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I have a course conflict with the scheduled 459/479 times. Can I still register for the course?

In general, you can still take either 459/479, even with a course conflict.  In general, you will need to get a Course Conflict form from Engineering Student Services and have both the Project Lab and the instructor for the other course sign agreeing to the conflict in the schedule, and return the form to ESS.    The APSC Faculty Dean’s Office is the only place that can officially override a course conflict.

For 459, there is a 2-hour block of time scheduled per week, with a mix of group presentations, discussions and invited speakers. Historically, the first hour is used for in-class discussions and the second hour meant as dedicated time for groups to meet together, but this does vary from year to year, so confirm with the course instructors about what the format will be for the course.

For 479, there is 1 hour of class time scheduled per week, with a mix of invited speakers and topical presentations at the beginning of term, and of group presentations from early October onwards.

If you have a required or elective course which conflicts, please contact the Project Lab to discuss options about finding other times in your schedule for weekly updates. Because of the nature of the in-class sessions and evaluations,we generally have flexibility in allowing for time conflicts with the courses.


Can we work on a research-focused project in 459/479?

Research projects (e.g. cases where the outcomes are not necessarily known) can be done very well in 459/479 if the focus for the planning and preparation for the project is on the process and equipment and techniques used during the investigation, rather than the outcome of the process.


Research-based projects which do not work well are ones where the process, equipment, and techniques are not known or identified by the project group or sponsor prior to starting the project.   If this is the case, the project is likely not suitable for 459/479, and fits in better with graduate thesis work, where a student has the time and resources (and general expectation) to pursue novel research techniques and has a far more open timeframe. In 459/479, your time constraints are relatively well defined, with a known range of hours of work for the term – one of the goals of 459/479 is to give students the experience in forming a proposal with reasonable tasks and work flow during the term, identifying all of your required resources to do your work at the start of the project.


What do I need to do to get approved as a Self-Sponsored project?

Start by discussing the project idea with the Project Lab staff, to get their general impression of the idea.


The next step is to follow with what other Project Sponsors are asked to do:   write up your idea in a short proposal (~2 pages), using the Info for Project Sponsors page and Available Projects Postings as guides.   The writeup should contain both a general description of the project area/deliverables, as well as a list of references showing the state of the art (publications, commercially-available items, links to videos, etc.)


If you do act as leads on a Self-Sponsored project, it is expected that you will start the project with a level of expertise which is greater than a comparable group working on a similar project but with a Project Sponsor – you won’t have the support and resources available through a Project Sponsor.


Each self-sponsored group is expected to identify and confirm support from at least two other Project Advisors, who will act to offer technical guidance and external review for the direction chosen by the team, as a Board of Advisors would for a small company.


A guideline for seeing whether a project is suitable is whether the project and project group can specifically address these areas:

    • The project has a reasonably well-defined set of objectives and deliverables (this can be a functional description of the system, not necessarily stating specifically what technology will be used to solve the problem);
    • The project group has obtained access to sufficient technical resources to accomplish the tasks at hand;
    • The project addresses a real or perceived shortcoming in existing technology, or a specific need for a specific client/user group/project sponsor
    • There is a reasonable work plan associated with the project to complete the project objectives


What are the pros and cons of doing a Self-Sponsored project?


    • You can pick an area where you and your group will stay motivated throughout the term.
    • You get to choose an area for your particular interests for later employment, graduate studies or future entrepreneurial opportunities.


    • You miss out on one more opportunity to learn how to effectively manage an external client with regards to expectation managmenet, communications, documentation of work, etc… all of which are valuable experiences for future project work.
    • You may be tempted to constantly change your project objectives without the guidance of an external sponsor to oversee the final outcome.
    • You may have fewer technical resources available as your group works, since there is no external Project Sponsor aiding your group in identifying and soliciting these resources.


I found an interesting existing project /commercial product that I think would form the basis for a nice project and potential business.   Can I work on this as a Self-Sponsored project?

If you are interested in pursing project based on an existing commercial product or ongoing work in a research lab, see if you can identify aspects of the project that the Project Group would focus on during 459/479. This might include:

    • identifying specific performance metrics of the existing system and proposing specific changes to make the system operate quantitatively better;
    • making specific changes to the system to reduce costs of the system;
    • taking the existing project and adapting it for a new application, and evaluating performance in that new area;

Contact the Project Lab to discuss any interesting ideas you may have, we can help to refine the idea and identify some of these areas of development which might make it suitable for 459/479.


I have an idea for physical prototype that I’d like to make a be a sellable product. What should I do?

It’s great to think of pursuing a project with more of an entreprenurial bent to it – it can certainly motivate your group, you may be able to develop better contacts with local potential customers, and you’ll have good control over the outcome of the project. Here’s a few guidelines when putting together project ideas for future commercial devices:

1. Identify and contact future customers / users

The most important part of the project is to identify what exactly the “ideal” product will be, and there’s no better way to do that than to talk to the actual end-users (and the ones that would potentially pay the device). Don’t develop your idea without getting input from your target group! Getting input from members of your target market during the design/ideas stage will help to determine whether your product is demonstratively “better” or “successful” in meeting its objectives.

