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Module MA4491: Research Assignment

Credit weighting (ECTS)
5 credits
Semester/term taught
Michaelmas & Hilary terms 2014-15
Contact Hours
Academic year long module (2 terms), meetings with supervisor by arrangement. Significant independent work is required.
Prof. Richard Timoney
Learning Outcomes
On successful completion of this module, students will be able to:
  • demonstrate competence in independent study at a high mathematical level, near the forefront of knowledge in a specifically chosen topic
  • demonstrate skills in scientific writing
  • demonstrate presentation skills
  • synthesise and apply materials used.
Module Content

Assignments should be comparable as regards the amount of work required to a 5 credit module. The work can be done over the academic year or in one term, but should include a written account or a report to be handed in 3 weeks before the end of Hilary term.

These assignments are intended to be less extensive than a 10 credit project (module MA4492) and this would normally be reflected in a more tightly defined plan for what is to be done. That would normally imply a restricted amount of background reading, and cases where there is an element of original work (such as a computer programme, or an analysis of data, or a calculation), the depth of the work expected and the student time anticipated for its completion be commensurate with the 5 credit weighting.

The grading system will be a modification of that used for module MA4492.

Basic Rules
  • Senior Sophister students may choose to take a research assignment module (MA4491), provided that the agreement of the MA4491 module coordinator is explicitly given and that a member of staff is willing to supervise the work.
  • The basic standard of the work should correspond to a 5 credit advanced level module in depth and difficulty.
  • A written thesis must be submitted, subsequently a poster presentation will be scheduled and the students concerned will also be asked to make an informal oral presentation of their proposed work (while it is in progress). Where relevant, any computer source code should be submitted (in conjunction with the written thesis). The external examiner will assess the marking of the projects along with examination scripts.
  • The Head of the School of Mathematics will appoint a module MA4491 coordinator for each academic year.
  • Students and their project/thesis supervisors should arrange to meet on a regular basis to discuss the progress of the work.
  • Work on the project must commence before the second week of Michaelmas term in the Senior Sophister year and the agreement of the MA4491 module coordinator should be obtained by this time.
  • The supervisor of the project/thesis should warn the student during Michaelmas term if the work is not proceeding satisfactorily.
  • Theses/Projects should be completed and submitted three weeks before the end of Hilary term (which means Friday March 13th in 2015). Poster presentations of the projects will be scheduled before the end of Hilary term.
  • Theses must be submitted to the module MA4991 coordinator who will give each student a receipt. (It is most helpful if students submit a PDF copy of their thesis via email plus one [spiral] bound hard copy to the coordinator.) The coordinator will acknowldge receipt via email.
  • Each thesis must include a statement signed by the student that the thesis is their own work except where due citations are given. (This is a requirement of the College policy on plagiarism.)
Marking Criteria Theses/projects should be marked according to the following criteria
(i) Reading type project (ii) Implementation type
w×p weight w p% p% weight w w×p
0.05 Oral presentations during the year 0.05
0.15 Poster presentation 0.15
0.20 Clarity of exposition and style of writing 0.20
0.25 Understanding of the material Understanding of the problem and the background 0.20
0.25 Difficulty of the topic Appropriate research method? 0.15
0.10 Originality (students own approach to topic) Originality and difficulty of the problem and progress 0.25
Total % Total %

Here are some of the considerations that will be used by the examiners in arriving at the marks.
  1. Oral presentations during the year.
    The marks for this will be assigned by the coordiantor. Students will each give a preliminary talk outlining their view of the planned project, preferably in Michaelmas term.
  2. Poster presentation.
    Did the student prepare a poster presenting the main points of the project in an effective and visually clear manner? Was the student able to field questions about the content of their project?
  3. Clarity of exposition and style of writing
    Is there clarity and precision in the explanations given? Is there a clear development of the ideas? Is the terminology clearly laid out? Are sources and relevant work appropriately cited? (The thesis should include a bibliography formatted in a recognisable style used by journals in the field (with author names, source [journal or publisher], date, pages).)
  4. Understanding of the material | Understanding of the problem and the background
    Are the ideas explained and developed in a way that makes it clear that the student has understood them?
  5. Difficulty of the topic | Appropriate research method?
    Case (i) Difficulty: is this a challenging topic for the student as compared to the standard of sophister modules? Has the student made contact with recent published literature?
    Case (ii) Method: has the student gone about the project in a sensible way? Modified strategy in the light of early results or difficulties encountered?
  6. Originality
    In case (i), can you see the students own viewpoint? In case (ii), did the student succeed and was it a substantial accomplishment?
  7. Guidelines for the thesis
    Students should bear in mind the following when writing up their work.
    • The account should be in the style of a scientific thesis (a mathematical one, perhaps an expository one); understandable by a mathematician or theoretical physicist (or statistician or computer scientist) who may not be in the same field;
    • So should have title, your name as the author, chapters or sections of content and a bibliography.
    • Should convey what you have done, as well as you can in a pedagogical style, and should include discussion of background material you had to master and any difficulties encountered.
    • Start with an abstract, then an overall summary and then some background.
    • We expect an amount of effort and sophistication equivalent to a full year 5+5 = 10 credit course. Does your write-up show that? It should also have enough content to show that (and 15 pages is suggested as a minimum length).
    • Don't transcribe stuff. If you find a perfect explanation of something, it is probably best to refer to it (if it is long anyway). If you reproduce an explanation in the literature with your own slant or more explanations of the steps, this is not a problem. You should cite the sources of things you use.
Module Prerequisite
Students must find a member of staff in College willing to supervise their work and must agree the arrangements with the coordinator as outlined in the rules below. Please consult the coordinator for suggestions about suitable topics and supervisors.
Assessment Detail
This module will be 100% continuous assessment. Written thesis (which should normally exceed 15 pages) and presentations including a poster presentation.