Academic research has the goal of investigating new solutions to problems of interest and evaluating the solutions rigorously. Participating on a research project can help you decide whether to pursue advanced study in computer science. Such research may also result in a publication in a peer-reviewed forum, such as a journal or conference proceedings.
Undergraduate students have many opportunities for pursuing research in Computer Science. Several different possibilities exist:
- Senior Thesis: The senior thesis offers students the opportunity to pursue a research project and document it by writing a thesis and publicly presenting their work and results. The procedure for completing a senior thesis is detailed in the Undergraduate Bulletin. Senior theses completed by the past CS students are available online.
Students may also pursue research that does not result in a thesis.
- Students may potentially obtain credit for work on research projects, including their senior thesis, by arranging for a reading or research tutorial (or independent study). Students interested in pursuing this option should complete a Request for Tutorial form with their faculty mentor. The professor, the department, and the College Dean’s office must approve tutorials. Note that it is not possible to earn credit for a research project while being paid to pursue that research project.
- Paid research positions: Some professors may have paid research positions available for undergraduate students, funded by their research grants. Professors who have funding from the National Science Foundation may have supplements to fund undergraduate research through the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program.
Students who are interested in research should also investigate Davis Research Fellowships, the Georgetown University Research Opportunities Program (GUROP), and CRF-Sponsored Summer Fellowships. Students can participate in GUROP during the academic year. They can also apply for a Summer Fellowship, which funds students to conduct research with their faculty mentor over the summer. These awards are competitive and require a research proposal, so students should start a research project well in advance of preparing a proposal for a Davis Research Fellowship or a Summer Fellowship.
The National Science Foundation also funds REU sites at universities around the United States. REU sites focus on an area of computer science and tackle specific problems. Students apply to individual sites. If they are selected, then they spend the summer at the institution working and living with other students from around the country. These are paid positions that also cover housing.
The first step in getting involved in research is to look at faculty member’s Web pages to learn about their research area and projects. Determine what interests you. Before meeting with professors, it would be good to think about your goals and what you hope to accomplish by conducting research. Once you find professors whose research interests you, visit them during office hours or send them e-mail to schedule an appointment. Look for their office hours on their Web page before writing them an e-mail asking about their office hours.
Explain to the professor that you are interested in their research or in a particular project. Ask them what it might take to help out on a project. You may have the required background to get started, or the professor may ask you to take certain classes, such as theirs, or read some background material. Keep in mind also that a professor may not be able to include additional members into their research groups.