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Career advice for PhD students: How to get the most out of your time in the PhD program

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Career advice for PhD students: How to get the most out of your time in the PhD program Cristian Borcea * * * * * * * * * * * * * Job talk Single most important part ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Career advice for PhD students: How to get the most out of your time in the PhD program


1
Career advice for PhD students How to get the
most out of your time in the PhD program
  • Cristian Borcea

2
Preamble
  • Why am I doing this?
  • Not many resources to learn how to be a
    successful PhD student ? trying to help you
  • Faculty create new knowledge and next generation
    of researchers
  • A professor is as good as his best student
  • Why now?
  • As every September, we got fresh PhD students
  • I might soon forget my PhD student experiences ?
  • Talk applies to any CS PhD student despite
    influence from personal experiences and
    systems/networking background
  • Acknowledgment I admit to stealing advices
    from many successful people (too many to be
    listed)

3
Outline
  • PhD student stages
  • Thinking about doing a PhD
  • Taking classes and getting involved in some
    research
  • Choosing research area, topic, and advisor
  • Doing research
  • Writing the thesis
  • Getting a job
  • Slightly different view of these stages
  • Student I know everything Advisor smiles
  • Student I dont know anything Advisor Lets
    talk
  • Advisor Lets do X Student Youre wrong
    because of Y and Z

4
Why are you getting a PhD?
  • Prerequisite to a research career
  • A PhD degree should ensure that the student can
    later take on independent, long-term research
    commitments
  • The work required to earn a PhD is not worth the
    effort if you dont intend to do research
  • You can do better with an MS degree in such a
    case
  • How do you know if research is for you?
  • Have inquisitive mind and critical thinking
  • Like to understand how things work
  • Like to identify problems and come up with
    solutions
  • Did some research during undergraduate studies
    and liked it
  • More philosophical reasons dream of changing the
    world, good way to have a legacy beyond your
    family

5
Bad reasons for pursuing a PhD
  • Afraid of going out in the real world
  • If you never had a job and not sure about going
    for a PhD, go and work one-two years
  • Ego
  • Impress your girlfriend/boyfriend/parents
  • Opportunity to work/emigrate in US
  • OK if your goal is to do research in (still) the
    best place for that in the world
  • Otherwise, working very hard for something that
    you dont care much while living on a PhD stipend
    will soon make you unhappy
  • Money (i.e., amount of money you make is more
    important than what you do)
  • While starting salaries of CS PhD graduates are
    good, can reach higher salary if you worked since
    you got your BS/MS degree
  • Plus money earned during that time

6
What qualities do you need to be successful in
the PhD program?
  • Passion and Self-Motivation
  • Doing a PhD is a life changing decision
  • Be sure that this is the path you want to follow
    in life (yes, its normal to have doubts
    sometimes)
  • Perseverance and Self-Confidence
  • It could be heartbreaking to work hard for
    one-two years and get your paper rejected
  • Trust yourself (and your ideas) and dont give up
  • Independence
  • Its your PhD you should know what you want to
    do, how you want to do it, etc.
  • Obviously, you need intelligence
  • Many times you dont know how smart you are until
    somebody challenges you

7
CS department expectations
  • Take qualifying exams after first year and pass
    them all after second year
  • Proves that you are good enough to continue in
    the program
  • Find advisor and choose thesis topic after second
    year
  • Defend thesis proposal by the end of third year
  • Not very strict deadline (depends on progress and
    advisor)
  • Defend thesis by the end of fourth year
  • Can stay longer if necessary if advisor awards
    you RAship
  • Take a number of courses and maintain a decent
    GPA (e.g., 3.5) throughout these years
  • refer to full time, department-supported
    students

