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The APSC 459 class from 2009/2010 were asked in class to provide gips for next year’s class.  These are all tips submitted by the APSC 459 class of 2009/2010, close to the end of their projects in March (we would’ve gotten potentially very different advice in January, or even 4 months afterwards in the fall before 479!).    The class was given post-it notes to individually write down any tips they would have given to themselves at the start of their 459 projects, then asked as a class to group them together into similar topics.   Every post-it note with a comment was included below.  I’ve added comments and links to some of the comments in italics, and have bolded some of the comments I thought needed to be highlighted.  Enjoy!     Topic Selection

  1. Meet your sponsor before picking your project   (** or at minumum, learn as much as you can about your sponsor before meeting them – you can find out a lot by reading a prof’s research webpage, or company information and articles.  Don’t show up to any meeting without first learning a bit about your prospective project sponsor/client)
  2. Choose a project that focuses on assembling and adapting existing material.  Don’t try to build everything from scratch.  (** often you can’t avoid designing and building key components, but there’s only a small set of valid reasons for building from scratch when you can buy and adapt exsting pieces (e.g. greatly reduced price, lack of key function, etc).
  1. Choose an exciting project
  2. Choose a project that’s actually interesting to you
  3. Find a project you really like.  If not possible, do self-sponsoring
  4. Self-sponsored projects can be better than most posted    (** there are certainly some positive things about self-sponsored projects, and some drawbacks.  Read in the FAQ »)
  5. Don’t spend too much time labouring over whether your idea is perfect, just choose one that works
  6. Try to get as much direction/information as you can as soon as you can from your sponsor
  7. Recommend having a meeting with the project lab, sponsor and students at least once during the term.  Good idea to help get all parties together.
  8. Choose something you have experience with so you don’t waste time learning things
  9. Keep everything as simple as possible cause it always ends up much more complicated
  10. More detailed description and then projects available online before having to pick some
  11. Choose a topic that has resources that can easily be gathered
  12. Take some time to really think about what project you want to work on
  13. Don’t make a perpetual motion machine.  We obey the laws of thermodynamics in Fizz
  14. Research/open-ended projects may not be a good idea.  Deliverables are important.


  1. More knowledge about different suppliers (electronic components and standard mechanical components)
  2. I wish I knew Pavel’s cellphone number (** Pavel Trochanoivich is the lead of the PHAS Electronics Shop, he’s a great resource in Hennings for electronics design suggestions for your project.)
  3. When you get stuck, seek for help (online, from the project lab, etc).
  4. Always ask for help when stuck.  A lot of experts reside in Hennings, you just don’t know who they are.
  5. Get independent advice to question your ideas – even a teammate.  And question your teammates.  Don’t assume you’re right!
  6. Knowledge about Labview programming
  7. Try to learn how to use solidworks / properly use lab equipment beforehand
  8. Become familiar with the software you will need to use.
  9. Be Jon’s friend! Add Jon on MSN!    (** I stay off MSN if I can, but I’ll do my best to reply by email with any incoming requests, especially during the term)
  10. Jon and Bernhard are your friends.  They know everything (or someone who does) (** we do have many contacts here on campus – faculty in other depts are good, but staff in other depts are also great resources)

  Sponsor communication:

  1. Sometimes sponsors know what they are talking about, but most of the time, ….
  2. Make sure you have a sponsor that you can contact
  3. Make sure sponsor is on the same page in terms of expectations
  4. Make sure everyone (sponsor, project lab, your group) expects the same results
  5. Get project charter done and signed!  So that he/she doesn’t change scope on you.
  6. Hunt down your sponsor, don’t let unanswered emails and phone calls stop you (avoid the restraining order though)


  1. Lasers are fun
  2. Be more proactive at problem solving
  3. Make silly faces !! =)
  4. Software work takes 3 times as much energy and brainpower as mechanical work.   (**not always true, but I have certainly seen groups not allot nearly as much time as they should on software/data analysis as they should, as they collect volumes of useful information but don’t schedule appropriate time to do this)

