Peter Robinson

Proposing a project

Proposing a project

Part II projects need to be sorted out rather quickly at the beginning of the Michaelmas Term of your final year. There is a briefing lecture at 10:00 on the first Thursday morning. However, you should have read the briefing booklet and be homing in on ideas for your projects over the vacation. See the Part II project web pages for details.

There are rather a lot of things to keep in mind when undertaking a project. These notes describe the process of writing a proposal in a way that is likely to lead to successful completion. Please read them carefully and keep them in mind while preparing your proposal.

The Computer Laboratory assigns each Part II student to a pair of overseers who look after the administration of your final-year project. Their role is quite limited. They won't find you a project or a supervisor; your Director of Studies will advise you on that. The overseers also have nothing to do with assessment. They are just vaguely knowledgeable friends who will help you through the process.


There are three phases to project approval and most of the business can be conducted by e-mail. However, please remember to send all messages as plain text or PDF rather than as attachments in some proprietary format. Please also remember to copy all formal correspondence to your Director of Studies as well as to your supervisor and both overseers.

Phase 1 - Selecting a topic

As soon as possible, you should send e-mail to your overseers giving details of your:

  • Name
  • College
  • Director of Studies
  • DoS's CRSID
  • Project title
  • Project area
  • 100 word outline
  • Potential supervisor(s)
  • Potential special resources

You should provide details of these 10 points as soon as possible after the briefing lecture, and by noon on the first Monday of the Michaelmas Term at the latest.

Phase 2 - Working out the details

Your overseers will then want to see a draft proposal. Remember that this should be 500-1000 words long and give details of all the above plus:

  • Supervision arrangements
  • Special resources required
  • General description
  • Plan of work
  • Evaluation procedure and acceptance criteria

Special resources include use of research machines in the Computer Laboratory, any commercial collaboration, and anything unusual. Some special hardware may require a method statement and risk assessment for health and safety. Evaluation involving experiments with human participants may need ethical approval.

The plan should divide the project into about 10 work packages, each of which will take about a fortnight. The first couple of these might well be preparatory work and the last three writing a dissertation, with the practical work in the middle five. You might care to divide the project so that the first three pieces of practical work form a core project and are followed by two further extensions. These should have identifiable deliverables and deadlines leading to a progress report half way through the project and completion of a dissertation before the end of the Easter vacation. You will also need to give details of the final evaluation procedure and acceptance criteria. Don't forget to budget time for evaluation explicitly in your schedule, and give your supervisor at least two weeks to read a draft dissertation.

Please be clear about deliverables, deadlines and acceptance criteria. In particular, if you are going to submit your dissertation on the first friday of the Easter Term, you will need to deliver a complete draft to your supervisor by the end of March so as to give a couple of weeks for comment and a couple more for revision and printing.

Please do not schedule submission of your dissertation for the final deadline two weeks before the exams start! Your project will run over eight months, so even a 10% slippage will cost you three weeks and you might well be ill for a week. In any case, the dissertation only counts for 25% of your final marks, so you will need all your time in the Easter Term for taught courses and revision.

Again, e-mail will be fine, but please send the draft as plain text or PDF. You should provide the outline proposal by noon on the second Friday of the Michaelmas Term at the latest.

Phase 3 - Final proposal

Your supervisor, overseers, and Director of Studies may all offer comments on your draft and, as long as you address them, you can then print out your proposal, collect all the required signatures (proprietors of any special resources, Supervisor and Director of Studies) and submit it before the final deadline of noon on the third Friday of the Michaelmas Term. You do not need the signature of an overseer.

Your overseers will then check the final submissions and, if all is well, sign them off. If there are any concerns, they will arrange an interview. You probably do not need to meet in person otherwise, but some overseers will want to talk to you.

The penalties for late submission of proposals or dissertations are draconian, so please do stick carefully to the timetable.


Some people seem to have difficulty with calendars, so here is a possible schedule of fortnightly work packages together with the deadlines by which they should be finished. You will need to add the deliverables for each fortnight.

Week1 Day2 WP Topic Deadline

Michaelmas Term

1 Monday Initial thoughts October 10
1 Friday Draft proposal October 14
2 Friday Submit proposal October 21
4 1 Preliminary reading November 4
6 2 Initial experiments November 18
8 3 Start core project December 2
10 4 Continue core project December 16

Lent Term

0 5 Complete core project and write progress report January 20
2 6 Start extension February 3
4 7 Complete extension February 17
6 8 Start writing up March 3
8 9 Continue writing up March 17
10 10 Complete writing up and deliver draft dissertation to supervisor March 31

Easter Term

-2 (Supervisor returns draft) April 14
0 11 Revise dissertation and prepare for submission April 28

1 Weeks run from Monday to Sunday and count from 0. So lectures start on Thursday in Week 0, and Week 10 is a fortnight after the end of lectures.

2 Deadlines in the Computer Laboratory are at noon on the day in question. They are rigorously enforced with penalties applied for being just one minute late.

Of course, this is ludicrously over-specific but it does give you an idea of what you should have in your schedule. But you really should have a core project ready for demonstration at the beginning of the Lent Term, and you really should send your draft dissertation to your supervisor two weeks after the end of the Lent Term, and you really should be able to submit your dissertation at the beginning of the Easter Term