8
Advisor expectations
  • Every PhD student must have thesis/research
    advisor
  • Advisor decides when student is ready to graduate
  • Process very similar to apprenticeship
  • Thesis committee makes sure advisors decision is
    correct and gives feedback to improve work
  • Each advisor has own requirements, but they can
    be generalized as
  • Have enough background in CS and depth in your
    research area
  • Work on one or multiple projects and publish the
    results in several good conference/journal papers
  • Be able to clearly present your ideas and results
  • Write a good thesis
  • Your papers and thesis must include your novel
    ideas
  • Of course, they include your advisors ideas as
    well

9
First year
  • Get involved in research!
  • Ask professors with research interests matching
    yours
  • Combine reading with working on a small part of a
    project
  • Steal tricks of the trade from advisor and more
    senior students
  • Classes and the qualifying exam are required, but
    dont spend more time than necessary on them
  • Nobody cares about the grades of someone with a
    PhD degree
  • Dont get bogged down with teaching/grading
  • Need to do a decent job, but make sure you dont
    work more than the required 20 hours/week (many
    times you can work a lot less)

10
TAship vs. RAship
  • RAship is better
  • Can spend time on you research instead of
    teaching
  • Being awarded an RAship means youre doing well
  • Since RAship comes from a grant, the advisor will
    ask you to work on the project defined by that
    grant
  • Advisor can ask you to work on demos or robust
    implementations as required by grant (which are
    not necessarily research)
  • TAship has some advantages as well
  • Independent to work with several professors
    before deciding about advisor
  • Teaching experience required if you think of
    academic career
  • Teaching helps you improve communication skills
  • Every PhD student should teach at least one
    semester

11
Choosing research area
  • Dont celebrate too much passing the qualifying
    exams
  • You are expected to pass ?
  • Choose area based on your research interests
  • Must like it otherwise, the next few years will
    be painful
  • Dont choose it just because you can get an
    RAship
  • Need to think strategically as well
  • Is this a hot area?
  • Will you get a good job in this area after
    graduation?
  • Hard to predict if certain areas that are hot now
    will still be hot in 4 years

12
Choosing advisor
  • Should be compatible with advisor/get well
    together
  • Tenured advisors
  • Have more experience, could have more money,
    could have more connections
  • Dont push you hard, dont have time to work
    closely with you
  • Tenure-track advisors
  • Will push you hard (their future career depends
    on your results), but will work with you (i.e.,
    co-authors of thesis)
  • Might have more up-to-date information about job
    searching

13
Choosing thesis topic
  • Its your topic, but the advisor must approve it
  • Its rare to know the topic from the moment you
    start working with advisor
  • If work supported by a grant, the general topic
    is somewhat clearer
  • More common to work on several related topics in
    your chosen area
  • First ideas might not work, new ideas could come
    up
  • Some will be more successful than others
    publication-wise
  • Many times, thesis will define a common framework
    for topics covered by publications

14
Take ownership of your PhD
  • No one is responsible for getting your degree but
    you
  • Faculty set up opportunity, but its up to you to
    leverage it

15
Doing research (1)
  • Be proactive!
  • Dont wait for advisor to push you
  • Reading papers
  • Develop critical thinking identify both strong
    and weak points
  • Advisor will point you to important papers as
    well as conferences and journals in your area
  • You responsibility to find more papers starting
    from these pointers
  • Must read a few papers every week
  • Read outside your area as well
  • Follow technology news to know where the world is
    going
  • Let advisor/colleagues know about interesting
    things you read
  • Robin Kravetss advices for reading/presenting
    papers
  • http//www.cs.njit.edu/borcea/reading-papers-talk
    .pdf

16
Doing research (2)
  • Identifying important and hard problems
  • Learn to differentiate between cool problems and
    junk
  • Advisor will offer a lot of guidance
  • By graduation time, acquire good taste for
    selecting problems
  • Problem solving/design
  • Always ask yourself whats the novelty of my
    solution?
  • Also how is it different from/similar to
    alternative solutions?
  • Advisor suggests a potential solution
  • Never go back and say doesnt work!
  • Instead, say X didnt work, but how about Y or
    Z?
  • Dont get upset/discouraged if advisor points out
    drawbacks in your solutions its technical, not
    personal

