Choosing your project topic is a significant part of your Master's degree.

Student conducting lab experients

Your research project is an invaluable part of your Master's degree, and provides a real opportunity to gain experience of research approaches and techniques. To get the most out of this, it is vital that you select a project that matches your interests and skills, as well as a supervisor that you can communicate with effectively. You need to make sure that you have the right support and that you have set your expectations appropriately.

A degree at this level will normally require you to submit a significant piece of individual work, which could be an essay, report or dissertation. You will need to have a clear idea of how much time you are expected to spend on the project before you start, including length and the amount of original research required. You will need to pose questions, and use your research skills and techniques to process information, review literature and present your results in an acceptable way. This form of assessment will test your levels of understanding, thinking and initiative.

Before choosing your project, talk to potential supervisors and fellow students about how much independent work the task might involve, and how much you will be expected to work with other group members. You will usually be supervised by one or more academic members of staff, but they may delegate a lot of day-to-day supervision to other members of their team, such as a postdoctoral scientist, engineer or a PhD student. You should seek out practical advice from these people when choosing your direction.

Academics have a very busy schedule at Imperial, so you will need to work together in an effective way to complete your project. If you can communicate well with your supervisor, this is a big step toward success.

Carrying out research

While each course is different, here are some general suggestions for pursuing your research:

  • Take the initiative with your project, and think of your supervisor as an adviser, not a boss;
  • Be ambitious. This is your chance to really hone and demonstrate your research skills;
  • Prepare a timeline or timetable to help you plan your work and confirm that you can finish in time. Always allow more time than you think you will need, and remember to review and update your timetable as you go;
  • Be orderly, precise and detailed, for example, in lab notebooks or when referencing;
  • You will normally be required to do a literature review as part of a research project. Set aside enough time to find and review relevant information. To help you find information in your chosen area, take a look at the Library Services Subject Support pages;
  • Be prepared for frustrations. In research we all experience things that do not work, or happen slower than expected;
  • Do not spend significant amounts of time on material that you know will make no contribution to your project;
  • Look at examples of past projects, especially any that have been recommended to you;
  • If you are collecting data, work out how you will analyse it before collecting it. This may affect the amount of data you will need, and the form you will need it in. For example, does a particular statistical test require a minimum sample size;
  • Check whether your research needs ethical permission;
  • Seek feedback, but do not expect your supervisor to do your work for you. Expect feedback to take some time if your supervisor is busy, so make sure you have other things to do;
  • Always keep a back-up of electronic data and be systematic about naming different saved versions of files.