CMSC 691B: Basic Research Skills

Spring 2004
Instructor: Marie desJardins

Students will learn basic skills that are essential to becoming a successful researcher. The objective of the course is to teach research skills in a systematic fashion, early in a student's graduate program. Lecture topics will include research methodology, experimental design, career options, professional ethics and academic integrity, and oral and written presentation techniques. CMSC faculty members will give short invited presentations on their own research.

The core of the course will be a structured, supervised "mini-research project" on a topic of the student's choice. Students will be required to perform a literature survey on their topic, construct a research proposal that includes an experimental design, and write a paper summary in the style of a formal scientific paper. Incremental deliverables will provide structure and feedback over the course of the semester. Each student will be required to find an outside reader for their literature survey and final paper. Additional assignments will include participating in class discussions, giving in-class presentations, preparing a research portfolio (including a CV), and creating a personal website.

Other topics will include:

This course is open to all CMSC graduate students, and counts as an elective towards the M.S. or Ph.D. degree. First-year Ph.D. students
and M.S. students who intend to complete a master's thesis are particularly encouraged to take the class.

Links to Similar Classes

Some of these are regular 3-credit classes, others are less formal seminar series.

When and Where

Tuesday/Thursday, 11:30-12:45, in ITE 239.



The schedule (which is subject to change) is available here.



All students are expected to participate in classroom discussions, both by asking questions and by expressing opinions.

In return, I will make myself available to answer questions, listen to concerns, and talk to any student about topics related to the class (or not). I welcome your feedback throughout the semester about how the course is going.

In addition to regular office hours, I maintain an open-door policy: you should feel to stop by to ask questions, or just say hello, whenever my door is open (which it generally will be unless I am out of the office, in a meeting, or deep in thought). (I'm not that great at remembering names, so please don't be offended if I ask you several times to re-introduce yourself!) I will also make a concerted effort to answer e-mail in a timely fashion (generally within 24 hours on weekdays, and on Monday for messages sent over the weekend).


Course grades will be based on the following work.
Literature survey
Research paper
Written exercises
Class attendance and participation

Students are expected to submit all assignments, regardless of the weight allocated to that assignment. Failure to submit assigned work may result in additional penalties, including one or more reductions in your letter grade.  Students must find an outside reader for the literature survey and research paper. (Preferably this reader will be a tenure-track faculty member in the CS&EE department--ideally your research advisor or potential research advisor. If you wish to use someone else as your outside readers, you must obtain permission from Dr. desJardins).

Literature Survey

The first part of your supervised research in this class will consist of a literature survey on a topic of your choice. The literature survey constitutes 20% of your overall grade, and consists of the following assignments:

Research Paper

Building on the literature survey, in the second half of the semester, each student will develop a research proposal on an open problem in their chosen area, and will write a technical paper summarizing related work and outlining their proposed research. The research paper constitutes 30% of your grade, and consists of the following assignments:

Written Exercises

A number of written exercises will be assigned over the course of the semester, and are worth 30% of your grade. The approximate weight distribution for these assignments is as follows. For the first item, students must turn in paper summaries for the two papers discussed in class on February 3, plus paper summaries on your choice of any three of the papers presented by students in class (not to include your own presentation). All summaries are due in class the day that the paper is presented.

Class Attendance and Participation

Students are expected to attend all classes and participate in class discussions.  Each student will also be required to present and lead a discussion of one of the papers in their literature survey, and to give an in-class presentation on their research proposal. Finally, students are expected to demonstrate professional participation in the research community of the department by soliciting an outside reader for their literature survey/research proposal, by meeting with faculty members to discuss research, and by attending technical talks. These activities are worth 20% of your grade, distributed as follows:
The following are not graded, but are required of every student in the class.

Late Policy

Homeworks will be due at the beginning of class on the due date.  Any assignments not due on a class day will be due at midnight on the due date. Assignments that are to be reviewed by other students (i.e., the literature survey draft and paper draft) must be turned in on time and will receive a zero if turned in late. For the other assignments, each student will be granted a total of seven late days to be used over the course of the semester.  (The late days used round up, so if you turn in an assignment 25 hours late, it will count against two of your late days.) Any assignments that are turned in late after these late days are used up will be given a grade of zero. Exceptions to this policy will be granted only in extraordinary circumstances.

Academic Honesty

By enrolling in this course, each student assumes the responsibilities of an active participant in UMBC's scholarly community, in which everyone's academic work and behavior are held to the highest standards of honesty.  Cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, and helping others to commit these acts are all forms of academic dishonesty, and they are wrong. Academic misconduct could result in disciplinary action that may include, but is not limited to, suspension or dismissal.  To read the full Student Academic Conduct Policy, consult the UMBC Student Handbook, the Faculty Handbook, or the UMBC Policies section of the UMBC Directory. [Statement adopted by UMBC's Undergraduate Council and Provost's Office.]

Cheating in any form will not be tolerated. In particular, plagiarism of any published work, another student's work, or your own previously published or submitted work without proper attribution will not be tolerated. We will be discussing plagiarism, summarization, and proper citation techniques in the class. If you have any questions about what is acceptable, please bring them to me before submitting your work. The minimum penalty for a violation of the academic honesty policy is a zero on the assignment. Other penalties may include a letter grade reduction, failing the class, or, in extreme or repeated cases, dismissal from the program.

691b mailing list

You should subscribe to the class mailing list by sending a message to with the line: Class announcements, hints, and discussion of assignments will be posted on this list. You can also send messages to the list to ask questions of your fellow students and professor.

General questions (i.e., anything that another student may also be wondering about) should be sent to the list, so that everyone will be able to benefit from the answers. Students are welcome to post answers to questions, even if the questions were directed at the course staff. Individual concerns, requests for extensions, questions about individual grades, and the like should be sent to Prof. desJardins directly.

691b wiki

The class wiki is at Class announcements, links to handouts and useful resources, and the like will be posted to the wiki. The wiki will also be used as a forum for student discussions -- feel free to edit and add your own links and discussion topics!


Thanks to the CMSC Graduate Committee and particularly to the committee that developed the proposal for creating this course (Drs. Penny Rheingans and Scott Cost). Thanks also to Susan Epstein (CUNY) and Tom Dietterch (Oregon State University) for sharing their course materials and ideas.