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Success in Graduate Student Research

Professor Daniel Lopresti


Department of Computer Science and Engineering
Lehigh University
Bethlehem, PA 1!1"
dal#$lehigh%edu http&''(((%cse%lehigh%edu')lopresti
*arch +!1!
I am giving you these guidelines because you currently work with me as a graduate
student researcher, or have expressed an interest in doing so. Please read this
document carefully and let me know if anything is unclear or if you have questions.
In the event we work together, I will assume that you understand this guidance and
will always do your best to follow it.
As a rule, I will not consider serving as a graduate student's advisor until you have
written a high quality paper for me that demonstrates your future promise as a
researcher. his could be as part of one of my courses, an independent study, or a
short!term research pro"ect. It is important that you understand what I mean by
#high quality$ and #future promise$ % that is one goal of this document.
Performing original research is an e,hilarating e,perience% -ou have an opportunity to e,amine .asic
/uestions facing society that can .e addressed through ne( ideas in computer science and engineering%
-ou (ill .ecome an international e,pert in a particular area% 0thers (ill see1 out your advice on
important topics% 2n the process, not only (ill you learn a great deal, .ut you (ill also have a chance to
ma1e the (orld a .etter place% 3ith this opportunity comes significant responsi.ility, ho(ever% 4he
purpose of this document is to e,plain my e,pectations if you (or1 (ith me as a graduate student
researcher, to offer advice that 2 hope is helpful, and to outline some of the things you should 1eep in
mind to increase your chances of having a successful and re(arding e,perience%
3hile these guidelines reflects my o(n personal philosophies, you (ill find that other professors share
many of these same attitudes% 2f you are (or1ing (ith another professor and are uncertain (hether my
advice applies in that case, please .e sure to chec1 (ith that professor%
5eep in mind that (hat 2 say here is meant to guide you, not to discourage you% Becoming a good
researcher means learning many ne( s1ills as (ell as continuing to develop e,isting ones% 2t is
important to 1no( (hat to (or1 on so that you can focus your energies effectively, and that is the
purpose of this document% As (ith anything you do in life, ma1ing progress ta1es time and effort%
4here (ill .e challenging hurdles to overcome% At the same time you start to pursue graduate studies,
you must also .e (illing to recogni6e that research is not the right career path for everyone7 if you
discover this is the case, it is .est to .e honest and find a (ay to move on (ith alternate plans%
Continuing to struggle in a situation (here you do not e,cel (ill only lead to frustration and
unhappiness% 8emem.er there are many possi.le paths to success in life%
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1. Motivation and Dedication
An important underlying assumption is that you are attending graduate school 9 and that you (ish to
(or1 (ith me 9 .ecause you are dedicated to a future career (here research and scholarship (ill play a
central role% 4his could .e serving on the faculty at a research university :li1e Lehigh;, or at least at a
school (here the /uality of your scholarship is an important criterion for advancement% 2t could also .e
a career in an industrial or government research la.% 2f your primary reason for attending graduate
school is .ecause you are a good student and en<oy ta1ing classes, or you failed to get a <o. out of
college, or as a (ay to =1ill time,> then it is unli1ely you (ill have the dedication to succeed in
research% 3hile any student may enroll in the courses 2 teach, (hen it comes to serving in a formal
relationship as an advisor, 2 only mentor graduate students (ho are planning a career in research% 4his
is a choice that lies deep (ithin you, .ut professors can detect ulterior motives and lac1 of dedication%
4his is also a good time to mention t(o overriding considerations that you should al(ays 1eep in mind&
scientific integrity and respect for your advisor?s time% 2t goes (ithout saying that 2 e,pect my students
to uphold the highest standards of scientific integrity% Any violation of these generally accepted
principals :e%g%, falsification of data, plagiarism; (ill result in my dropping you as an advisee% -ou may
also lose your financial support or .e e,pelled from Lehigh% 4his applies to all of the (or1 you do at
Lehigh, including your course(or1, not <ust the research you do (ith me%
