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

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Presentation on theme: "Career advice for PhD students: How to get the most out of your time in the PhD program Cristian Borcea."— Presentation transcript:

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? 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 A professor is as good as his best student Why now? Why now? –As every September, we got fresh PhD students –I might soon forget my PhD student experiences –I might soon forget my PhD student experiences Talk applies to any CS PhD student despite influence from personal experiences and systems/networking background 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) Acknowledgment: I admit to stealing advices from many successful people (too many to be listed) 2

3 Outline PhD student stages 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 3 Slightly different view of these stages Slightly different view of these stages 1.Student: I know everything; Advisor smiles 2.Student: I dont know anything; Advisor: Lets talk 3.Advisor: Lets do X; Student: Youre wrong because of Y and Z

4 Why are you getting a PhD? Prerequisite to a research career 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 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? 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 4

5 Bad reasons for pursuing a PhD Afraid of going out in the real world 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 Ego Impress your girlfriend/boyfriend/parents Impress your girlfriend/boyfriend/parents Opportunity to work/emigrate in US 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) 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 Plus money earned during that time 5

6 What qualities do you need to be successful in the PhD program? Passion and Self-Motivation 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 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 Independence –Its your PhD; you should know what you want to do, how you want to do it, etc. Obviously, you need intelligence Obviously, you need intelligence –Many times you dont know how smart you are until somebody challenges you 6

7 CS department expectations* Take qualifying exams after first year and pass them all after second year 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 Find advisor and choose thesis topic after second year Defend thesis proposal by the end of third 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 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 Take a number of courses and maintain a decent GPA (e.g., 3.5) throughout these years * refer to full time, department-supported students 7

8 Advisor expectations Every PhD student must have thesis/research advisor Every PhD student must have thesis/research advisor Advisor decides when student is ready to graduate 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: 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 Your papers and thesis must include your novel ideas –Of course, they include your advisors ideas as well 8

9 First year Get involved in research! 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 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 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) 9

10 TAship vs. RAship RAship is better 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 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 10

11 Choosing research area Dont celebrate too much passing the qualifying exams Dont celebrate too much passing the qualifying exams –You are expected to pass –You are expected to pass Choose area based on your research interests 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 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 11

12 Choosing advisor Should be compatible with advisor/get well together Should be compatible with advisor/get well together Tenured advisors 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 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 12

13 Choosing thesis topic Its your topic, but the advisor must approve it Its your topic, but the advisor must approve it Its rare to know the topic from the moment you start working with advisor 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 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 13

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

15 Doing research (1) Be proactive! Be proactive! –Dont wait for advisor to push you Reading papers 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 15

16 Doing research (2) Identifying important and hard problems Identifying important and hard problems –Learn to differentiate between cool problems and junk Advisor will offer a lot of guidance Advisor will offer a lot of guidance –By graduation time, acquire good taste for selecting problems Problem solving/design Problem solving/design –Always ask yourself: whats the novelty of my solution? Also: how is it different from/similar to alternative solutions? Also: how is it different from/similar to alternative solutions? –Advisor suggests a potential solution Never go back and say doesnt work! Never go back and say doesnt work! Instead, say X didnt work, but how about Y or Z? 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 16

17 Doing research (3) Implementation 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 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 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 Work in the lab a significant amount of time –Learn from interactions with colleagues/advisor 17

18 Mutual trust between student and advisor Trust advisor and earn his/her trust (e.g., through good work, reliability) 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) 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 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 18

19 Communicating your results Clear communication separates top students from average Clear communication separates top students from average –An unknown brilliant result is useless Write and publish papers in conferences/journals 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 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 Successful researchers spend 50% of time writing papers and preparing talks 19

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

21 Conference talks Goal is to make audience read your paper and talk with you 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 The more illustrations, the better –A picture is worth 1000 words –Dont take this talk as model –Dont take this talk as model The more you practice, the fewer surprises during the actual talk The more you practice, the fewer surprises during the actual talk –Time management is your responsibility; be prepared to skip slides Show excitement Show excitement –If you are not excited, then why would anyone else be? Be clear, firm, and polite when answering questions Be clear, firm, and polite when answering questions –Show belief in your work 21

22 Attending conferences Typically, you go when have an accepted paper 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 Check technical program ahead of time and identify papers/people of interest Goal is to do networking, not just hear technical talks 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 People you meet there can hire you, review your papers, or become future collaborators 22

23 Summer internships You should go once or twice 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 Doing an internship just for money is not worth the time Decide together with advisor when and where to go 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 Be aware that they can delay graduation as summers can be very productive research-wise –Cant have the cake and eat it too 23

24 How much should you work? Students in high-ranked schools work between 60 and 80 hours per week 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 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 24 Work only the number of hours you are paid! Work only the number of hours you are paid! – Dont let the master class exploit the workers!

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

26 More on time management Dont have time for personal life? Dont have time for personal life? Some personal tasks must have high importance Some personal tasks must have high importance Family/friends help you avoid going nuts 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 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 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 26

27 When to graduate? Graduating as fast as possible might not be the best idea 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 Taking longer than 6 years not good either –Potential employers dont like it –Even advisor might lose interest in you 27

28 Thesis (1) Thesis: one sentence to describe your contribution to the progress of humankind Thesis: one sentence to describe your contribution to the progress of humankind Dissertation: the 100s pages that prove the thesis Dissertation: the 100s pages that prove the thesis Dissertation is very much a collection of your publications 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 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 Both student and advisor must agree on committee members –Contract between you and committee: agree on content to be added in the final thesis 28

29 Thesis (2) Finish writing during your final year Finish writing during your final year –In parallel with job searching –Models: theses that received ACM awards Thesis defense is reason to celebrate 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) 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 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 Useful things to know about PhD thesis research by H.T. Kung –http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~htk/thesis.htm 29

30 Job searching Once advisor confirms you will be ready to graduate that year, prepare: 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 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 Have your job talk ready by January Learn about research interviews by January Learn about research interviews by January Wait for call/ and hope Wait for call/ and hope 30

31 Job in academia Research universities have similar starting salary with research labs (but doesnt increase at the same rate) 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 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 publish and go to conferences more often than in research labs Can make your own schedule Can make your own schedule –In the beginning, you work more than in industry Can influence people directly through education Can influence people directly through education Safer job (after tenure) Safer job (after tenure) 31

32 Job in research lab Over a number of years, salary will be slightly higher than academia (could go for management positions as well) 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 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 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 R&D 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 Cant publish everything –Patents first, publication later (if at all) Job safety depends on company health & market Job safety depends on company health & market 32

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

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

35 One-to-one interviews Typically, 30 minutes about your research and everything else Typically, 30 minutes about your research and everything else They look for They look for –Creativity –Brainpower –Independence –Technical skills –Leadership –Energy –Fitting in Be prepared, articulated, honest, genuinely curious 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) 35

36 Selecting a job Congratulations, you got several job offers! Congratulations, you got several job offers! Many factors to consider besides money 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? 36

37 More readings instead of conclusion How to Be a Good Graduate Student by Marie desJardins 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 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 You and your research by Richard Hamming –http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~robins/YouAndYourResearch.html Technology and courage by Ivan Sutherland 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 How to have a bad career in academia by David Patterson –http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~pattrsn/talks/BadCareer.ppt Paper writing and presentation by Armando Fox Paper writing and presentation by Armando Fox –http://www.cs.berkeley.edu/~fox/paper_writing.html 37

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


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