Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Guide to the Successful Completion Of Your Engineering Project

For quite some time now, I have been badgered with innumerable comments from engineering students back home about the hardships faced while venturing to complete their final semester project required for graduation. I have faithfully preserved every mention of this subject, added my own personal experiences to this amazingly huge collection of anecdotes and have come up with a list of FAQs that I'm sure will be of great sevice to the miserable engineering students of Tamil Nadu.

This guide is presented with the best intentions at heart. It does not guarantee a high score or even a passing grade in your project. The author is not liable for any injury (mental or physical) that may result from the application of the ideas outlined in this post.


Q) When does the torture start?

A) Early in the fourth year, when you are asked present your staff with a title for the project you will be pursuing in your final semester and state where or with whom you will be doing it.

Q) Isn't that an easy task?

A) It should be.. but for several conditions imposed by the department.
- The project must not be done at some project consultancy
- You will have normal classes for three days of the week and can only work for 2 days on your project in any organisation that you choose.

Q) Those conditions don't seem too bad..

A) Indeed? Please note that two days a week for one semester is about a month and a half in real time and that, every company representative will argue, is how long it will take you to get acquainted with the location of the restroom and the canteen on the premises. Which company do you think will take you on those terms?

Q) So if a company won't take us and we can't buy a project, how do we present a project title?

A) Hah! Now you get to the point. There are two ways to approach this problem
1) You can request your father's friend's friend's friend's grandfather's friend who owns a company to kindly give you a project, which they will do out of pity 90 % of the time.
2) You can go ahead and buy one and then tell a blatant lie that you didn't buy it.
The first is demeaning sometimes and the second one is dishonest. Being a man of self respect and a true Gandhian I decided on a third approach; "To think one up", which by the way is the easiest way to go about picking a topic.

Q) What if I'm not smart enough to think of one that would satisfy them?

A) Relax.. That's what I'm here for. The day before the title is due, run through the 10-step "Project title generating process" that I have come up with:

Step 1: Think of several complicated terms in your field of study. Write them all down and then pick the one that is most impressive to look at.

Step 2: Try to find a term synonymous to the term you first picked. Don't worry, it's not very hard. Strangely, almost all fields of study have several terms to mean the same thing.

Step 3: Now join the words you picked with a conjunction or preposition of some kind. If you did a good job of picking synonyms "AND" should work. If you didn't, don't fret; one of the others will fit perfectly fine.

Step 4:
Find a word synonymous to the word 'project' since that is what we are talking about. Some examples are "strategy", "proposal", "scheme", "operation", "applications", "setup", "program". These six words should do for almost every field of study.

Step 5: Append the word obtained in step 4 to the term obtained in step 3.

Step 6: Think of a complicated word/term outside your field of study. The onus is on the word "OUTSIDE". This is important to widen the scope of your project so that you cannot be pinned down at a later date.

Step 7: Find some word/term that is currently "HOT" in your field of study. This will raise considerable interest in your project and give you the status of a person performing groundbreaking research. For example at the time of my project title submission some hot topics included "Wireless", "Security", "Bluetooth", "Virtual Private Networks", "Quality-of-service".

Step 8: Pick a word that is synonymous to "implementation", "experiment", or "evaluation". This step is of utmost importance. Pick "implementation" only if you plan to actually work hard and come up with something that does something. Pick "experiment" if you plan to do something but don't know what. And finally, pick "evaluation" if you plan to do nothing at all.

Step 9: Combine the terms obtained in steps 5, 6, 7 and 8 suitably in a way that makes sense. Though this may appear hard to do at first, I'm sure you will find that the words fit together quite easily.

Step 10: As a final test, count the number of words in the resulting term and ensure the number is greater than or equal to 10. This ensures that the reader will not grasp the title on the first reading. Note that people are always impressed with things that they cannot grasp. So your title will make a favourable first impression. If your term passes this test..

VOILA.. you have your TITLE.

The title I came up with using the above 10-step process is presented below:

"Data Warehousing and Data Mining Applications to Electrical Power System Security Assessment"

I picked "security" because it seemed to bring awe into the eyes of listeners. I could practically see people imagining viruses floating around in space when I mentioned the term. And of course I picked "assessment" which is a synonym of "evaluation" because I planned to absolutely nothing.

Q) Whew.. that seems like a complicated process?

A) Believe me.. It isn't.. Atleast to me, it seems infinitely more appealing than roaming the streets begging for projects from companies or shelling out hard cash to buy one. In any case a project team consists of three members, so you should be done in no time at all if you put your heads together.

Q) Okay.. So I've submitted the title.. What do I do next?

A) Absolutely nothing of course unless you were foolish enough to pick "implementation", "experiment" or something similar for your title.

Q) So I do nothing.. What happens next?

A) Nothing much until the start of the next semester. At the very beginning of the final semester however, we will have what is called a "zeroeth review"

Q) And pray what might that be?

A) Exactly what it says.. "Zeroeth review".. A review where you present "Zero" things. Just make sure you have the title with you on a flashy powerpoint slide instead of a piece of paper.

Q) Then what?

A) Do nothing again.. until the the day before the first review?

Q) Say, how many reviews will we have?

A) If you don't count the zeroeth, three in all.. first, second and final? The first review is the hardest to get through. Once you manage that, it should be plain sailing.

Q) What happens on the day before the first review?

A) You get together with your project-mates and prepare a power point presentation.

