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Top 10 Things I Did Wrong in Grad School (and a few I did right) Greg Morrisett.

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Presentation on theme: "Top 10 Things I Did Wrong in Grad School (and a few I did right) Greg Morrisett."— Presentation transcript:

1 Top 10 Things I Did Wrong in Grad School (and a few I did right) Greg Morrisett

2 Goal Think now about how best to maximize your time in grad school. – easy to get caught up in day-today activities: courses, building stuff, doing experiments, writing, , meetings, etc. – think about 5-6 years from now and where you want to be.

3 My Own Background I’m a computer scientists. I study programming languages, compilers, formal methods, and software security. University of Richmond ( ) Grad school at Carnegie Mellon ( ) Cornell Faculty ( ) – 1 year sabbatical at Microsoft Research UK Harvard Faculty (2004-present)

4 #10 Spent first year isolated from my fellow students. – lived alone – worked alone – went back to Richmond to see old friends When you move to a new environment, you have to make an effort to build friendships and a support network.

5 #9 Was scared to ask advisor for stuff like books, travel money, equipment, right desk, etc. – You’re expensive (~$50K/year) – Equipment, books, etc. are not. – Money is renewable, time is not. You need the proper equipment to get the job done. It never hurts to ask.

6 #9 Assumed I wasn’t good enough. – U. Richmond a no-name school – Fellow students seemed amazing to me – Felt like a fraud (still do. get over it.) Optimists might fail. Pessimists will fail.

7 #8 Read a lot of papers, but didn’t work through a lot of papers. – in fact, took a lot of courses this way – real learning doesn’t happen through reading – you have to replicate that experiment, or re-do the proof, etc. to really absorb the material. Need to find strategies for pushing yourself to effectively learn things.

8 #7 Was hyper-critical of everything I saw. – It’s easy to find flaws in a paper or talk. – It’s easy to be cynical about a new idea or approach. – But cynics don’t discover breakthroughs. Be constructively critical. – ask how you would’ve (realistically) addressed the flaws you see. – run with an idea for a while before dismissing it.

9 #6 Only took CS courses. – I’ll be doing CS for the rest of my life – I can learn CS topics on my own – I need help with stuff I don’t do well – I either won’t or can’t make the time now I wish I had taken: – Writing, speaking, French, Chinese [communication] – Chem, Bio, Psychology, Finance [applications] Even if it had taken another year…

10 #5 Never took a teaching seminar – It’s half my job for God’s sake! – But there’s no requirement you actually learn how to teach (much less teach well.) – There are real skills to be learned here Time management (stack of 15-min appts.) Assignments, homeworks, exams, etc. Psychology First year, I spent 90% of my time on teaching.

11 #4 Never figured out how funding works. – It’s half my job for God’s sake! – You shouldn’t care how funding works now. Before you graduate, you might want to learn more about how it works. – Writing a proposal is very different from writing a research paper. A year before you graduate, ask your advisor how things really work.

12 #3 Didn’t keep a research journal. – I saw lots of cool talks. – I went to lots of cool conferences. – I read lots of cool papers, pages, etc. – I hacked on lots of cool things. – I had great ideas. I don’t remember many of them. Consider keeping a journal.

13 #2 Left before I was really done. – Defended in December 1995 – Started Cornell in January 1996 – But hadn’t deposited revisions! – Spent first few weeks trying to finish revision, and adjust to a new life. – (see #10)

14 #1 Didn’t take care of myself. – the habits you’re in now determine the rest of your life. – if you don’t exercise regularly, you won’t when you’re 45. – the same goes for other aspects of your well- being (e.g., family) Don’t put off living your life!!

15 A few things I did right…

16 #9 Worked closely with other graduate students. – Learned more from them than profs. (they have more time – only 1 job) – Proof-read their work & vice versa (good for them, good for you) – Only way to do big things (e.g., compiler)

17 #8 Summer Internships. – I went to Bell Labs & DEC CRL – $$$ – Contacts – Breadth – Research ideas – See how a lab works Do this in your first couple of years, if possible.

18 #7 Went to conferences & workshops. – Most of the real action occurs here. – You meet everyone here, and they meet you – it’s a smaller community than you think. – You keep up with the area. – You get a copy of the proceedings. – It’s easier to read a paper after a talk. – SIGPLAN has $ for students to travel – Ask your advisor for $ -- never hurts.

19 #6 Got to know lots of faculty. – Worked with different people in different areas (PL, compilers, OS, etc.) – Invited these people to practice talks. – Hiring is an old boys network – people ask me “Who’s good that’s coming out of Harvard”? If I don’t know you, I can’t recommend you. – Now they’re my colleagues – an invaluable resource.

20 #5 Volunteered. – Moderated comp.lang.ml Annoying, but the name recognition helped – Worked on open source projects Great experience, satisfying – Reviewed papers Learned a lot about writing, had people to call upon – Cleaned the lounge – You have to do something to get noticed – why not do something worthwhile?

21 #4 Lots of practice talks, lots of red ink. – Had a great advisor: read everything Marked it up – made me really, really mad Eventually developed a thick skin Learned how to write better – Talks at CMU were brutal Every last point was debated You quickly learned how to defend yourself and control the environment Stage presence: Seeing yourself on video helps a lot Learn to anticipate and think like your audience

22 #3 Bought & read “Bugs in Writing” (Lynn Dupre) – Tailored to CS technical writing – I learned so much – writing became faster, less red ink, etc. – “Elements of Style” also great – Technical writing class might help too. CS people are rarely good at communicating. But it’s just as important as any technical skills you’re going to pick up here.

23 #2 Hacked on lots of stuff. – What will you do for your thesis? – Do you really think it’ll come to you from just reading about stuff or sitting in classes? – My thesis came after about 7-8 serious projects (multi-processor stuff, hardware stuff, GC stuff, semantic stuff, etc.)

24 #1 I had fun! – Threw and went to many parties – Weekly dinner co-op (no geek talk) – Skiing, amusement park trips – Softball – TGIF’s (= AI seminar at Cornell) – Got out of town when I felt down Visiting friends at other schools helps a lot.


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