The Allen School is committed to offering research opportunities to its undergraduate majors. Research is an exciting, and sometimes challenging, process of discovering something completely new and communicating the discovery to others. For a research result to be meaningful, it must be shared for others to apply or build upon.

Research involves many aspects: investigating prior work, experimenting, inventing, reasoning (proofs), collaboration, organization, writing, and speaking. If there is no chance of failure, it is not research. Projects can vary. Always choose one that you think you would enjoy.

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What is ugrad research? | Why should I get involved in research? | What are the prerequisites for research? | I don't have the prereqs!How can I apply?

  • What is ugrad research?
    • Research is a fancy way of saying 'creating new knowledge.' Researchers tackle problems that have unclear solutions and produce new ways of solving these problems.
    • Ugrad research is an opportunity to learn the research mindset and build a relationship with a mentor. This mindset looks different in different subfields (theory, ml/robotics, HCI) and mentors will also have different personal styles.
  • Why should I get involved in research?
    • The main reason is if you want to see what research looks like as a career / think you may want a PhD. Undergraduate research is (unsurprisingly) one of the best ways to experiment with research as a career path.
    • Ugrad research is an experience that is also sometimes transferrable to industry - some subfields, especially in machine learning, HCI, and ubicomp will be programming-heavy and can demonstrate experience for SWE roles.
  • What are the prerequisites for research?
    • This will depend a lot on the subfield you are interested in. Here are a few sample research subfields and the type of work you might encounter:
    • Human-Computer Interaction: HCI researchers ask, how do humans use computers? How can we make those interactions more seamless? Better for people with disabilities? HCI research often will involve coding, user studies, and data analysis.
    • Machine learning/robotics: ML/robotics researchers ask, how can we teach computers to learn? What techniques does the literature use, and how can we improve on that? ML/robotics research will often be coding heavy and may involve matrix calculus/linear algebra. Taking CSE446 (ML) and math coursework is often recommended.
    • Computational/synthetic biology: comp/synth bio researchers ask, how can computational techniques advance our understanding of biology? This field is broad and may require prior knowledge in biology or an aptitude to read papers from both computer science and biology. Research may look like work in the wetlab, data analysis / visualization, or coding.
    • Theory: theory researchers ask, what can we prove using math? Theory often stands alone from other research areas in that coding is infrequently needed - most of the work is reviewing literature and proving theorems. Strong performance in CSE311/421, high level math coursework, or taking graduate level theory courses is recommended.
    • This is not a complete list of subfields, and every subfield is different!
    • Positions will usually outline the prerequisite courses or skillsets that are expected, so use those to gauge whether you would be a competitive applicant for the position. Otherwise, you can always reach out to the faculty or graduate students you are interested in working with to see if there are other openings that match your background better.
  • I don't have the prereqs! What should I do?
    • Colloquia (CSE590) are amazing ways to explore a new field, meet grad students, and see cutting edge research! Plus, you can elect to get 1 credit.
    • Take the relevant classes to your subfield and/or do personal projects
    • Consider summer research internships like the Research Experience for Undergrads (REUs) or internships at a national laboratory
  • How can I apply?
    • Before you apply, understand the following questions:
      • What subfield am I interested in? Do I want to work on something specific (e.g. improving mobile communication access for rural communities) or something broad (e.g. exploring HCI as a subfield)?
      • Why am I interested in doing research? Maybe you're interested in research to a) try it out, b) explore a new subfield, or c) deepen knowledge in a subfield you're interested in.
      • How has my prior experience clarified my interests and passions? Did you take a class and really liked the style of thinking? How do you approach problems?
    • Start at - some faculty and labs already have an established pipeline for applicants. If you do not see a faculty/subfield of interest, go to Faculty by Expertise to see faculty by their subfield. If you are interested in theory, the process is slightly different since there are fewer theory researchers. Your best bet is reaching out directly to theory faculty with some topics of interest, and continuing to take theory-related courses.

