CMSC 601: Basic Research Skills

Spring 2010, MW 5:30-6:45, ACIV 011
Instructor: Charles Nicholas
Office: ITE 325G

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 the student's graduate studies. Lecture topics will include research methodology, experimental design, career options, professional ethics and academic integrity, and oral and written presentation techniques.

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 finding an advisor, time management skills, career options, internships and summer jobs, and teaching skills.

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. Undergraduate students are welcome, but should consult with the instructor before enrolling.


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.

Due to my relatively unpredicable schedule, I don't hold regular office hours. If you want to make an appointment to see me, please call or send email to Ms. Jane Gethmann, 410-455-2713 - Jane manages my appointment calendar. However, I maintain an open-door policy. If I am in my office when you stop by, I'll talk with you, or we'll set up a time when we can do so. I make a serious effort to answer e-mail in a timely fashion.


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 tenured or tenure-track faculty member in the CSEE department--ideally your research advisor or potential research advisor. If you wish to use someone else as your outside reader, you must obtain permission from the professor).

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 25% 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 25% 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 in the first week, 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.  Sttudents may also be required to present and lead a discussion of one of the papers in their literature survey, and/or 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. 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.

Links to Similar Classes and Other Resources

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


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.

Special thanks to Marie desJardins for doing so much of the heavy lifting by teaching this course for the first time in Spring 2004. If I use something in this course and don't attribute it to somebody else, it's likely that I took it from her first offering of this course! Web pages from previous course offerings should still be available.