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This entry is a brief reintroduction for people who have not read my blog before and an indication to its future direction. At this point, I’m a mature student – comes with being ten years senior to most of my fellow students – studying Computer Science, and this will be my third year at the University of Southampton. I’ve worked in the IT industry as a developer for several years prior to my re-entry into study.

The option to travel and work in different parts of the world appeals to me and a degree-level qualification is a very solid stepping stone to achieve that goal. Experience would appear not to traverse international barriers, even with our friends on mainland Europe. I was determined to research my options thoroughly and go to the university with the best reputation in a town that appealed to me. Southampton fitted that bill nicely, although I confess to having applied to the University with the expectation of a rejection.

All universities talk about a combination of A-Level grades, whereas I had to argue that a good A-Level in Maths (which I was in the process of studying in 2007), a BTEC National Diploma (obtained between 1995-97) and my experience in IT was sufficient weight. During my initial inquiries, one big Scottish university warned me that they required two A-Levels in the prior two years before considering any application. Holding down a full-time job and studying an A-Level in Mathematics already, I naturally struck them of my list. Given my experience thus far, I’d say that the time taken in making the decision was a good one and that if faced with the choice again I have no intention of changing that decision.

As a challenge to myself, I intend to use this blog to document the progress of my project. Maybe this will be useful to my fellow students and future students in the progression of a large individual project. Either way, talking about my progress will be as much a record for me as anyone else. I have to confess that the prospect of an individual piece of work such as the third-year project was a motivator. In the workplace, there is usually much less provision and scope for such a task. I don’t really intend that as a complaint, but more of an observation on the realities of the situation.

Anyhow, this is week 2 in terms of project time. Prior to the start at the beginning of the last term, we had the process of selecting a supervisor by use of a marriage algorithm. I was lucky as I already had a good idea of both the focus of my project and the academic with whom I would want to be working with. This is not the norm. In fact, it was necessary to go through another round of selection as the initial selection paired me with a supervisor who was not confident of being able to supervise a project which I was proposing.

There are essentially four deliverables in an individual project:

1) Project brief: An single page on the proposed idea. Deadline: end of week 2. Unmarked.

2) Interim Report: The bulk of this is focused around the background and literature review showing the research that goes into the project plus an explanation of work completed and the project plan. Approximately 3,000 words. Deadline: end of week 11, which occurs before the Christmas break. 10% of the project mark.

3) Project Report: Everything and anything pertinent to the project. The problems, goals, background, design, implementation, testing, evaluation and conclusions. All in something like 30 pages or 10,000 words. Deadline: shortly after the Easter break. 80% of the project mark.

4) Viva: A presentation on the project, where a second examiner (who is appointed during the autumn term) will lead the questioning of the specifics of the project. 10% of the project mark.

As this is Computer Science, it is assumed that at least two stages of the software development process will be attempted and the project should be a shining example of these.

At the present time, I have written and confirmed my brief with my supervisor, which has just been submitted at the time of writing. In addition, it has been necessary to lay the ground work, which has involved setting a project on the forge server with appropriate categorisation leading to access to a version control server. Additional work on the paperwork has included setting up the structure of the Interim report, selecting the correct paper size, sections and fonts. Finally, the big piece of work is to begin reading through the literature. Naturally, this being a research-led university requires that good projects are built on good research. My in-tray currently contains, amongst several smaller reports, two recent dissertations by two Masters students which are at least 60 pages long. In between all this, I’m also looking at developing a coherent project plan.

To finish, I should quickly put some names to principle players in the theatre of my project: my supervisor is Dr Mike Wald who recently won an award for his Synote project. Mike works in the Learning Societies Lab and therefore my project titled “Notes to Revision: Development of a note-taking tool to aid the learning process” is very much in his field of expertise. I should also mention the ever-bubbly E.A. Draffan, an ECS research fellow who specialises in this area and has been very encouraging.

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