University of Minnesota
Csci8001: Introduction to Research in Computer Science

CSci 8001: Course Syllabus

Basic Information
Class Meeting
Fridays 11:15 am - 12:30 pm, in Keller Hall 3-115.

Zhi-Li Zhang
DTC/Walter Library 489 (mostly); Keller 6-187 (rarely)
Office Hours: by appointment (please email me!)
E-mail: zhzhang AT
Telephone: (612) 625-8568

Note:  Guest instructors will be a significant part of the course

Primary question: What is CSci 8001?

CSci 8001 and 8002 together are an orientation course for doctoral students in Computer Science. They emerged from a yearlong study of our Ph.D. program (by a committee of faculty and Ph.D. students) that determined that we needed to improve several aspects of the Ph.D. experience.

CSci 8001/8002 specifically try to:

  • Provide an environment where students can learn how to be a Ph.D. student. Part of our time is spent on central topics such as how to find (and work with) an advisor, how funding works in the field, how publishing works, and what resources are available to a Ph.D. student.  We'll also tackle the really hard questions:  why do you want to get a Ph.D. and what should you do to prepare yourself for life after you earn it? 
  • Give you an overview of research across computer science. One common concern that students had was that they didn't really understand how their research group or specialty area compared with other parts of computer science. Then, one day you're talking with a colleague and realize that their idea of "experiment" or "measurement" or even "system" is very different from yours. In this class, we will have a variety of faculty from around the department visit to talk with you about their favorite research papers, about their area, and about their own work. This is a great chance to meet faculty and to ask them about their own paths to where they are now.
  • Give you a head-start on research. In particular, by the end of 8002 you should complete three core activities:
    • a literature review (an analytic survey or research papers in some narrow area
    • one or more research questions (specifically, ones you might want to work on)
    • a research proposal and plan for a project you might carry out  during your second year
  • Plus, this course is designed to give new Ph.D. students a chance to meet each other.  Not only will your fellow students be a source of support while you're here, but some might become lifelong friends.

Secondary questions?

Who can take CSci 8001?

First-year Ph.D. students. This includes students who were enrolled in an MS program and are now starting a Ph.D.

How much work is involved?

You will usually have a research paper or other material to read before class. The literature review and research proposal will take work, but this is work that will save you time on your degree. I'd estimate an average of 4-5 hours a week, but highly variable from week to week.

How does the grading work?

You will receive a single A-F grade in the Spring for both 8001 and 8002. That grade will be based on your preparation and participation in class, your literature review, and your research questions and proposal. Whenever possible, I will encourage you to get your feedback on these items from an advisor or prospective advisor (I don't claim expertise in all areas of Computer Science). Realistically, this is a Ph.D. level class. If you put in solid effort, you'll do well.

For those of you who'd like more detailed information; you're preparation and class participation will count for 30% of the class grade.  Yes, this means if you enroll but don't show up often (or act as if you weren't there), you can do no better than a C-.  Your research statement will account for 5% of the grade, your literature review will count for 20% of the grade, your research questions for 20%, and your research proposal/plan for 25%.  Within those, effort counts.  So does improvement.

Um, but what if I have to miss a class or two?  You're an adult.  Missing a couple of classes is fine.  If work was due, send it to me.  Talk with others in the class to find out what you missed.  If you think you'll need to miss more than two classes per semester, see me as soon as possible so we can figure out what to do.

Is this course required?

Not yet. The department is considering making it a requirement for Ph.D. students. However it is strongly recommended.

What about all the Formalities?

Prerequisites and Necessary Background
Incoming Ph.D. students are prepared for this course by definition.  No specific prerequisites are required.

Course URL
All handouts and on-line materials will appear on the course web page at Please check the page regularly -- be sure to reload the page if your browser caches pages.

Incompletes are only awarded in very rare circumstances when an unforeseeable event causes a student who has completed all coursework to date to be unable to complete a small portion of work (typically an assignment).Incompletes will not be awarded for foreseeable events including a heavy courseload and poorer-than-expected performance on assignments.

Scholastic Conduct
See the University of Minnesota conduct code All work submitted for this course is expected to be your original work.  Work copied or derived from other sources should credit these sources appropriately. Your assignments may be jointly submitted to another course with the approval of the other instructor (they will still be judged on CSci 8001 criteria for this course).

Special Circumstances
Students with special needs or circumstances should contact me as soon as possible to make any necessary arrangements. As with incompletes, extensions are only granted for unforeseeable events, but arrangements may be made to obtain materials and submit work in advance if needed.  Other accommodations may be arranged in cooperation with disability services.