Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science

The Honors Undergraduate Research Thesis

If you're thinking about graduate school, you should get involved in independent research as early as possible — typically no later than your junior year. One way to do this is through the SCS Honors Undergraduate Research Thesis Program. Any CMU undergraduate (including non-SCS students) can complete an honors thesis on any computational topic within SCS.

The SCS Honors Undergraduate Research Thesis Program introduces you to the tasks involved in independent research, including library work, problem formulation, experimentation and analysis and/or theoretical proofs of computational principles, technical writing, and public speaking. You'll begin by writing a summary of prior results that will become part of your final thesis. At the end of your first semester of research, you'll present a poster, short talk and progress report at an SCS research event held during finals. Finally, you'll present your results with a poster and an oral presentation in May at CMU's undergraduate research symposium, the Meeting of the Minds, and submit a written thesis for review by an SCS faculty panel.

You must select an advisor and develop a plan for your thesis. While your work must be advised by an SCS faculty member, you can also have a faculty co-advisor from elsewhere at CMU if you'd like to explore a multidisciplinary problem.

To propose and complete an honors thesis, you should be in good academic standing. There is no GPA requirement for proposing or completing an honors thesis — honors will be conferred solely on the merits of the work produced.

Once you've begun your honors thesis, you'll be enrolled in course 07-599 during two semesters and receive a letter grade based on activities assigned in the course and the recommendation from your research advisor. At the end of each semester, you will present your work to a panel from the SCS Undergraduate Review Committee (URC), which will first decide if you can continue to the second semester and then decide to confer honors.

We strongly suggest you complete a research independent study to prepare for your honors thesis. In some circumstances, students may have completed significant research that can form part of their thesis. In such a case, you should clearly indicate this work in your thesis proposal and have it approved by your thesis advisor. The associate dean can then award up to 12 units of independent study research toward the thesis and reduce the number of units required in each semester of the honors thesis course.

If you're planning to complete a thesis, you must assemble a thesis proposal containing the following information:

  • The name of the research advisor (an SCS faculty member) as well as a co-advisor, if relevant.
  • A short abstract (at most two paragraphs).
  • A description of the problem to be worked on and its significance, along with a clear indication of your understanding of the problem’s background and impact.
  • A bibliography of related work.
  • A tactical description of the proposed research plan, including:
    • the background reading to be carried out;
    • any preliminary results based on prior research;
    • the intended research contribution;
    • the expected results of the research; and
    • a reasonably detailed timeline for the thesis work.
  • The signature of your research advisor(s), signifying endorsement of the project and willingness to provide the significant time investment required to supervise it.

You must submit your thesis proposal to the associate dean (or area head at CMU-Q) by the first day of classes in the semester in which you're starting your thesis. There will be a rolling review of thesis applications before this deadline. (That is, if you wish to start work on the project earlier than the, you're encouraged to submit the proposal earlier.) You should plan to meet with your planned research advisor well ahead of time to prepare the proposal.

At the end of the first semester of 07-599, you'll deliver a poster presentation to your peers in the honors thesis course. You will also submit a written report that should contain:

  • An overview of the problem being solved;
  • An explanation of the work you have completed during the first semester;
  • A justification for any directions you took that deviate from the original proposal; and
  • A description of what work you will complete in the second semester to finish the thesis.

Written reports are due on the last day of classes. The URC will review them in consultation with the associate dean (or area head at CMU-Q) and your advisors to determine whether you are making satisfactory progress toward the thesis.

Exceptional Circumstances at Mid-Thesis Check-In

After one semester of 07-599, any students not making satisfactory progress will be converted to an independent study. There may also be extremely extraneous circumstances in which a student has made sufficient progress to complete the thesis in a single semester; in such a case, the student should complete the deliverables indicated in "Finishing the Thesis."

At the end of the second semester of 07-599, you will complete three deliverables. First, you will present a poster of your work as part of the Meeting of the Minds celebration. Second, you should complete a final presentation of your thesis at the close of 07-599 via a slide presentation in a public setting. Your final thesis is due the week before the last day of classes. The URC will review the theses in consultation with the associate dean (or area head at CMU-Q) and your research advisors to decide whether to confer College Honors for your thesis, as well as to grant awards to superlative theses.