The course consists of:
  • In-class sessions on Tuesdays, 12h15 - 14h00, and Thursdays, 13h15 - 15h00, both in INM10. Some of these sessions will take the form of "recitations", where we will discuss the week's papers. Others will take the form of "plenary sessions", where we will discuss the week's topic from different viewpoints.
  • Recorded video lectures, which mostly provide background on the week's topic.
Guest lecturers:

Teaching assistants:

Reading Materials

  • Research papers posted online.
  • Background (not mandatory): "Principles of Computer System Design: An Introduction" by J. H. Saltzer and M. F. Kaashoek
    (free for EPFL from Safari, Kindle version from Amazon US for cheap, 20th century-style textbook from Amazon FR)

Flipped Classroom and Communication

We use edX as a "flipped classroom" platform. In a flipped classroom, non-interactive activities (e.g., viewing lectures) are available via an online platform, which enables investing in-class time in interactive learning. 

We also use edX as a communication forum, i.e., students and instructors use it to post questions and answers that are visible only to the class members.


Students should watch the online video lectures and read the assigned research papers in the beginning of the week, and come to the Tuesday class prepared to discuss with/explain them to others. During the in-class sessions, we will discuss the papers in depth, with the goal of understanding the connection between the principle of the week and its concrete instantiation in the papers. 

We encourage discussions in the edX forum throughout the week and on all topics that are not designated as individual work. 

Here is how we recommend that students structure their study week in order to be successful in this course:

By Monday night:
  • watch and understand the video lectures (including online exercises)
  • read the week's papers
  • attend class and get your questions on the video lectures and papers answered
  • after class, re-read the papers, see if/how your understanding of them has changed
  • also, after class, the one pager (OP) for the week is announced; start thinking about it and sketch your thoughts
  • attend class and get inspired for your OP
  • after class, work more on your OP, see if the in-class discussion has changed your perspective
By Friday night:

  • finish your OP and submit it
If, over the weekend, you have new ideas about how to improve your OP, you are welcome to submit an update by Sunday night. However, you must submit a first version by Friday night.

Grading, Credits, and Prerequisites

The final grade will be determined as follows:

  • 50% one-pagers
  • 40% final exam
  • 10% class participation
We expect the students to actively participate in in-class discussions.

POCS is a heavyweight course carrying 7 units of ECTS credit (according to the Conférence universitaire suisse, this means 210 learning hours/semester, i.e., 15 hours/week). This course is meant primarily for students who intend to pursue research in the area of systems, therefore you must have a solid systems background. One way to acquire this background is, for example, by taking the following:

Without a solid systems background, it is hard to succeed in POCS. If you wish to brave it out despite an incomplete background, please be ready to spend at least 2x more time than the other students in order to acquire, on the side, the necessary background on your own.

Collaboration Policy

You are encouraged to discuss the reading materials with your peers, but every assignment you turn in must be your own work. You are not permitted to discuss the topic of the OP with other students. Collaboration can also take the form of discussion on edX, visible to the entire class. We encourage you to answer questions, and such active participation will be rewarded. Cheating, plagiarism, and any form of dishonesty will be handled with maximum severity. If you are ever in doubt about whether an action on your part may constitute unacceptable collaboration, please ask the course staff before proceeding—doing so afterward is too late.