This guide answers many questions and gives planning advice for students who have secured an MQP.

1. Planning Your MQP

Every MQP progresses somewhat differently depending on the individual student's needs, the advisor's interest, the student's motivation, team dynamics, and many other factors. While this looseness might be disquieting for some, it can be the MQP's biggest asset since it allows you to participate in a real engineering project that you have a hand in defining, thus allowing you to fully experience the thrill of solving a challenging problem and the agony of chasing false leads.

2. Important Dates

Since your choice of an MQP topic may influence your course selection and schedule for your senior year, you should plan to find an MQP as soon as possible in your junior year. Detailed information concerning the registration procedure for an MQP is available online through the IGSD (for off-campus projects) and ECE department (for on-campus projects). 

3. How to Complete a Successful MQP

Generally, an MQP has five phases: Project Definition - Research - Design - Evaluation - Reporting. Since MQP is a multi-stage comprehensive project, you should meet regularly with your project advisor and follow the project schedule closely.  

Project Definition

During the project definition phase, you will begin to determine exactly what you will do for your MQP. The idea for the project might be something that you thought up on your own, or it might be one of the project ideas that have been presented by the faculty. The process of defining the project usually involves writing a project proposal. The proposal might be as short as three to five pages, and it generally includes the basic definition of the project along with the project goals, projected schedules and budgets, and the methodology you will use to satisfy the project objectives.

You should start the "project definition" phase before the registered project term takes place. This phase should also involve selecting a team to work with you. A typical project proposal has the following sections: introductions, literature review, methodology, schedule and budget, and project specification. During the first term of your MQP, you'll probably spend a lot of time refining this proposal.

Research

The research phase of a typical MQP begins in the first term. You’ll start refining the initial proposal that you wrote to get the project going. Based on your initial proposal, your advisor will probably have comments and suggestions for sources of specific information you will need and will identify areas you now need to explore. During this phase, you will start following up on all of these directions. Your biggest source of information for this phase will probably be your course notes, texts, and the library. Through the library, you can also gain access to many electronic books and journals.

Once you've completed the research phase, you will be fairly knowledgeable about the problem on which you are working. You will know what others before you have done, how well their approach worked, and how you can do better. You will fully understand the nuances of the problem and will know the tools and techniques needed to solve the problem better, faster, or less expensively than anyone else. If you've kept careful notes along the way, you will also have a significant store of information that will prove useful when you write your MQP report.

Design

The design phase of a project can take many forms, depending on the nature of your particular MQP. For example, in a theoretically oriented MQP, the design phase might consist of completing the proof of a new technique for calculating the effects associated with some physical phenomenon. In order to test this technique, you might have to develop a program that performs the necessary computations on a variety of examples for which theoretical or experimental results already exist. For hardware-oriented projects, the design phase normally involves taking the detailed specifications derived through your research and designing and building a circuit that you expect will satisfy them.

Although each MQP will have different kinds of design components, the design phase is really that time when the theoretical knowledge you have accumulated about the project, along with the skills you've learned in the classroom, are applied to solve a real problem. In engineering terms, design is when you take a theory and reduce it to practice. This means creating theoretically justifiable designs, not making guesses and creating a working design through trial and error during system debugging.

Evaluation

Proving that your design is correct can be difficult, but it is essential. For example, if you are designing a new heart rate controller for a pacemaker it's no good to tell the patient that it "should" work. You've got to demonstrate that it does work (and will continue working). Part of this proof is done in the design phase where you calculate the current flows, power dissipations, logic timings, and other design parameters. The rest of this proof is done when you take your constructed device into the laboratory and test it.

Again, the nature of the testing depends on the specific type of project. If you're building a board that will be launched on the Space Shuttle, you'll be putting your design in ovens and refrigerators (to test thermal cycling) and putting it on shaker tables (to verify mechanical stability). If you're testing theoretical results, you may be running experiments and taking measurements to correlate theory with observation. In either case, the purpose of the evaluation stage is to ensure your design meets the specifications you derived. Indeed, by the time you successfully complete the evaluation phase it's quite likely you will have done additional research, updated your design, and re-evaluated your results one or more times.

Reporting Results

The MQP report documents the entire project. In this report, you will present the project, the research you did, the details of your design, and the results of your evaluation. It would be difficult to overstate the importance of a quality report, and, even though it is the last thing you will turn in related to the project, you should start writing it when the project begins. Appendix B contains information describing the style of the report in detail.

The MQP Oral Presentation is similar to the written report, but is presented in a more abbreviated format. Details on the oral presentation are contained in Appendix C. In brief, the oral presentation will briefly introduce the project, describe the major innovations that made the project succeed, present an evaluation or demonstration of the project, and then will conclude by assessing the project status and prospects.

4. Contacts for Further Information

For general information about MQPs contact Professor Ted Clancy x5778

For information about the MQP Project Laboratory, contact James O’Rourke x5233.

For information about the ECE Shop, contact William Appleyard x5869.