Computer Science SIP Guide

general information

The Senior Individualized Project is an opportunity for you to create a unique learning experience that draws on all the academic and experiential aspects of your Kalamazoo education. Whether you decide to work on campus or off, you should enlist a SIP advisor from the department and discuss your ideas with that person early in the planning phase. You should develop a SIP proposal, obtain the approval of your faculty SIP advisor, and file a SIP contract with the department before the end of spring quarter.

The SIP does not count toward the nine courses in a Computer Science major except in rare circumstances, depending on the nature of the SIP, and only with prior departmental permission.

who?

Most students doing SIPs in computer science are CS majors, although occasionally students majoring in other subjects have done Computer Science SIPs. Furthermore, not all CS majors choose to do a CS SIP. You may do a SIP in any department of the College if you have the support of a faculty SIP advisor in that department.

what and where?

Most CS SIPs are either experiential SIPs or research SIPs. Students doing research SIPs generally participate in a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program, work at a national lab such as Argonne National Laboratory, or conduct research with one of the faculty on campus, and then write a research paper. Students doing experiential SIPs work at a company or government laboratory or agency and then write a report relating theory to practice. The SIP report should include further research into some aspect or extension of the project that the student finds interesting. All students doing CS SIPs also give an oral presentation of their work after it is complete. See the section below on SIP Reports for more information on research and experiential SIP reports.

when?

CS SIPs are generally two-unit SIPs. In rare cases, one-unit SIPs are permissible. If you would like to do a one-unit SIP, you should speak to a member of the department early in the planning phase. (See the section on exceptions below.)

Students doing two-unit SIPs complete the experiential or research portion of their work during the summer and write their SIP reports during the fall. Thus, you should register for one SIP unit for the summer and one SIP unit for the fall. In addition you may register for either one or two classes during the fall quarter. Two classes plus the fall SIP consititutes a full load; students are not allowed to overload during a SIP quarter, so you may not register for three classes and a SIP in the fall.

Seniors working on their SIP reports during the fall should participate in SIP peer review as either a student or guest in the CS senior seminar. This allows students to report progress, share ideas, analyze and critique outlines and drafts, and generally help each other develop a high-quality, personal report of their unique experiences. Full participation of every student in the seminar is critical to the success of this program. During the fall students also design a presentation of their work (which will generally be given in the spring quarter) and/or a poster session.

exceptions

The SIP structures described above are general guidelines for Computer Science SIPs. Students wishing to split a SIP between two departments should speak to faculty members in each department early in the planning phase. Other exceptions, including the option of doing a one-unit SIP, will be handled on a case-by-case basis. An approved one-unit SIP might, for example, consist of doing special coursework, writing an expository paper, or doing an experiential project with a shorter SIP report.

In all cases, you should speak with a member of the department early enough to be able to make plans and consider alternatives.

SIP report

Most Computer Science Senior Individualized Projects are two-unit Experiential SIPs or experimental or applied Research SIPs involving a substantive technical project. Occasionally, though, a CS student will do an expository paper or literature survey SIP, which is generally a one-unit SIP. The primary artifact or deliverable from a SIP is the SIP report, generally a 30-50 page document (sometimes less, sometimes more).

The expectations, content, and structure of a SIP report depend on the type of project that was undertaken. In general, experiential and research SIPs include sections that address the context for your project, the technical work your undertook, a discussion of its relationship or relevance to a broader computing context, your results and conclusions, and some reference to either your future or the future of the project.

An experiential SIP report generally documents the following:

  • The context of your project (mission or focus of the company, work group, your place within it)
  • The technical work undertaken
  • How your project relates to broader computing concerns or a particular computing sub-field
  • Your results and conclusions
  • A reflection on how your SIP related to previous work you have done (coursework, internships, etc) and its relevance to your future in computing

An experimental or applied research SIP report addresses similar themes, but may be structured differently. A research report generally includes the following components:

  • Context, broken down into three areas: problem, background, and related work
  • A description of the technical work undertaken
  • Documented results and conclusions
  • A description of possible future work
  • Optional: A research SIP may also include a reflection on how your SIP related to previous work you have done (coursework, internships, etc) and its relevance to your future in computing

An expository paper (literature survey) SIP has a different set of expectations. For this type of SIP, students are expected to find, understand, integrate, and communicate information from a reasonable number and diversity of sources on an appropriate topic. The paper should provide some chronological and technical context for the topic, describe its current state, and describe the impact it has had or is expected to have, including for whom it is most relevant.

planning and timelines

The timeline described here (especially the sections on the Summer and Fall quarters) is for a typical two-unit CS SIP. Students undertaking a one-unit SIP or a SIP split across multiple departments should develop an appropriate timeline with their faculty SIP advisor(s).

Junior Year: You should start researching SIP opportunities by the fall of your junior year. Application deadlines for most REU programs and research programs at government labs and agencies are during the winter term. If you are planning to study abroad during your junior year, you should start researching SIP opportunities before you go abroad and should expect to be applying for off-campus opportunities while abroad. Information about opportunities at the national labs and at REU programs can be found on the web. The best resources for finding out about experiential SIP opportunities are the Career Development Center, family and friends, and current seniors and recent alumni.

