Skip to main content

MSCS/MSSE Grand Challenges Course

Many graduate students in the Department of Computing Sciences undertake a Grand Challenges (GC) project. Typically this is one of the last courses a student takes, so that it can build upon the material of the other courses. During your GC course you will work independently, with guidance from an advisor, on a topic that you and your advisor have determined.


Advisors and Topics

It is your responsibility to arrange for an advisor and a topic for your GC project. You must have an advisor and topic determined before you register for the course, although changes are permitted later.



The amount of time required for a successful GC project will vary of course from project to project. You should dedicate at least as much time as that needed for any 3 credit course - a rough estimate is a solid 150 hours. Define a good project, work consistently on it, three to eight hours per week, communicate well with your advisor, and wrap things up by the end of the semester, and all will be well.



Your advisor is solely responsible for assigning your grade for the Grand Challenges (GC) course. Your advisor must report those grades to the GC Coordinator no later than the beginning of final exams. Therefore, advisors need time to carefully evaluate the project materials and read the final report, and often insist on having two weeks to do so. However, the specific deadline for getting your materials to your advisor can be worked out between the two of you.

Some general guidelines for GC grading are:

  • A: Excellent published or publication-ready work (conference paper ready to submit, poster session, colloquium presentation, Technical Report posted, web site posted for download or interactive online use for software development projects). Significant synthesis of information AND independent discovery. Demonstration of significant learning through exceptionally written report.
  • A-: Very good work with the possibility of publication in the near future (same publication outlets as for A). Demonstration of significant learning through well written report.
  • B+, B: A solid project, completed with good communication through out with a well written report demonstrating learning.
  • B-: An acceptable project, albeit with some short comings for example late delivery, poor communication, or reduced scope.
  • C: A disappointing project, sufficient enough for stating that the student has completed the course but lacking in quality

There is no good reason for a GC project to receive a poor grade, but unfortunately it happens all the time. There are three main problems students have regarding IS projects that result in low/failing grades:

  • Procrastination
  • Not keeping their advisor informed
  • Violating academic integrity (see below)

Be careful you do not fall into any of those traps.


Academic Integrity

The integrity of the work you submit for your Grand Challenges project will be held to the highest standards. It is your responsibility to understand what is and what is not acceptable concerning the content of your work and the use of previous work. When in doubt, consult your advisor!

Please visit and study the material on the university's Academic Integrity Gateway. Familiarize yourself with both the Academic Integrity Code and the Academic Integrity Policy. Be sure to take the interactive quiz before leaving the site. You should also review the department academic integrity page.

A Grand Challenges project requires that you integrate and synthesize information from various sources. We don't expect every idea in your work to be your own. But we do require that you give credit where credit is due.

It is important that you and your advisor have a clear understanding of the goals of the project relative to the use of previous work. Sometimes the primary goal of a project is to investigate and report on the work of other people. In other cases, previous work is the springboard from which you launch your own efforts. Discuss this balance carefully with your advisor.

For a Grand Challenges project, academic integrity issues include the following:

  • In your final report you must cite any source of information that contributes to the work performed for your project, and you must list the full reference in the bibliography.
  • You must identify any words taken directly from previous work as a quotation. This may be accomplished using quotation marks or by indenting the quotation, with the surrounding text clearly indicating that those words are taken from another source. You should minimize your use of direct quotes. In general, you should integrate information into the running flow of your report, expressed in your own words. That synthesis is part of the learning process. Note that even when you express the ideas in your own words, you must cite the original source of the information.
  • Any software written as part of your Grand Challenges project must be your own work, or must be clearly identified as someone else's work in both the online documentation of the source code and in the Grand Challenges final report.

Unfortunately, we've had a few students in the past violate the principles of academic integrity during their Grand Challenges project work. In these cases the students received a failing grade for the course and we have submitted them for disciplinary action at the university level. We take academic integrity very seriously. You should as well.



A GC project is expected to be completed in one semester. These projects, however, sometimes require a second semester. If the situation dictates and your advisor approves, we will grant an extension of your project into the following semester. Students that extend their GC must sign up for CSC 9021.

Please note that extensions are NOT granted because a student procrastinated or was "busy" doing other things. You must demonstrate satisfactory progress to be granted an extension.



Contact Information

Department of Computing Sciences
Tel: 610.519.7310
Fax: 610.519.7889

Director of Graduate Programs:  Dr. Vijay Gehlot