UW Computer Science & Engineering 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.
Finding a Research Project
Step 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.
- Attend the ACM sponsored "Research Cafe Night" (see the Student Chapter of the ACM homepage for more information).
- 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.
- Check out the research project home pages to find out what research faculty members are doing. 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.
Step 2: Discuss your research interests with a potential faculty 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 faculty member with the knowledge of their projects and how your experience and background can benefit them. Contact them during office hours or 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 departmental or College honors): Sign up for honors.
Make sure you are familiar with the departmental 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 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 498A, CSE 498B, 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 498A (maximum of 6 credits) and CSE 498B (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 498B 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 498/498H.
The number of 498/499 credits 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 498A, 498B 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 498B, 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 or 499 Registration
- Log in to your MyCSE webpage.
- Go to the Research tab.
- 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 his/her 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 6 credits of graded, 498 research (9 credits allowed/required for honors).
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 webpage.
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.
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.