Faculty Recruiting Support CICS

Synthesis Project

The synthesis project is a significant research project that combines different areas each represented by a reader.  The project must be proposed, completed, and accepted by your readers before you can submit your portfolio for admission to PhD candidacy.

What does "different areas" mean?

The notion of areas and readers are closely tied together.  The project must have at least two readers, each of whom represents a different area. Issues of what constitutes distinct areas are judged by the readers and by the graduate program director. The main criterion is that the sets of techniques are typically quite separate and that the project involves an intellectual stretch to bring them together.   The areas (and hence the readers) may be from at least slightly different areas in the College of Information and Computer Sciences, or one of them may be from a different department, or conceivably even at a different university.  However, at least one of your readers must be a member of the tenure- or research-track faculty.

Typically, the main topic of the project is related to you and your advisor's research interests. You learn about a body of ideas and methods in a different area and attempt to apply these ideas to the problem in question. The key requirement is that different techniques from at least two distinct areas are brought together to attack a problem.

How do you know when you're done?

The  readers must agree that you have successfully mastered the distinct techniques of the different areas and done some non-trivial work to apply them to the problem. You must write a paper or report that describes the techniques and progress. (In the best case the paper will be published.)  The minimal requirement is that you have mastered the techniques and brought them together in a paper that would be worth at least an A- in a term project.

For some students, the main "evidence of research" in the portfolio is this synthesis project. In this case, the project must unquestionably demonstrate this crucial aspect of the portfolio. Doing so may go well beyond the level needed just to pass the synthesis requirement. In particular, passing the synthesis project does not necessarily provide sufficient evidence of research ability for the student to pass the portfolio.


The Synthesis Project must be approved in advance by the faculty readers and the DPD in the form of the "Synthesis Proposal" online form. This form should be filed no later than November 1 or April 1 in the semester before the portfolio is due.

At the completion of the project, your final report will be requested by the graduate academic programs office.  In addition, an "Evaluation of Synthesis Project" form will be requested from the synthesis readers.  That report characterizes the results of the project and certifies that it satisfies the synthesis requirement.

Your synthesis project must be completed and approved in order for you to submit your portfolio by the portfolio due date.