defined your overall software architecture? -- describe it in detail and justify your design. Do you intend to prove something about your research? -- Give a proof outline. Have you proven any intermediate theorems or lemmas? State what they are and explain the proof.
  4. Plan for the remainder of the year. Outline the steps you will take to complete your thesis. Explain how you will evaluate your results. Include a table with a concrete set of deadlines for finishing major components of the project. Include at least 3 weeks for writing.

If you do a good job on writing your draft, you can reuse this material as a chapter of your final thesis. For example, the paper could be the introduction of your final thesis or the related work section of your final thesis.

How to Submit: 

  • Create a PDF file named "draft_paper.pdf"
  • Submit the PDF file via the IW PORTAL, use the submit link for "Draft Paper".
  • Email the PDF file to your advisor

Written Final Report

Every IW project will result in a written final report describing the goal(s), related work, approach, implementation, results, and conclusion of the project, using much the same outline as suggested for the Oral Presentation.  Unlike the oral presentation, which must be extremely concise due to time constraints, the written report can delve into more details, cite all relevant previous work, present results of many experiments with tables and plots, etc.

The written final report should look like a professional document -- 12pt Times-Roman font, 1-inch margins, double-spaced. Here is a template for some formatting guidelines, and here are the files used to produce such a document using LaTeX and BibTex. It should contain a proper bibliography, and all non-original text should be properly attributed. Failing to cite appropriate sources for ideas, tables, text or diagrams is a serious violation of Princeton's code of ethics. If you are unsure about how to cite ideas or research papers properly and create a bibliography, speak with your advisor -- they can tell you exactly how to do it.  Your report will be graded on the basis of its technical content, organization, creativity of ideas, and quality of writing.  (The Princeton Writing Center is another resource for assistance with writing a research paper.)

The final written reports for one-semester projects should be 20-25 pages long.  Theses should be 40-50 pages long.  Relevant charts, tables, diagrams, etc., should be included, with accompanying captions. Be sure to refer to each such chart in the main body of the text, clearly explaining its nature and purpose. The technique of "padding" papers using multiple, overly-large figures is well-known, and should be avoided. If you have lengthy code or auxiliary examples or detailed algorithms or long proofs or supplementary data of other kinds, it may not be appropriate to include this in its entirety in the main body of your report. However, you are encouraged to include such auxiliary data (if you feel it is appropriate) in a final portion of your report clearly labeled "Appendix." The Appendix may be as long as is necessary -- it may extend beyond the page limit.

Talk to your advisor about how to write your final report. It is usually best to start writing the report early in the semester and refine it continuously throughout the semester.  Talk to your advisor about exactly what they are looking for in your report. The best reports are prepared with enough time for the adviser to read over a draft and give comments for revision.

For additional resources about how to write the report, here are some slides on how to write a good research paper, and here are lists of example single-semester project reports and two-semester theses from previous years. . 

For additional help, note that The Writing Center offers student writers free, one-on-one conferences with experienced fellow writers trained to consult on assignments in any discipline.  The Princeton Writing Program also offers resources for writers in a broad range of technical fields through Writing In Science and Engineering (WSE).

How to Submit:

  • Create a PDF file named "written_final_report.pdf"
  • Submit the PDF file via the IW PORTAL, use the submit link for "Written Final Report".
  • Email the PDF to your advisor

Senior Thesis students must review the Senior Thesis Submission Information for Students to complete the process.


Frequently Asked Questions: 

I am an AB junior who has taken only 126, 217, and 226. What is my best choice for IW?

Answer:As an AB junior who has taken only the intro classes, I think the IW seminars are the right choice for you. You can do work one-on-one with a professor during your senior year after you have some more classes under your belt and experience gained in the seminar.
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