Anatomy of a Final-Year Project

Posted: June 30, 2013 by Jinkchak in RVCE, RVCE CSE, Short Stories
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Dedicated to my project teammates – Troy and Abed +1

Final Year Project Work – 4 words capable of inducing consternation as well as joyful exuberance in any final-year student of RVCE, depending on one’s outlook! But why are these words shrouded in a cloud of mystery? Is Project work as dull and dreary as those who went before you had you believe? Or does it invoke a sense of mysticism inexplicable to all but those who have experienced it first-hand?

project

Well, I know not if you understood what I have just written, but I’ll leave you to ponder over it, for, I come not to complain about or praise project work. I come to present to you Jinkchak’s Survival Guide to Final Year Project Work. Tried but never tested, this guide, written in an algorithmic format, will surely help you in ways you’ve never dreamed of. Some points might be best suited only to the CSE domain, but I do urge you to continue reading since I’m sure you’ll find some commonality even if you aren’t from the CSE department.

Contents

contents

Chapter 1: Our choices show what we truly are — January

Your final stint in RV begins during the last few days of this cold month. Pre-occupied with thoughts of how you’ll make this semester memorable, you will be notified by way of the…wait for it…notice board that you have to select a topic for your project.

topic_iconTwo sheets containing the list of topics along with their respective guides’ names will be put up. The topics are usually based on a guide’s research interests. Getting a good topic and a good guide together is a rarity.

Now, there are a variety of ingenious strategies you can follow to gauge which topics are most suitable. If honour codes do not make any sense to you, then strategies 1 to 3 are for you. The others – read strategies 4 to 7.

  1. copyingIf websites like 1000projects.org are your cup of tea, then all your troubles are over. Choose a topic for which a readymade project is easily available online. Remember, the key word here is “Readymade”.
  2. buyIf you’re one of those who is of the opinion that 1000projects.org and the like are not stylish enough, then institutes might suit your taste. With the multitude of “project institutes” popping up all around the city, with the sole aim of selling projects and teaching buyers (students) how to use them and palm it off as if they (the students) are the creators themselves, there isn’t any dearth of choices. Choose a topic for which you can purchase your project (and gratis training) from an institute, for a meagre sum of Rs. 10000 or more.
  3. If you’re one of the more fortunate ones who knows a senior (or anyone for that matter) who is more than willing to oblige you by donating his/her project to you, then do not hesitate to jump at this chance.
  4. honor codeIf you are one of those whose code of honour is at stake or if you like to work on projects to learn or if you’re just plain confused, then the aforementioned approaches may not be to your liking. Choose an interesting topic from the list. If you have a good topic in mind which isn’t in the list, then choose a guide who will allow you to pursue it.
  5. If you’re one of those who doesn’t give two hoots about the topic, then your next option is to choose a good guide, and the word “good” has different connotations here.
  6. internWell, if you’ve been fortunate enough to be blessed with an internship during this period, feel free to register your internship project as your main project, although I should warn you that there are downsides to this decision. That’s why some students who are interning, prefer to work on a separate project in college, but we’ll talk about that later.
  7. If you’re still confused and undecided about your topic, go back to step 1.

Now that you’ve finally narrowed down your choice, choosing teammates is your next task. Well, not if you’ve already decided before-hand, and by before-hand, I mean weeks before, if not months or years before. Be that as it may, one thing is certain – most of the time, your group will end up like this (even if you’re planning to copy your project): The left-most guy/gal is usually the most sought after. The next two people provide some sort of comic-relief to the group, during trying times, while the rightmost fool creates emotional drama in the month of May, but we’ll get to that later.

Figure 1: Group Members

Figure 1: Group Members

Not to mention the occasional squabble in your group about who is working and who isn’t. A team in which every member contributes to the project in whatever way he/she can or at least makes an effort to do so – Such teams do exist.

Chapter 2: Stupid Cupid — February

This is usually the month when love is “supposedly” in the air. However, you, my friend, have another task to think about, provided you’re doing the project yourself without the aid of institutes and the like.