Q) Isn't that difficult to do without having done any work on the project?

A) Not very. Start by thinking up a block diagram with atleast 10 blocks, that suits your project title. It need not make sense. Just make sure that the three of you are in consensus about what the block diagram means. Then go ahead and allocate a slide for each of the blocks on the block diagram. There.. you already have over 10 slides. Then of course, there are slides that the staff make mandatory. These include a "title" slide (yes.. again), a "Project goal" slide (explain the terms in your title here), a "project requirements" slide (Include all software/hardware that you have ever heard of. This may not all fit on a single slide, which is better for us. Put the remaining information on a different slide(s)). Also, we have the "Project Strengths" and the "Project weaknesses" slide. It really helps to use big words like "reliable", "stable" and "efficient" for strengths. Make sure you include "difficult to implement" or "expensive to implement" as one of the weaknesses. That gives you an excuse for the absence of an implementation. The "Future Enhancements" slide is a full toss. Hit it for a six by conjuring up all sorts of enhancements that might only be possible in the year 3000. After all they didn't mention how far in the future the enhancements had to be made did they? Finally don't forget the 'thank you" slide. Though it my seem trivial, note that it would add to the slide count. You should have atleast 20 slides if you followed the instructions above which will do for a decent 15 minute presentation if you don't rush through.

Q) Hmm... Seems manageable. But I guess the second and final reviews are going be tougher?

A) No, you're wrong. Like I said before the first review is the hardest. Keep in mind that you already have a presentation in your hands. All you have to do is shuffle a few slides here and there for the second review and you are through. I have actually seen the exactly same presentations for the first and second reviews.

Q) (hopefully) Will it be the same for the third review too?

A) Well.. Almost. You will have to have some sort of a results slide here. Now.. don't panic. All you have to do is use a variation of the "Thinking up" process that we used for the title. Just make sure that there are plenty of tables and graphs.

Q) And we are done? Woweee!

A) Wait a minute.. There's something else that could cause you a lot of trouble if you are not
careful. The PROJECT DOCUMENTATION. Several things to remember while preparing your documentation.
1) It should be atleast 100 pages in length. Though that seems to be a lot, in this Internet age, it is not. Browse for related stuff but don't make the mistake of copying and pasting. Change the tense of every sentence you are 'borrowing'. If the "borrowed" literature is in the present tense make it past and vice versa.
2) Go to the library for once and add all the books related (even remotely) to your project to the references section. Note that you NOT lying here. After all, you HAVE referred each book for the author, title and year of publication.
3) Invariably your project guide will try to interfere with the documentation process by offering weird suggestions. Just nod your head and ignore them. If not, you will have a document that has the font "Courier" for the headings, "Times New Roman" for text and a variety of font sizes from 8 to 40.
4) As a final test, make sure the Table of contents (TOC) is formatted exactly as your guide wants it. He/she will almost certainly mistakenly assume that everything outlined in the TOC is actually present in the document.

Q) Cool.. thanks.. Any other suggestions?

A) Don't go to get your documentation signed until the very last day specified. Else your document may be scrutinized and you will be ordered to make some corrections. On the last day there's nothing much they can do except sign. Once they sign, you are all set to make your project demo before an external examiner.

Q) DEMO.. (shudder) how are we going to do that?

A) C'mon, whether or not your demo works you're going to get 99 if not 100. So I'm not going to waste my time answering that question just to save you a single mark. I really ought to get going. I have to run through my title generating process to whip up a project title for my graphics course. Over and out.


Camphor said...

lol@the generation. I shall cerainly keep this is in mind sem after next.... :D Thanks

Leon said...

Thanks.. Use your discretion in following those tips though.. ;-).

Camphor said...

I only said I'd keep it in mind, not that I'd use them. :P Hopefully I'll get a company generated project and won't have to think at all. :D

Thanks for dropping by on my blog. Am blogrolling you, hope you don't mind.

Leon said...

I know.. I was only kidding..

Sure.. go ahead.. thanks..

LovingAndLosing said...

Haha! Neat.

Check out this blog by a very good friend of mine. It's on the same lines but on a different topic, and it's HILARIOUS... Ajith

Leon said...

[Vids] Hey.. I just checked out ajith's post and it was real lol stuff.. thanks.. :-)

Manasi Subramaniam said...

Hilarious. :-)

Camphor said...

wrt - with respect to. :) Was in a whimsical frame of mind that day. :) If you'd rather Ic hange it, drop me a line, and I'll do it.

Unknown said...

What? Only two ways of getting a project title?

What about the poor sods who decide that they're going to do their 'own project'?

I'm going to blog about that..

Leon said...

Hey Shrik..

The whole post is about "doing your own project".. You should have read a little further.. :p

Unknown said...

hey leon
ur tips worked out too well for me. i have finished my first review.

Leon said...

Thanks Vibha.. I'm glad I could be of some help.. ;-)

Jaya said... the entire post..LOL..on my way to finding a project right about now..and remember a couple i did two years this, i identify with completely..
Am gonna make a few friends read this for sure, ones who've already suffered thru the process, without the good fortune of having tried out your "tips";)

Anonymous said...

Gud un da Leon. Could've included some of our experiences with Shanthi Swarup and IIT by the way
It would help youngsters in countering the actions of the project guides ;) ;)

Anonymous said...

hehe man. doin my final yr engg. unlucky i didny c dis blog a few months back..

really boosted alot yer!


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