@ot demonstrating respect for my time is another serious issue% *y primary goal is to advance science,
and your role is to help me% 2n reading this document, you (ill see that there are certain things 2 e,pect
a graduate student to .e a.le to do% Professors are very .usy people (ith many responsi.ilities%
Successful graduate students ta1e the initiative to learn the ans(ers to .asic /uestions on their o(n,
(ithout pulling their advisor a(ay from more important (or1% Learn to tell (hen the help you are
re/uesting is reasona.le and (hen it is not 9 the signs (ill .e clear if you pay attention% 2 may ans(er a
/uestion .y saying, for e,ample, =-ou should .e a.le to figure this out on your o(n%> 2f you find you
are ma1ing large demands on my time for issues that are not related to research, then you are not
helping the research effort, you are hurting it% 4his should .e a consideration you ta1e very seriously%
2. Research is Different from Coursework
2t is easy to underestimate the significance of this distinction% -ou may .elieve that, .ecause you are a
student and 2 am a professor, performing research under my direction must .e li1e ta1ing a course from
me 9 that it is my <o. to spend as much time as necessary helping you understand every aspect of the
material under study% 4his is not true% Course(or1 is guided stepA.yAstep .y the professor, (ith the
student doing the assigned (or1 and adhering to a schedule the professor sets% 2f you do all the (or1
and do it (ell, you can e,pect to receive an =A> in the course%
8esearch re/uires a level of maturity and initiative that goes far .eyond this% -ou (ill find that 2 ma1e
fe( e,plicit demands of you% 2 (ill not even insist that you meet (ith me% 4his does not mean,
ho(ever, that 2 do not have high e,pectations% 2 e,pect that you (ill ta1e charge of your o(n research,
that you (ill drive the (or1 for(ard, and that you (ill as1 to meet (ith me .ecause you have
discovered something interesting, encountered a pro.lem and need some help, (ant some advice, or
(ould <ust li1e to touch .ase and update me on your progress% 3hen 2 thin1 you are doing a good <o., 2
(ill say so% 2f you do not hear me complain a.out your (or1, it does not mean your research is
progressing (ell% 4his is a case (here silence is not =golden7> rather, it pro.a.ly means that your
research is in trou.le%
4hin1ing a.out it another (ay, your course(or1, (hile important to you personally, (ill not change the
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(orld% 8esearch should aim at having an impact% 2t goes (ithout saying, then, that your research
deserves significant attention and all of the time and energy you (ould devote to a full time <o., at the
same time you may have other responsi.ilities li1e ta1ing courses% :Braduate students (or1 hard, .ut
professors (or1 even harder%;
Also 1eep in mind that .eing an =A> student does not guarantee success in research% E,perience has
taught me that some students can find a (ay to get good grades in courses, often .y echoing .ac1
material they find on the 2nternet, .ut that they do not truly understand% 2f you fail to develop a deep
understanding of our research topic, it (ill soon .ecome o.vious% 8emem.er, you are supposed to
demonstrate signs of .ecoming an e,pert in the area (e are studying%
3. Claiming Ownershi of !our Research
2t is not sufficient for you to treat your research li1e a <o. you are doing for me, even if 2 give you an
idea that comes from one of my pro<ects and 2 provide you (ith funding% 2 e,pect you to claim
o(nership of your research topic% 2f you ta1e on a tas1 only .ecause 2 tell you to do it 9 if you regard it
as simply a =<o.> to .e completed as /uic1ly and (ith as little effort as possi.le 9 then you (ill never
.ecome a successful researcher% -ou should ta1e on a tas1 .ecause you find the /uestion interesting
and the (or1 challenging and you .elieve it is the right thing to do to push your research for(ard% -ou
must .e passionate a.out your research%
0ften, 2 (ill provide you (ith initial =seed> 9 an idea that 2 .elieve can .e developed into successful
research% Some ideas are more promising than others% 2t ta1es years of e,perience to develop this
intuition 9 this is one of the s1ills you should strive to learn .y (atching your professors% 3hile your
success or failure (ill depend largely on your o(n ingenuity and level of effort, sometimes the idea 2
give you is one 2 am particularly fond of% 2t may .e an important piece of a pro<ect (e have under(ay%
-ou (ill sense a gro(ing annoyance in me if you fum.le an idea li1e this% A good researcher
overcomes hurdles and (ill let nothing stand in the (ay of getting the <o. done% 2t is a particularly .ad
