Computer Laboratory

Part III and MPhil ACS projects and essays

Guidance on MPhil ACS research essays for students and supervisors

The official requirement for the research essay is a document, provisionally, of not more than 7,500 words in length on a topic approved by the Degree Committee.

These guidelines for research essays refer to the conduct of research essay work, to the status of research essay results, to the structure of the research essay and to issues relating to confidentiality and intellectual property rights (IPR). The IPR guidelines are generally intended, but they are particularly relevant to research essays being done in cooperation with outside organisations (industrial or other) and to essay being done by students on EPSRC Studentships.

  1. The research essay is primarily intended to meet the course requirements of the M.Phil, i.e., it should demonstrate the student's knowledge and skill in a rounded piece of work. The research work officially starts at the end of the Lent Term and the thesis is submitted during following June. To satisfy the course requirements for the M.Phil degree it is necessary for students to obtain a pass mark for the essay. The research essay specification has to be approved by those responsible for the course, and the student should have a formal supervisor within the university. The student's prime place of work is normally at the University. Where an outside organisation is involved in the research essay, the student will usually visit the organisation to discuss his or her work as thought necessary, with expenses being paid by the organisation. Students are required to submit a written research essay proposal and work-plan for their research, to be explicitly agreed by their supervisor by the deadline specified in the Lent Term. Students and supervisors meet to discuss research essay progress on a regular basis. Many supervisors find that arranging regular weekly half hour meetings with students works well.
  2. The "research essay results" are defined for the purposes of examination and any subsequent exploitation as being represented by the research essay report itself and any software (or hardware) produced during the work.
    1. The first page of the research essay must give the MPhil course name in the University of Cambridge; the title of the essay; the student's name and college; and the date. The following page must provide an abstract.
    2. The inside of the front page of the research essay must contain a declaration of originality, as follows:

      I [Name] of [College] , being a candidate for the M.Phil in Advanced Computer Science, hereby declare that this research essay and the work described in it are my own work, unaided except as may be specified below, and that the research essay does not contain material that has already been used to any substantial extent for a comparable purpose.

      Signed [signature]

      Date [date]

      The word count, excluding bibliography, photographs and diagrams but including tables, footnotes, and appendices (except as noted below), should also be given on this page.

    3. All collaboration should be specified in an acknowledgements section.
    4. Original software produced by the student should be made available for inspection by the examiners. This can be done by sending supervisors a pointer to a readable directory at the time of submission, or by other means that may be agreed by the supervisor and an examiner. Where software has been produced by extending an existing piece of software, then those parts of the existing software which are necessary to understand the operation of the new software should be included but should be clearly marked as being not the student's own work.
    5. A pdf version of the report (as a single file) is also required. This should be identical in content to the printed version.
    6. The Degree Committee enters research essay titles with the Board of Graduate Studies during the Lent Term. If you wish to change the title from that originally specified, you must discuss this with your supervisor and notify the Student Administrator in good time so that the Board and the Degree Committee may be informed.
  3. Students should note that the situation regarding intellectual property generated by a research essay is complex. Students should discuss with their supervisor any result which they consider might have commercial significance and they must do so in good time before publication or other disclosure so that suitable protection can be obtained.
  4. Where third parties are involved, such as companies proposing and/or being involved in supervising MPhil research essays, there may be a need for a collaboration agreement to be signed before commencing the research essay. This agreement will typically cover confidentiality and specify how exploitation of any results might be achieved. No commitment with regard to the assignment of IPR should be made by a student without taking advice from the University (via the academic supervisor). Companies should note in this respect that it is extremely difficult to assign IPR up-front and the University prefers to work on the basis of an exclusive license to any generated IPR being negotiated on fair and reasonable terms after the research essay has finished when the full nature of the exploitation is known.
  5. All students should note that publication for research essays is represented by their being made generally available, as in the Department's library, and should also observe two general consequences of the formal rules:
    1. that student research essays should not make use of any material supplied by an organisation to which any confidentiality is attached, or, without appropriate safeguards, where the organisation wishes to retain rights; and
    2. that student research essays should not make use of any material supplied by others within the university, e.g. by the supervisor or other staff members, without their rights being safeguarded; written statements would appear appropriate for this. Prudent students might attach a copyright declaration to their reports.
  6. Students are also reminded that they have signed the Computing Service form agreeing to abide by the Rules Governing Use of the University Computing Service, and that this applies to University resources used for research essays, as for other course work.

E. J. Briscoe, T. G. Griffin, S. M. Hand, I. J. Wassell
June 2011.