OMSCS Research Options

The Georgia Tech online masters of science in computer science has been a groundbreaking endeavour to bring an MS CS program to students at a massive scale.

In five years, the program has received over 25,000 applications and enrolled more than 10,000 students (including those who have graduated), all working their way toward the same Georgia Tech M.S. in Computer Science as their on-campus counterparts.

Despite the use of online communities, legions of teaching assistants, and other techniques to expand the reach of a traditional masters of science program to thousands of students, there are still opportunities for students to be deeply engaged with university resources. One of these categories of opportunities is research and independent projects, which I was fortunate to experience in three ways during my time in the program.

Education Technology Foundations (CS6460)

Previous review comments here .

I’m starting with the EdTech course because the barrier to entry is low and the pathway to success is well guided. Registration for EdTech (CS6460) is open to OMSCS students without additional forms and even if you don’t have a project in mind before the course, the first few weeks of the course involve exploration of academic literature on the intersection of education and technology. If you do have a project in mind, the first part of the course will help you focus and refine your idea to best fit the remainder of the course.

To be specific about your success in this course, you will agree on an outcome with a TA/mentor along with a planned approach when you decide on your topic. Along the way, adjustments can be made so its in your best interest to be honest with your mentor about challenges you are having or unforeseen barriers. In many cases your mentor will have experience in or adjacent to the area you’re working on and can provide helpful suggestions. Much of this is similar to working with a PI (principal investigator) in a research group except the EdTech course takes a more structured approach to the project plan than most research groups.

After EdTech, you can optionally take your project further through a few avenues:

  • participate in the student showcase, which is an online forum format of student presentations at the end of each semester
  • continue working on the project independently, which is especially applicable if you are building an open source component
  • approach a professor working in a related area and inquire if they’re willing to mentor you for continued work through CS8903 (see below), a number of EdTech projects will fall in Dr. Joyner’s areas of interest

In my opinion, unless you do 2-3x more work during the EdTech course than is required for the course, you are unlikely to have a project ready for publication in academic journals at the end of this class. However, if you continue the project past the course you may be on the way to publication. Regardless, EdTech can be a tremendously rewarding adventure into working on an individual or team project focused on an area of your interest.

Vertically Integrated Projects (VIP)

Previous review comments here .

OMSCS students are eligible to apply for VIP teams, an email is usually sent once a semester to remind students but you can begin investigating options at any time. Applications are open around the time of phase 1 registration, so you need to be thinking ahead if at all possible.

My suggestion for participating in VIP is to not only complete the application to a team, but if you have related experience (professional or academic) or compelling interest in specific topic that you also communicate with the professor leading the team via email. Do enough background research into the work the team is doing to have engaging questions.

An important component of VIP is the team component. There is a high likelihood that you will be collaborating with other students, undergraduate and/or graduate students. This makes VIP an excellent opportunity to learn from others but also to be a leader and help other students. OMSCS students can be highly desireable to VIP teams because we come to Georgia Tech with diverse backgrounds and experiences, exactly the kind of innovation that vertically integrated projects are seeking.

My experience with VIP involved relating previous undergraduate and graduate research to the VIP project components, as well as areas I’m interested in learning more about. The VIP team I joined had a branch that required some development experience that I was able to work on where my previous experience was helpful in gaining context quickly and getting started.

Special Projects (CS8903)

Previous review comments here .

Special projects does not change your OMSCS degree pathway from being coursework based, but it does create a significant opportunity to do research for credit (3 or 9 credits) that can be part of your coursework credits. These are credits that count towards your “free electives”, no matter what your specialization is. These statements are made based on the current content of , you will check with your academic advisor before pursuing.

Understanding academic research

Academic faculty are highly motivated to conduct research, where there success is measured mostly by their publications but also by the success of their team (postdocs, graduate students, and extraordinary undergrads). The phrase “publish or perish” is invoked as a reminder that research must go on. This is not to suggest that all academic faculty aren’t interested in your success as a student, but it’s really important to understand some of these dynamics if you want to successfully participate in academic research. First off - I’ll define your success as an OMSCS student in CS8903:

  1. Making forward and novel progress on a project of sufficient difficulty that it makes for engaging conversation with people on a deep technical level
  2. Completing agreed upon checkpoints to complete the CS8903 credit hours. If you were a full time research student, you would be trying to meet expectations to continue your “employment” in the group
  3. Optionally, your work is published or included in a publication by the research group

Research groups are generally structured horizontally into subgroups of people around projects under the PI (principal investigator, or faculty member). A research group around a PI can contain post-doctoral researchers (postdocs), graduate/PhD students, and undergraduate students. In larger groups, the more senior folks (postdocs) can take on a good deal of mentorship of student researchers. Newer faculty members will have smaller groups that are often more tight-knit in both the vertical and horizontal direction.

Getting Started with CS8903

The process for starting CS8903 is a bit more involved than the previous options, but the possibilities are nearly endless! There are over 100 academic faculty in GT Computing and all of their research areas are potential content for your work for CS8903. To enroll in CS8903 and work on a faculty member’s research project, you will need to:

  1. Educate yourself on their current work, including publications and opportunities for more advancement in that area. You may want to familiarize yourself with the GT Library to get access to some of the content.
  2. Reach out (via email) to introduce yourself and/or complete any research interest forms they have linked on their website (not all faculty have these). Similarly to the introduction email I recommend for VIP (although now required), you’re trying to make a good impression - you’re smart, inquisitive, hard working, etc.
  3. Ask the professor if they’re willing to supervise you for CS8903 where you’d work on their project {fill in the blank here} based on your interest/experience/knowledge/unique charm. It’s ideal to have a virtual meeting with the professor mid-semester to discuss their work and brainstorm what you might work on. Look at the CS8903 permit form before this meeting.
  4. If the professor agrees, complete and submit the CS8903 permit form , including a statement of research.
  5. Register for CS8903 during registration and setup regularly meetings with your advisor. If their research group does virtual or hybrid meetings, you may want to join those.

The statement of research should be two or three pages and should include the following:

  • Problem Statement or Project Goals
  • Solution Proposal or Approach
  • Schedule of Work
  • Expected Results or Outcome (Deliverables)

I got started with CS8903 by digging further into the “Databases” area of research and looking through all the faculty at Georgia Tech I could find that work with databases . Prof. Arulraj is involved in a few projects, some newer and others carrying over from their original PhD work. Their research group is relatively small - which is a pro or con depending on a number of other factors. One of those projects was of significant interest to me, so I read no fewer than 10 papers of theirs or referenced by them before reaching out to ask about future opportunities.


This article isn’t necessarily exhaustive and there may be other ways to conduct research in OMSCS, including reaching out to a professor similarly to as would be done for CS8903 but instead of under the premise of you doing research work “for free”. As the OMSCS program evolves over time, additional opportunities may become available for students. In my experience, all three of VIP, EdTech, and CS8903 options were readily available to customize the work done for OMSCS to fit my area of interest. Know your strengths and don’t be afraid to explore!