Junior Spring: You should choose and meet with your faculty SIP advisor during the spring quarter of your junior year. You must agree on the SIP proposal, on any preparation that will be necessary before the summer SIP quarter begins, on the type and frequency of communication you will have with your local advisor while you are off-campus, and on requirements and deadlines for your SIP. Your proposal should be filed with the department before the end of Spring quarter. To the extent you can, given the information you have when developing your proposal, your SIP proposal should address the following basic questions:

  • Where will you be working, and what project (topic) will you be working on?
  • (Research SIPs) What question or problem are you trying to address, and how do you propose going about it?
  • (Experiential SIPs) Why is the company you will be working for interested in this project?
  • Why would the broader CS or Math community be interested in this project? How does the project fit into the broader CS or Math world?
  • What will be the theme that will run through and provide structure for your paper?
  • (Experiential SIPs) What aspect or extension of the project would you find interesting to research further for your paper?
You may choose to have the "project" mentioned in these questions refer to the specific work that you will do during the summer or to something larger in scope of which your work is a part.

If you will be working off-campus, you should provide the name, address, email address, and telephone number of your off-campus supervisor to your faculty SIP advisor at the start of your off-campus work.

Summer Quarter: As you do your work, keep your topic and theme in mind, and be working to develop a thesis for your paper. Jot down notes to yourself as you encounter problems, develop solutions, and see connections with other things. These notes will be a valuable resource to you when you write the SIP paper. You should also begin your library research on the interesting aspect/extension you chose earlier. Take advantage of the contacts that you have at your job or research site: ask them to suggest good books and articles on the topic, and go to them with things you don't understand from the readings.

Midway through the summer, you should send a revised topic and theme to your on-campus SIP advisor as well as a preliminary thesis, a report on your library research, and a first-pass outline of your paper.

By the end of August, you should send your on-campus SIP advisor an updated report on your library research and a detailed outline of your paper. If you are doing an experiential SIP, you should also send a draft of the section(s) of your paper talking about what you did for your project, the company or organization that you worked for, and why the organization is interested in the project. If you are doing a research SIP, you should communicate with your on-campus SIP advisor about which section(s) of your paper you should focus on at this point.

At the end of the summer, your SIP advisor will evaluate your work to date to determine whether you have earned the summer unit of SIP credit.

Senior Fall: During the fall quarter, Math and CS SIP students participate in the SIP Seminar. Participation is required for all two-unit SIPs, so be sure that you have registered for the seminar and that you do not have conflicts with its meeting time. The main focus of the seminar is to engage in peer-review of your SIP paper as it develops, although students also review posters and presentations of their SIPs, resumes, and graduate school applications.

Final drafts of SIP reports are due at the end of Fall quarter. Faculty advisors review SIPs over winter break. The final, formatted version must be submitted at the beginning of winter quarter.

Senior Spring: During the spring quarter of your senior year, you will give an oral presentation of your work to faculty and students as part of the annual departmental "SIP Fest."

assessment

When your project is completed, it will be evaluated by your SIP advisor. Advisors solicit a second opinion to confirm exceptionally high quality work deserving Honors and to confirm failing work.

SIPs and SIP reports will be assessed based on the criteria in Figure 1.

All Computer Science SIPs are expected to include substantive technical work (or, in the case of expository papers, research into a significant technical topic). All SIP reports are expected to address all of the content-related features described in the table below, as well as the structural and stylistic characteristics described as meta-features. The report should be well-structured, clear, and generally free of mechanical, syntactic, and stylistic errors.

To be eligible for Honors, a SIP report must be exceptionally strong, both in content and writing style, and must show a strong degree of student ownership and direction in the choice of topic and depth or degree of integration.

Figure 1
Experiential or Research SIP Expository Paper
Appropriate topic Appropriate topic
Features related to SIP report content:
  • Context
  • Technical work
  • Relationship/Relevance to area of CS (part of Context in research SIPs)
  • Results & conclusions
  • Reflection/Reference to the future
See the section on SIP reports for details.
Features related to SIP report content:
  • Reasonable set of sources (number, age, diversity)
  • Context (chronological or technical)
  • Current state of technology or subject (& predicted future, if sources address that)
  • Relevance and impact
  • Conclusions
  • Optional: reflection on relevance to self
Meta-features of SIP report:
  • Appropriate focus or theme
  • Effective overall structure
  • Appropriate level for intended audience
  • Writing style: sentence- and paragraph-level structure
  • Mechanics and syntax
  • Include citations and/or other acknowledgements of information and help, as appropriate
  • Include diagrams, code fragments, and appendices, as appropriate for understanding and clarity
  • Include all standard components of a SIP report (acknowledgements, table of contents, bibliography, etc)
Meta-features of SIP report:
  • Same as for Experiential or Research SIP

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