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MSc (again) - John C. Kirk

Oct. 13th, 2003

03:55 pm - MSc (again)

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Ok, progress report. I've now been into college, and registered for the project retake. There will be some more admin stuff to sort out later (e.g. paying tuition fees), but at least I've signed the main form, and got it countersigned. This took a bit longer than I'd intended (different people having different office hours), so by the time I'd finished it wasn't worth going back into work, which is why I'm now at home. The company has been very supportive about this so far, but I'll need to sort out what's going to happen there, as I feel guilty for messing them around (especially since they didn't know about this on Friday, so it's zero notice).

A couple of admin highlights: In order to meet the deadline, I would have had to register for the retakes before the results came out. Whether the deadline was last Monday (6th) or Friday (10th), the results were only published on Wednesday, and the senior tutor (who has to sign the form) is only available in her office on Monday afternoons. So, I'm glad they gave me an extension. And I've suggested that she should contact the other people who've failed directly (she was surprised that we hadn't already been contacted by email), since there's some confusion about this (e.g. the results form saying "College staff won't discuss these provisional results"). The admin staff also told me that I needed to get my tutor to sign the form. However, it then turned out that he's off on sabbatical, and won't be back for 3-4 months, so they decided that they could live without his signature after all.

Now I need to sort out the next step. Specifically, how much time do I devote to the project? The flipside being, how much time do I take off work?

The basic timeline here is:
Mid-December (end of first term): List of projects is announced.
Mid-January (start of second term): We submit our choices, discuss them with supervisors, and projects are then assigned (you may not get your first choice if someone else wants it too).
Mid-April (end of second term): Show a draft of the preliminary report to the supervisor.
Early May (start of third term): Submit the preliminary report, and do a brief presentation.
Early July (post-exams): Submit first progress report.
Early August: Submit second progress report.
Early September: Submit final report.
Mid-September: Do demonstration.

So, the simplest approach is to just take 8 months off work. Of course, that's also the most expensive. I'm sure I can get the bank to lend me the money for that if I need to, but it will have long term consequences (i.e. I'll need to pay it back).

Thinking back to last (academic) year, I was busy between January and June with lectures and exams, so you could say that's the equivalent of a job, with the project fitting into my spare time around that. Then I'd only need to take 3 months off (June-September). On the other hand, given that I failed the project last year, that may not be the best model to follow... I remember a few people asking me how much work I'd done on the project early on, and I said "either a lot or a little, depending on your point of view". I was attending lectures for 2 extra modules (without exams at the end) that were project related, in addition to the 4 that I had to take exams for, so that was 50% extra workload to help me with the project. But it didn't actually contribute anything to the project in and of itself.

Job-wise, I haven't really done much since I've been back at PMSI; I've spent the last week reading up on the new version of the software. So, I think it's only fair that I offer the company a chance to call it quits at this point (since my plans are rapidly diverging from my initial idea of "work here for a year while I apply for PhD places"). I haven't signed a contract yet, so we could just say that I'll disappear again, and they don't have to pay me for what I've done so far.

In the longer term, I could try working part time (e.g. 3 days a week), which is similar to what I did when I was studying for my Physics A level. On the other hand, there are the situations when a deadline looms, and I wind up working late nights and weekends, at which point it's no longer really a part-time job. Working for a larger company would hopefully alleviate that, since other people can pick up the slack.

I'm also seriously considering the merits of a low-skilled job, e.g. at the supermarket. I remember a while back that I heard a guy who worked behind the till chatting to a friend of his. He was saying that he did 12 hour shifts 3 days a week, then the rest of the week was free. As it stands, it takes me about an hour to travel to work (each way), plus 9 hours there, so that's 11 hours a day (+ overtime). So, if I was working at Somerfield (5 minutes walk from here), that would be much more convenient. Obviously the money wouldn't be so good, but I may also find that it would be easier to spend time concentrating on the project work if my job work was relatively brainless.

So, all comments are welcome here. In particular, please don't be offended if you see me asking other people the same question that you've already answered; it doesn't mean that I'm disregarding your advice.

I'm also considering the merits of buying a book like this one (advice on writing style). For instance, when I wrote my first research paper last year, and I spoke to the professor afterwards, he said "This got a B. It would have got an A if you'd included an Introduction and Conclusion." That's a simple enough rule to follow, but I didn't know about it. More generally, if I can get a head-start by reading relevant books before the project starts, then that's going to be beneficial later.

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From:rileen
Date:October 13th, 2003 10:08 am (UTC)
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I'm a bit surprised you didn't have an old thesis to use as a reference for style, organization etc. Pinzon used to have an online copy of his M.Sc thesis, i'd used that. I think still have a copy if you're interested - he got the best project award, i think.

The low-skilled job option doesn't sound like a great idea. I did a part-time job for most of the duration of the project(barring the last 2-3 weeks), and it 8 pounds per hour - i doubt that i could've managed with the extra hours a 5/hr job would imply. I think a part-time job at an IT company might be the way to go, esp as the work experience at a low-skilled job might be less useful for your future.

Are you thinking of doing a software engineering related project next time?
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From:johnckirk
Date:October 13th, 2003 12:58 pm (UTC)
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Are you thinking of doing a software engineering related project next time?

I was, although I'm now reconsidering that. Basically, I think that passing a software engineering project is better than failing an AI project, but passing an AI project is better still. So, it depends whether I think that I can do that or not.
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From:rileen
Date:October 14th, 2003 02:01 am (UTC)
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Of course you can pass an AI project, and do a PhD in AI as well - i guess it's more a matter of focused effort than anything else. If you'd like to review the field of AI before settling for a particular area within, why not read something like this, or this?

Perhaps you already have one or more of these books ..... what i mean is that if you really enjoy the area, you'd enjoy reading such books on your own, and it might help in choosing the most interesting area for the project.

Doing a software engineering project may be the safer option, but that's about the only justification for it - not enough in my book, but of course it's your decision.
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From:johnckirk
Date:October 14th, 2003 03:11 am (UTC)
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Good point - I have the Russell/Norvig book, although I've only read one chapter of it so far (the one that was most closely related to my project), so I'll have a look through the rest of that in advance of the project list being published in December.
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From:rjw1
Date:October 13th, 2003 02:18 pm (UTC)
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the only tiem you shaluld tak eoff is the last 3 months.
make a point of only working your 8/9 hours a day at the job. make them aware that you intend to do this and will only work longer hours oif you feel it woint jepoardise your Msc.
do some thing liek at least an hour every noght on your project( obvioulsy not every noight but dont just leave it)

then actaully work 8 hour days when you take off the 3 months to write and finish the project.

dont be so slack this time.

also re,member taking a menail jpob will look bad if you want to work inthe industry afterwards.

i actaully think at this point you really need to think very carefully about wheter you want to really do a phd.
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From:dwagon
Date:October 14th, 2003 06:23 am (UTC)
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as for books on how to write the library at IC has at least one book on how to write for science - How to Write about Biology is the title, though iirc it's far more general than that, though most of the examples are based on biology...good basic grammer/structuring info and it's by Pechenik and Lamb...the library also had a few other books on how to write more generally, which may be more useful and i think most of them were located in the Haldane part on the ground floor.
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From:overconvergent
Date:October 14th, 2003 03:21 pm (UTC)
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I think that Bob gives good advice.

Maybe you should take more time off work and do the project during that time. You'll have to work out how much time you need to spend working on it.

Also talk to professors about the mechanical aspects of it - the structure, Introduction/Conclusion stuff. Find out what they expect and want, look at previous projects that got high marks, and try to duplicate the good bits of them.
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