CS370: Undergraduate Reading and Research

Instructor: Dr. Bill Young

Office: GDC 7.810; Office Hours: By appointment
Office Phone: 512-471-9782; Email: byoung@cs.utexas.edu

This website: www.cs.utexas.edu/users/byoung/cs370/syllabus370.html

Course Overview

CS 370 is a research-oriented independent study class. Different professors conduct this class differently. This page lays out expectations for someone who is taking this class under my supervision. Do not take this course expecting a "blow off" course with minimal requirements. I expect that your level of effort will be commensurate with that in other advanced undergraduate-level courses, with the exception that you will not be attending class.

The intent of the course is that you undertake an independent study of some interesting or challenging research area in computer science, preferably one related to my own research interests of computer security, automated reasoning, and contemporary issues in computing. If the topic you choose is too far outside my area of expertise, I will decline to supervise and suggest that you take the course with another supervising professor.

This course requires more self-discipline than a standard class. The biggest hazard is that you get busy with other courses or work or anything else, and put off work on this course. That's fatal, but very common. If you end up trying to do everything in the last two week, you're very likely to fail. I'm not going to keep a very close rein on you, so don't sign up if you don't have the self-discipline to make it work.

Writing Flag or Not?

When you sign up for CS370, you can specify whether the course fulfills a writing flag requirement of your degree program. If you need the class to fulfill the writing flag requirement, there must be a significant writing component to the course. In that case, you will be required to write several papers on selected aspects of your topic. For example, you might submit 5 papers of around 5-10 pages each, demonstrating your mastery of the topic. Alternatively, you might write fewer, longer papers. Your written output is expected to be in the range of 30-50 pages. If you feel that this is an excessive work load, perhaps you are not ready for research and should not take the course.

If you don't need a writing flag, don't sign up for the flag. That gives much more flexibility in deliverables for the course. It may happen that your proposed semester project is not one that fits well within the framework of written research papers. For example, you might propose the design or implementation of a computing system for which primary effort is in programming rather than writing of research reports. If I approve such a project, it will be evaluated according to appropriate criteria that we agree on in advance. Your proposal should reflect the special nature of your project and propose appropriate benchmarks.

If you are taking the course as a writing flag class, your writing will be scrutinized more carefully than otherwise, but all submissions are expected to be well-researched, well-written, and thoroughly documented.

Note: for this course, your research is not required to be novel or publishable. An acceptable project might be to survey the existing work on a specific research problem in some area of computer science, explaining the importance and history of the problem, and comparing and contrasting attempts to solve it. Obviously, I'd be delighted if you can solve open problems or write publishable research papers during the course of the semester, but that's too much to ask in an undergraduate course of this nature.

Signing up for the Class

Before signing up, you are required to confer with me about the expectations and requirements of the course and obtain my permission to register. I will need to sign your registration form during the first week of the semester. Typically, I will accept no more than three students per semester.

It would be best if you come to our initial interview with an idea of a research topic you would like to pursue. It does not work well for you to arrive expecting me to assign you a topic. You will be more interested and motivated by a topic of your own choosing. I will work with you to refine and refocus your topic if needed. But I generally can't assign you a topic.


The first "deliverable" of the course is a short proposal (2-3 pages) describing your topic and laying out the work you propose to perform over the course of the semester. Choosing your topic area is the most important aspect. It should be narrow enough to be interesting, but broad enough to support a full semester's investigation. You are generally required to have a single research focus for the semester; it is not acceptable to have several unrelated areas to investigate. Your proposal should also list the deliverables you plan to submit, and the dates you expect to submit them. Generally, your proposal must demonstrate that you have an adequate plan for a semester's research project, and a grasp of the scope of the semester's work. Your proposal is due during the first week of the semester.

Note: the proposal is a contract between us and I expect you to follow though. But there is some flexibility. If you find later in the semester that your interests have changed or that you have misjudged the topic, you may be allowed to change your schedule of work. However, you are strongly encouraged to put enough effort into your proposal that you have strong confidence that your proposed project is doable and will sustain your interest throughout the semester.

The other "deliverables" are the papers or other artifacts that you outlined in your proposal. Deliverables are due according to the approved timeline in your proposal. If you can't meet the timeline, for whatever reason, be sure to discuss it with me in advance. The timeline is there to ensure that you are making progress throughout the semester and will be enforced.

For written material, follow reasonable formatting guidelines. Do not use formatting tricks (such as wide spacing or large fonts) to pad your papers. Quality is more important than quantity, though quantity is required for a writing flag class.


This is an independent study class. I am generally quite accessible and will be happy to spend as much (or as little) time with you as needed. My only requirement is that you check in with me periodically (ideally each week or so) and provide evidence that you are making progress on your research project. This can be a 5 minute meeting in my office, or an email summary of your progress. Recall that I am always happy to spend more time with you and address any issues you are having on an as-needed basis.

Grading policies

You will be judged on your fulfillment of your proposed research plan. In past semesters, CS370 students have sometimes disappeared for most of the semester and dropped 5 papers on my desk the final week. That is unacceptable. You are required to show adequate progress throughout the semester by turning in deliverables at appropriate intervals and making periodic progress reports. This is mainly for your benefit, not mine. If you let the work slide, it will put a heavy burden on you later in the semester and practically guarantee that you don't derive as much benefit as you might from your project.

If you have some special circumstances or personal emergency that requires an adjustment to your proposed schedule, please let me know. I am generally quite sympathetic to well-justified changes. I am much less sympathetic to students who disappear for weeks at a time with no explanation.

Scholastic Dishonesty

Academic dishonesty will not be tolerated. See www.cs.utexas.edu/users/ear/CodeOfConduct.html for an excellent summary of expectations of a student in a CS class. All work must be the student's own effort. Plagiarism is a problem in courses of this sort; it will not be tolerated. If you can find it on the Internet, so can I, and I will make every effort to detect plagiarism in your papers.

No deviation from the standards of scholastic honesty or professional integrity will be tolerated. If you have any questions regarding plagiarism or standards of scholastic honesty, please see me about them. Scholastic dishonesty is a serious violation of UT policy; and will likely result in an automatic F in the course and may involve further disciplinary action at the college or university level.

Writing Resources

Some or all of the following may be useful with your writing.

CS 234: Technical Writing

Substantial Writing Component (SWC) Courses

UT Academic Integrity from the Office of the Dean of Students

Plagiarism This section includes examples of the proper use of quotations, citations and references to avoid plagiarism.

UT Copyright Policy

UT Undergraduate Writing Center

Writer's Handbook - U Wisconsin

Chicago Style Guide: Citations