  1. ieeeYou will spend this month (and possibly half of the next) researching your topic, the most notable source being the World Wide Web.
  2. At times, depending on your guide’s frame of mind, this source may not suffice. Some guides revere only research_zoneIEEE papers (nothing more, nothing less), and if Google Scholar doesn’t come to your rescue, you might find yourself in the Digital library of RVCE on rare occasions, waiting for a vacant computer which you can use to download IEEE papers, thanks to RVCE’s subscription.
  3. Most of the time, the subscription helps but there are occasions when even this subscription won’t cover the paper you wish to download. Well, all I can say is: Change the topic OR Come up with another solution.
  4. You can even go back to the old-school method of heading to the RVCE library (or any library for that matter) and searching through those good old physical books, which are pretty decent if you know where to look.
Chapter 3: Eat, Sleep, Code — March

guideBy now, you should have some inkling of an idea about what your topic is all about, and what you aim to accomplish. If you aren’t, then woe unto thee!

Anyway, with your entire research ready, you are all set to get down to business. Before going any further, let me draw your attention to the type of guides that are usually encountered, since this makes a lot of difference in the long run.

  1. 1. Those who are passionate about their work and perhaps, wish to instill the same passion in you. Their demands will usually be high but it is well worth it “because you’re worth it”…Ok..ok..I just couldn’t resist. 😛
  2. 2. Those who are least bothered about what you do, as long as you are doing it yourself and not buying your project from an institute.
  3. Those who have a slight idea of what you’re project is all about.
  4. Those who haven’t the faintest idea what your project is about.
  5. Those who allow you to work on whatever you want, so long as you deliver and publish an IEEE Paper (with their names in it) in the end.
  6. Those who DO NOT allow you to work on whatever you want. Publishing an IEEE Paper is a must, and they usually give more importance to report-writing than the actual coding (or whatever) required by the project.
  7. Those who possess the gift of the gab. If you have such a guide, you might find yourself listening to them speak for at least an hour, non-stop.(A guy called Tapia had such a guide. On one occasion, after his guide had completed one of his 1-hour long speeches, Tapia excused himself at once and ran out of his guide’s staff-room and lay down flat on the floor outside for a few minutes. Following this incident, Tapia tried his best to avoid meeting his guide as much as possible; instead allowing his teammates to bear the brunt, so to speak.)

I think I’ve drifted from the topic at hand long enough. So, coming back to the month of March! Your actual work begins now. Sure, you can postpone this to the month of April, but better safe than sorry, right? So, let’s assume you choose to start your actual work in March (or latest, by the Ides of March). Speaking from the point of view of a CSE student, here’s the complete lowdown of a typical scenario.

work in progress

  1. Gather the “working” members of your team – (the first 3 guys from the left, in Fig. 1).
  2. Have a fruitful discussion over a bowl of fruit. Decide who will work on what aspect of the project, and then wonder what those “aspects” are.
  3. discussionsRepeat Step 2 at least 10 times. You’ll find that each discussion leads to a different decision.
  4. Shift your discussion rooms to the Web. With the multitude of networking apps, you’ll be spoiled for choice. If you wish to appear professional, use websites such as this: http://www.bitrix24.com/ . Discuss your ideas and tasks here for a week. Then, shift to good ol’ Google+. Create a secret group and now discuss with the help of Hangouts.
  5. After each discussion, you’ll be left wondering what that off-topic discussion accomplished.
  6. After going around in circles from hangout to hangout (or rather, after githubiterating through steps 1 to 4 umpteen times), finally meet up in college and get down to brass tacks. Time will be slipping by and one person from your team (if not your good self) will finally realize that it’s time to finally wake up.
  7. This person will create a repository on Github and start coding
  8. Inspired, all the working members of the team will also join in.
  9. (Optional) Choose a song to listen to, while working on your project. Let it be the theme song for your project. For us, it was

whatsappWork begins in full swing, and now everyone lives happily ever after – NOT! An important word of advice – Google+ Hangouts can never be used to discuss your project work and strategies, since for some reason, the topic always tends to shift to something unrelated. Whatsapp is more suitable for discussions that (mostly) tend to stay on track.

Chapter 4: Write and write again until you succeed — Mid-April

If you thought that creating (or development) was all that your project entailed, then I must tell you how wrong you are. Project-Report – why do I dread these words? You’ll find out soon enough.