sign if 2 must ta1e an idea a(ay from you .ecause you fail to ma1e progress and give it to another
student or, even (orse, if 2 find it necessary to go off and solve the pro.lem myself .ecause the pro<ect
depends on it% 4hen you can .e certain 2 am unhappy% *issed deadlines are not accepta.le and another
indication of serious pro.lems% 3hen 2 give you part of a pro<ect to (or1 on, your primary goal is
ma1ing sure it moves for(ard%
". #nteracting with !our $rofessor
As a simple measure, if you find that you are not regularly scheduling meetings (ith me to discuss your
progress 9 al(ays (ith something interesting to report 9 then your research may .e in trou.le% 5eep in
mind that =regular> can have different meanings depending on the student% A student (or1ing on an
independent study that lasts one semester should pro.a.ly plan on meeting (ith me every (ee1 or t(o
to stay on trac1% 4his is also true for a student <ust starting to e,plore a ne( research area% An
advanced Ph%D% student (ho has already pu.lished /uality research results and is (or1ing on the final
stages of a dissertation might .e a.le to meet (ith me less fre/uently 9 say, once a month%
2n general, 2 find that .etter students as1 to meet (ith me more often% 0f course, if you re/uest a
meeting, you should have something (orth discussing& an important insight, some ne( e,perimental
results to tal1 a.out, a relevant paper you discovered, a hurdle you (ould li1e help (ith, etc% Suffice to
say that if you schedule a meeting (ith me and have nothing to say or, (orse, you miss the meeting, my
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reaction (ill not .e favora.le% Do not (aste my time% 5eep in mind that if 2 am providing you (ith
financial support, then 2 am paying you to help me advance research 9 2 am not paying you to as1 me
.asic /uestions that you should .e a.le to ans(er on your o(n%
3hen you send me a draft of a paper to read, ma1e certain that it reflects your .est possi.le effort% Do
not (aste my time .y sending me a paper that you 1no( still contains mista1es or is very rough% Also
1eep in mind that my schedule is .usy& never send me a draft right .efore the deadline (hen it is due%
4here is a good chance 2 (ill not have time to loo1 at it at that point%
2 e,pect all of the students (ho (or1 (ith me to have certain .ac1ground 1no(ledge and s1ills% 4his is
mostly undergraduateAlevel material and, if you lac1 it, it is your responsi.ility to ma1e it up&
-ou should .e a.le to program and de.ug efficiently :at the level of CSE C11;%
-ou should .e a.le to do high /uality .ac1ground research :literature searches;%
-ou should understand the design and analysis of computer algorithms :at the level of CSE DC!;%
-ou should .e a.le to use .asic productivity tools li1e *icrosoft E,cel, Po(erPoint, etc%
-ou should .e a.le to (rite a good paper using La4eE :2 disli1e *S 3ord for technical (riting;%
-ou should .e a.le to prepare and deliver a good technical tal1%
2f you need too much of my help (ith any of these things, it may .e a sign that you do not .elong in
graduate school% Successful graduate students learn to ma1e up deficiencies on their o(n%
-ou (ill pro.a.ly find that 2 send you email from timeAtoAtime (ith information relating to your (or1%
4his could include pointers to ne(spaper articles, technical papers 2 thin1 you should read, conference
announcements in the area (here (e are (or1ing, etc% As a rule, if 2 send you an email, 2 e,pect a
response7 not necessarily right a(ay, .ut certainly after you have had some time to thin1 a.out it% Do
not ignore (hat 2 tell you% Li1e(ise, if you find something relating to our research and you .elieve it
(ould .e good for me to 1no( a.out it, you should send me email, too% 2 very much appreciate
receiving such messages and consider it a positive sign that you are invested in your research%
2t is o1ay to disagree (ith me on a technical point 9 2 ma1e mista1es, too% But in such cases, .e ready
to support your position (ith strong scientific evidence% *a1e sure it is good& simply repeating the
same unsupported claim over and over is not =strong evidence> 9 it is <ust (asting my time% Prolonging
an argument (ith me .ecause you thin1 you can change my mind is generally a .ad strategy%
0ne su.<ect never open to de.ate is the level of (or1 necessary for an accepta.le dissertation% Earning
a Ph%D% re/uires ma1ing a significant contri.ution to the field% Braduate students do not have the
perspective to 1no( (hat /ualifies as =significant7> this determination falls entirely (ithin the realm of
the advisor% By itself, the fact that you .elieve you have done a lot of (or1 means nothing% 3hen you
