Student projects

This page contains information about Master and Bachelor projects in our group. For more information, send us an email (please include [VUStudent] in the subject).

Make sure  to also send us your answers to the questions in the student interests questionnaire, your grade list, and (optionally) a CV.

For a list of currently available projects, have a look at Available Projects.

General information

VUSec offers student projects for students who have particular interest in topics at the intersection of computer systems and computer security. These projects typically involve a considerable amount of hacking, and require good programming and debugging skills as well as good understanding of computer architecture and operating systems.

Most projects offered by VUSec are of the following types: BSc project, MSc project, and literature study. The BSc project leads to a BSc thesis, which concludes the BSc program. Both the literature study and the MSc project are part of the MSc program, and they are usually combined. Using the same topic for the literature study you plan to use for your MSc project helps prepare you for the MSc project and may save effort later on. Moreover, it allows you to back out of the topic if it turns out not to be as interesting as you thought. Combining the two is strongly recommended, but not required. Note that in all cases, they count as separate courses with separate papers, separate presentations, and separate grades.

The BSc and MSc projects require a lot of time investment, much more than any course you had before. It is critical that you plan them properly, and make sure you are able to focus on them completely. It is only possible to complete these projects if you can work on them full-time, because otherwise you will be unable to finish them in time and the project will be aborted. In particular, it is not possible to combine any type of project with a full-time job.

In VUSec, we supervise student projects as a group. The faculty members (see https://www.vusec.net/people/#faculty) act as formal supervisors together. For each project we also assign a daily supervisor, which is typically one of our PhD students. The formal supervisors provide feedback for one outline and one draft, and determine the grade for the final version. They are also the primary point of contact for high-level decisions, such as the choice of topics, and in case you have issues with your daily supervisor or personal issues. The daily supervisor can provide feedback on intermediate versions (within reasonable limits), and can provide practical help when you’re stuck.

You are expected to stay in contact with us on a weekly basis. For BSc projects, you have a weekly meeting with your daily supervisor and occasional contact with the formal supervisors. For MSc projects and literature studies, you participate in our group meeting on Wednesday mornings with both the formal supervisors and daily supervisors. These meetings are usually in the NU building at the VU campus, but may be held remotely if necessary (while access to the building is limited due to COVID-19). Staying in regular contact is critical for the success of your project, and if we find that a student regularly goes out of contact this may lead to the project being aborted.

Master projects

Thesis projects come in two flavors:

  • Internal projects: working together with PhD students, postdocs, and staff members in the research group
  • External projects: projects in a company or external organisation.

Internal projects. Please note that the internal research projects are invariably tough and very research-oriented. We typically aim for a project that may lead to a publication (no guarantees, of course). In fact, our preference is for you to submit your thesis as a 12-page paper that may be considered for publication. This published paper is an excellent example from one of our former students.

Make sure you really want to do one of those before starting one. Seriously, think about it carefully (And kiss your social life goodbye!).

Topics in internal projects vary. Have a look at our papers and especially some of the student papers to get an idea.  Also have a look at our project page to get an overview of the project areas (and some concrete projects) we cover.

External projects. For external projects, we have good contacts with many companies. Some of them have their own list of projects:

Make sure to understand the exact rules and regulations regarding the registration of your project, time schedules, etc. Do not assume that we will remind you of all these things (or even know all the rules and regulations by heart). This is your responsibility. Make sure to study the wiki pages for the master project.

MSc project timeline

The MSc project is a large project, with a workload of 30 ECTS. This corresponds with about 20 weeks of full-time work. The project can be started at any time during the academic year, but not in the summer break (July+August). We strongly recommend doing your MSc project directly after your literature study.

It is important to plan your project properly. The timeline below includes the major milestones:

  • Week 1: we have a discussion to jointly decide your topic.
  • Week 2: research plan, including your research question, a rough overview of the work to be done, and a timeline.
  • Week 11: submission of an outline of your thesis for feedback.
  • Week 20: submission of a full draft of your thesis for feedback.
  • After feedback: submission of the final version of your thesis, which will be graded.
  • After feedback: presentation and defense.

Note that these milestones only refer to deliverables, but an MSc project also involves a lot of work on designing and building prototypes and experimentally validating your approach. Since this work greatly depends on your topic it is not included in the general timeline, but you should consider it in your research plan.

