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Independent Work Seminars

The Computer Science Department now offers "Independent Work Seminars," which allow students and a faculty adviser with shared interests to meet as a group and work on related projects.  

Background and Motivation

The main motivation for these seminars is to provide a way for students working on similar projects to have more interaction, assistance, and feedback from peer students.  Previously, students working on related problems rarely interacted with one another. They each met with their advisers separately, but never heard much about what other students are doing until the poster session at the end of the semester.

The IW seminars bring together groups of students working on related problems.  Each student chooses and works on his/her own project, just as any other IW. The only difference is that meetings occur with faculty and other students in seminar-style once per week at a scheduled time.  During the meetings, the students discuss what they are doing, provide feedback to other students, and generate ideas for future work.  The seminars provide a great forum for honing small-group presentation and discussion skills that will be essential after graduation.  Individual meetings with the faculty adviser can also occur weekly during prescribed times throughout the semester.

Within these seminars, it is possible for groups of 2-3 students to work on different parts of the same large-scale project.  As an example, a few students might work together on a system for collaborative grading of assignments in MOOCs (massive open online courses) with one student developing the user interface, another designing the algorithms for assigning problems to graders, and a third implementing a system for integrating grader responses in the back-end server.  Every student is responsible for writing a paper and making presentations individually, but it might be possible to achieve much more with a collaborative effort than with a set of individual ones (the whole is greater than the sum of parts).  In any case, team efforts could be more fun and engaging for the participating students.  


What are the Topics for the Independent Work Seminars for Fall 2017?

Ten  IW seminars will be offered next semester.  The titles, faculty advisers, and expected meeting times are listed below.  Detailed descriptions can be found here.


Faculty Adviser

Day and Time 

Rm. #

COS IW 02 -  Natural Language Processing -  Seminar has reached capacity. 

Christiane Fellbaum

Friday 11 AM – 12:20 PM


COS IW  03 Computer Science Tools and Techniques for Digital Humanities - Seminar has reached capacity.

Brian Kernighan Friday 11 AM - 12:20  PM  

CS IW 04 - Help Future Computer Science Students Learn Computer Science!

Robert S. Fish Tuesday 3 PM – 4:20 PM  

CS IW 05 - Invention and Innovation:  Entrepreneurial Lessons for Computer Scientists - Seminar has reached capacity.          

Robert S. Fish Wednesday 3 PM - 4:20 PM  
CS IW 06 - Building Secure Decentralized Applications Using the Blockchain Michael Freedman Monday 11 AM-12:20 PM  

CS IW 07 - Deep Learning - Seminar has reached capacity. 

Adam Finkelstein

Monday 9:30 AM – 10:50 AM

CS IW 08 - Random Apps of Kindness - Seminar has reached capacity. Alan Kaplan  Thursday 11 AM - 12:20 PM  
CS IW 09 - Computational Genomics Ben Raphael Friday 1:30  - 2:50 PM  
CS IW 09 - Distrubuted Radio Sensing Across the Princeton Campus Kyle Jamieson  Friday 1:30 PM - 2:50 PM  
CS IW 11 - Security and Privacy in the Internet of Things (IoT) Nick Feamster Monday 11 AM - 12:30 PM  


Who Should Sign-Up for the Independent Work Seminars?

All 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 are 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 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 seminars are perfectly suited for students doing their first semester of independent work. If you already have 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.  To do so, contact the faculty now that you are interested in working with to discuss potential project ideas (probably email is best). If you find a faculty that agrees to advise you one-on-one, then you can indicate that selection on the IW sign up form by indicating a title, description, and faculty adviser for your project.


How do I Sign-Up for the Independent Work Seminar?

COS students sign up for independent work seminars for Spring 2017 by completing the IW Sign-Up form before April 30, 2017.  In response to the first question, you should select "I will be in an independent work seminar next semester."  Then, the form will ask you to enter your ranked preferences for every seminar (like you did for the writing seminars during freshman year) and provide a paragraph of text describing your interests in independent work. That information will be used to match you to the best seminar possible, doing everything possible to assign your top choice. You will be notified of your assignment before the next semester starts.



Frequently Asked Questions: 

How will students be matched to the seminars? Is it based on relevant experience in the area or demonstrated interest?

Answer:The matching process will be based on a combination of demonstrated interest and relevant experience, with a primary focus on demonstrated interest.

I am interested in only one or two of the IW seminars? Should I instead try to work individually with a professor to avoid the risk of being placed in a seminar I don’t want?

Answer:You should include a clear and detailed description of which seminar(s) you want and which you do not in the “comments” section of the IW Sign Up form. We expect all students who provide such a statement to be matched to one of their choices.

When we fill out the IW Sign Up form and describe our interests and relevant coursework, should I focus on interests and coursework that relate to our top choice or multiple seminars?

Answer:Please provide as much information as possible. If there are some seminars that you have much greater interest than others, that would be valuable information to include. If you have relevant coursework or experiences related to multiple seminars, please include it all. Essentially, you should include all the information that could be relevant to match you into the best seminar possible.

If I am matched to a seminar that I have no interest in, is it possible to opt out of the seminar and do independent work with a faculty member instead?

Answer:The matching process is similar to the writing seminars you took as freshman. You can appeal your placement (by emailing iwcoord@lists.cs.princeton.edu), and we can try to switch you with another student into another seminar. However, dropping out of the IW seminars completely would create problems -- e.g., it would leave an empty slot in the seminar (which might have been given to another student if you had not requested it). If you provide a detailed description of which seminars you want and why, then it is very likely that you will get one you want.

Is it possible to enroll in the same IW seminar in different semesters?

Answer:Yes. That is no problem at all. It would be a good choice if you want to do a follow-up project to one you completed in an earlier semester or if you want to do a completely separate project related to the same theme.
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