Carnegie Mellon University

Advanced Study

Thesis and Development-Based Projects

Students in the Advanced or Applied Advanced Study options can shape their graduate experience over four semesters by pursuing either a Master's Thesis or Development-Based Project. 

  • Master's Thesis: Delve deeply into a problem and create a novel solution for a research-based project, providing the opportunity to gain significant knowledge and skills in a particular area. For additional thesis requirements, please see the FAQ section below.
  • Development-Based Project: Increase your knowledge and skills by defining an important problem and demonstrating possible industry solutions, culminating in a final technical report. (MSIN and MSIS only).

The thesis option is available to students in all programs. The project option is available to MSIN and MSIS students only. Once research is complete, students present and defend their work and conclusions to an audience of their peers and faculty. Work culminates in a written technical report or thesis that is published and archived in the library. 

Standard Thesis / Project Timetable

Follow this timeline to ensure you are meeting all approval and submission deadlines.



Proposal Preparation phase

Identify a research topic and subject area/s of interest, as well as potential project advisors

By the 'Semester Course Add Deadline' (10th day) of the second semester

Acquire the INI faculty advisor's approval (Adv. Studies Declaration Form)

Two weeks prior to the end of the second semester

Submit Signature Page and Proposal to the INI Academic and Student Services team

Before the first day of classes of the third semester

Contact INI Academic and Student Services team to be enrolled in units

3 weeks before the last day of class in defending semester Submit Defense Scheduling Form and Video Consent to the INI Academic and Student Services team
1 week before the last day of class in defending semester Defend
10 days before the Final Grades deadline for graduating students

Acquire the project advisor's approval and then submit Thesis*/Technical Report and Signature Page to the INI Academic and Student Services team for approval by the department and, if appropriate, college

*Thesis submissions require the following items in addition to the Thesis and Signature Page to be submitted prior to the last day of classes:

  1. ProQuest ETD Submission
  2. Thesis Submission Checklist
  3. Committee Sheet signed by thesis advisor and reader*

Template for Thesis or Technical Report

In an effort to help INI students abide by the CIT guidelines, the INI has developed a LaTeX template for your use. If you are not familiar with LaTeX language, we suggest finding a tutorial before starting to use this template. A suitable tutorial is available here.

Download the Graduate Project Template (.zip file format)

Save the .zip file to a local drive and then extract its contents. Last updated: December 18, 2023.

While we strongly encourage you to use this template, it is not a requirement. If you decide to not use the template, please ensure you are abiding by all the guidelines set forth by the College of Engineering and the INI.

Forms and Documents

Advanced Studies Declaration Forms

Please use the appropriate form for your program:

Signature Page Forms

Please use the appropriate signature page for your program and type of project.

Additional Forms & Templates

Frequently Asked Questions

If you selected either the Advanced or Applied Advanced Study option, you can elect to complete a Master's Thesis (all degree programs) or a Development-Based Project (MSIN and MSIS only).

Students in all programs have the option to pursue a thesis, in which you will delve deeply into a problem and create a novel solution for a research-based project. The thesis option provides an opportunity to gain significant knowledge and skills in a particular area. 

Students in the MSIN or MSIS programs also have the option to pursue a Development-Based Project, which allows you to increase your knowledge and skills by defining an important problem and demonstrate possible industry solutions. The project will culminate in a technical report.

Information on the proper preparation of the final technical report or thesis are available on the College of Engineering Thesis and Dissertation Standard website. Keep this information available and refer to it first before seeking additional help.

The College of Engineering provides detailed guidance on their website that outlines the submission process. Please carefully review the College of Engineering's Thesis and Dissertation Standards.

All theses must be approved by the dean of the College of Engineering and therefore require additional documentation. In addition, all theses are required to be submitted to University Libraries for archival purposes. Students must use the "ProQuest ETD Administrator Website" to complete this election process.

Please note: Students are only required to publish their thesis at the Carnegie Mellon University Institutional Repository. The INI Academic and Student Services team collects all required documentation and submits it to the College of Engineering on the student's behalf.

As noted above, the project should be in an area of research that is interesting and relevant to information networking or information security - depending on your program of study. It should also be an area where there is work that remains to be done; there should be some clearly-defined new knowledge to discover or some new techniques to be developed.

There also should be some way of quantitatively measuring your work's success. Therefore, you should choose a topic that is significant but not impossible! You also need to choose a topic that is interesting to both you and your advisor. Finally, and most importantly, you should choose a topic that you will have fun working on.