If a milestone is not met, we will discuss whether completing your project within a reasonable amount of time is still possible. If it is not and there are no extenuating circumstances, the project will be aborted. Extenuating circumstances include personal circumstances beyond your control (for example medical issues) as well as unexpected complications in the project itself. Note that you are expected to be available full-time, so demands from your job do not count as extenuating circumstances.

Bachelor projects

Bachelor thesis projects in our group are also considered very demanding. Make sure you want to do this. If you do opt for a Bachelor project in our group, we have several option.

One option is to reproduce the results of some (really tough) research paper. Have a look at some example papers from past projects [1 | 2]. Even though you have the paper in hand to guide you, you will discover that this is much harder than you might think. However, it is very important in science (and for science) that we constantly try to reproduce research to validate claims and build on the results of others.

Another option is to start a new project. We have different projects on offer. Send us an email if you are interest, but make sure to fill in the questionnaire first!

The official info with all the rules and regulations for bachelor projects can be found on the corresponding Canvas page and on the study guide.

Finally, here is an example of what we considered a very nice bachelor thesis.

BSc project timeline

The BSc project is a large project, with a workload of 15 ECTS. This corresponds with about 10 weeks of full-time work. The project has fixed start dates, one in the spring semester and the other in the fall semester.

It is important to plan your project properly. The timeline below includes the major milestones:

  • Week 1: we have a discussion to jointly decide your topic.
  • Week 2: research plan, including your research question, a rough overview of the work to be done, and a timeline.
  • Week 6: submission of an outline of your thesis for feedback.
  • Week 10: submission of a full draft of your thesis for feedback.
  • After feedback: submission of the final version of your thesis, which will be graded.
  • After feedback: presentation and defense.

Note that these milestones only refer to deliverables, but a BSc project also involves a lot of work on designing and building prototypes and experimentally validating your approach. Since this work greatly depends on your topic it is not included in the general timeline, but you should consider it in your research plan.

If a milestone is not met, we will discuss whether completing your project within a reasonable amount of time is still possible. If it is not and there are no extenuating circumstances, the project will be aborted. Extenuating circumstances include personal circumstances beyond your control (for example medical issues) as well as unexpected complications in the project itself. Note that you are expected to be available full-time, so demands from your job do not count as extenuating circumstances.

Literature studies

Students in the CS master at VU have to do a literature study as part of the “master core”. This is how it works. You first find a topic. If you do not have a topic in mind yet, have a look at the projects and publications pages and see if there are any topics that you find particularly interesting.

Next, you meet up with any of us and discuss the topic. Often we need to scope it such that the actual area you look at is interesting, has a sufficient number of important papers, but also not too many, etc.

When you have finalized the topic, you start reading and compiling the study. At the end you should submit a report and give a presentation.

The literature study should show that you have covered the relevant area well (i.e., you discussed all the important papers), that you were able to systematize it. It is not enough to say: “Paper 1 said X, paper 2 said Y, etc.” Instead, you will have to structure the information. There are many ways to do so, taxonomies, categorizations, chronological ordering, etc.  This is an important aspect of your literature study.

Finally, it is nice (but not mandatory) if you present your own view, vision, opinion, perspective, … E.g., “I think this direction is pointless/great/better/worse because of X,Y,Z.”

A very good literature study is one that may lead to a publication (no guarantees of course). In fact, our preference is for you to submit your literature study as a 12-page paper that may be considered for publication. This published paper is an excellent example from one of our former students.

The official rules for the literature study are in the study guide.

Literature study timeline

The literature study has a workload of 6 ECTS. This corresponds with about 4 weeks of full-time work. The project can be started at any time during the academic year, but not in the summer break (July+August). We strongly recommend doing your literature study directly before your MSc project.

It is important to plan your project properly. The timeline below includes the major milestones:

  • Week 1: we have a discussion to jointly decide your topic.
  • Week 2: submission of an outline of your literature study for feedback.
  • Week 4: submission of a full draft of your literature study for feedback.
  • After feedback: submission of the final version of your literature study, which will be graded.
  • After feedback: presentation and defense.

If a milestone is not met, we will discuss whether completing your project within a reasonable amount of time is still possible. If it is not and there are no extenuating circumstances, the project will be aborted. Extenuating circumstances include personal circumstances beyond your control (for example medical issues) as well as unexpected complications in the project itself. Note that you are expected to be available full-time, so demands from your job do not count as extenuating circumstances.

Notes on ethics

See here.

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Systems and Network Security Group at VU Amsterdam