The degree requirements for students in the Master’s of Science in Robotics Research Program (MSR) at Carnegie Mellon University consist of core course requirements, elective courses, and supervised research culminating in a public thesis talk and a Master’s Thesis document.
The MSR program is designed to be completed nominally in two full years (24 months), with exceptional trajectories as described below for the fifth-year Master’s Research option available to current Carnegie Mellon undergraduates, and for Carnegie Mellon staff who are taking courses and conducting research part-time while performing staff duties.
The MSR program does not provide or guarantee funding; students are expected to secure two years’ of funds to pay for their educational costs. It is Robotics Institute policy that incoming students may not receive funding (via a research assistantship or otherwise) their first semester unless the funding is outlined in their offer letter. Offer letters may be updated until April 1st. Fifth Year students can begin the summer after bachelor degree completion and count that as their first semester in the program if enrolled in 36 units of on-campus research with approval of their research advisor.
The Master’s Thesis requirement is satisfied through the oversight of the Master’s Committee, formed from faculty and students at The Robotics Institute who read and approve the Master’s Thesis document and attend and approve the public thesis presentation, as described below.
Faculty Research Advisor
MSR students beginning in the fall semester must have a faculty advisor by October 31st; those beginning in the spring semester must have a faculty advisor by April 15th. Students must notify the Master’s program head of their mutually agreed-upon advisor-advisee relationship with a chosen faculty member. Note that the faculty must have a faculty appointment in the Robotics Institute, and that a faculty accepting the Master’s advisor relationship is never financially responsible for the Master’s student, except in the relatively rare cases when a research assistantship has been explicitly negotiated.
Review of Progress
Satisfactory progress in coursework will be assessed by the student keeping up with the course schedule and passing courses. All courses must be passed with a grade of B-, or better. An overall grade point average of a 3.3 or higher is required to graduate.
Elective coursework must be approved by the Master’s program head during the first month of classes in the first semester, and prior to class enrollment in all subsequent semesters. The faculty research advisor will assign a pass / fail grade every semester for the supervised research. To oversee completion of the Master’s thesis requirements the student will form a Master’s Committee that will verify the quality of the Master’s thesis in both written and presentation forms.
Master's Thesis Committee
The Master’s Committee must be formed by the end of the student’s first year. The student's Master’s Committee must consist of their research advisor(s), an additional RI faculty member and an RI PhD student. If the student is co-advised both research advisors must be on the committee in addition to another faculty member. The additional faculty member should be from a different research group or project than that of the student. The PhD student must have completed his or her second year of study, or has successfully graduated from the Robotics Research Master’s program. The student is expected to hold at least two research meetings with each member of the committee individually, discussing his or her research directions.
On-line forms are used (Speaking and Writing Qualifier forms, via the BlackFriday site) by the committee members to report on and to approve the final thesis document and presentation. Committee approvals must be submitted by the grade deadline in the semester which the student wishes to graduate.
Course of Study
The Research Master's Degree requires completion of a minimum of 168 Carnegie Mellon credits. Of the total credits fulfilling the Master’s Degree requirements, at least 84 credits must be comprised of core and elective coursework, and at least 84 credits must be comprised of supervised research. Four core courses and three elective courses are required as part of the 84 credit course minimum as described below:
Four of the courses must be drawn from the "Core Courses", one course from each of the following four areas. Note that this list of core course options is identical to the Core Course list required for the Robotics Ph.D. program at The Robotics Institute. If admitted in to the RI PhD program the core courses taken during the MSR program can be used towards the core requirements of the Ph.D. program.
- Perception: vision, image sensors, range data interpretation, tactile and force sensors, inertial guidance, and other sensors. Core courses in Perception are 16-720 Computer Vision, and 16-722 Sensing and Sensors.
- Cognition: artificial intelligence for robotics, including knowledge representation, planning, and task scheduling. Core courses in Cognition are 15-780 Graduate Artificial Intelligence, and 10-601/10-701 Machine Learning (MS/PhD Levels).
- Action: kinematics, dynamics, control, manipulation and locomotion. Core courses in Action are 16-741 Mechanics of Manipulation, and 16-711 Kinematics, Dynamic Systems and Control.
- Math Foundations: signal processing, optimal estimation, differential geometry, and operations research. There is one core course in this area: 16-811 Math Fundamentals for Robotics.
The student must take at least 36 units of elective courses, comprising at least 3 elective courses. These can be drawn from appropriate graduate courses in Robotics and in related disciplines at Carnegie Mellon. All Robotics Institute graduate level courses (16-600 or higher) are approved electives. Elective coursework outside of the Robotics Institute must be approved by the Master's program chair during the first month of classes in the first semester, and prior to class enrollment in all subsequent semesters. Request approval by e-mailing the program chair, George Kantor and cc'ing Barbara Jean Fecich.
