The M.S. Culminating Experience

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The Culminating Experience


The objectives of the mandatory Masters Thesis/Project requirement is to provide a culminating educational experience, where the student, under the supervision of a faculty member, conducts an individual study employing concepts and methods learned in the program to solve a problem of significant importance from a practical or theoretical standpoint.

The study should involve a synthesis of concepts and methods learned in more than one course, and exhibit awareness of previous work in the area of study. This requirement also aims to provide an opportunity to the student to learn and practice the means of written and oral communication. The project or thesis provides an extremely important component to the students' portfolio applied towards a future undertaking whether it be for admission to a Ph.D. program or for a leadership position in the computing industry.

There are two equivalent possibilities for the culminating experience in the MS program in Computer Science: MS project (CSC 895), and MS thesis (CSC 898). The MS thesis and the MS project have the same level of difficulty, need the same time for completion, and yield the same kind of MS degree. The decision whether a work is a thesis or a project must be made at the time of registration for CSC 895/898 in consultation with the faculty advisor.


The Following Policies Apply


1. Credits and Courses to Take

The complete work on MS thesis/project has a limit of 9 credits. Typically, students working on a thesis will register for 3 credits of CSC 897 (Research) followed by 3 credits of CSC 898, but they can take an additional 3 units of CSC 897 upon advisement. Students working on a project will usually enroll in 3 credits of CSC 899 followed by 3 credits of CSC 895,but they can take additional 3 units of CSC 899 upon advisement. CSC 895 and 898 are graded as CR/NC.


2. Advisor and Committee Selection

Before registering for the MS thesis/project the student must select an advisor, and other members of the thesis/project committee and file the GAP and Culminating Experience Form with the Graduate Division. The thesis committee must have at least 3 members, and the project committee must have at least 2 members. At least two members must be tenured or tenure-track SFSU/CS faculty for either type of committee. In addition to the 2 members of the CS Department, the committee may include faculty or members outside of the CS Department, upon approval of the CS Chair.


3. Defense

Both MS thesis and MS project have a public oral defense. Usually the student presentation is about 30 min. with Q&A following. Defense committee then asks all to leave the room for a short period of time to discuss the work and the grading. The defense must be advertised to the local community. This is a great opportunity to bring family and friends. Students are advised to carefully rehearse and check the presentation for content, duration and to make sure all the SW and demos work.


4. MS Thesis Format

The format of the MS thesis document is strictly defined and controlled by the SF State Graduate Division (University Thesis Composition Guidlines Web Page). The original copy of the thesis, including committee signatures, is submitted to the Graduate Division for approval. After approval by the Graduate Division the original version is bound according to the SFSU standard and available in the SFSU library. One bound copy of the thesis must also be given to the CS Department office. Thesis copies are submitted to the committee members in a form approved by the members.


5. MS Project Format

The format of the MS project document is strictly defined and controlled by the Department of Computer Science, and has the form of the CS Technical Report. The final version of the MS project is submitted to the CS Department and stored in the CS Department office. Project document copies are submitted to the committee members in a form approved by the members. Please work with your advisor for more details.


6. Deadlines, Forms & Paperwork

Students are encouraged to consult with prospective thesis/project advisors and CS office for more detailed information on the expected schedules for completion of their culminating experience work.

Note: CSC 895 enrollment (permit number) is strictly controlled by CS Office and not your mentor. This is due to the need to make a complete check on whether you fulfilled all the requirements for graduation.

The deadline for filing all forms for your CSC 895/898 is the semester preceding your planned CSC 895/898 enrollment (November for Spring and April for Fall). See your grad advisor and CS office for details, and check the above link.


7. Culminating Experience Project Proposal

This is submitted the term prior to enrollment in 895 or 898. The CER is a vehicle to communicate and agree upon expectations for the work for culminating experience between the student and the advisor. Typical sections of this proposal should include motivation, problem description, method of solving the problem, relevant work of others, as well as milestones, deliverables and approximate timetable (for more details talk with the thesis/project advisor). This project proposal should be done carefully and will serve as a "contract" between the advisor and the student. The size of this report is in general about 2-4 pages. Students are encouraged to work with their thesis/project advisor on specific details.

It is required that this proposal be developed as a deliverable with the 899 or 897 course preceding 895 or 898 courses.


8. Student Responsibility

It is critical to plan to take graduate level electives with possible culminating experience supervisors during your first year of study. Think of topic(s) for your culminating experience, do a research on it, check what CS faculty does for research, and feel free to meet CS Chair or other faculty for advice.

  • Must attend the first graduate seminar (graduate program overview) in your first semester of study
  • Must enroll in courses taught by prospective thesis/project supervisors in your second semester of study. Consult your favorite professors for guidance in project selection.
  • Must attend mandatory advising group meeting with CS Chair to be organized within the first 4 weeks of second semester.
  • Must select your culminating experience supervisor by the end of second semester and obtain your supervisor's permission to work under his/her supervision.

note: If you do not finish your culiminating experinece within two semester, you must enroll in culiminating experience through CEL. More about enrolling through CEL. 

The culminating project and thesis require serious commitment and focus of the student. Serve the purpose to show that the student is capable of delivering individual work as well as being independent, able to deliver a project etc.

It is the responsibility of the student to follow up the agreed upon milestones and commitments made to the advisors (typically via approved project proposal). This is especially critical for projects where the work involves external funding and commitments including developing publications that require student's contributions.

Students are strongly encouraged to help faculty develop research publications (e.g. doing the necessary work such as SW development, experiments) and to participate in writing research papers, especially those aspiring toward Ph. D. studies.

While students own the copyright to the code they develop at SF State, the source code, and all the data and procedures used for the research and experiments, must be made publicly available for faculty and others for the purpose of grading and evaluation.

Changes in project plans, topics, title or committee members (but not the main advisor) must be made in writing in accordance with Department procedures. Change of advisor requires repeating the whole culminating project or thesis course sequence (including 899 or 897) and adherence to Department polices.

Students must follow all CS Department and general rules about plagiarism. Details are available at Department Cheating and Plagiarism Policy Web Page


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