Instructions to new project students
It is important that you keep a log book. This should preferably be a hard bound (because it has to last a long time) A4 (so you can stick in printouts) lined book.
Write something in your log book every day. Start with the date: plan your day or your weeks project work in advance and try to fulfil the objectives which you set yourself (or which were set by your supervisor).
If you learn anything notable, explain what you learnt in your log book. Say how you solved your problems (so next time you can just refer back to it instead of trying to remember something you forgot).
At the end of, and during, the project you will have to write some reports. Remember this as you keep your log book. Put important information in the log book - plans, methods, solutions etc.. so these can easily be referred to when you write your report later.
Make notes (or photocopy and highlight) from textbooks, papers and other reports. Write down these references in your logbook. Note down what you learnt, because later you will need to reference these books in your reports. If you don't write this down now, you will have to go back and find all the same books again from the library.
At the end of a week/month/deadline period summarise what you did, and make notes for yourself to read in future. This also helps you to tell your supervisor what you did.
Meet your supervisor regularly. Make a weekly appointment to see him, and bring your logbook along to the meeting. Discuss what you have achieved, and your ideas for the next stage of work. As the project progresses, begin to envisage a path ahead to the final solution of the project.
If you have a big problem with the work - tell the supervisor. The supervisor should help you to get a good mark for your project work. In return you should do the work you and your supervisor agree on. You will be expected to work independently once you have become more familiar with the project area.
You need to draw up a project plan and schedule, something like the example below for a 2-person project.
The project plan needs to contain the usual stages of a project (investigation, design, implementation, evaluation, and conclusion/report writing). Lengths of time for each section are approximate at first, and as the project progresses, you can become more accurate with the estimates. The plan will need to be included in end-of-project reports.
It is also useful to define milestones and deliverables, so you know what you should have achieved at various stages of the project. Don't worry if these are unclear at the beginning of the project, they will become easier to define after the first few weeks.
Your first month will usually be spent discovering more about the project area, and becoming familiar with the subject. At this time you may feel that there are too many things to learn and you don't know how to progress, but your brain will be busy sorting through all the material you read, and soon you will find that it all becomes clearer.
You may become overwhelmed with the amount of work required. The answer is to break your problems up into small achievable modules. Work on one module at a time, and complete each before you begin the next. After a few months working like this you will find that you can now see how you are going to complete the project in time.
The keys to doing a successful project are:
listen to your supervisor, and act on his advice
plan your time in advance, and try to keep to your plans
break the big project into smaller, more easily achievable modules
keep a log book now to help yourself later
try and set aside some time every day to look at your project (even if its only half an hour when you are very busy with course work or something similar). Once you pause, it's much harder to get started again.
© Ian McLoughlin, 1999