receive direction from me, you should give it serious consideration and, in nearly every case, act on it%
2 pay close attention to ho( students respond to my feed.ac1% 2 do not e,pect you to get everything
right on the first try, .ut you should .e getting close .y the second%
-ou may feel li1e you are operating on a tight schedule to o.tain your Ph%D% Perhaps you have a
scholarship that (ill e,pire, or a pending <o. offer, or may.e your family e,pects you to finish your
degree (ithin a specified timeframe% 5no( that such constraints have a.solutely no impact on the
amount of (or1 that needs to .e done for an accepta.le Ph%D% 2f you try to argue (ith me that 2 should
.e (illing to accept less (or1 from you for such reasons, 2 (ill tell you to find another dissertation
advisor% 2f you have time constraints, it is entirely your o(n responsi.ility to manage them 9 my
standards are not negotia.le and 2 (ill not lo(er them, so you should not even .other to as1%
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%. Contri&uting to an #nternational Research Communit'
Ultimately, an important measure of the research you do is (hether it is interesting to outside e,perts
(or1ing in the field, not <ust to you, me, and other people at Lehigh% 0ur purpose as researchers is to
.roaden 1no(ledge 9 to ma1e a contri.ution that our most e,perienced, talented colleagues consider
useful and important% -ou should .e a(are that at the same time (e are (or1ing on a pro.lem
together, there is an international research community (or1ing on the same 1inds of pro.lems% -our
goal is to gain acceptance into this community .y .ecoming 1no(n as a researcher (ith original
insights (ho does high /uality (or1% 4heir evaluation of (hether your (or1 is interesting is one
important measure of success% Fo( do (e determine (hat other researchers in the field thin1 of your
(or1G By their (illingness to include papers you have (ritten in their conferences and <ournals%
2 e,pect graduate students (or1ing (ith me to produce pu.lisha.leA/uality research% 4his is an
a.solutely fundamental re/uirement 9 it is not negotia.le and there are no e,ceptions% 2t ta1es some
time to get going, of course, .ut .y your second or third year (or1ing (ith me, you should .e regularly
producing research results that (e can pu.lish in (ellAregarded conferences and <ournals% 2f you (or1
(ith me for an e,tended period of time and do not help generate pu.lications, you can assume that 2 am
not happy (ith your progress%
Building on this, (hile getting a paper pu.lished is good, it means nothing if the paper is never cited%
0ther researchers must .e reading your papers and ac1no(ledging the importance and relevance of
your (or1 .y referencing it in their o(n papers% 3ellA(ritten papers that address important pro.lems
get noticed and have an impact% 4his is your ultimate goal%
Please 1no( that developing technical (riting s1ills is one of the things you (ill learn as a graduate
student researcher 9 again, this is a matter of =practice ma1es perfect%> 2 (or1 (ith my students to help
them develop this s1ill% 4he papers (e (rite together (ill .e a colla.oration that evolves over time% At
first, 2 may do a su.stantial portion of the final editing on our pu.lications% 4his is most li1ely to
happen in the early stages of your career as a student researcher% By the later stages, you should .e
doing most of the (or1 descri.ed in the paper, and most of the (riting, too% 2 strongly encourage my
students to propose topics for papers and venues to pu.lish them 9 this is a sign of research maturity
that is critical for success in graduate school%
Becoming a mem.er of an international research community implies other responsi.ilities as (ell% 2t
means .eing a(are of other research groups that do (or1 that is similar to ours, and understanding the
relationship .et(een their (or1 and our (or1% *uch of this research is of high /uality and deserves
your respect% 2t is considered an insult to (rite a paper that ignores important related (or1 in the field%
2ndeed, this reason alone may result in the paper .eing re<ected% -ou should al(ays assume there is
other pu.lished research that relates to (hat (e are doing% Hinding this (or1 and understanding its
connections to our o(n is one of your responsi.ilities as a researcher% 2f you tell me there is no related
(or1, my first assumption is that you did a .ad <o. (ith your literature search% 2 loo1 for(ard to
students .ringing me interesting ne( papers they find that are relevant to our research%
0n occasion, (e (ill have an important visitor in the department 9 perhaps a seminar spea1er, or a
