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Most graduate classes include a research project component in the grading scheme. I am taking such a class now and I need to complete a research project.

The instructor has presented us with 4-5 areas of applicability of the course material and asked that we choose our topics. We have to do a research project in the range of 75 hours and write a paper on the findings.

This is the first time I am taking a course such as this. I like the idea and I want to build my research skills; the challenge I am not clear at all on how I should best approach this task. The course is an introductory course and as such I am not familiar at all with the material. The research is about addressing some engineering problem and it needs to have some originality but can be based off of other work.

That is the extent of the information the instructor was able to give me and also said that his time is limited and as such I cannot rely on him for help with this part.

This is fine, but I need to understand how to go about finding a problem, make sure it's a problem I can solve, and make sure it's going to be in the 75 hours of effort ballpark in a field I am not familiar with.

What's my strategy here? How could I possibly ensure these aspects?

  • What are the specific requirements for the project? Do you have to write a paper? Is there a presentation involved? – Kevin Miller May 24 '19 at 22:56
  • There is no presentation involved. A paper in IEEE format will summarize the project. As to the other requirements, there are none. The description of the project is very open-ended: students should look at a particular practical problem in an engineered system and approach it using tools from game theory. – Lucas Taddeus May 24 '19 at 23:17
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Much of your approach will depend on the requirements for this specific project, but there are some generic guidelines that one should follow when beginning a new research project.

  1. You should choose something interesting to you. This seems obvious, but some people fall into the trap of choosing what seems easier or less work and end up losing motivation because they do not enjoy what they are researching. If your instructor gave you 5 areas of applicability to choose from, the first thing to do is find what interests you most. I would strongly caution you against picking something that seems like the quickest option just because you have a time limit.
  2. Become familiar with the area. If all of this material is new to you, do some cursory research wherever you can find it (all the way from a reputable book to Wikipedia). You do not need to become an expert for this class project (since it’s not your thesis), but you need to have a working knowledge and basic familiarity with the topics.
  3. Read/write a literature review. A literature review will tell you what work has been done in a research area. You should read literature reviews that have already been written, but a good researcher will write their own too (even if it is just a smaller section in the paper). By assessing the work being done in your specific area, you will be able to narrow your topic and find gaps in the current research where you can add your own. This is one of the most critical steps to conducting new research. Note: This part of your research should focus on peer-reviewed material (like books and journal articles), not the aforementioned cursory material.
  4. Narrow your topic as much as possible. If it seems daunting to become an “expert” in your area, you are probably thinking too broadly. Your instructor is not expecting earth-shattering research, so do not worry about your contribution being small.

If you follow these guidelines, you should naturally be able to find a problem to work with that is within your skill level, is interesting to you, and meets the requirements for the course. It is difficult to assess how many hours of work this would take, but if the instructor has not indicated this otherwise, I would use the time as a guideline for how detailed your project should be.

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