A good place to get ideas about potential advisors is from the websites of the ECE and CS departments, Tepper and the Heinz College. Advisors from the EPP department, the SEI, Robotics Institute and many other corners of the university also have served as advisors over the years. 

You will need one primary project advisor and one additional person to serve as a reader for your project. The eligibility requirements of people to serve as advisors are loosely drawn to allow students flexibility in their choice. CMU faculty, including research faculty, from any department may serve as advisors. On-campus pre-doctoral students generally are not permitted to serve as either advisors or readers. The INI Director has the final say on advisor eligibility in borderline cases (such as staff members with doctorates). If students are considering a staff member with a doctorate or a Ph.D. student as their reader, they must file a petition requesting permission.

Keep in mind that your project advisor(s) and/or reader are required to be present at your defense and must be available to sign off on your technical report or thesis. This is a requirement without exception. Certification of your degree will be delayed by the absence of your advisor or reader.

You should regard your first contacts with a potential advisor as a mutual courtship. You can be of great help to a potential advisor by doing good work on projects that are of interest to him or her. However, your advisor will also need to spend some time and effort in training you and bringing you up to speed on his or her research topics and operating environment. Just as you are evaluating potential advisors, they will be evaluating you. Prepare yourself for your initial meeting by learning a bit about the research of a potential advisor by looking over the information on his or her website.

You should also try to learn something about your advisor from other students who have worked with him or her. Your advisor and/or reader should help monitor and guide your progress, so choosing someone who is hard to reach can delay completion of your project and affect your graduation. It is your job to educate them on the INI timeline you must meet in order to graduate on time.

You and your advisor and/or reader should stay within the timeline created in your proposal as closely as possible. Ultimately, you are responsible for the timely completion of your project. If you are experiencing difficulties communicating with them, you should inform the INI Academic and Student Success team as soon as you become aware that there is a potential problem.

Once you and an advisor agree to work together, make sure that you both have a clear idea (and the same idea!) of what you will be doing, what the scope of the project is, how you will evaluate the success of the work that was done and what your “deliverables” are. You should also have shared expectations on a likely timetable for completion. Nevertheless, you should expect that some of the specifics of your project will have to be worked out as time progresses.

You should think of the project proposal as a contract between you, your advisor and/or reader and the INI. The project proposal does not need to be very long - three to six pages is typical.

The project proposal should be in the following form:

1. Introduction and background
This section sets the stage for motivating the work you will do. Outline what has already been done in the field of interest, and in particular, describe the limitations or shortcomings of the current state of the art that your work will address or improve.

2. What you will do
State here as specifically as you can what you will do for your project work and how it differs from what has already been done before by the rest of the world.

3. Evaluation of your work
Address two important issues here: (1) how you will know when your work is completed, and (2) how you will evaluate how well you have done. While you may work on a wide variety of topics, no proposal or project will be accepted unless it includes a viable form of evaluation.

4. Deliverables
State here what artifacts you will leave behind. Minimally, this will form the basis of the MSIN/MSIS/MSIT-IS thesis or technical report, which ultimately could contain code, a hardware prototype, a working demonstration system, etc. In the proposal, however, merely mention these "artifacts."

5. Expected timetable
Include here the major milestones in the project and the expected completion date. This section must include how the student and faculty advisor have agreed to split the units (36 total) over two semesters. This will be based on the anticipated output/deliverables in the proposed timeline.

Submit a hard copy of the project proposal to the INI Academic and Student Services team signed and dated along with the appropriate signature page with original signatures by you, your project team members (if any), and your project advisor(s), academic advisor and/or reader.

The proposal should be submitted two weeks before the last day of spring semester. Faxed copies will not be accepted.

You must give an oral defense of your project findings/results in a public presentation once all project work is complete. Your project advisor(s), academic advisor and/or reader must attend and an announcement must be published to the university community. Use the Project Presentation Services Request Form to notify the INI Academic and Student Services team of your intention to defend your project work. Follow the procedures indicated on the form. Lead-time for requesting a presentation date is two weeks. If you do not give two-weeks notice, we cannot guarantee your requested presentation date and location.

Generally, defenses are scheduled between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m., Monday-Friday in one of the INI conference rooms.

The oral defense must be at least 45 minutes long and summarize your work and its major contributions. Following your talk, you will answer questions by your project advisor(s), academic advisor and/or reader and the rest of the present audience.