You should have finished a major part of your development by now. If not, hurry up, for you’ll find your hands tied soon. Let’s peek at the first aspect of Report-work, which is nothing but the preparation of the report, and it entails the following:

  1. Latex vs word 2Decide whether you wish to stick to Microsoft Word or shift to Latex (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LaTeX). If you chose the former option, go to step 2. Otherwise go to step 3.
  2. You’ve chosen Microsoft Word. Welcome to your worst nightmare! Spend many nights fixing misalignments and incorrect page numbering. Wish to insert a new chapter in between two other chapters. Best of luck renumbering figures, etc. Oh..Did I mention the Contents Page or the insertion of images that make your text go haywire? Enjoy! Don’t say you weren’t warned before! Go to step 4.
  3. latex vs wordYou’ve chosen Latex, which “encourages the separation of layout from content while still allowing manual typesetting adjustments where needed”. Congratulations on your decision. Although it does have a learning curve (that isn’t that steep if you use templates), once you get the hang of it, report writing will be a breeze.
  4. Whether you intend to plagiarize content from elsewhere or intend to write everything yourself is a choice you have to make for yourself (or your team).
  5. Be prepared to receive numerous corrections from your guide. Corrections will usually be along these lines: “References. Add more references, ya. Why can’t you add some latest papers? And this bibliography is not in the proper format. More references. Why is this figure so big? Make it smaller. Why is this figure small? Make it bigger. You know everything but you are not able to convey it. What ya? Where are the key findings? You must write properly and come.”
  6. correctionUsually, you’ll be asked to make a draft “physical” copy for your guide to correct.
  7. Present this draft copy to your guide.
  8. Your guide will highlight changes to be made, with red ink and will reprimand you at times.
  9. Make the necessary corrections.
  10. Repeat steps 5 to 9 at least 10 times. In Report Writing, one does not simply make a draft copy without any mistakes.
  11. Don’t be abashed when you’re informed by your guide(s), right after you’ve finished making all the corrections, that you “have to make the report in Word compulsorily”. Pay no heed to that and stay firm, no matter what! Sooner or later, you can count on them forgetting about it in most cases.

IMG-20130518-WA0004

Chapter 5: Patience is a virtue and The Chamber of Secrets — May

signatureIf you thought that completing the report is the last of your troubles, think again! After spending around two or three weeks on report-writing alone, it’s signature time!! Firstly, you must be ready with a spiral-bound copy of your report, duly signed by your guide after you’ve incorporated all changes. After this, you will be asked to show your report to “the committee”.

committeeNow, you might be under the impression that this committee sits around a table in some room of your department. Think again! The members of this committee prefer to remain in their respective staff-rooms. The committee consists of 6 members of the faculty, whose identities vary depending on the project group. So, in order to obtain a signature from the committee, you have to go to 6 different people and obtain their autographs, one by one. You also have to take into account the time during which they are available. On average, this entire process might cost you an entire day or two. Patience is the key here. And a will to survive the scorching summer heat!

Got the last signatory’s autograph? The committee would have found loads of mistakes in the format. Make those changes and make another spiral-bound copy. Lost track of how many copies have been made till now? That’s precisely what I was hoping for.

sayanDone? Don’t pat yourself on the back yet. You ain’t seen nothing yet! Now, you need to obtain a signature from Professor Dumbledore, and you can take a wild guess as to who that is! As for the 4th type of person in figure 1 – You might have already forgotten about him/her by now – no point in even getting furious. It is usually during this time that he/she usually wakes up and remembers that he/she is part of “a” project group – it’ll be quite some time before he/she remembers who his/her teammates are; this person will appear out of thin air, figuratively, and keep asking, “Hey! Where is the project? Where is the project? What should I do? Is everything done? Hey! Hey! Thanks. Thanks. Where is the project? What are you doing now?” very energetically. Whether you decide to forgive this incompetent soul or banish him/her from your kingdom forever, is entirely left to you.

If you manage to get into Dumbledore’s chamber, half the battle is won. But getting in isn’t a walk in the park. It requires a lot of perseverance and seemingly endless waiting. Those who enter the chamber and finish the process before you waitingwill tell you loads of horror stories, but you’ve got to keep calm. After all, it’s of no use if you give up now, after coming this far.

