So that’s it, done and dusted, final year is finished and with it my 4 year college degree.
The inspiration for this post comes from reading a similar post by my friend and former CompSoc compatriot Nathan Shaughnessy. You can read his blog post here.
Basically, there’s a few things that were nice to have in mind in relation to your final year project, and this is to pass them along to others that may be going through the same process soon. Since I did Electronic and Computer Engineering, this advice will likely be of most use to Engineering and IT students, as the procedures are for the most part very similar.
First thing to note, nothing changes when you go into final year, you don’t change. Looking ahead to 4th year, I expected myself to really start knuckling down more, going out less and generally becoming more studious. Wishful thinking to say the least.
Arguably the most important part of final year is your final year project. It is weighted differently in different disciplines, and for Civil Engineers, it most certainly isn’t the most important part, but in my case, the FYP is worth 12 out of a total of 60 credits. It’s the single most important subject that’ll be listed in your results, and because it is weighted so heavily, it is great to bring up your average.
Since the project is worth so much, it’s important to get it right. This isn’t just about writing up your thesis in second semester, it starts from the 1st of September. By now you’ll likely have a pretty good idea as to what you are good at and where your interests lie, it’s crucial to find an FYP that you’ll like and won’t hate working on (in general at least).
You do this by first of all deciding which supervisor you want to work under. Talk to older students and ask them how they found a particular supervisor. Things to look for in a good supervisor are, you get along, s/he’s committed to meeting you at least once a week, s/he will keep you on your toes and their area of interest is something you find interesting. In general, heads of departments are too busy to make good attentive supervisors.
When you’ve picked your preferred supervisor, email them and ask to meet with them. Find out what they have in mind for final year projects. Make sure it is very well thought out with real, concrete goals. Ask yourself, if I take on this project, and sit down tomorrow, how do I start? In my case, I was approached by a supervisor with a suggestion for project that sounded very interesting, but it wasn’t very clear exactly what I had to do. I didn’t really know how I’d start it, and neither did the supervisor, so I decided against it. Instead I went with another supervisor and a project that had clear goals. I knew that I had to go out and use a particular code library to develop a particular algorithm. I could start right away.
Project goals always take longer than you expect. Always. Don’t aim to have your project work finished on the last day. Ideally, aim to have most of the work completed by the start of the second semester. It sounds early, but there will be delays, and the end of March creeps up really quickly when you get into second semester.
Once you are given the goals for your project, it seems like a massive job altogether. The way to get through all of it is to give yourself a goal for every meeting with your supervisor. Every week, have a few things you want to get done, and do them. You aren’t going to get ‘in trouble’ for not sticking to them, but if you do, your supervisor will be happy, and you’ll stay on track. Start each meeting going over what you have done in the last week, and don’t leave the meeting until you have a very good idea of what you need to do for next week.
In my case, this meant many late Sunday nights trying to get stuff done before my meeting on Monday morning. I got much of my best work done at about 2am on a Sunday, which isn’t ideal, but it worked.
Setting and meeting weekly deadlines is difficult, because problems crop up. The most important thing to do is not to cover up your difficulty. Lying and telling your supervisor that things are fine is the worst thing you can do, as you’ll just fall further behind. You aren’t going to lose marks for getting stuck, and your supervisor is an expert, they’ll be able to help you work it out.
At the start of the year, figure out what the deadlines are for various reports and presentations and note them. This way you won’t be caught, as most of our class were, with a couple of days in which to do a progress report after Christmas.
On the topic of Christmas, exams are over, in many cases, you’re finished with subjects for good and you should have a relatively small workload. Use this time to get a load of project work done. I took the first week and a half off, and then worked on my project for a few days I literally got about 75 percent of the project finished in that few days. It left me in excellent shape for second semester and my write up.
Your thesis write up is quite daunting at first. Looking at a couple of old theses that ran to well over 100 pages didn’t help. Don’t worry too much about quantity. Mine ended up being around 50 pages, and it was fine.
Your supervisor is essential in your write up, let’s face it, you have no idea how to write a thesis, I didn’t either. I still don’t. Your supervisor, on the other hand, does. They see several every year. Go to them early and get tips on how to go about writing up, layout, sections etc.
In conclusion, the key to a successful FYP is steady and consistent little bits of work. There’ll be slow weeks and weeks where you get loads done, but if you keep chipping away, it’ll work out in the end.
I got pretty lucky, I enjoyed my project (most of the time), had a great supervisor and had loads of help from some very knowledgeable post grads, I was encouraged to submit an actual research paper to a conference and somehow it got accepted. Then to top it off, I won the best final year project award for ECE. The 85% grade helped bring up my final grades immensely.
There are some crucial things at the start that you need to get right for your FYP to work out well, most importantly, pick something you want to do, and a supervisor you can work with. Get those two basics right and you really have no excuses not to get on well.