Finding a Research Project

screen shot of OneBusAwayStep 1: Determine possible faculty sponsor(s).

The best way to do this is to explore, and the CSE department has a number of ways to do this.

  • Check out the research project home pages to find out what research faculty members are doing. Here is an additional page specifically made for CSE undergrads with specific information about research labs and researchers and how to get involved with them. Building connections with graduate students and asking them about projects they are working on can also be a good way to learn more about research opportunities.
  • Attend Faculty Colloquia in the Fall of each year (previous colloquia are archived in the Colloquia On-Demand webpage).
  • Talk to the faculty teaching your classes about their work, and other related work going on in the department. This can help you discover what you may be interested in.
  • Connect with PhD students about undergraduate opportunities. Faculty are very busy, so most undergraduate research opportunities are with PhD students.

Step 2: Discuss your research interests with a potential sponsor.

Occasionally, faculty members and graduate students will advertise research projects for undergraduates. It is not wise simply to wait for these announcements. It is better to approach a PhD Student with the knowledge of their projects and how your experience and background can benefit them. Contact them via e-mail to set up a time to discuss  their work. If it seems like a fit, it is worthwhile: (1) to discuss the planned duration of your research (either in terms of number of credits or number of quarters) and expected outcomes (for example, if you are expected to write papers or do a presentation at the end), (2) to make a plan for when you will start, and (3) to determine if you will work for academic credit (either C/NC or graded) or for pay (not all faculty offer paid research opportunities). There are ways to work on the same project for both pay and credit, but it must be clearly articulated which hours are paid and which hours are for credit. Students may not receive both pay and credit for the same hours of research work. If you have questions, please see an academic advisor to clarify your plans.

Step 3: Register for research credits during the quarterly class registration process.

Each research credit hour carries the expectation of three hours of work per week (1 credit = 3 hours per week, 2 credits = 6 hours per week, etc.). Use the CSE research registration tool to get the add-code you need to enter when you register for classes.

Step 4 (for students pursuing CSE or College honors): Sign up for honors.

Make sure you are familiar with the CSE honors enrollment process and expectations.

Step 5: Complete research.

Be proactive in communicating with your research advisor and in making sure project goals/requirements are clear. One of the skills developed through engagement in research is the ability to work independently; therefore, you will be expected to be somewhat self-directed. Your faculty sponsor is the one to determine if you have met the requirements and expectations of the research project, so checking in periodically to make sure you are on track is a good idea. You should turn in any results, assignments or written work to them, and they will submit your grades at the end of the quarter. Research credits are subject to the UW's numerical and letter grading system. Honors students are required to do research and write a senior thesis.

Each year a Best Senior Thesis Award is given.

NOTE: Students who wish to participate in research outside of CSE can only use it toward CSE senior electives if they get a CSE faculty sponsor and register for CSE 498/496 credit. Please discuss this with an advisor if you have questions about conducting research in another department and applying it toward CSE requirements.

Types of Research Credit

CSE 498, CSE 496, and CSE 499 are used to provide you with academic credit towards your degree requirements for research activities and/or independent projects conducted under the supervision of a faculty member (see detailed descriptions below).The department strongly encourages research and independent project participation by undergraduates both as a way to sample and prepare for graduate school and to work on the leading edge of the field.

Both CSE 498 (maximum of 9 credits) and CSE 496 (maximum of 9 credits) may be used to fulfill Computer Science & Engineering electives and are graded courses. The difference between the two is that CSE 496 is for students enrolled in the University or Departmental Honors programs. CSE 499 may be used only as free elective credit and is graded credit/no-credit. You may register for CSE 499 for a quarter or two prior to fully engaging in a research project under CSE 498/496.

The number of496/498/499credits you take per quarter may vary. However, the average is 3-4 quarterly credits. Expect the workload to be approximately 3-4 hours per week per credit.

