University of Wisconsin–Madison

FAQs

How to join the informatics skunkworks?

Just email Dane Morgan at ddmorgan@wisc.edu to express your possible interest – no commitment needed.  We then meet to discuss projects and requirements.  If you are still interested we pick a project and you are on the team!

What is required to participate in the skunkworks?

  • Approximately 10h/wk work on your skunkworks projects.
  • Participating and presenting in the end of semester “All-Hands” meetings.
  • Participation in project meetings, including regular reporting.
  • Any additional requirements associated with obtaining academic credits, if you wish to do that.
  • Making an effort to engage with the team at hangout times, through Slack, etc.
  • No GPA, previous experience, or technical background requirements.

How do I get a project?

Projects are very flexible but you need to work with some advisor to guide your project.  You can come with your own project and advisor, e.g., a faculty you have been working with, or you can work with Dane Morgan as your advisor.  Dane has many projects he can suggest, or if you have one in mind he can help you realize it.  Typically students join project teams Dane helps organize.

Can I do a project for a class?

Yes!  We are very happy to work with students who are interested in exploring informatics projects as part of a class project, e.g., Chem 116.  Just follow the steps to joining above and explain that you want to do a class project.

Can I get academic credit for skunkworks activities?

Credits can be obtained through a skunkworks project by signing up for an independent study with whoever is advising your project.  As many students work with Dane Morgan, here are his more detailed guidelines, but these may differ for different advisors.

Dane Morgan’s credit and grading approach:

Credits are typically obtained through signing up for MSE299. If you want to get MSE Technical Elective and/or MSE Emphasis Elective credits then you would take MSE699 and the expectations would be somewhat higher. Generally I would only offer this for students who have participated in the Skunkworks for at least a semester.

Grades will be based on regular slide decks from each meeting and a summary slide deck I will ask for at the end of the semester.  The basic grading rubric is below, although I reserve the right to alter this for a given individual to address particular situations:

  • Attended all meetings or had excuses, Submitted all slide decks for all meetings and final slide deck, and showed ~3x(# credits) hours of work/wk on average in those slide decks = A
  • Missed some meetings and/or slide decks and showed somewhat less than ~3x(# credits) hours of work/wk = B
  • Missed many meetings and/or slide decks and showed significantly less than ~3x(# credits) hours of work/wk = C
  • Missed most meetings and/or slide decks and showed far less than ~3x(# credits) hours of work/wk = F

Here are some useful items related to the slides deck expectations:

  • Make sure to create a slide deck each meeting (even if you miss the meeting) that includes what you did, any problems, and plans.  Make the slide deck with simple bulleted text so it is understandable without you being present.
    • Please include in each slide deck.
      • First slide: A title slide with your name, date, the project, and course name and # and number of credits.
      • Second slide: A bullet summary of what you view as the main accomplishments of the reporting period (all semester for final slide deck). Note these can include learning things, fixing bugs, etc. They should approximately represent where your time went.
      • Third slide: A brief summary of hours you worked as a list of date (mm/dd/yy): times (e.g., 1pm-3pm).
  • Make sure to put in ~3h/wk per credit or you can quickly get so behind you cannot make up the time.
  • Consider meeting with your groups at least 1-2 times per week to create regular checkins.

Final slide deck: For everyone taking Skunkworks for some kind of credit please complete a final report slide deck summarizing the major achievements for the semester. This is typically 10-20 slides, depending on your scale of effort (e.g., 1-3 credits). Feel free to borrow from previous slide decks. Please follow the formatting for regular slide decks but give a summary of hours by week on the 3rd slide.

  • Please put on gdocs in usual place for your project slides and email to me as an attachment. Due by 12 midnight last day of classes.
  • Name should be LASTNAME_FINAL_YYYY-MO-DD_PROJECT_KEYWORDS (KEYWORDS are optional).

Credit requirements:  https://kb.wisc.edu/vesta/page.php?id=24558

Generally, UW-Madison will follow the federal credit hour definition: one hour (i.e. 50 minutes) of classroom or direct faculty/qualified instructor instruction and a minimum of two hours of out of class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks, or the equivalent engagement over a different time-period.

Alternatively, a credit hour will be defined as the learning that takes place in at least 45 hours of learning activities, which include time in lectures or class meetings, in-person or online, laboratories, examinations, presentations, tutorials, preparation, reading, studying, hands-on experiences, and other learning activities; or a demonstration by the student of learning equivalent to that established as the expected product of such a period of study.

In all cases, learning in for-credit courses is guided by a qualified instructor and includes regular and substantive student-instructor interaction.

Can I get paid for skunkworks activities?

Students can be paid for their participation if there is financial support from the project advisor available.  This is rare and depends on the project, but please ask when signing up if this is something you would like to pursue. Please also see fellowships information in this FAQs for more information on ways to raise funds.

Can I join and play a role if I have more experience and/or seniority (e.g., a graduate student, postdoc, staff, faculty)

For those with more experience and/or seniority it may not be appropriate to be a traditional Skunkworks participate, who is typically seeking research experience on a project set by someone else.  However, we would love to have you involved. Here are few ways you could be involved, somewhat in order of time commitment.

  1. Help answer any questions that come up.  Please join our slack channel to both learn about ongoing events and potentially answer questions: https://uwcmg-informatics.slack.com/signup
  2. Give a talk on a relevant topic at some point to team members. Let Dane Morgan know if you want to do that and he will try to get it scheduled.
  3. Lead a research team on a project.  This would require having a project ready that is undergraduate appropriate and accessible.  If you think you might want to do that please discuss with Dane Morgan.  It would likely take ~3h/wk.

Fellowship opportunities

Fellowships are a great way to

  1. Get funding for skunkworks activities (e.g., over the summer), typically a few thousands dollars.
  2. Get funding for schooling as UG or Grad (typically tens of thousands of dollars).
  3. Strengthen your resume.
  4. Obtain extra funds.

Skunkworks participants have a huge advantage in fellowship applications as they typically have a well-defined project in an cutting edge area with many positive learning benefits. Skunkworks applicants can therefore often write excellent applications quickly. Here are a few fellowships that might be relevant and please send me (Dane Morgan <ddmorgan@wisc.edu>) more if you learn about them.

UW Fellowships

  1. University Bookstore Award which will provide $1,000 for independent research.
  2. Hilldale Undergraduate/Faculty Research Fellowship which provides $3,000 to a student and $1,000 to an advisor to further their research collaborations.
  3. Welton Summer Sophomore Apprenticeship which provides a $2,500 stipend to help support work in the summer.
  4.  WISCIENCE Summer Research Program which provides $1500 for work in the summer.

National Fellowships

  1. NSF Graduate Fellowship, DOE Graduate Fellowship, Hertz
  2. Department of Defense SMART Scholars:

The Department of Defense (DoD) SMART Scholarship Program is an opportunity for students pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in STEM disciplines to receive a full scholarship and be gainfully employed by the Department of Defense upon degree completion.

SMART Scholars will receive:

  • A full tuition scholarship while in school
  • An annual stipend
  • Summer research internships
  • A job after graduating in their STEM field at a cutting edge Department of Defense Facility

Applicants must:

  • Be a citizen of the United States and 18 years of age or older
  • Have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
  • Be pursuing a technical undergraduate or graduate degree in one of the 21 specified STEM disciplines