17
Doing research (3)
  • Implementation
  • Except for purely theoretical CS, will have to
    implement your ideas
  • Every successful project goes through this
    unglamorous, hard phase
  • Design is more fun than implementing it
  • No magic here work hard!
  • Dont suffer in silence if you dont know how to
    implement something or have troubles with a bug
    ask colleagues or advisor for help
  • Evaluation
  • Prove that your solution works as claimed
  • Should know from the design time experiments and
    metrics
  • Form a hypothesis what type of results you
    expect
  • Experiments contradict hypothesis think of
    potential reasons and discuss them with advisor
  • Work in the lab a significant amount of time
  • Learn from interactions with colleagues/advisor

18
Mutual trust between student and advisor
  • Trust advisor and earn his/her trust (e.g.,
    through good work, reliability)
  • Advisors, being human, are not perfect, but try
    their best to help
  • Almost everyone goes through periods when doubts
    advisor (the converse holds as well)
  • Papers getting rejected
  • Different opinions on how to proceed with a
    project
  • Seemingly advisor cares only about his career
  • During these periods, remember the
    advisor/student symbiosis
  • Advisors work hard to get grants to support your
    work
  • You work hard to produce results that will enable
    new grants
  • Typically, what is good for advisor is good for
    student, and what is good for student is good for
    advisor

19
Communicating your results
  • Clear communication separates top students from
    average
  • An unknown brilliant result is useless
  • Write and publish papers in conferences/journals
  • If you didnt write it down, it didnt happen
  • Publish or perish
  • Reviewed by peers
  • Hard to get accepted (good publication venues
    have 10-15 acceptance ratio)
  • Can start small with conference posters or
    workshop papers
  • Talks
  • Presentations of accepted conference papers (or
    invited talks)
  • Good chance to convince people that you did great
    research
  • Successful researchers spend 50 of time writing
    papers and preparing talks

20
Writing papers
  • A lot harder than you think!
  • Good results are not published due to sloppy
    writing
  • Ask advisor for models of good papers
  • Get feedback from advisor early and often then
    re-write
  • Read Shrunk and White book on writing
  • One idea per paragraph
  • Do paragraphs follow one another in a logical
    structure?
  • Typical structure abstract, introduction,
    related work, design, implementation, evaluation,
    conclusions
  • Have clear abstract/introduction
  • If vague or poorly written, reviewers will just
    look for reasons to reject afterwards
  • Dont claim more than you did
  • Distinguish between will do and have been done

21
Conference talks
  • Goal is to make audience read your paper and talk
    with you
  • Emphasize the main idea, skip some details
  • Shouldnt follow too closely the structure of the
    paper
  • Pay special attention to motivation
  • The more illustrations, the better
  • A picture is worth 1000 words
  • Dont take this talk as model ?
  • The more you practice, the fewer surprises during
    the actual talk
  • Time management is your responsibility be
    prepared to skip slides
  • Show excitement
  • If you are not excited, then why would anyone
    else be?
  • Be clear, firm, and polite when answering
    questions
  • Show belief in your work

22
Attending conferences
  • Typically, you go when have an accepted paper
  • Could ask advisor to pay or get travel grants to
    go to top conferences even if you dont have
    paper there
  • Check technical program ahead of time and
    identify papers/people of interest
  • Goal is to do networking, not just hear technical
    talks
  • Take advantage of coffee breaks/lunches/receptions
    to talk with people
  • Be prepared to initiate conversations and
    introduce your work (prepare an elevator pitch)
  • Get contact information from people you want to
    stay in touch
  • Learn how top researchers present their work and
    answer questions
  • People you meet there can hire you, review your
    papers, or become future collaborators