You’ll find that every group spends at least 1 hour in Dumbledore’s chamber. So, if you’re not an early bird and don’t stand in the queue early, you’ll end up waiting for many hours or days together, waiting for an opportunity to enter the Chamber of Secrets. Mind you, there is no time limit. Dumbledore processes requests even during midnight. Remember to call your guide to your location when your turn nears.

line jumpingWhile you dilly-dally in the waiting area outside his chambers, you can bide your time by talking to the other groups and about their projects. In the midst of all this, some guides will ask their students to barge ahead of the crowd and give the report Dumbledore (possible by storming into his chamber). But the students will be too scared to do that, partly because the other students in the waiting area (including you) might be giving them the dirtiest of looks.

jim_beam_its_timeSooner or later, you will all start wondering why you are being put through all this torture. Someone will suggest going on a protest march. Others might suggest that a letter be written to Dumbledore. You might begin to wonder why a token system for appointments isn’t followed. Just when you’re extremely exhausted and frustrated to your wit’s end, it will be your group’s turn to enter the Chamber of Secrets. All your promises to protest will be forgotten in the midst of your anxiety. Now, the only thing you’ll be worried about is whether those horror stories are true or not. Needless to say, your guide should have arrived by now. Otherwise, you’ll be in for a long wait again.

dumbledoreThis is the second half of the battle. Inside Dumbledore’s chamber, the atmosphere will be similar to what one can imagine the atmosphere at Snape’s office would be. Two tables lie on opposite ends of the room.

Surprisingly, you’ll discover that the AC that is close to the table that Dumbledore is sitting at, isn’t switched on and the AC close to the other table is!

Seated at the far end of one of the tables, Dumbledore will welcome your group and say – “It is only fair that you people also enjoy the AC”, after which the long process of the project review will begin. Your guide(s) will also be jostling for a seat around Dumbledore, to show that they have a sense of fear (Personally, I think they wish that the process gets over as soon as possible so that they can rush off to their homes).

On first glance you may not notice it, but on second glance, you’ll notice a stack of Dumbledore’s reports placed on the table in a skewed line. Oh! What secrets would those reports reveal if they could speak!

And with this, the review process will be declared open.

Here is the general pattern that is usually observed in this process, written by one of Jinkchak’s unreliable sources, namely Isaac Asimov.

Dumbledore

  1. IMG-20130520-WA0001first goes through the abstract and makes the following comments – “See, the abstract should be in layman terms. It should be easily understandable even to a non-engineer (So, why don’t we all become laymen and stop studying engineering completely?). You should make sure that it should not be very complex. Keep that for your IEEE journals!”
  2. goes through the introduction chapter and makes the following comments – “I don’t see any references at all. Are there no latest papers on this subject? See, you need to put more references. Original work is great, but you need to refer papers!”
  3. now goes back to the abstract and makes the same statements he made in point 1.
  4. goes through the SRS (Software Requirements Specifications) chapter without much fuss.
  5. goes back to the abstract chapter again and the introduction and repeats steps 1 and 2.
  6. goes through the High Level Design and makes this comment – “The figure captions should be self explanatory and you should refer the figure by its number somewhere in the report!”
  7. IMG-20130520-WA0004goes through detailed design and makes the same comments as in step 6.
  8. goes through the entire contents again from the abstract and repeats whatever he has said till this point. AGAIN!
  9. goes through the Implementation and makes no comments because there are no comments to be made about this unit.
  10. goes through the testing chapter and makes the following comments – “The table captions should be more elaborate! Make sure that they are done. I don’t see any numbers! put some numbers in every paragraph!”
  11. goes through the whole document again from the beginning. Cracks a few jokes.
  12. goes through experiment analysis and results (many people skip this chapter completely!) and makes these comments – “Where is the math? Where are the numbers? Oh! here they are! These graphs are unclear! make them clearer.”
  13. goes through the conclusion and says “Good work!” to almost everyone.
  14. goes through the entire report again.
  15. goes through the references. No matter how perfect, he will find mistakes here. He wants the location of every conference that you have made a reference to. And no, you are not allowed to put URLs in the references, because, apparently, they aren’t reliable references. (Well, blow me down!)

sachin-tendulkar-2009-5-30-2-50-0He makes a note of the changes he has suggested on his netbook. And finally, he imprints his coveted autograph on your report! (I think it would be easier to get Sachin Tendulkar’s signature in a cricket stadium!). You might also be wondering how “the committee” didn’t catch all the errors that Dumbledore had caught! Well, don’t look at me – I have no idea!

Phew! Wasn’t that rad? That autograph is the product of your sweat and blood. So, even if you’ve copied or bought your project from an institute, you can convince yourself that you worked very hard in obtaining a signature from Dumbledore – A Herculean task indeed! Makes you wonder why reports are given more importance than the actual project itself, doesn’t it? Why is Dumbledore interested only in the format? Will we ever have a clearer answer?

