Start GSoC 2021 with CERN-HSF
How I Got Selected To Do GSOC @CERN + My GSoC Proposals
I got this question from a lot of people in the last few weeks and so I thought to write a blog post about it so that all the interested students can use get to know this information.
If you are here I assume that you have a pretty good idea about what GSoC is, and if you don’t, please check my post on Intro to Google Summer of Code
Before getting started let’s see why I am qualified to talk about this.
CERN-HSF has the highest number of GSoC project approvals(to my knowledge) in the recent years and accomodate around 25–35 student projects each year whereas many organizations get only 2–3 project slots. It gets 100s of student applications each year and I think it is safe to say that CERN-HSF is one of the most competitive organization in the GSoC program. CERN houses the world largest particle accelerator and the world’s largest computing grid. Last summer I did my GSoC project “Framework for Automating the Retrieval and Analysis of System Information of Grid sites in WLCG” with ALICE project at CERN working on this world’s largest computing grid called Worldwide Large Hadron Collider Grid(WLCG). Since the end of the GSoC, i work as a remote contributor at CERN upto now. There are 5 major experiments at CERN and ALICE(A large Ion Collider Experiment) is one of them.
CERN Organizational Structure
If you are here, I assume you already know what CERN is and if you don’t you can get more information from here . In simple words CERN is a collection of small organizations and educational institutes researching on particle physics. So, unlike the other organizations, if you are applying to CERN, you have to choose a sub organization in CERN-HSF and apply to one of them. This abstraction is not clear at the official GSoC page for CERN but can be found at their own GSoC information page. Many of this sub organizations maintain one or more products/tools of their own and presents 2–3 GSoC project ideas under the CERN-HSF organization. Although the final proposal are always submitted through the GSoC page, the initial phase of discussing the projects, passing the tests etc. are done differently based on the sub organization you are applying for.
Now to clarify CERN vs CERN-HSF, HEP software foundation (CERN-HSF) is the umbrella organization built to coordinate common international efforts in high-energy physics software and computing.
As I’ve mentioned in my last post, the initial step is to choose a project and contact the mentors. You can see the list of all the project ideas from CERN-HSF here.This time CERN-HSF has changed their selection procedure a bit and now they have students selections under 2 phases. The first phase has already started and in this phase(Mar 9 — Mar 20) you should contact the mentors, obtain the evaluation tasks and complete them. The evaluation tasks may be different according to the which sub organization you are applying for. It could vary from simple projects, fixing bugs to facing a simple screening process. By the end of phase 1, the mentors will shortlist the students and the shortlisted students can start discussing the project idea with the mentors(I advise to start the discussing within the phase 1 itself, but it may not be possible depending upon your mentor). Finally the students can write a draft proposal and send it to the mentors and improve it with their suggestions. By April 13th, the student application period will end and mentors will start reviewing your proposals.
Key Points to Get Selected
- Try to familiarize yourself with the domain of the project as soon as possible — That will be a deciding factor on how well you perform
- Keep discussing the project idea with the mentor and iteratively develop the project design — Most often, the final design of the project you work on is very different from the initial design you had. It takes time and lot of discussion to understand the project 100% and design it. So make use of all the time you have
- Put everything you got in this month — If you are an enthusiastic young developer, you might have put months of effort into GSoC 2021 already. But all that effort comes down to how you perform in this month because this is where you finalize the projects and start writing the proposals. If you are tired of too much work, don’t give up now, instead put everything you can to GSoC for just this month and it will definitely give you a lot of benefits in return
- Finally, put at least 2 project proposals — I’ve seen plenty of times that the students put their best into a single project and due to limitations of project slots for the organization that project end up not getting selected. Its not your fault at all, it may be a low priority project or the organization might have given it up for some other reason. It would be a huge waste if your project ends up getting discarded after all the work you put. But that’s the reality and you have to account for that uncertainty.
I worked on 3 projects in the initial phase and ended up focusing on 2 projects. As the universities were first closed due to the COVID 19 pandemic in this month, I had some extra time and so I decided to write proposals for all 3 projects. I prioritized the list of projects and put my effort on to them based on my priority for each project(In other words, dont work equally on both). In my case I worked a lot on first 2 and the 3rd was just a fail safe. Out of 3 projects, one project only allowed a single draft review from the mentor and the other 2 were based on creating a initial draft proposal and iteratively develop them while discussing with mentors over the month.
Writing the Project Proposal
I won’t elaborate much on writing the proposal here. But read a lot on how others have written and check out the project proposals from last year as much as you can to get a solid idea. Some organizations have their own template for the proposal, so make sure you follow it if there is one.
A word of advice: Don’t make it too long
I was with the idea that writing a very long sophisticated proposal(24 pages in my case) would impress the mentors. But it was the opposite. My mentor’s first advice was to make it much shorter since many of the other mentors wont read it fully due to its length(A pretty good reason why we should create draft reports and share it with the mentors as soon as possible). I ended up dropping a lot of non essential details and creating a proposal of 11–13 pages.
So make sure you keep it precise and not too long. I’ll attach my proposals here for you to get some idea on how to write one.
Sections to add
I divided my proposals to 2 sections.
- Project Discussion
- About Me(Why they should choose me for this project)
The first section discusses all about the project and includes sections like project design, deliverables etc. This should be the main part of your proposal and should take upto 60–75% of the proposal.
The next section discusses about my background and why I am the best person for this job. This part should be short on clearly highlight your skills and achievement. The details of this part could be optional depending on the evaluation tasks you had, but make sure you add this section since the mentors who don’t know you yet will be reading the report.
A little note:
GSoC has changed their structure this time and reduced the program time by half. This would mean 2 things.
- The projects would be much easier to understand and work on. So it would be easy to create the proposal and get ready
- On the other hand this might have attracted a lot more students than the last times. So there might be high competition.
Make sure you account for those changes as well.
Good Luck! and hope you get selected to GSoC 2021 !!