23
Summer internships
  • You should go once or twice
  • Get real-world experience, make connections
  • Must do it if plan to work in research
    labs/industry
  • Go in research oriented places
  • Doing an internship just for money is not worth
    the time
  • Decide together with advisor when and where to go
  • Advisor can help you go to good places (e.g., IBM
    Research, Microsoft Research)
  • Better go once you have at least one publication
    can select internship that allows you to work on
    related topics
  • Be aware that they can delay graduation as
    summers can be very productive research-wise
  • Cant have the cake and eat it too

24
How much should you work?
  • Work only the number of hours you are paid!
  • Dont let the master class exploit the workers!
  • Students in high-ranked schools work between 60
    and 80 hours per week
  • Faculty spend a similar amount of time
  • Dont get fooled that you do better than some
    colleagues while spending a lot less time
  • You will compete for jobs with students form
    other schools as well
  • Citing my advisor school breaks are for
    undergrad students
  • Good time to work in case you have teaching
    duties
  • The advisor has more free time to help you

25
Dont have time to finish all your tasks?
  • Must acquire time management skills
  • Write down your tasks (both work-related and
    personal), set deadlines, and categorize them
    function of importance
  • Randy Pauschs graph for task time management

Importance
Urgency
26
More on time management
  • Dont have time for personal life?
  • Some personal tasks must have high importance
  • Family/friends help you avoid going nuts ?
  • According to previous slide, you might end up not
    doing urgent, but not important tasks its ok,
    the world goes on
  • Know yourself and manage advisors expectations
  • Learn to estimate accurately the time it takes to
    do certain tasks
  • Learn to say no if its not possible to do a
    task before a deadline
  • Try hard to respect deadlines once you agreed to
    them
  • Inform your advisor as soon as you are getting
    behind the schedule

27
When to graduate?
  • Graduating as fast as possible might not be the
    best idea
  • This is not the Olympics where the best finishes
    first
  • Should become a well-rounded researcher, not just
    someone very narrow expertise
  • Working on larger/higher impact project might
    take longer, but help you become a better
    researcher and get a better job
  • Taking classes outside your area and attending
    seminars/talks can improve your overall
    background
  • Doing paper reviews or helping advisor with grant
    proposals can take time, but are invaluable
    learning experiences
  • Job market conditions may delay graduation
  • Taking longer than 6 years not good either
  • Potential employers dont like it
  • Even advisor might lose interest in you

28
Thesis (1)
  • Thesis one sentence to describe your
    contribution to the progress of humankind
  • Dissertation the 100s pages that prove the
    thesis
  • Dissertation is very much a collection of your
    publications
  • Of course, need to link them well under one clear
    thesis
  • Also, need extensive related work and potentially
    more experiments
  • Thesis proposal
  • thesis without a chapter or two
  • Not as important as you may think because early
    validation of your research comes from good
    publications
  • Form thesis committee and get feedback from
    committee members
  • Both student and advisor must agree on committee
    members
  • Contract between you and committee agree on
    content to be added in the final thesis

29
Thesis (2)
  • Finish writing during your final year
  • In parallel with job searching
  • Models theses that received ACM awards
  • Thesis defense is reason to celebrate
  • Advisor/committee wont allow you to defend if
    not ready
  • Not a good idea to defend if you dont have a job
    (especially for foreign students who plan to stay
    in US)
  • Unless you dont receive support any longer
  • You could get job before thesis defense
  • Risk you might never get the drive to finish
  • Useful things to know about PhD thesis research
    by H.T. Kung
  • http//www.eecs.harvard.edu/htk/thesis.htm

30
Job searching
  • Once advisor confirms you will be ready to
    graduate that year, prepare
  • CV (long, not the typical 2-page resume)
  • Research statement (at least 2 pages) outlining
    your research contributions and future plans
  • Teaching statement (if applying to academia)
    outlining your teaching experience, teaching
    philosophy, etc
  • List of references
  • Have them ready by early December
  • Most academia and research jobs are posted by
    January
  • Must submit the above-mentioned documents by
    their deadlines
  • Have your job talk ready by January
  • Learn about research interviews by January
  • Wait for call/email and hope ?