colleague from else(here (ho (e are colla.orating (ith% 2n such cases, 2 e,pect you to attend the tal1s
and meetings that may ta1e place% 4his is a (ay of .uilding up professional contacts (hich (ill prove
valua.le later (hen you are loo1ing for a <o.% 2t also reflects on the reputation of Lehigh 9 (e (ant
outside visitors to 1no( (e have good graduate students here% 2t is al(ays a smart idea to do some
.ac1ground reading so that you can have an intelligent conversation (ith our visitor, (ho (ill often .e
a distinguished researcher in the field%
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(. Develoing Communication and Critical )hinking Skills
2t goes (ithout saying that 2 e,pect you to (or1 on developing good communication s1ills% 4his means
reading, (riting, and spea1ing effectively a.out your research% English may not .e your native
language7 .y itself, this is not a pro.lem% 4he a.ility to convey scientific ideas transcends 1no(ing the
finer details of the English language% As (ith many other s1ills, the secret is practice 9 (rite as much
as you can, and ta1e the time to read (ellA(ritten research papers% 4o avoid (asting my time, do your
.est to eliminate as many grammatical errors as possi.le .efore you give me something to read, and
al(ays .e sure to use a spellingAchec1er% @ever give me something that is only a =rough draft> unless 2
as1 you to do this 9 2 am .usy and do not have time to read papers that are filled (ith errors you should
.e catching yourself% 2t may .e a good idea to as1 a friend to revie( your (riting or to attend a practice
tal1 to offer you advice .efore you su.mit your (or1 for my evaluation%
2nherent in communication is the concept of critical thin1ing 4his involves developing a deep
understanding of (hat (e are trying to accomplish as (ell as the related literature% -ou should .e a.le
to read a paper connected to our (or1 and identify its good ideas as (ell as its limitations% Pu.lished
papers sometimes contain e,aggerated claims, faulty logic, or even outright mista1es% As you learn to
identify such pro.lems in papers .y others, you should (or1 to eliminate them from your o(n (riting%
3hile refining your communication s1ills is a natural part of .ecoming a researcher, muddled (riting
can imply muddled thin1ing% 4his is a more serious pro.lem, and usually not correcta.le% As a general
rule, a good advisor loo1s to spot the differences .et(een these t(o cases%
2f you .elieve you need help in .ecoming a .etter (riter or spea1er, let me 1no( 9 there are resources
availa.le on the Lehigh campus to help graduate students learn these important s1ills%
*. $roductivit'
2 invest my time in mentoring students .ecause 2 e,pect they (ill someday .ecome productive
researchers and, at that point, my investment (ill pay off% Productivity can .e measured in research
results, papers, and technical reports% Faving your name on a paper .y itself is not sufficient& you must
have done a significant part of the (or1 to deserve full credit%
4o .e clear, ultimate success in graduate studies is not determined .y ho( nice you are, (hether you
get good grades, or ho( many hours you (or1 in the la.% 4he overriding consideration is (hether you
are ma1ing a contri.ution to advance the research%
2t may help to thin1 of this as the follo(ing =8eturn on 2nvestment> curve% 2n your first year, 2 e,pect
that 2 (ill invest more time in mentoring you than you (ill return in advancing the research% After that
point, you should sho( signs of driving the (or1 for(ard on your o(n% 2n later years, every hour of my
time should yield increasingly more than an hour?s (orth of results% 4his is the natural progression in
.ecoming a productive researcher, as depicted .elo(% 2n the redAshaded region, the student produces
less than one hour of results for every hour 2 invest% 2n the greenAshaded region, the student produces
more than one hour of results for every hour 2 invest% 4he unit of measurement is the amount of (or1 2
could do in an hour, since the tradeAoff involves my supervising you versus doing the (or1 myself%
4his figure also indicates that five years is a reasona.le length of time to earn a Ph%D% :2 finished my
graduate studies in four years%; -ou should not e,pect to receive financial support after the fifth year%
2f your early tra<ectory suggests you have no chance of completing an accepta.le Ph%D% in five years, 2
(ill end your funding and encourage you to loo1 else(here for graduate school%
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3hile each student may progress at a some(hat different rate, as a general rule here are some
guidelines for (hat a successful Ph%D% student should accomplish in each year (or1ing (ith me&
