Join The Skunkworks

Are you interested in joining the Skunkworks program?

First off, all are welcome! If you want to participate you can safely assume that you can join. The expected time commitment is similar to adding a 2 credit class (and for UW students we do offer course credit), about 10h/wk. Most projects are up and running for the Spring semester, though there is still space on a handful of projects! If you’re coming in with little to no background in machine learning consider checking out our onboarding course which you can jump into before switching onto a research project over the summer or next Fall.

If you want more details than above and cannot find answers in the FAQ below then please email Dane Morgan <> or Ben Afflerbach <>.

For some example past projects see our project highlights.

Want a quick overview of the Informatics Skunkworks Program?

Check out the most recent Information session slides which summarizes participation information for the Spring 2023 semester.

For Undergraduate Researchers:

  1. Email Dane Morgan (or other project mentor) at to express your interest.
  2. Join us on Slack, LinkedIn, and our Google Group!
  3. Schedule a meeting to discuss available projects and requirements.
  4. If you are still interested we pick a project and you are on the team!

We require:

  • Approximately 10h/wk work on your skunkworks projects.
  • Participation in project meetings, including regular reporting (typically a slide deck each week).
  • A final report slide deck summarizes your work for the semester.
  • Any additional requirements associated with obtaining academic credits, if you wish to do that. Skunkworks participation is typically 2 credits as it is about 10h/wk for about 10 weeks (~100h). The first few weeks and last week are typically not active due to delays starting and avoiding conflict with final projects/exams.

We encourage but do not require:

  • Participation in Skunkworks community events, e.g., talks, workshops, and the end of semester “All-Hands” meetings.
  • Engaging with the skunkworks community through Slack, etc.

We do not require:

  • No GPA, previous experience, or technical background requirements.

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 participate as part of a class project.

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 ~4x(# 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 brief summary of hours you worked as a list of date (mm/dd/yy): times (e.g., 1pm-3pm). Make this list cumulative for the semester (i.e., just add the new times each week and keep all the old times).
      • Third 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.
  • Make sure to put in ~4h/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.
  • Name slidedecks as follows: LASTNAME_YYYY-MO-DD_PROJECT_KEYWORDS, e.g. Morgan_2019-11-27_Skunkworks_Notes on Slide Formatting

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.

Credit requirements:

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.

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 the Resources page for more information on ways to raise funds.

For Mentors (grad student, Faculty, postdoc):

For those with more experience and/or seniority it may not be appropriate to be a traditional Skunkworks participant, 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. If you are just interested in hearing about upcoming community events and announcements, join the Google Group email list and our LinkedIn community page which is used in the same way.
  2. If you are interested in contributing more towards the community, please join our slack channel to both learn about ongoing events and potentially answer questions and informally support others research:
  3. 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 get it scheduled.
  4. 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.