Information Technology: Toolkit

Prework for Crafting the Thesis Proposal (CTP) Tutorial in Software Engineering and Digital Media Design

Research Advisor (RA): Dr. Hongming Wang (appointment calendar available via online services)

Who takes the CTP tutorial and when?
The tutorial is mandatory for all ALM candidates in the field of Software Engineering or Digital Media Design who have completed at least 32 credits; design patterns (software engineering students only); and are fully prepared to begin the thesis process—moving straight from the CTP tutorial to thesis registration with no extended breaks. Consider your life, work, and academic schedule. Also consider your five-year deadline.

What is the CTP tutorial?
The tutorial helps you develop an academically strong thesis proposal. During the semester, you’ll map critical issues of project design such as scope, background, methodology, and expected outcomes. The tutorial is not a course, in the traditional sense. It is structured one-on-one advising with the instructor. You’ll participate in 15- to 30-minute individual appointments (by phone, video-conference, or in-person), ordinarily held between 9-5 to discuss your topic, proposal design, and writing progress. In addition, you'll submit multiple thesis proposal drafts for feedback. Upon completion of the CTP, you should have a thesis proposal that is well on its way toward approval and is ready to be vetted by prospective thesis directors. Please note that thesis directors usually request further edits to proposals prior to acceptance.


  • JUNE 1 for fall CTP registration
  • NOVEMBER 1 for spring CTP registration


Please put together a two to three page document addressing the following questions:

1. What is the thesis topic/project area you have in mind?
Provide a brief and detailed description of your topic. Be as specific as you can. Also, when considering a topic, it is important to be mindful that you need to work with a thesis director who is ordinarily a Harvard SEAS/GSAS faculty member or Harvard Extension School (HES) instructor who has expertise in the area; therefore, not all topics of interest can be supported. You should review the FAS/GSAS/HES course catalogue for a list of computer science courses. Through this review, you'll learn much about instructors' area of expertise. You may also choose a director from industry, if you have connections to specific individuals.  An industry expert can serve as the thesis director if he or she has a PhD (master's may suffice, if the master's degree required a thesis) and expertise in the area of research.

2. What are your research questions? (What are you trying to answer?)
The question or questions should be authentic in the sense that they are ones that you (and others) do not know the answer to already but would like to find out. Research is based on genuine curiosity, not advocacy or confirmation of what you already know.     

3. Give some background information about your proposed research topic, including a bibliography with at least three references.
Examining what is already known in your proposed topic area is critical. You need to be aware of the published research on your topic as you propose potential thesis research. When you are doing a review of your topic, you are looking for a balance of prior research. You need to choose a topic where there is enough prior work to support, frame, and ground your research, but not so much that there is very little left to say that is new and interesting. If you have any questions about what is expected for the bibliography, contact Dr. Wang early on.

4. Provide the rationale for the proposed research.
Answer the “So what?” question by explaining why your research questions are worth asking.  Your purpose in doing the research is to solve a puzzle. Explain what puzzle you are trying to solve and why solving that puzzle is meaningful to the academic field

5. In your document include answers to the following (one paragraph per question):

  • What have scholars learned about this topic already?
  • Which aspects of this topic remain unexplored or unresolved?
  • Do any questionable or erroneous assumptions characterize the previous writings on this topic?
  • Is there a particular method or approach to this topic that might shed new light on it?

SUBMISSION: Send the prework to by the required deadline. Be sure to put “CSCI 497 CTP  prework” in the subject line and include your full name along with your Harvard ID in the document.

REGISTRATION ALERT!   Prework is required to demonstrate your readiness to register for the CTP. You will not be able to register for the CTP until your prework is received and approved by your research advisor.

Advising Tip: The earlier you are able to do the prework, the better! You should expect to have to make some revisions to your document before your prework will be approved and you are allowed to register for the CTP tutorial. Plan on doing this as early as possible, well before the June 1st or Nov. 1st due dates. Dr. Wang is available for consulations regarding prework, simply schedule an advising session.

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