IMG-20130519-WA0000

Snatch your signed report from Dumbledore’s hands and leave the room at once. It’s time to incorporate the changes Dumbledore asked for. Time to…wait! WHAT THE HELL!!! YOU’VE JUST HAD ENOUGH! THAT’S ALL YOU CAN STAND AND YOU CAN STAND NO MORE!!! FORGET THE CHANGES!! You’re too tired. Go to the printout shop opposite college (or the Student Xerox shop in Kengeri) and print out your unchanged project report document on Bond paper. (N+2) copies of your report (hard bound) are required, where N is the number of members of your project group. 1 of those 2 extra copies is for your guide and the other is for your department lab, to be placed there for posterity. True, you have to wait for your printouts, but you can rest assured that this is the very last time that you have to wait for anything related to your project report.

student xerox - Copy

Once you’ve got all the necessary printouts, go to college – it’s not over yet. You still need signatures on these new reports, from Dumbledore. So, don’t go to him. As it turns out, Dumbledore has bestowed the power of signing to one of his subordinates. There won’t be any unnecessary waiting this time. His subordinate just signs your new reports without verifying anything at all. Absolutely no one needs to see the report that had red marks made by Dumbledore’s pen!

IMG-20130521-WA0007

Now, relax till the day of your external exam.

Remember how I mentioned that there are downsides to submitting your internship project as your final year project – well, this is one of them. You’ll have to go through the aforementioned report-writing process single-handedly, and that’s one helluva task to do alone! You can ask your other teammates to help out with the report work. Whether you can get away by dumping all of the report work onto them, depends on who your teammates are. 😛

Chapter 6: D-DAY

Sometime in the last 2 weeks of May, you will have to present your work to an external examiner, who will determine whether your project is worthy of his/her attention. A day before D-Day, you would have prepared a presentation and decided who will speak what in your team. Those who have copied or bought their projects would have stayed up all night, practicing all methods of deceiving and/or charming the external examiner.

IMG-20130523-WA0002This is the day you’ve been preparing for – all the fruits of your labour have been paving the way to this very occasion. Just pray that your external examiner is worthy enough and consider yourself lucky if yours is the first batch of the day to present. If not, feel free to roam around the campus and rest on the lawn in the campus.

deception2You could also watch the presentations of the other teams. You’ll be astonished by how teams that have bought their project manage to convince the examiner that it is their very own – deception is certainly an art! You’ve got to witness this first-hand or get information from other sources since I don’t wish to be accused of libel.

Once in a while, you’ll find a team that has worked very hard on a project but receives no appreciation whatsoever, other than a sharp dismissal. Whether you’ve actually worked on your project or copied it or bought it, you will, eventually, receive an ‘S’ grade. There might be an occasional Good Luckexception to the rule, however, and when this misfortune befalls a team that has worked diligently on their project, it does seem disheartening and leads one to question the justice of this system. But hey – this was supposed to be a survival guide, not a debate. C’est la vie!

So, with that thought still lingering in your mind, present your project when your turn arrives – give it your best shot. No matter what the consequences might be, you know what you’ve done and what you deserve – you are accountable to yourself. You’ve just been through a fascinating ride (albeit with all its flaws, but that doesn’t make it any less fascinating) – one you’ll remember for many years to come!

Once you complete your final presentation, you are required to give a CD containing your entire project to one of the lab attenders, right after you load its contents into one of the lab computers. Once you are done, leave the lab and…

Rejoice! Celebrate! You’ve come so far…It’s over! Yes! That’s right – it’s finally over!

IMG-20130516-WA0007

What happened after this? Well, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” – Mozzie (White Collar), who in turn, quotes Orson Welles. So, I’m going to stop this story right here. 🙂

And that, folks, is the anatomy of a Final Year Project! A legen…wait for it…DARY Adventure! Sure, some things could have been better, if not a whole lot better…but it is a one-of-a-kind experience, flaws and all. You couldn’t have had such an experience anywhere else. There are a number of useful and useless lessons you can carry away with you. But the memories – there’s no way you can ever forget them!

Written by
Me…yeah ME!

Here’s a big Thank you to Isaac Asimov (name changed), who wrote the entire section on Dumbledore. Thank you, Troy and Abed, for making my final-year project so memorable and fantabulous. To all those who recounted their experiences related to Project work – thank you. This wasn’t just one story – it was a collection of stories told together.

Disclaimer: This article was written with the intent of bringing to the fore certain observations to its readers, besides entertainment. It was, in no way whatsoever, created to offend or defame anyone. If it did, I apologize! All the images are the properties of their respective owners.

Comments
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