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CS 324 - Advances in Foundation Models


Foundation models (FMs) are models (e.g., DALL-E, GPT-3, Stable Diffusion) that are trained on large amounts of broad data and are adaptable to a wide range of downstream tasks. They form the basis of all state-of-the-art systems across a wide range of tasks and have shown impressive generative and few-shot learning abilities. In this course, students will learn the fundamentals about the modeling, systems and ethical aspects of foundation models, as well as gain hands-on experience working with them. In addition, the course will feature speakers from industry working on these FMs. The key deliverable will be a quarter-long project through which students will design their own FM-based research project or application, targeting a problem they care about.

Teaching Team

Percy Liang

Office Hours: By appointment

Tatsunori Hashimoto

Office Hours: By appointment

Avanika Narayan

Office Hours: Wednesday 4:30-5:30PM in Gates 3A open area

Michael Zhang

Office Hours: Wednesday 4:30-5:30PM in Gates 3A open area


Where: Virtual (Lectures and Speakers via Zoom), In-Person Office Hours

When: Mondays and Wednesdays, 3:30-4:20pm PST.

Format: Classes are a mix of lectures by course instructors and talks + Q&As with guest speakers. Coursework is a combination of 1 early assignment and 1 quarter-long project, both focused on working directly and getting hands-on experience with existing foundation models.

  • For more details, please see the Class and Coursework sections below. These will be updated shortly with additional information.
  • Speakers will be hosted by MLSys Seminar. Students will be required to watch the seminar.


This year, CS 324 classes are roughly divided into two halves of the quarter:

  1. Weeks 1 - 4: In the first half, we’ll cover the fundamentals and “need-to-know” of foundation models, and provide a general survey of the field. A complete list of topics and related readings can be found here. The primary format will be lectures taught by course instructors.

  2. Weeks 5 - 10: In the second half, we’ll hear from guest speakers representing a diverse set of experiences building, using, and deploying foundation models in industry and academia for various use-cases and settings. Each class will feature a talk by one guest speaker, followed by a private Q&A.

An updating schedule of individual classes and topics can be found on the Calendar page (currently up to Week 5).


Grading will be based on three activities:

  1. Early assignment (20%)
  2. Quarter-long project (75%)
  3. Class attendance and participation (5%)

1. Early assignment

Both the early assignment and the quarter-long project are designed to get you hands-on experience with foundation models.

To get you started, the early assignment will involve interacting with models like GPT-3 and CLIP to solve a couple simple tasks. You’ll walk through the process of prompting these models with instructions and examples, and test these models’ capabilities to automate various workflows with zero-shot and few-shot learning.

More information will shortly be available here.

2. Quarter-long project

The main deliverable of the course is a quarter-long project, designed to give you the open-ended opportunity to either:

  1. Build an FM-powered application or demo. Using foundation models and zero-shot and/or few-shot techniques, we’re excited to see you build an app that solves a problem or automates a workflow of your choosing. This could involve a creative use-case of existing models and prompting strategies, or the application of your own FM-based method / technique.

  2. Conduct a research project. If you’re interested in diving deeper into the research side of foundation models, we encourage you to conduct a research project of your own design. This could be a study of a particular FM’s properties, an evaluation comparing multiple FMs, or a proposal and implementation for generally improving an existing FM-based method / technique.

Project logistics

Both project formats may be done in teams of 1-3 students.

We will have two milestones to help organize your progress: (1) an initial proposal, and (2) a final submission. Dates for these milestones will be announced shortly.

  1. The initial proposal should outline the application or research problem you’re interested in, and the approach you plan to take. It should include a brief description of the FM(s) you plan to use, and a list of potential evaluation metrics.

  2. The final submission will involve writing and coding components for both project formats. More details will be announced shortly, but expect:

    • Application / demo submissions to include a working demo of your application (e.g., as a Gradio or Streamlit web app), along with a shorter write-up describing and motivating the problem you’re solving, the FM(s) you used, and how you built and evaluated your application.
    • Research project submissions to include a final report in the style of a research paper. This should describe and motivate your research problem, the related work, your proposed methods, and the results of your evaluation.

More information will shortly be available here. We will also update the page with a list of potential project ideas and resources.

3. Class attendance and participation

Starting in Week 3 (1/25/2023), classes will feature guest speakers and the opportunity to ask questions in follow-up Q&As. We encourage you to be active during these sessions. To help prepare, as the quarter progress, additional information about upcoming speakers and relevant readings will be added to the Calendar page. These will be updated at least three days in advance of each class; we encourage you to read the relevant materials ahead of time.

Daily class attendance will be recorded using the following Google Form

Attendance should be recorded by EOD for every Monday/Wednesday class.