31
Job in academia
  • Research universities have similar starting
    salary with research labs (but doesnt increase
    at the same rate)
  • Teaching university have significantly lower
    salary (and no research)
  • Flexibility to choose research topics
  • Can work on fundamental research and explore
    higher risk ideas
  • Need to get them funded through grants
  • Can publish and go to conferences more often than
    in research labs
  • Can make your own schedule
  • In the beginning, you work more than in industry
  • Can influence people directly through education
  • Safer job (after tenure)

32
Job in research lab
  • Over a number of years, salary will be slightly
    higher than academia (could go for management
    positions as well)
  • Can have impact on real world through products
    incorporating your ideas
  • Research topics need to be in line with companys
    goals and approved by managers
  • Short-term profit-oriented research may preclude
    you from working on fundamental or high risk
    topics
  • Working in an RD department is even more about
    practical research that can quickly turn into
    profit
  • Still need to worry about funding (convince your
    managers to invest in your ideas)
  • Cant publish everything
  • Patents first, publication later (if at all)
  • Job safety depends on company health market

33
What do interviewers look for in your CV?
  • Thesis title, research interests, and name of
    advisor
  • The advisors reputation matters a lot
  • Research contributions
  • Projects you worked on and their main results
  • Software distributions
  • List of papers talks ( patents if any)
  • Teaching experience (for academia)
  • List of references
  • Reference letters are very important
  • CS community service (e.g., conference/journal
    reviewer)
  • NO!
  • GPA
  • Programming languages, tools, etc (you have a PhD
    in CS! Youre supposed to either know or be able
    to learn everything)

34
Job talk
  • Single most important part of your interview
  • Two main purposes
  • Sell yourself
  • Sell your research
  • Write down 3-4 ideas youre going to say per
    slide
  • Practice and remember those ideas
  • Do dry runs with advisor, colleagues, friends
  • Videotape yourself and try to improve after the
    shock of watching the recording has passed ?
  • Practice questions and answers
  • More information on job talks and interviews from
    Jeanette Wing
  • http//www-2.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs/usr/wing/www/tips.p
    df

35
One-to-one interviews
  • Typically, 30 minutes about your research and
    everything else
  • They look for
  • Creativity
  • Brainpower
  • Independence
  • Technical skills
  • Leadership
  • Energy
  • Fitting in
  • Be prepared, articulated, honest, genuinely
    curious
  • Ask questions about the persons research
  • Ask questions about the place to see if its
    right for you
  • OK to engage in less technical discussions (e.g.,
    benefits, housing)

36
Selecting a job
  • Congratulations, you got several job offers! ?
  • Many factors to consider besides money
  • Reputation of the place
  • Can you grow there? Possibilities for promotion?
  • Will you get along well with your
    colleagues/bosses?
  • Geography
  • Two-body problem
  • Cost of living
  • Quality of schools
  • Are you a city person or more of the outdoor-type?

37
More readings instead of conclusion
  • How to Be a Good Graduate Student by Marie
    desJardins
  • http//www.cs.indiana.edu/how.2b/how.2b.html
  • So long, and thanks for the Ph.D.! by Ronald T.
    Azuma
  • http//www.cs.unc.edu/azuma/hitch4.html
  • You and your research by Richard Hamming
  • http//www.cs.virginia.edu/robins/YouAndYourResea
    rch.html
  • Technology and courage by Ivan Sutherland
  • http//research.sun.com/techrep/Perspectives/smli_
    ps-1.pdf
  • How to have a bad career in academia by David
    Patterson
  • http//www.cs.berkeley.edu/pattrsn/talks/BadCaree
    r.ppt
  • Paper writing and presentation by Armando Fox
  • http//www.cs.berkeley.edu/fox/paper_writing.html

38
  • Your time in the PhD program is a unique
    experience Enjoy it!
  • Good luck and make us proud!
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