Do’s and Don’ts in an Undergraduate Research Project

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The term RESEARCH has always had a secret power and magnificence to it. Let it be the research conducted by NASA or a mini research project done by school students, research is research no matter in what scale it is being done. So, what do I have to share about research? I have completed my undergraduate degree a few weeks back, which was concluded with a one-year research project. Now you understand that I have a lot to share on this topic😅.

In this blog I’ll be sharing some tips, do’s and don’ts in a final year university research project under some important subtopics. This is to get a rough idea on your very first research project.

  1. Your goal in doing a research
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What is your goal in doing a research project? Is it only to get good results? or for a learning experience? or just for the sake of doing it in order to complete your degree? It’s up for you to decide this. Whatever the reason is, you have to face this challenge. Based on your goal, your effort will vary to person to person and based on the effort the results would also vary. Simple as that!😉

If the goal is just to complete the degree then your risk level would be low. Take a commonly done research topic and justify the minimum level of requirements that will be expected by the supervisors and a panel of judges.

If the goal is to get good results then your risk level is medium. You can either take a commonly done research topic and do it in a different way by using different methodologies and technologies. Else you can pick a new topic from a well-known domain and do research with some decent amount of work.

If the goal is to get some learning experience and do some actual contribution to the chosen domain, then your risk level is high. You can pick a domain which is very rare in terms of research and start everything from scratch. It takes quite a bit of time and effort to complete it. Another risk factor in this criteria is that you cannot predict the final outcome of the research whether it’d be a success or a failure. Nevertheless, it will be a great experience for you especially if you are planning to do higher studies in some well-known universities with scholarships. If you are ready to invest the majority of your time and effort into your research and do a genuine work then you can get good learning experiences with good grades and honestly contribute to the research society.

So set your goal now itself; start planning and align your work accordingly.

2. Choosing your team

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If your research is a group work then choosing your team members is a very important task you should concern about. You guys are going to work as a team for another at least an year of time (the time may vary depending on the university). So it is important to form a team with players of the same mindset and interests. The knowledge level, capabilities and work quality may differ from player to player but everyone should have the same goal in doing the project.

Most of the times it will be the case where 1 or 2 members will be working the most and others will be showing their presence only on days of presentation and viva. That’s not a fair deal. Obviously, not everyone can do all the work but the workload should be shared in a reasonable manner. Because at the end of the research, it will go as an effort of the group and not as an individual’s work. So everyone should contribute in order to claim the success and results of the research.

Distributing the workload based on the individual’s capabilities will reduce the conflicts and result in quality work. Always update your teammates on the things you do, what you are planning to do and things that are blocking you from finishing tasks. Communicating on right time saves a lot of time and reduces the amount of work to be re-done. If someone is struggling, do help them out and if you need any help ask your teammates to help you. That’s how you build the team spirit.

Don’t give excuses for the work you are liable for. Assign a responsible person to be your leader who can communicate well within the team as well as with your supervisors. Because a strong leadership wouldn’t allow unwanted problems to occur within the team and solves the problems in a team if there are any. A leader should be unbiased and know how to make everyone work on time. The team members also should corporate with the leader to do the things as planned.

Some tasks don’t directly connect with your marks. Such as updating the project progress to your supervisor, report documents’ formatting, conducting interviews, preparing questionnaires for your primary research, etc. So, most of the time teammates try not to get involved in such tasks since there aren’t any marks to be rewarded for such tasks. But remember these tasks are the ones that help you to climb up to the next level in your ladder. So don’t put all the burdens onto one person’s shoulder. Be genuine to yourself and help your team members to accomplish those tasks without any struggles.

3. Choosing your supervisor

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Most of the times you get the opportunity to choose your supervisor. Even before you were given the opportunity to select your supervisor do some personal research about the professors and lecturers in your university. Know their subject domain, if they are available whenever you want to meet them or whether they respond to their students promptly through emails, messages and phone calls. It is also important to know how they have treated their previous groups in past years. Get those contacts and ask about those supervisors for further details. Doing such background work will help you to pick the right person as your supervisor.

Majority of students face difficulties in getting connected with their supervisors and in worse cases they even get into some conflicts with them. The main reason is the lack of communication between the team and the supervisor. Either the supervisor doesn’t show any interest in the research or the students don’t take it in a serious manner and do the things that were said by their supervisor. This is your research, not your supervisor’s. So it’s your responsibility to update things to your supervisor and get the maximum support from them.

Sometimes, the students might be very interested in doing their research but supervisors don’t pay much attention due to their other commitments. In such scenarios, get the help from your seniors on the things you have to do. Don’t depend on anyone but just be aware of what to do next.

