Theses, Projects, and Independent Studies in the
Document and Pattern Recognition Lab (DPRL)

Prof. Richard Zanibbi (Updated June 2023)

This document described the process for undergraduate and Master's students joining the DPRL lab for degree work, and associated Computer Science Department deadlines and deliverables for theses and projects.

Normally I am interested in topics that expand current and/or previous research in the DPRL, although I am willing to consider other problems. A list of previous DPRL PhD dissertations, and Master's/BSc theses and projects can be found here. I avoid independent studies designed to provide a 'general survey' of the literature on a large topic, as this doesn't often lead to satisfying outcomes. Especially for their first research project, things go better when a student narrows their focus, reading about and working on a specific problem. A summary of projects, publications, etc. from the DPRL may be found online (see the lab web page).

The RIT CS department now offers a thesis option for both undergraduate (BS) and graduate (MS) students, along with courses for developing a thesis proposal for credit (CSCI 589 / 590 and CSCI 787 / 790). In both cases, a thesis normally takes two semesters, one to prepare a proposal and a second to execute the proposed thesis. Proposal/prep courses are 3 credits, undergraduate thesis is 3 credits, and Master's thesis is 6 credits (in total, 6 credits for undergraduate thesis, 9 credits for Master's thesis, over two semesters in both cases).

In general, I prefer to advise thesis students, because they spend more time working on a research project. Both projects and theses that are planned early and have enough time to fully develop are the ones that generally lead to good results and research publications. There are many things to learn, and to learn them well requires time.

Below are some additional details on undertaking a thesis, project, or independent study in the DPRL.

Getting to Know You, a.k.a Take my Course(s)

I much prefer to advise students who have taken at least one course with me before undertaking a thesis, project, or independent study. It is also preferable for students to have lighter course loads in the semesters when they complete a thesis or research project, due to the effort involved.

It is difficult to start a student on a research problem before having any sense of their interests, programming skills, theoretical knowledge, analytical skills, working habits, level of motivation, and personality. Mismatching these with advisor expectations is generally a recipe for disaster, or at least significant stress and/or frustration.

If you would like to do a thesis, project, or IS in the DPRL, take at least one of my courses.

Thesis Proposal Courses (589 / 787) and Independent Studies

Thesis students should do the appropriate thesis proposal/prep course (589 for undergrads, 787 for Master's students), while project students would ideally complete an Independent Study before doing their project (again: thesis is preferred, and looks better on a transcript). Under very exceptional circumstances, I will consider an isolated IS or MS project, but please be aware these are rarely available.

Roughly speaking, the difference between a thesis and project is depth of analysis: A system implementation, case study, or replication of existing work is sufficient for a project, whereas in a thesis we try to explore and discover new things, and generally require a more rigorous evaluation of the work undertaken. In a project we may aim to simply try things out (and gain exposure and some breadth in a topic), whereas in a thesis we aim to thoughtfully dig into details, learn new things for the research community, and test our new understanding (i.e., aim for analysis, depth, and strong evidence for our conclusions).

Important paperwork. For a thesis proposal course (589 / 787) or Independent Study, students need to complete a form describing the purpose, deliverables, and milestones for the term by Monday of Week 2 of the semester:

In all cases, a final report (for thesis proposals, roughly 10-15 pages long) and some other deliverables (e.g., code, experiment worksheets with designs and results, research paper databases) are required, as agreed upon in the forms. In general, we should discuss the contents of these forms before the end of the previous semester, so that we can start work in earnest in Week 1.

Thesis and Projects

Thesis courses (CSCI 590 or CSCI 790) are normally completed after a satisfactory proposal/prep course that I have advised. The thesis proposal is normally converted directly into an initial rough draft for the thesis (in particular, the related work can be largely re-used). A Master's project (CSCI 788) is normally undertaken after an independent study.

Thesis proposal approvals. For Master's thesis students, their proposal must also be approved before the start of term they will do their thesis by the Reader on the student's committee (see details on committee composition below) using this form. Undergraduate thesis proposals are approved by the advisor (myself) at the end of the proposal/prep course (CSCI 589), no further approval is needed.

Undergraduate thesis committee and defense. Undergraduate theses are evaluated only by the faculty advisor (e.g., myself). There is no need to form a committee, and there is no formal defense, although students are encouraged to present their work if the opportunity presents itself, whether in the department or at an academic conference if they have a research paper accepted.

Master's thesis commitee and defense. DPRL students have three members of their thesis advising and defense committee - myself, their Reader who will read and critique the document carefully, and their Observer who is there to 'referee' at the defense, and who optionally may also read the report and critique the thesis at the defense. Students should talk with me about who they would like on their committee before registering for thesis (ideally, during the proposal/prep course).

Master's thesis defense announcement, and thesis archiving. After the thesis document is complete, the student needs to share their thesis draft with their Reader, a minimum of two weeks before their defense. The defense itself must be scheduled through Dr. Hans-Peter Bischof, the MS program coordinator via email (Dr. Bischof's email). The email should include:

A successfully defended Master's thesis has its title page submitted by committee members, after which student should submit their thesis for archiving following these instructions.


Doing good work takes time and planning. Research work is no exception.

I am hopeful that this document will help to clarify the preferred path to completing a project or thesis in the DPRL, and make it easier for students to know what deadlines they will need to meet.