Notes to a student (note to self)

Hi <redacted>

Don’t be too quick to dismiss ideas at this stage.  We’ve discussed this already but, in my opinion at least, here are some final year project issues that you might think about.

1) Don’t take on too much.  This is an undergrad project and so you don’t need to do something brand new.  Applying existing knowledge to a new situation or taking a slightly different approach is fine.  And, anyway, you will make your project unique just by being you and approaching things in the way that you do (something that nobody else can do).

2) Don’t think that you have to solve everything (also see point 1).  You might finish your project with more questions that you started with, but that’s okay.  Questions often result from reflection, which is a high level activity.

3) Make sure that there is some existing research in the area, otherwise it’s going to be difficult to find background information that you can build on (also see point 1).

4) We’re in a technical department, so there’s an expectation that you will produce something technical as part of your final year project.  BUT, and this is definitely with capitals B, U and T, the technical artefact (‘thing’) should generate an academic discussion.  Making the most impressive ‘thing’ does not necessarily make the best project.  I’d say that a decent ‘thing’ that is built upon background research, generates data and allows you to discuss and reflect on that data is much better.

5) Projects that involve some kind of comparison seem to work well.  So, for example, two ways of doing the same thing, or running the same tests before and after some kind of change has been made.  Comparisons can generate different results, conflicting results, surprising results.  This gives lots of room for analysis, discussion and reflection.

6) Start with the smallest number of tests that you think will be needed to generate the data you need (see also point 1).  Personally speaking, given the choice between two projects, I prefer the less ambitious and complete project to the project that could have been amazing if only the student had another six months to finish it (see also points 1, 2 and 4).

7) Don’t take on too much (see also point 1).  Joking aside, I can’t emphasis this enough.  Start with an achievable plan.  If you find that you have finished a first draft with two months to spare then you might look at adding some extra content.

8) Make sure that the project interests you.  The project needs a sustained effort over two semesters, possibly longer if you put some work in over the summer holidays.  This should be point number one, but I can’t face renumbering everything else.

Hope this helps


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