2. Avoid focusing on implementation details early on

Groups tend to put too much early focus on implementation than they do on truly identifying the needs of the future group – worrying about which controller to use or how many valves are in your system lock you into a particular way of solving the problem early on, rather than giving you freedom to change your design based on user input.

3. Focus on design and usability from the user’s point of view.

If the goal is to make a commercializable device, make sure that the focus early on is on getting real-world feedback from your target audience. This might mean making mock-ups/non-working prototypes very early on to get user input, and to confirm that the final product is as usable and desirable by the end users as possible. It doesn’t matter how much technical innovation goes into the design of a commercial product if it is too complicated, awkward, or feature-laden for the intended audience to use.

Contact the Project Lab to discuss any interesting ideas you may have, we can help to refine the idea and identify some of these areas of development which might make it suitable for 459/479.


How does funding work for a self-sponsored project?

As described in the Info for Project Sponsors, there is an internal budget to cover incidental purchases for each project during the term. Individual major purchases are to be covered by project sponsors, in discussion with the students and the Project Lab.   Self-sponsored projects follow the same general guidelines used with all Project Sponsors.




How do I find other team members? I don’t have a group yet for 459/479.

Most groups are formed by students in communication with their classmates on their own, and don’t require input from the Project Lab. However, you might be having problems locating a group for various reasons:

    • on co-op and hard to get in touch with your classmates
    • want to find other students specifically interested in certain project topics
    • already have 2 members, am looking for a third member.

For students in 479   Historically, we have had a group session on the Thurs or Fri in the first week of classes in the Project Lab for students to drop by and discuss potential project topics and common interests. This is also a time when some Project Sponsors will also come out to the lab to visit and meet with students to answer questions about their projects. Virtually all students are able to find teams and groups by the time of the first lecture (Tuesday during the 2nd week of clases).

For students in 459    Finding a group can take time, particularly if you are working on co-op outside the country or have a hard time getting in touch with your classmates, but we have several ways to help out:

    • check the online list of students in 459/479 to contact others that might be interested in working together on projects for the term. (password distributed to class via email)
    • If you do not find a team with similar interests by the first submission deadline, you will be asked to submit the form with your own student preferences, and we will try to match you up with other students with similar interests. We can also arrange a time to meet in person or skype to discuss projects as well.


I’m on co-op but would like to register for 459/479.  Is that possible?

If you are on co-op in the Lower Mainland:     We have had students register for both 459 and 479 take the course while on co-op in the Lower Mainland where the other member was taking classes. In the past, we’ve asked team members to come out to UBC campus for a formal presentation and to attend the Project Fair, as well as at least one other afternoon for an in-person status update with their team. It has had relatively positive outcomes the majority of the time. The biggest requirement was that (a) the co-op student works with people they know and already have working relationships on previous projects; and (b) the co-op student and the rest of the team lay out specific times when the group can physically be in the same location to meet and do work. Having both those items in place, it has been able to pull together the project.

If you are on co-op outside the Lower Mainland:    We have also had students attempt the course while they were physically away from the Lower Mainland, but these experiences have not turned out very well at all. The students and Project Sponsors were not able to have the same type of input and feedback and interaction with one another and with the Project Lab as they were close to campus, and the Project Lab staff were not able to support the project as well as the project deserved to be supported. We are highly hesistant in approving this to happen unless a very strong case can be made for supporting the project.


What are the other project courses (ENPH 480 and 481), and how do they work?

ENPH 480 /481 are optional 3-credit courses for students wishing to continue with project-based work beyond the opportunities available in 479 or 459, either as direct follow-ups to your 459 and 479 projects, or to pursue other technical or entrepreneurially-based opportunities you may have. A description of the 480/481 courses can be found here.


Can I work in a group with 4 or more people?

In general, we have a strong preference not allow groups with more than 3 people for either project course.   3 people appears to be the optimal size of group for the type of projects undertaken in the Project Lab without overloading other courses and ensuring a relatively shared workload among all team members. Having said that, come and talk to us about your specific idea – you may have a project where it does make sense to have a larger group, specific team dynamics where it would work, or a project which can be broken up into distinct parts where 2 groups can work as separate teams on one larger project.


You will likely be asked by course instructors to provide a statement about how you plan to deal with the increase in the number of students in the group, and to provide evidence that the Project Sponsor is in full support of having the group with more members.



Can I work as a 1-person in either 459 or 479?

For 459, we require you to work in groups of 2 or 3 with students in 459, to give you an experience of planning and executing larger-scale projects as a team under direct supervision of the course instructors.


For 479, we may allow you to work as a single person provided that you can demonstrate that you have sufficient technical resources and experience to accomplish the project objectives as a single person. This may be the case if you are working on a project as a follow-up with a co-op supervisor or another project which you are familiar. It is certainly not the preferred method when taking the course, as gaining experience in teams is a valuable experience. Anecdotally, it has been noted that single-person groups have often had lower grades and accomplish fewer of their initial project objectives than groups with 2 or 3 people (there have, of course, been notable exceptions to this observation).