Research Project Supervisors
The AIMS Master’s in Mathematical Sciences includes a research project, which makes up one third of the course. Proposal submissions using the link below close on 5 February, but are reviewed by AIMS staff as they are submitted. The approved topics are made known to the students by 12 February at the latest, and students select a topic by 16 February. Early interaction between students and supervisors often leads to the choice of topic being decided earlier, subject to approval by the AIMS Director or the Academic Director.
Students begin their research project on 16 February and submit their dissertations on 21 May. During the first six weeks they also have courses, and so are expected to do mostly background reading and whatever preparation the supervisor suggests. But in the second six weeks they concentrate entirely on their research projects. After submission they have a week in which to prepare their oral defences which occur in the first half of June and involve both external and internal examiners (including the supervisor).
Academics and industry researchers are invited to propose topics to be taken under their supervision. In previous years we have had many excellent proposals, some of which were not selected by any students, only because of the wide choice. We encourage resubmission of previously unselected proposals, as well as the creation of new proposals.
The purpose of an AIMS research project is:
- to give students the opportunity to work with an expert supervisor on a research project;
- to go through the process of reviewing, understanding and explaining scientific or mathematical material;
- to optionally do experiments — on a computer or otherwise — and report the results;
- to write a scientific report.
The project contains a survey of literature and methods at the forefront of some topic appropriate for a student beginning research in the Mathematical Sciences. It typically contains examples, perhaps by computation/simulation, and some independent work. Ideally the topic will prepare the student for a research MSc or a PhD, or to follow a career in commerce, industry or the government sector. Past projects can be viewed at archive.aims.ac.za/structured-masters-research-projects.
The project phase lasts three months. Projects should be of an appropriate scope to allow students to do the necessary reading, work, and writing in this time. The level of the project should be at the South African Structured Master’s degree level and is some cases may lead to further work which could grow into a more substantial research project leading to a Research Master’s degree or even towards a PhD degree. The recommended length of the research project is between 25 to 35 pages, and it is emphasised that the project should not exceed this number of pages. As a guideline please review research projects in your field in the archive of previous years’ projects.
The proposal need only be one paragraph long. It should normally contain references of which at least one should be to a textbook, chapters from a textbook or a general review article. Further selected references to journal articles should be included where appropriate. The research project should be on a topic in the mathematical sciences and contain at least some parts that are formulated in terms of mathematics.
Students are not expected to do original work to achieve a passing grade. However, the criterion for an outstanding project is broadly that it could constitute the early part of a Research Master’s thesis. For example, it could be publishable, or form an outstanding introduction to the field for use by those wishing to enter it.
In the initial stages of the project students will still be taking courses. This is the time during which students are expected to complete background reading for their project. When courses finish they have six weeks to dedicate to the project; this is the time when interaction with the supervisor is most frequent (weekly is the norm), and when the work and writing up is done. Each student is assigned a tutor for support; however the tutor is not a co-supervisor.
Supervisors should be well versed in the field within which the project is proposed. They are expected to guide students in their research projects and to help clarify difficult concepts. A supervisor should not take an excessive number of students — typically at most three. Supervisors are advised to engage students in an email exchange before deciding on whom to accept for a project. Of course, students are given the same advice!
The supervisor is expected to be available during the three months of the research project, to guide the student and respond in a timely manner to queries and to comment on drafts. Supervisors who work in South Africa but outside the Western Cape are encouraged to make a short visit (typically one or two nights) for supervision and discussion. It is recommended that this be done within the first three weeks of the second half of the research period, when students have just completed courses and their background reading for the project. Experience has shown that this works best if AIMS coordinates arrangements: assisting with transport costs and accommodation in the AIMS building. If there is a local co-supervisor, this visit is not usually necessary. In exceptional circumstances the student may instead visit the supervisor; but then the cost of the student’s accommodation is expected to be met by the supervisor.
In commenting on drafts, the supervisor is expected to clarify principles of exposition and grammar, but not necessarily to be responsible for detailed grammatical corrections throughout the report. That, the student is expected to learn from the supervisor’s initial feedback with the assistance of the tutor (and in some cases the English and Communications Teacher). The supervisor is not expected to re-read previously corrected drafts; the student is expected to highlight any changes.
The supervisor is also expected to be present for the examination, when the student gives a blackboard presentation of 15 to 20 minutes and thereafter responds to questions and discussion provided by the supervisor and other examiners. Again, for supervisors in South Africa but outside the Western Cape, AIMS meets the cost of travel and accommodation (in the AIMS building). In exceptional circumstances the supervisor is unable to be present at the examination; then a replacement — usually local — is to be nominated and provided with questions and sketch answers. Attendance by Skype is also possible. As soon as the exam timetable is being planned, each supervisor will be contacted to nominate three dates for the examination of the student. We endeavour to accommodate all requests.
Supervisors are expected to email a brief, one paragraph, report to firstname.lastname@example.org by the date at which students must submit their research reports. It should indicate the task originally set, how much independent work was done by the student and any special circumstances encountered during the project. It is designed to help the external and other examiners in evaluating the report, which they do before the oral examination. Supervisors (and examiners) are sent either a link to a downloadable version of the report or a printed copy, as desired.
AIMS relies on the contributions of lecturers and supervisors. Thank you for your support.