CSC 400 Graduate Problem Seminar

Ganesh: A deity for researchers.


Course: CSC 400 Graduate Problem Seminar
Instructor: Randal C. Nelson
Time: TR 19:40 - 20:55
Room: Wegmans 1009


This course is intended to provide first year PhD students with an introduction to the culture, faculty and research programs in the department. The first part of the course consists of a number of hands-on assignments relating to various issues that arise in computer science research. These include ethics, competition and collaboration, security, intellectual property, and generally getting out of the undergraduate "cram and vomit" model of learning, and into the more open-ended and generative process associated with research. This component also emphasizes presentation skills. Almost every assignment will involve both a writeup and an oral presentation to the class.

A second component of the course will revolve around individual research projects performed under the supervision of a faculty member. This component provides the student with an opportunity to demonstrate, and the faculty at large with an opportunity to evaluate, research interest and potential.

The exact nature of the projects will vary, but the project must involve actual experiments that can be performed and written up during the fall semester. Projects that consist mainly of "understanding professor X's research and current software environment" are, in particular, not suitable. Such preparation is, of course necessary, but some actual investigation must be carried out. Investigations that lead to continuing research are, of course, perfectly acceptable, but such continuation is not necessarily expected. Look on it as "trial dating" -- an opportunity to get involved in ongoing research in the department, and try out potential research relationships.

In addition, the following abilities will hopefully be exercised and developed.

Students will regularly present project progress the the rest of the class during semi-formal discussion sessions, understanding, approaches and progress, will be critiqued by the rest of the class.

A third component of the course consists of guest lectures by researchers in the computer science department. Robust questions from the student audience are expected.

Attendance is mandatory. Participation in critique sessions is an essential part of the experience, as is attendance at guest lectures. There may be 5-minute "easy" quizzes on material occuring in the previous class as a means of documenting attendance and attention. This could include the content of unscripted discussions.

This course is sometime refered to as "graduate boot camp", and it is expected to be a significant amount of work. Research is that way. It is also likely to be the first course where the professor is not providing material and answers, or detailed instructions. That is also how research is. The individual projects are an important part of the 1st year evaluation process. They provide the main year-one source of information on student research aptitude. Since developing research ability, both in its technical and human components, is the principle academic goal of our PhD program, it is important to do well in the individual project component of this course.


Course Text Books

There are no required texts. However, the following are interesting and relevant reading, in whole or in part.


Some combination of:
Attendance/quizzes, class participation, presentations, project reports, project accomplishments.
As a first approximation, 20% each.

The contents of the following may be expected to change regularly.

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