SCS Undergraduate Research

Independent Study and Honors Undergraduate Research Thesis

SCS Undergraduate Research


Students who complete undergraduate research in the School of Computer Science do so as an independent study or as an honors undergraduate research thesis (which typically grows out of a prior independent study experience). To find out more about SCS faculty research interests and how they might align with your own, visit the SCS Research Portal. You may also want to examine our archival list of undergraduate thesis topics and advisors from previous years to understand the sorts of projects that happen at the undergrad level. In the spring, students present the results of their work at CMU's university-wide Meeting of the Minds celebration of undergraduate research.

If you're looking for summer research opportunities, you should also check out the National Science Foundation-sponsored Research Experience for Undergraduates program, including the student-oriented REU area list.

SCS Honors Undergraduate Research Thesis

If you're considering going on to graduate school in computer science or related disciplines, you should get involved in independent research as early as possible — typically no later than your junior year (or even earlier). We strongly encourage students interested in graduate school in computer science or its related fields to participate in the SCS Honors Undergraduate Research Thesis program. Any Carnegie Mellon undergraduate (including non-SCS students) can complete an honors thesis on any computational topic within SCS.


The SCS Honors Undergraduate Research Thesis Program aims to introduce students to the breadth of 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. Students begin by writing a summary of prior results that will become part of their final thesis. At the end of their first semester, they present a poster, short talk and progress report at an SCS research event held during finals week. Students then present their final results with a poster and an oral presentation in the year-end university-wide Undergraduate Research Symposium (Meeting of the Minds) and submit a written thesis near the end of their senior year for review by an SCS faculty panel. An archive of past thesis topics is available.

Students must select an advisor and develop a plan for their honors thesis. The thesis must be advised by an SCS faculty member, but that faculty can come from any track (including special faculty). A student may also have a faculty co-advisor, and to encourage interdisciplinary research, this co-advisor need not have an appointment within SCS.

Students should be in good academic standing both to propose and to complete an honors thesis. There is no QPA requirement for proposing or completing an honors thesis — honors will be conferred solely based on the merits of the work produced.

Students pursuing the Senior Honors Undergraduate Research Thesis will be enrolled in the course 07-599 by the SCS Associate Dean for Undergraduate Programs (or Area Head for CMU-Q). The course will be taken twice by students completing a thesis (18 units per semester). There is no requirement that students must take the two semesters of 07-599 consecutively. Students will receive a letter grade for each semester in 07-599, based on various activities assigned in the course (e.g. poster, progress report, presentation, etc.) and the recommendation from their research advisors based on their overall research effort and outcomes.

At the end of each semester, a panel from the SCS Undergraduate Review Committee (URC) will hear the presentations from the thesis students and review the final thesis submissions. At the end of the first semester, the committee will make a final decision regarding whether a student can continue to the second semester. At the end of the second semester, the committee will make a final decision regarding whether honors will be conferred for the thesis. The URC will also assign awards to superlative theses.

We strongly suggest that students complete a research independent study as preparation for completing their honors thesis. In some circumstances, a student may have completed significant research (e.g., as part of 15-400, 02-500, 07-400, or a related independent study research course) that can form part of their thesis. In such a case, the student should clearly indicate this work as part of their thesis proposal, and the Associate Dean has the discretion to 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 to compensate. To receive this credit, the student’s existing research should be clearly laid out in the thesis proposal (see below) and approved by the research advisor.

Admission to Thesis Course

Students planning to complete a thesis 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 the student’s 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 the research advisor(s), signifying endorsement of the project and willingness to provide the significant time investment required to supervise it.

The thesis proposal should be submitted to the Associate Dean (or Area Head in CMU-Q) by the first day of classes in the semester in which the thesis is to be started. There will be a rolling review of thesis applications before this deadline. That is, if a student wishes to start work on the project earlier than the start of the semester (e.g., they have extra time that they wish to devote over the summer to a thesis starting in the fall), then the student is encouraged to submit the proposal earlier. Students should plan to meet with their planned research advisor well ahead of time to prepare the proposal.

Mid-Thesis Check-In

At the conclusion of the first semester of 07-599, students will complete three deliverables. The first is a poster presentation given to their peers at the close of the Honors Thesis course. The second is a written report that is sufficiently more detailed than the original thesis proposal. This written report should contain:

  • An overview of the problem being solved;
  • An explanation of what work has been completed during the first semester;
  • A justification for any directions taken that deviate from what was originally proposed; and
  • A description of what work will be completed in the second semester to complete the thesis.

Written reports are due on the last day of classes and will be reviewed by the URC in consultation with the Associate Dean (or Area Head for CMU-Q) and students’ advisors to determine whether students 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."

Finishing the Thesis

At the conclusion of the second semester of 07-599, students will complete three deliverables. First, students should present a poster of their work as part of the Meeting of the Minds celebration. Second, students should complete a final presentation of their thesis at the close of 07-599 via a slide presentation in a public setting. Students should submit their final theses with a due date of the week before the last day of classes. Theses will be reviewed by the URC in consultation with the Associate Dean (and Area Head for CMU-Q) and students’ research advisors to decide whether to confer College Honors for each thesis as well as to grant awards to superlative theses.