!ear 1 By the end of the first year, you should .e familiar (ith one of my research topics% -ou
should 1no( a specific segment of the technical literature connected (ith the pro.lem very
(ell, so that you are a.le to have an e,tended discussion (ith me a.out it% -ou should have
made a clear contri.ution to the pro<ect, most li1ely .y (riting some programs to support
e,periments (e (ant to perform% -ou may have provided a (riteAup descri.ing the results
of your e,periments for inclusion in a paper (e are planning to su.mit to a conference% -ou
(ill also have completed all of your courses for the year (ith high grades :A or AA;, and you
(ill have ta1en and passed your firstAyear e,aminations :the precise re/uirements differ for
Computer Science and Computer Engineering students;%
!ear 2 By the end of the second year, you should .e fully integrated (ith one of my research
pro<ects% -ou should 1no( a .roader portion of the technical literature connected (ith the
pro.lem, so that you are a.le to suggest ideas for e,tending our research in ne( and
interesting (ays% -ou should .e a.le to recogni6e the differences .et(een good (or1 and
.ad (or1 that has .een done in the area% -ou should have made significant contri.utions to
the pro<ect .y (riting programs, conducting e,periments, and preparing technical reports and
(riteAups for conference and (or1shop papers that (e su.mit% By this point, you should
have earned coAauthorship on t(o or more pu.lished papers (ith me% As in -ear 1, you (ill
have completed all of your courses (ith high grades :A or AA;, and you (ill have ta1en and
passed any necessary secondAyear e,aminations re/uired for the degree program you are in%
!ear 3 By the end of the third year, your program as an independentlyAfunctioning researcher should
.e (ellAdeveloped% -ou should .e an e,pert in the technical literature for your pro.lem area,
and you should .e (or1ing on promising approaches that you yourself have proposed in
consultation (ith me% -our contri.utions to our pro<ect should .e su.stantial, reflecting
several years of hard (or1% -ou should .e authoring pu.licationA/uality conference and
(or1shop papers (ith only modest amounts of my feed.ac1% By this point, you should have
earned coAauthorship on four or more pu.lished papers (ith me% 2 should have enough
confidence that 2 am a.le to assign you as a revie(er for su.missions to conferences 2 help
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-ear & -ear ' -ear ( -ear ) -ear *
Positive impact on research goals
Brea1Aeven
.egative impact on research goals
organi6e% As in previous years, you (ill have completed all of your courses (ith high grades
:A or AA;, and are on trac1 (ith all other aspects of your Ph%D% program%
!ear " By the end of the forth year, you should have completed a su.stantial portion of your thesis
research% -ou should .e regularly (riting papers that (e are a.le to pu.lish in high /uality
conferences and (or1shops :at a rate of several papers per year;% 4he draft papers that you
prepare at this point re/uire only minimal feed.ac1 from me% 2n addition, you should have at
least one <ournal su.mission in the process of .eing accepted for pu.lication% -ou e,pertise
in our pro.lem area should .e starting to receive outside recognition% Hor e,ample, you (ill
.e increasingly as1ed to revie( paper su.missions .y others, or may even .e invited to serve
on the organi6ing committee for a technical meeting% -our highA/uality results (ill have
helped us o.tain additional research funding in the area% 2n addition, you (ill also .e serving
as a leader in our la., helping ne(er graduate students get up to speed on our research% As in
previous years, any courses you ta1e (ill .e completed (ith high grades :A or AA;% -ou (ill
have ta1en and passed your Beneral E,amination and, in the .est case, you (ill have
defended your thesis and completed your degree%
!ear % 2f needed, .y the end of your fifth year you (ill have .uilt on your successes from previous
years, pu.lishing even more e,tensively in the scientific literature% By this point you should
have had at least one highA/uality <ournal paper accepted for pu.lication, and at least one
more <ournal su.mission in progress% -ou (ill continue to pu.lish in our .est conferences
and (or1shops% -our e,pertise no( .eing (idely recogni6ed, you (ill have .een invited to
give tal1s on your (or1 at other universities and research la.s% -ou (ill have defended your
thesis and completed your degree%
+. Deadlines and Degree Re,uirements
3hether you are striving to earn a *aster?s degree or a Ph%D%, the programs at Lehigh have various
re/uirements% 4here are certain courses you must ta1e, and e,aminations you must pass% 5no(ing
