I'm set to graduate in Computer Engineering this year. As part of the requirements to graduate: I have to develop, submit, and present a capstone project to the faculty. I'm allowed to choose whatever project I want as long as the faculty approves it. While I have a year and a half to finish it (and many students do take that long). My goal is to deliver it in time for the next graduation date available.
At the same time, I've been working at a software company that has just closed a deal to develop a system that requires significant research in machine learning. Being aware of the capstone project requirement and that I'm still looking for a project, my boss strongly insisted that I should pick it up. He even offered to personally advise me (I get to name up to 2 advisers) and get me whatever resources I might need. Since I was curious about it, I asked him to send me some material to read and decide.
However, while studying the material, I noticed 2 red flags:
- I'll need to spend hundreds of hours studying to learn new skills, on top of building, and then documenting it well enough for the final paper to be understandable and thorough, as it will be required by the faculty. It is nearly impossible for me to finish it within the year.
- The architecture points to a system that will require multiple people sharing the research and workload required to build it. When I asked him about it, he told me his plan was to fit my project into a much larger one. In fact, he is already assembling a team across multiple universities to tackle the challenge, including himself, who's joining a grad program next year and planning to work on it for the next 4 years. The issue I have with it is that my project was supposed to be a solo project and evaluated only by the faculty. Instead, the prospect is to have several grad students supervising, criticizing, and determining the overall direction of what I'll be doing.
While I'm happy to put in the hours required to learn, design and build such a system, and also don't mind working on a team to achieve it, I don't want it to be my capstone project. It is far above what's expected from an undergrad student, it would significantly postpone my graduation, and I would have to relinquish control over my project.
So, my questions are:
- As an employee, what are the potential consequences if I were to refuse his terms?
- How can I communicate that, despite appreciating the offer and willing to accept it as a work project, I want my capstone project to be something more personal and smaller in scope?
My boss is aware of all capstone requirements since he is just a few years my senior. His proposal, as it currently stands, already fulfills all of them. By claiming it "is far above what's expected from an undergrad student", I meant that significantly smaller projects are consistently approved by the faculty, some of them awarded with the maximum grade.
Every capstone project has to be approved by a professor. However, it is extremely unlikely I find a professor that would reject this project unless they hold some personal grudge against him. In any case, he has already contacted a faculty member that approved it. As I mentioned previously, he is going to be a grad student at the same school I'm graduating from, and we would have the same adviser.
We have not discussed yet any work schedules. It is not clear to me what his expectations are in terms of weekly hours. That being said, I don't expect to be paid overtime if I choose to accept his suggestion as my capstone since it is not a practice in this culture, even if that time would be spent at the office. In general, students who develop capstone projects within their companies just chalk it up to "study hours".