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For the first of my project and employability workshops this year, I aim to cover two principal discussion points. Firstly, the attributes of a good student project; we can do that in structured discussion form, which will almost certainly also highlight the need for a conscious effort in name recognition for networking:

  • pairs: introduce yourself and your project to your peer, and explain why you've chosen to do your particular project;
  • fours: introduce your peer and summarize their project to the other pair, and consider what makes a good student project.

Secondly, and taking as input the results of the previous discussion (and also comments from the project module leader, who can intervene at this stage), how can students best produce projects meeting the goals identified in the first discussion. I think this might be best delivered more from the front; there will be all sorts of practical advice that I can give (but I must make sure to ask the room for other experience).

So, before the session, what are the aspects of a good student project that I would highlight?

  • ambition: is the project hard? Does it carry an element of risk?
  • outcome: does the project work? How robust is it?
  • learning: has the student demonstrably learnt something while carrying out the project?
  • communication: is it clear to the assessors what the student has done?
  • demonstrability: can the project be used as an example in the student's future career?

I would expect the students as a group to come up with all of these, except perhaps ambition: I don't know if my expectations are wrong – I hope so, in fact – because if it doesn't show up I would wonder slightly whether we don't give enough emphasis through the programme to going beyond what is expected.

As for practical suggestions for them:

  • time-management and concentration: GTD, Remember the Milk; working habits and keeping logs; supervisor as project manager
  • learning and communication: communication to you now - what is interesting? What have you learnt?
  • demonstrability and outcome: minimum viable product
  • ambition: what would you like to do that you don't know how to do? What about things that no-one knows how to?
  • force multipliers: tools. Good compilers, good debuggers, good change management systems.

What am I forgetting? I hope I'll find out.

[ In the session, as it happened:

  • the standard “introduce your partner” bombshell when moving from pairs to fours had the expected effect, with many of the students unable to remember the name of their partner. I made the explicit link to networking.
  • “ambition” was in fact given by one group (but another group was contemplating “not too ambitious” as one of their criteria as I was walking around and listening, so there's still something to look at).
  • I didn't get on to anything technical; I spent more time on Minimal Viable Product, since the students claimed not to have heard the phrase before.