Amherst College
Department of Mathematics and Computer Science

Computer Science Thesis Proposals

Computer Science majors seeking to qualify for honors must submit a thesis proposal during the spring semester of their junior year. Proposals can be submitted to the department secretary, Anne Torrey. The deadline for the proposal is 5:00 pm the second Friday after Spring Recess. There will be no extensions to this deadline (with rare exceptions of unusual and dire circumstances).

Proposals will be reviewed by the Computer Science Faculty: those that demonstrate the desire and ability to engage in a research and writing project on a significant topic of Computer Science will be approved. Authors will be notified about acceptance or rejection of their proposals (and about which professor will supervise the research) before the week of preregistration for fall courses. Authors of approved proposals are permitted to enroll in Computer Science 77, the senior honors course for the fall semester.

Requirements for Thesis Proposals

The proposal document should present a research question or topic that might be pursued as a senior thesis. Topics may be suggested by faculty members, found in journals and research publications, developed as extensions of coursework, mined from past student theses, or continued from summer employment.

Juniors who are considering honors work are strongly encouraged to attend the Senior Honors Research Presentations held in early March, and to visit Computer Science faculty members early in the spring to discuss topic ideas, research expectations, and suitable formats for thesis proposals. Students are also invited to present draft proposals to faculty members for comment.

The proposal should be no more than 10 pages of double-spaced, 12 point type, not counting the bibliography. The document should describe clearly the proposed project: specifically, what is the problem to be addressed, and what is the context of the problem? Some previous work should be surveyed to demonstrate that this problem has been investigated by other researchers, and that outstanding questions remain. The proposal should then address which aspects of the problem could be approached in a new manner, and outline at least one possible approach to studying the problem.

Alternatively, a student may propose to survey a topic, with less emphasis on original research and more emphasis on review of published articles. In this case, the topic should be presented together with evidence of substantial background work to be investigated. The author should explain the value of collecting and presenting this background material in an expository format.

The proposal will be evaluated on four criteria:

  1. The topic: Is this a significant computer science topic? Is the topic proposed of a reasonable scope for a senior thesis? For example, ``The Whole New OS (WNOS),'' while a potentially fascinating project, is far too broad for a one-year investigation. ``A modified thread scheduling algorithm for server workloads, examined in simulation'' is a more tractable topic.

  2. Background: Has the author found any existing published work on this topic? What other approaches to this topic have been taken? Is it a solved problem, or is there more to do? While an exhaustive presentation of all related work is not required, the proposal should provide evidence that the author has read and understood one or two recent articles on the topic.

  3. A proposed strategy: What new approach is to be taken? Most importantly, what will we learn from this new approach? In the case of a proposal for original research, the author should explain how this proposed approach may reveal something new about the subject. In the case of a proposal for a survey thesis, the author should show how the questions posed and answered by the thesis will contribute to our understanding of the subject.

  4. Writing quality: Is the author able to present the above issues clearly and succinctly? The proposal should show impeccable spelling and grammar. The proposal should be well structured, with terms defined, ideas clearly described, and past work accurately summarized.