Reflection: What Is CIS4900?

The following blog post was written by Jacob Knarr, an undergraduate student who was working in the lab during the 2018 fall semester. Jacob spent the semester completing the requirements of CIS4900 – a senior independent study project course in the School of Computer Science – while helping to develop an Android mobile app to support community-based health and environment monitoring in the Circumpolar North. 

What is CIS4900? Looking at the course outline, CIS4900 is a course that allows students to prepare for graduate studies by working with a faculty member to plan, develop, and implement a research proposal. At this point, you might think, “Wow, it would be great to work on something that I find meaningful after all this time doing assignments that get thrown away as soon as I am done them!

Frankly, you would be right. Working with a group of motivated individuals to complete a common goal is amazing. The effort you put into the project actually means something, it matters to others. Everything you do during this time matters to at least one other person, and can directly or indirectly affect another person’s life.

Now at this point, you might be thinking, “Well, this doesn’t really sound like a traditional course.” To me, CIS4900 is not a course, it is a lifestyle. When you are working with a team on a project that affects someone’s life, you feel the pressure. You feel it, all the damn time, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep. When you try to kick back and relax, it’s there in the back of your mind saying, “But shouldn’t you be trying to meet the project’s goal?

For me, I spent fall 2018 developing and implementing a fluent UI experience for users to create and update their account for an app designed to support community-based environment and health monitoring in the Circumpolar North. These accounts will eventually be used to support a wireless mobile mesh networking platform known as RightMesh, so the information we collect and share across the network has to be secure. Creating a fluent UI takes time, and adding and reworking the functionality behind it, even more so. Unlike most courses where the assignments have an end, in CIS4900, the project has no end to the work that needs to be done. This is not a 10 hour a week course; this is a continuous feeling of what is next on the monstrous list of things that need to get done.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is not to deter you from taking CIS4900, not at all. What I am trying to convey is that if you want to dedicate your time to do something meaningful, then you will love the experience. The key word here though is ‘want’; you need to genuinely want to put your effort and time into the project you are going to be working on. This makes the experience for you and your team much more successful and enjoyable. If you are just trying to get out of going to class, you will be sorely mistaken. There are countless meetings that you need to attend to keep up to date on what is happening with the project around you and so you can contribute to, and receive help from, your team.

Oh, did you say you don’t like working on the weekends or past 9pm? Well, too bad. You will be in constant communication with your team, trying to figure out random problems or testing their work.

This course is what you make it out to be, you are free to do whatever you want to do, within reason, whenever you want to do it. This brings a lot of mixed feelings because the decisions you make have real repercussions. Not “oh darn, there goes 10% of my grade”, more like “oh darn, I just stalled the entire project because I decided to binge watch Game of Thrones this weekend.” You need to decide whether you can take on these challenges to make a difference in something.

So CIS4900 – what is it? Well, in the end, that is ultimately your choice.

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