The supervisor you choose should have good domain knowledge of your research and should be aware of the trending technologies. If not at least they should have the contacts from whom they can get ideas and share with you duly. Because as your very first research project you would definitely seek some good guidance and your supervisor should be a good guide for you. They also need to be updated with the conferences and competitions that are relevant to your research.

A very important point is to make sure that your supervisor knows your contribution to the research. Because at the end of the day they are the ones who will be marking most of your work. So you should make it a point that you show your progress to them frequently. If not, even those who fail to do proper work will get the same grades as those who do the most work, which is not fair game.

4. Do your work on time

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Don’t postpone things that you have to do. Have your own schedule and do your work on time and allocate some amount of time for you to recheck your work. Spend a lot of time searching for things in your domain and if you think you need to learn several technologies don’t hesitate to learn them. Just keep in mind that in research you can’t only depend on the things you’ve already know. Research is all about finding and learning things that you might have not even heard about. So be open to learning things even in a short time of period, prepare yourself for that.

Sometimes you might have to build a solution from scratch but sometimes you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Find the existing solutions and make use of them. Try to be more innovative and come up with some improvements that you think you might add on to those existing solutions. Read as much as you can and don’t hesitate to practically implement the findings and analyze them. That helps you to face your presentations and viva with loads of confidence.

Another bitter truth in research is that you can’t always expect everything to happen according to your plan. In research you should prepare yourself to expect the unexpected things. Sometimes you might have planned to do a component using image processing technologies but after doing several readings and search you will figure out that doing that component using machine learning technologies is better than the decision you made at the very beginning. So the research journey is not a straight line all the time. You have to switch paths to accomplish the journey in a successful manner.

5. Tackling the panel

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This is something very important and interesting too. Sometimes it’s only your supervisor who will be marking all your research work. But in some cases, you might have to face a panel of judges who will be assessing your work. In such cases, you have to explain your entire research from the beginning to the panel. Sometimes they might not get your idea at the first point, or they might have their own ideas which they might expect you to include in your research. So you have to prepare your presentations in a way that they’ll understand it without any difficulties and be open for their ideas and suggestions.

Keep in mind that not all the panels will have judges from your research domain. So you may have to face some difficulties in handling the panel as they are the ones who will be deciding on your grades and the results of your research. Therefore, be smart enough to tackle them and prove what you have planned to do so.

Provide as much evidence to accompany your statements and be prepared for your viva questions. A tip to handle viva questions is to make each of your members to explain their research component to your team and let the others ask possible questions from those components. By doing this everyone will get to know each others’ components as well as you can prepare for viva questions that might be asked by the panel. You can even prepare separate slides to answer those questions. This will show that you are well prepared for the evaluation and you have already thought about those aspects of your research. This creates a good image of your team in the view of the panel which will make things less complicated.

6. Preparing your thesis and research papers

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The ultimate goal of doing your undergraduate research should be to publish a good research paper in a reputed conference or a journal and also to produce a quality thesis. Go through similar research papers and theses of your topic and understand the structure.

When submitting your research paper for a conference they will instruct you on the page limitations. Mostly its 6 pages but depending on the conference the page limitation might differ. When sending your research paper for a conference check for the conference’s h-index. Higher the h-index of a conference, higher the reputation. Also, check for the organizing committee of that particular conference. Because in some case, those who conduct the conference don’t really organize the conference in a professional manner. So read on those conference’s past events and decide. (In order to publish your research paper in IEEE Xplore, the conference must be an IEEE conference and at least one of the authors should present the research paper in the respective conference)

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Let it be a research paper or a thesis, always structure your article and write to the point. Unnecessary elaborations and narrations make your article look less professional and they might reduce the quality of your work. So try to be more professional when writing such technical documents and always find a professional who can do proofreading for your documents.

Remember to follow the citation rules based on the type of citation required by the conference or the university. Never use Wikipedia and/or blogs as your main source for your documents. Remember, this is your research, so write the research papers for your recognition not for your supervisor’s recognition. Because this is a common problem that happens in most of the universities. Sometimes the supervisor just put only their names for the papers that were written by their students. So stand for your hard-work and identity.

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Getting your paper being accepted at a conference is not an easy task. You have to work on several iterations of correcting your work, formatting the documents and so on. So complete the research paper as soon as possible prior to the given deadline and do proofreading by some qualified individuals.

FINALLY…

it’s your effort, time and hard work. At the end of the day, you should feel satisfied with the work you have done so far. Not everyone gets the opportunity to do such research. So make use of it and get the experience which will help you in your workplace and in your higher studies. It’s a great opportunity to improve your analyzing, logical and critical thinking skills along with technical specialties. It also helps you to improve your soft skills. Don’t miss it… you’ll definitely feel great for doing such research… Do it in a way that you don’t regret in future for not doing it right. All the best folks…

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