The remaining units, a minimum of 84 units, come from supervised research (16-997). Supervised research is conducted with a faculty research advisor. It consists of working on one of their on-going projects to develop a research thesis question, conduct the research and create the material results that can give form to the Master's Thesis. Supervised research is graded pass/fail, based on the advisor's assessment that the student has learned how to contribute to an original research project. Those students who receive research assistantships (in the form of tuition or stipend) are expected to satisfy their supervised research requirement by registering for a minimum of 24 research units and working specifically on the project from which they receive their funding. A faculty advisor may require a student to remain on campus and continue full-time research during both summer sessions.
Practicum (16-990) is a course designed to provide students with an opportunity for internship experience to count towards the required 84 units of research. MSR students have the option to register for a maximum of 24 units in the summer after their first academic year. Students are not eligible for summer internship credit in their first or last semester. International students must consult with the Office of International Education for eligibility prior to seeking an internship or signing an offer contract.
Students interested in doing a summer internship must first have their research advisor’s support. Some research projects require students to be on-campus performing research for both summer sessions. Students must also have their research advisor’s approval that the content of the internship corresponds to or assists with the student’s on-campus research project. By providing their approval the research advisor is committing to over-see the content of the internship, which culminates in a one-page report due to the Program Manager the day before summer grades are due.
Final Oral Presentation and Thesis Document
The student is expected to give an oral thesis presentation in a public venue at Carnegie Mellon. The student is expected to demonstrate the ability to present technical material to a technical audience that is not presumed to have specific expertise in the research area. The Master's Committee should be in attendance, but committee members may designate proxies to evaluate the presentation and fill out the Oral qualifying form.
The student is also expected to deliver a Master's Thesis describing the supervised research. This should be a document for which the student is the sole or principal author. The thesis should demonstrate a style, organization and clarity that enable researchers in the field to comprehend the problem, method, and results of the research. The Thesis should, at a minimum, contain the following sections and ingredients: Background, Research Question, Related Work, Methods, Results, and Conclusions. There is not a specific page-based minimum length for the Thesis document. Once approved, the Thesis must be archived as a Carnegie Mellon Technical Report. The principal approval for the Thesis document is provided by the student's committee, via the Writing Qualifier form.
In both the presentation and document, the student should convey a mastery of a topic related to contemporary robotics research. The student should present a summary of work related to the topic from the current research literature, and should clearly describe how his/her research fits into the context of that research. It is not necessary for the student to generate his/her own novel research results that go beyond the current state of art, but of course novel results are welcome and will strengthen the presentation and document.
The student is also expected to deliver a complete thesis draft document to their committee sufficiently in advance (recommendation of two weeks) of the oral presentation to enable committee feedback. The oral thesis presentation must occur on a weekday on or before the last day of classes in the semester the student intends to graduate. All thesis requirements, including upload and qualifier forms, must be received by the date and time that grades are due for certification in that semester.
Carnegie Mellon Staff Enrollees
Carnegie Mellon staff can enroll in university courses at reduced or zero tuition cost. Staff can utilize this approach to satisfy the core courses for the MSR program; however, staff should formally apply as soon as possible.
Following acceptance, staff should form their thesis committee and mutually select a faculty advisor. Staff are now eligible to take elective courses and must be enrolled in the MSR program for a minimum of two academic (fall and spring) semesters prior to graduation.
Staff members interested in utilizing the tuition benefits must coordinate directly with Human Resources. If the staff member is here on a Visa, it is the staff member’s responsibility to ensure they have appropriate status with the Office of International Education to pursue an academic degree.
Accelerated Graduate Program Enrollees
Current CMU undergraduates can apply to the MSR Program the fall of their senior year. If admitted, these students may get an early, accelerated, start on the four core courses while still an undergraduate student. Elective courses and supervised research may only be taken upon completion of a bachelor’s degree, while enrolled as a graduate student.
To finish the program in a “5th year” students must complete all four core courses as an undergraduate, enroll in full-time supervised research the subsequent summer after graduation, register for supervised research and elective courses during the fall and spring semesters and complete their research and thesis requirements in the following summer. This is the earliest possible completion for the program. Students are also able to utilize the entire two years if they prefer.
Note that courses cannot count toward multiple degrees, therefore core courses taken as an undergraduate can only be applied toward the MSR degree if they are not used to satisfy any undergraduate degree requirements.
Following acceptance, students wishing to complete the program early should form their MSR Thesis Committee and mutually select a faculty advisor. This is particularly important for senior undergraduates wishing to begin their research units in the summer, as research units will not count toward the MSR degree unless the student has an approved committee and research advisor.
Transfer Credit / Course Waiver
Transfer courses are not accepted for the MSR program. However, if a student has completed course work related to the required core courses, they may request a core course waiver. A core course waiver is requested via email by the student directly to the faculty member teaching the core course. The teaching faculty member will identify if the student has mastered the course content and provides their waiver recommendation via email to the Program Chair and Program Manager. The Program Chair makes the final decision. If a student disagrees with the waiver request outcome, he or she may petition the Program Chair to assign a suitable faculty member, aside from the teaching faculty member, to review the request, typically the relevant course instructor or an expert in the topic. A core course waiver permits the student to take an additional 12 unit elective course instead of a course in the core area. The waiver does not provide units for the course and does not appear on a student’s transcript.