  More effort early on in the project

  1. Start report/proposal early
  2. Use the 4 months before the start of the term (during coop) to really plan/research for your project
  3. Get to work right away (don’t expect to have time later in the term)
  4. Advice:  do more planning ahead of tie – more work in the summer term / term 1
  5. Do all / most of the planning in the summer, use the actual project time for execution
  6. Put lots of effort into completing your proposal on time, even the drafts
  7. Do not assume that solutions can be worked out in the future or that “minor details” can be hand-waved away!
  8. Make sure you have a finished proposal BEFORE January
  9. Plan very well in the design report.  Actually figure out what parts you need and prepare for shipping delays
  10. Research ahead – and start early!
  11. More planning ahead of time
  12. Go into a lot of details during the proposal stage
  13. Start the project as early as possible
  14. Brainstorm for solutions as soon as possible

  Scheduling your time

  1. Explicitly set up working time, instead of deciding on the go
  2. Have better time management (i.e. Make a schedule and stick to it rather than making up the schedule as you go along)
  3. Start everything that you can BEFORE setting into the project lab
  4. Do not take any days off at the start of the semester
  5. Start early in September then you will be fine
  6. Schedule for an early finish
  7. Try to do some real amount of work every single week.  Otherwise the project loses momentum.
  8. Start the term with a good pace and try to maintain it.  Trying to ramp up productivity (through the semester) will get harder as the midterms and assignments pile up.
  9. Get into the routine of setting time aside for your project
  10. DO not delay your progress of the project.  Follow the schedule on the proposal and complete milestones on time!
  11. Expect things will take longer than you predict
  12. Do not waste the time when you have during breaks/less busy periods of the term
  13. Avoid “rate-determining steps” and bottlenecks.  Don’t slow down just because you need parts or sponsor is busy.

    Documentation and Organization

  1. Always write on lab books
  2. Never leave important parts/components in the project lab.  They get lost easily or it will be hard to hunt for them the next day
  3. Keep up with documentation; it is easy to fall behind@ (easy but BAD!)
  4. Clean your desk so you don’t lose $50 in circuitry.  So small… yet so expensive
  5. Order all parts as soon as possible.  Try to get your hands on them immediately.  You don’t have to start working as you get them, you just should have them for January.  This saves a lot of time.
  6. Keep good documentation, e.g. categorizing information, correspondence with sponsor, keep logbooks updated.
  7. Try to get a full parts list before ordering or the budget grows like a daffodil.

  Managing Expectations

  1. Estimation of task length… x2   if you think it should only take 4 hours make it 8 hours.
  2. Test your fundamental concepts early on before you rely on them to work
  3. What you expect to finish will change many times
  4. Make realistic goals à it is better to deliver more than you claimed you would than it is to deliver less
  5. 4 months is a very short time to do anything.
  6. Assume your plan does not work.
  7. Everything takes twice as long as you think it will, even if you account for that.
  8. What you will achieve = (0.1)(what you hope to achieve)

    Team Organization

  1. Don’t give someone the job of micromanaging others.  It’s good when others are on the same page, but the overhead is costly and inefficient if you want to know and control everything.
  2. Communicate with teammates and others about problems of progress
  3. Divide up group responsibilities evenly and before term starts
  4. Make sure that everybody on the team is clear about their required tasks
  5. Make team building events.  Make sure the team clicks.

  Other Courses and Co-Op

  1. Keep up with other courses
  2. Take less courses during second term so that there is more time for project
  3. Consider how co-op job will affect planning for projects.  Easier to be on campus for summer term/ term 1 than living far away.   (**It’s unfortunate that the course is structured this way during 1st and 2nd term.  It’s inherited from the time that Engphys had co-op only in the summertime, )


  1. Always use protection
  2. Be careful around batteries
  3. It is usually not ok to pass 10000W through into a wire.