In this activity you perform most of the creative work. We assume that the graduation committee has approved the refined project plan, and that you have already selected the background information, and may have studied it. In this activity the project plan is performed and possibly adjusted as the work evolves.
The approach used in a project normally depends on the kind of project that is being performed. Therefore you should try to understand your project so that the approach to be taken and the typical deliverables to be obtained are clear to you. For your convenience, we have identified the following typical kinds of projects:
- Typical (mathematical) research project. These kinds of projects have normally the following approach:
- From the problem definition identify hypotheses to be verified (proved).
- Identify the theories and axioms that apply to the problem.
- Perform the proof (e.g., by proving theorems).
- Reflect on the consequences of your results.
- Typical design research project. These kinds of projects have normally the following approach:
- From the problem definition identify the technical object of concern.
- Identify the models, methods and techniques to be used, as well as the steps in the development process and their relationships (methodology).
- Perform the steps according to the methodology, which should result in specifications or prototypes.
- Validate the specifications or prototypes.
- Reflect on the development process.
- Typical empirical research project. These kinds of projects have normally the following approach:
- From the problem definition define the theoretical framework and formulate hypotheses.
- Identify the methods and techniques to gather and analyse data.
- Collect test data.
- Analyse and interpret the data.
- Formulate conclusions and recommendations.
You should try to check if your project fits at least one of these categories. It is possible that a project has characteristics of more than one category, in which case the approach and deliverables will be combinations of those given above.
During the development activity you will be working on the project, in which you will produce text, models, software prototypes, test results, etc. In principle you could do it all by yourself, but you may lack the knowledge and ability to take the proper decisions. In this respect you need supervision; your supervisors are the persons who should guide you during the development activity.
You can communicate with your supervisors through e-mail and meetings. E-mail is suitable for urgent and short questions. Deep discussions on the work (e.g., to obtain feedback) can only happen in a meeting.
Do not forget that your supervisors are experts that are making time for you. So be parsimonious with this scarce resource, which means that you have to prepare the meeting as good as possible in order to use your supervisors’ time efficiently. Furthermore, if you don’t have anything to talk about it makes little sense to get together in a supervision meeting.
In order to be sure that a meeting with your supervisors will be productive, you should deliver a written report on the results obtained in the period since the last meeting. This report can vary from some notes on what you have done (typically in the beginning) to a chapter of the thesis. You may also formulate some questions that you want to discuss; these questions can be formulated so that by asking them you can get suggestions concerning bottlenecks and difficulties you have encountered. Probably your supervisors will ask you to provide written inputs for the meetings anyway. Don’t forget that your supervisors need the time to read your inputs before the meeting, which means you have to deliver your written inputs a couple of days before the meeting.
You are in some sense responsible for the frequency of meetings. You should call a meeting whenever you think you have enough substantial results, questions, etc. to discuss. You should call a meeting also when you are about to take important decisions about the approach, methods to be used, techniques, etc. There is a danger of taking too many ‘wrong’ decisions and confronting them to the supervisors too late, with the consequence that you lose time redoing things. Some supervisors keep an eye on the evolution of the work and call regularly for meetings, but some others may be too busy for that. Your supervisors are ultimately responsible for your guidance; this implies that you have the right to call for meetings. Making regular fixed appointments (e.g., each 2 weeks on Monday), may be a good idea.
In order to perform a project successfully you need a proactive attitude, which is reflected in a couple of aspects:
- Try to produce documentation as early as possible, already aiming at the final report;
- Feel responsible for your project, by keeping an eye on planning, the approach and the objectives;
- Do not bother others too early without trying to solve your problems yourself first;
- Do not try to solve a problem alone for too long if you are stuck with it. Ask experienced people, search the web for solutions, etc.