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Undergraduate Research Work on Databases

by Rosina S Khan

posted in Computers and Technology

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Databases are all about collections of interrelated data. Research work on databases at the undergraduate level for students in their final year may include projects or theses. Projects are easier than theses but take a longer time. Let me explain them a bit further here.
Projects based on databases at the undergraduate level can be designing enterprise systems like hospitals, banks, real estate management systems, electronic human resources systems or as simple as a fast food restaurant, or hotel. What the students have to do initially are collect information about the system they are going to work on, identify the entities and attributes of the system and connect the entities logically by relationships in the form of an entity relationship diagram. Then they have to convert this diagram to table schemas, better known as the relational model. Once that is done, they have to normalize the tables (in accordance with normal forms - principles that hold for a relation/table or not- 1NF, 2NF, 3NF and BCNF but going to these technical details here is out of the scope of this article; the undergraduate students who have taken up the course, "Databases" are familiar with these concepts) and split them if any normal form is violated. After this step they should implement their design at the backend of their system using MySql or MS SQL server, whichever they find convenient and then insert data in the tables of the software and run test queries to retrieve data and see for themselves if they are getting correct results. Then they should design an interface or front end and connect it to the backend using PhP/JavaScript, C# or The front end or interface usually consists of data entry forms and reports which are user-friendly and from where you can store, edit, delete or retrieve data in an easy, convenient manner. So I think you get the idea.
On the other hand, database theses are mainly based on algorithms which the students have to convert to programs using a suitable programming language. This can be, for example, in the area of data mining (finding patterns) in large data sets or databases. As a data mining example, you can look for exact matches of strings from a database that already contains data strings. This calls in for exact string matching algorithms, and these are widely available on the web. On the other hand, if you cannot find exact matches of strings, you need to extract approximate matches of strings from the data set of strings. This is where approximate string matching algorithms come in, and plenty of these are available in research papers by renowned scientists. You may ask how extracting string matches exactly or approximately from data sets relate to data mining. It is related because we are dealing with patterns in data strings here. In real life, we are concerned with similarity retrieval of finger prints, audio and images from large data sets or databases.
Now that I have explained both projects and theses regarding databases research at the undergraduate level, I want to go one step further to make a distinction here. I said earlier projects are easier but lengthier. Why is that so? It is simply because undergraduate students are not initially familiar with PhP/JavaScript or because they are not taught in regular courses, and it requires some time on their part to get acquainted with these languages. Furthermore, they need to do a little bit of work on requirements engineering on the enterprise they will be working on. All these add up to three to four weeks of their precious time of their semester. On the other hand, theses on databases are all about algorithms, and if the student is good and familiar with the programming language(s) (he will use in his thesis) to convert algorithms to programs, he is way ahead of project students. However, if students dare to proceed with theses work without sufficient skills and knowledge of programming languages, they are bound to be doomed for failure. I am hoping that students will choose their option wisely without letting disaster set in, and from my experience, the good news is that they usually always come about with the right choices, and supervision and management on my part has never been so hard. The choices the students make are simply because they are interested in those and therefore, get by conveniently as well, which make their project or thesis work interesting and exhilarating for them to carry on.
About the Author: Rosina S Khan loves to write for EzineArticles. She wrote this article in order to highlight the interesting facts about databases research work at the undergraduate level, herself being very much interested in the area, having taught the course "Databases" a good many years and being involved in supervision too around the area.
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