The preparation of a project plan has several important purposes:
- It ensures communication between you and your mentor and/or your co-mentor prior to the start of your project
- If well done, it shows that you have an understanding of what you will do and why the work is necessary or desirable
- It outlines the approach you will take to carry out your task
- It provides a schedule or timeline for accomplishing the individual steps and overall goals of your project
- It encourages your mentor and their staff to make the arrangements necessary to accommodate you and your needs before your arrival
The purpose of these guidelines is not to provide a template that you must follow, but rather to suggest a structure for your paper and to encourage you to think more deeply about the content of the different sections. Your mentor may suggest a different approach for you to take in developing and writing your plan, and you should follow their advice.
Also keep in mind that what you submit should reflect the conversations you have had with your mentor and the guidance you have received from them, but it must be your product.
What is the general technical area in which you will be working? What is the problem that you are trying to solve, and how did the problem arise? Why is its solution interesting or worthwhile? What is the status of related research by your mentor or by the group that you will be joining, and what will be the contribution and significance of your effort if it is successful?
You will probably have to ask your mentor a lot of questions and read some or all of the reference material provided for you in order to answer these questions and others below.
What do you aim to accomplish in your project? What will you measure, and under what conditions; or, what will you calculate, model, or simulate; or what will you design, and what are the requirements; or what will you build or test? What is your starting point? What are your initial assumptions or conditions? What will be the result or product of a successful outcome for your project? What are the criteria for project completion or for success? (In other words, how will you know when you have accomplished what you set out to do?)
Specifically, how will you reach your objective or produce your desired final product? What are the principal steps or milestones along the path? How long will each take? What steps promise to be the most difficult, and how will you overcome the difficulties? What equipment or other resources will you need? Which of these are inherited, and which will you have to make or procure? With what other people or groups will you be collaborating? Will completion of your project depend on results from other people in related projects? (That question may be especially pertinent for team projects.)
Preparing a schedule of the principal activities and events is a good way of showing the readers that you have taken a systematic approach to planning your work.
List all pertinent papers or reports that you have consulted to prepare your plan. Include remarks or suggestions from your prospective supervisor, from graduate students, or from other people with whom you have talked.
These guidelines were written by Bill Whitney, Former Deputy Manager, Education Office, JPL.