Senior Theses in Computer Science
A senior thesis is more than a big project write-up. It is documentation of an attempt to contribute to the general understanding of some problem of computer science, together with exposition that sets the work in the context of what has come before and what might follow. In computer science, some theses involve building systems, some involve experiments and measurements, some are theoretical, some involve human subjects, and some do more than one of these things. Computer science is unusual among scientific disciplines in that current faculty research has many loose ends appropriate for undergraduate research.
Senior thesis projects generally emerge from collaboration with faculty. Students looking for senior thesis projects should tell professors they know, especially professors whose courses they are taking or have taken, that they are looking for things to work on. Ideas often emerge from recent papers discussed in advanced courses. The terms in which some published research was undertaken might be generalized, relaxed, restricted, or applied in a different domain to see if changed assumptions result in a changed solution. Once a project gets going, it often seems to assume a life of its own.
To write a thesis, students may enroll in Computer Science 91r one or both terms during their senior year, under the supervision of their research advisor. The CS91r form is online. Rising seniors may wish to begin thinking about theses over the previous summer, and therefore may want to begin their conversations with faculty during their junior spring—or even try to stay in Cambridge to do summer research.
Because theses are contributions to knowledge coming out of the university, all theses are public documents and will be made available in hardcopy in the Harvard library and posted online on the SEAS web site. Students retain copyright but grant the university license to make the documents publicly viewable. Students interested in commercializing ideas in their theses may wish to consult Jennifer Casasanto about patent protection. See Harvard's policy for reassurance about ownership of software written as part of your academic work..
Thesis Timeline for Seniors
All fourth year concentrators are contacted by the Office of Student Affairs and those planning to submit a senior thesis are requested to supply certain information.
A tentative thesis title approved by the thesis supervisor should be submitted to the Student Affairs Office
The student should provide the name and contact information to the SAO for the readers (see below), together with assurance that they have agreed to serve.
Thesis supervisors are advised to demand a first draft. (A common reaction of thesis readers is “This would have been an excellent first draft. Too bad it is the final thesis—it could have been so much better if I had been able to make some suggestions a couple of weeks ago.”)
Thesis is due by 4:00 pm on March 29. Copies should be delivered to all three readers by the student on or before that date. One copy suitable for binding and library archiving also must be delivered to the Office of Student Affairs. Students must email an electronic copy of the thesis (PDF format) to the Director of Undergraduate Studies.
The three readers will receive a rating sheet to be returned to the Office of Student Affairs before the beginning of the Reading Period, together with their copy of the thesis and any remarks to be transmitted to the student.
The student may pick up the reader’s comments and thesis copies from the Office of Student Affairs, after the degree meeting to decide honors recommendations.
Three readers evaluate the thesis. The first reader is the thesis supervisor. The second and third readers are recommended by the student and supervisor, who should ensure that the proposed readers have agreed to serve. The readers must be approved by the Director of Undergraduate Studies. The second and third readers are ordinarily teaching members of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences generally familiar with the research area, but might also be members of other Faculties or comparable professionals (not graduate students, ordinarily).
The thesis should contain an informative abstract separate from the body of the thesis. At the degree meeting, the Committee on Undergraduate Studies in Computer Science will review the thesis abstract, the reports from the three readers and the student’s academic record; it will have access to the thesis. The readers (and student) are told to assume that the Committee consists of technical professionals who are not necessarily conversant with the subject matter of the thesis so their reports (and abstract) should reflect this audience.
The length of the thesis should be as long as it needs to be to present its arguments, but no longer!
- Madelaine D. Boyd
- Advisors: Hanspeter Pfister And Margo Seltzer
- Adrian Sylvanus Zaino Chase
- Advisors: Bill Fash (Anthropology) and Harry Lewis (Computer Science)
- Evan Czaplicki
- Advisor: Stephen Chong
- Svilen Kanev
- Advisors: David M. Brooks and Gu-Yeon Wei
- Stefan Muller
- Advisor: Steve Chong
- Zhuo (Aubrey) Yang
- Advisors: Yum-Tong Siu and Leslie G. Valiant
- Hyunho Richard Lee
- Adviser: Todd Zickler
- Yuga Cohler
- Advisers: David Parkes, John Lai, and Ariel Procaccia
- David Jian Wu
- Adviser: David Parkes
- Pichayut Jirapinyo
- Adviser: David Parkes
- Jeremy D. Hoon
- Adviser: David Parkes