these rules and deadlines and ma1ing sure you satisfy them are your responsi.ility 9 do not e,pect me
to remind you% 2f you fall .ehind, your funding may .ecome atAris1% 4he Director of Braduate Studies
and the department secretary (ho (or1s (ith graduate students can provide helpful information%
-. Standards
As 2 have already noted, some people (ho are =A> students do not measure up to .e =A> researchers% 2
demand that the (or1 done under my direction .e of very high /uality% 5eep in mind this means my
standards are the ones that apply, not your past teachers? or your o(n% 2t should .e o.vious, then, that
you need to learn my standards and find a (ay to meet them if you (ant to succeed% 3hile 2 do not
typically give a grade for research efforts, you can still regard the follo(ing levels as guidelines&
E,cellent 3ell thoughtAout, carefully documented contri.utions to the pro<ect% Sho(s
outstanding effort and creativity% 5no(ledgea.le a.out related research% 3or1
pu.lisha.le in a high /uality conference or <ournal% *eets (ith me often and al(ays
has something interesting to say% Suggests ideas that did not occur to me first%
Concern Does the minimum suggested, .ut nothing more% *ay .e devoting time to the pro<ect,
.ut (or1 is not good enough to have a significant impact% Can /uote (hat others have
said, .ut does not have anything ne( or interesting to add% 4his lo( level of
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performance (ill lead to my dropping the advisee unless there is improvement%
Unaccepta.le *isses deadlines and'or meetings% *a1es no contri.utions to advancing the research%
*ay as1 fre/uent /uestions, .ut never ones that reflect a deep understanding of the
(or1% Fas ignored repeated (arnings and suggestions for improvement% 2 (ill not
continue to advise or support such students%
-ou (ill note that there is no =Average> or =Accepta.le> level of performance 9 this is (hat 2 mean .y
having high standards% Either you are doing e,cellent (or1, or you are on a path that falls short of (hat
2 re/uire of my students% 2f you (ant to 1no( your current level of performance, <ust as1 me%
A smart (ay for you to start to learn my /uality standards is to see1 out and read some of my pu.lished
papers, (hich you should .e a.le to locate online%
1.. Role of the /dvisor
2 have mostly said (hat you must do to .e successful% 3hat (ill 2 doG -ou (ill find that the right
advisor 9 (hether it .e me or someone else 9 can .e a valua.le resource% 4he list of (ays an advisor
can help you is long and openAended% *ost importantly, of course, an advisor (ill help you identify
research /uestions (orth studying, start you off in the right direction, and 1eep you on trac1 as the
research progresses% An advisor can also assist in providing you (ith the professional contacts that
may lead to your first <o. :or perhaps a later one;, helping you find ans(ers to /uestions you thin1 are
unans(era.le, offering guidance on a variety of academic and technical issues, locating and ac/uiring
soft(are and e/uipment you need to succeed in your research, arranging for funding :in some cases; to
help support you during the summer and'or academic year, and ma1ing sure your (or1 receives the
recognition it deserves (ithin the Lehigh community as (ell as the outside (orld%
11. Student 0unding
8ecall my earlier comment that doing research is not li1e ta1ing a regular course% 2n fact, a research
assistant is more li1e an employee than a student% 4his means you are not paying me to teach you, as
(as the case (hen you (ere in college7 rather, you are .eing paid to help me conduct research% 2f you
do not contri.ute, 2 may .e forced to turn else(here to get the <o. done and you (ill lose your financial
support% 4o fully fund a graduate student costs an advisor appro,imately I"!,!!! a year, including
tuition and stipend% 4his funding is a privilege 9 it is not a right%
2t is easy to get distracted .y the courses you are ta1ing and ignore your research% Courses have
concrete schedules, assignments (ith specified due dates, and preAdetermined /ui66es and e,ams% 2f
you ignore your research to focus too much on your courses, you may find that you get good grades, .ut
that 2 am no longer (illing to fund you% 4his seems li1e a small victory at .est% 2 (ill not accept a
heavy course (or1load as an e,cuse for falling short on research, so do not .other to as1% 2t is your
responsi.ility to schedule enough time to ma1e progress in your research%
As a rule, 2 do not provide funding for *aster?s students% A Ph%D% student (ill typically receive t(o
years of funding to demonstrate the potential to do high /uality (or1% By your second year, you should