A faculty member must officially supervise all projects. A CSE graduate student or industry supervisor may, under the direction of a faculty member, also supervise your work. A faculty member is always responsible for the grading of every research project. Honors projects include an additional requirement that is laid out in detail on the honors webpage. (The content of the honors paper is determined by the student and supervising faculty. The paper is submitted as part of the final grade for the project. Since honors projects span multiple quarters, a student should receive an "X" until a final grade is submitted the last quarter of the project.)

You may not be paid an hourly salary and receive credit for the same research hours. However, if resources allow, it is possible to split research by having some hours paid and some counting towards credit.

CSE 498, 496 Research Projects

To receive graded research, you should describe a development, survey literature, or conduct a small research project in an area of specialization. Objectives are: (1) applying and integrating classroom material from several courses, (2) becoming familiar with professional literature, (3) gaining experience in writing a technical document, and (4) enhancing employability through the evidence of independent work. Your project may cover an area in computer science and engineering or an application to another field. The work normally extends over more than one quarter. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor. Students pursuing 496, honors, must complete all 9 credits, their senior thesis, and oral presentation on the same project.

CSE 499 Reading and Research (1-24)

Available for CSE majors to do reading and research in the field. Usable as a free elective, but it cannot be taken in place of a core course or Computer Science & Engineering senior elective. 499 can be a good way to experiment with a research project before committing to 9 credits of honors work or further graded research. Prerequisite: Permission of instructor. Credit/No credit.

CSE 498, 496, or 499 Registration

The type of research credits a student can enroll in is dependent on the student’s faculty mentor. The flowcharts below describe the research credits you are eligible to enroll in.

If you are a CSE major requesting research registration with an Allen School full-time faculty member, follow the instructions below:

  • Log in to your MyCSE webpage.
  • Scroll down the front page until you see the "Apply for Research" box.
  • Check to make sure the default quarter is accurate; this is especially important when signing up for fall quarter as summer may still be listed.
  • Fill in the online form requesting research. If you plan to work with a CSE grad student, you should list their faculty advisor as your research advisor on the form.
  • An email will be sent to your faculty advisor, who will then go online to approve the request.
  • Once the request has been approved, you will be sent an email with an add code to use to register.
  • Important last step: actually REGISTER for the approved credits.

You are responsible for making sure that you do not over-enroll for more than 9 credits of graded, 498 research (9 credits allowed/required for honors).

Research Funding

Faculty members who have NSF research grants can apply for NSF Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) as supplements to their existing grants. You should remind your faculty sponsor about this opportunity. This site also gives information about REU programs at other universities for which you may be eligible. The Mary Gates Endowment and the Washington NASA Space Grant Program have research grants for undergraduates.

Departmental Honors and Senior Thesis

For full requirements on how to graduate with departmental honors, please see the departmental honors web page.

Students typically complete their thesis during their last quarter of research. Once a decision is made to pursue departmental honors, you should notify your faculty advisor and determine a topic for your senior thesis. The honors research and project should be completed with one faculty member, or, in the rare instance where you need to switch advisors, faculty within the same area of research as the original advisor.

Once the thesis is completed, one copy should be submitted to the faculty supervisor and one to the CSE undergraduate advisors. If you do not meet the honors thesis requirements, you will not graduate with honors even if  you have successfully completed nine credits of research. In many cases, faculty will not issue grades for honors research until the entire project is finished and approved.

Undergraduate Thesis Archive

All CSE honors theses, including the past winners of the Best Senior Thesis Award, are published online as part of the UW CSE Undergraduate Thesis Archive.

Cross-Departmental Research

Students can pursue research in any department. However, if they are doing CSE-related work and wish to earn CSE research credits they must find a CSE faculty member to sponsor the research. Credit types, amounts, and grading would then be worked out between the facutly sponsor, the student, and the research advisor in the other department. This should be arranged prior to beginning a project.