.e fully engaged in original research if you hope to receive continued funding :recall the 802 curve 2
provided earlier;% 8esearch grants are highly competitive and (inning them ta1es a lot of effort% 3e
are a(arded grants .ecause funding agencies .elieve (e can do a firstArate <o.% 2f you are put on a
pro<ect and do .adly, it (astes the sponsor?s money and reflects negatively on me%
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2t is an unfortunate fact of life that most research grants last for +AD years, (hereas it often ta1es CA"
years to earn a Ph%D% 4his means that there may .e times (hen your financial support s(itches from
one pro<ect that is ending to a ne( one that is starting% 4he topic areas for these pro<ects (ill often
overlap, so the disruption should .e minimal% 2n the (orst case, there may .e gaps in funding that (e
have to try to cover in creative (ays% 4he effort 2 (ill devote to finding funding for a student is directly
related to the /uality of (or1 that student is doing% 2f you are doing great research, 2 (ill do everything
possi.le to find funding for you% 2 have no interest in spending time trying to find funding for students
(ho are doing poor /uality (or1 .ecause there is no payoff for having such students on a pro<ect%
-ou may .egin your graduate studies at Lehigh (ith a university fello(ship or a position as a 4eaching
Assistant in one of our courses% 4his means you are not .eing paid directly to help (ith research% 2t is
important to reali6e, ho(ever, that such arrangements are usually shortAterm and (ill last for only a
year or t(o% 2t (ould .e a mista1e to thin1 that you can (aste this time and ignore the need to .ecome
involved as soon as possi.le in research, either mine or another professor?s% Before 2 even consider
offering support to current students, 2 demand strong evidence that you can contri.ute to one of my
pro<ects% 3aiting until the last minute to try to sho( you can ma1e a contri.ution is a .ad idea%
2t should .e noted that the very .est students can sometimes o.tain outside funding on their o(n% 2n a
field as important to society as computer science and engineering, there are numerous opportunities for
fello(ships and scholarships% *a1ing the effort to e,plore such options sho(s good initiative, and
removes some of the financial pressure that graduate students sometimes e,perience% :2 had a
fello(ship from the State of @e( Jersey (hen 2 attended graduate school%; But even if you find a (ay
to fund your o(n graduate studies, 1eep in mind that my comments concerning productivity still apply%
2 e,pect all of my students to ma1e significant contri.utions to the research effort, other(ise it is a
(aste of your time and my time for you to .e in the Ph%D% program%
12. Conference )ravel
0ne of the re(ards for contri.uting to a successful research pro<ect is the occasional chance to attend a
scientific conference in the area of our (or1% Because such travel can .e e,pensive, it is not al(ays
possi.le to send a student to present a paper, .ut 2 (ill let you 1no( (hen that is an option% Do not as1
me a.out this 9 2 (ill tell you% 0verseas travel is much more e,pensive than domestic travel and hence
less li1ely to receive support% 4here are many rules and policies (hen traveling on official .usiness, so
ma1e sure you 1no( them .efore planning a trip, other(ise you ris1 not getting reim.ursed% Also
remem.er that (hen you travel to a conference, you are representing me as (ell as Lehigh% 2 e,pect
you to ta1e such travel seriously, to dress neatly, to attend the technical tal1s and other conference
activities, and to attempt to .e costAconscious (hen ma1ing your travel arrangements%
13. Stress and $ersonal #ssues
Braduate student life can .e stressful% 2f you have .een a good student in the past, you may find that
this is the first time in your life there is a ris1 you might fail to finish something that you started% 4he
financial challenges of paying for graduate school also may trou.le you% Sometimes family or personal
issues arise (hich add stress% -ou should 1no( that there is al(ays help availa.le for you on the
Lehigh campus% 4he Braduate Student Life 0ffice, housed in ChristmasASaucon 8ooms K!DL and
K!D, is an e,cellent resource for students%
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1". / 1ote on Success and 0ailure
-ou are a good student, other(ise you (ould not have .een accepted into Lehigh% Braduate school is
not right for everyone, ho(ever% 2t is important to reali6e that acceptance into our program is not a
guarantee of finishing a graduate degree% Unli1e undergraduate studies, (here nearly everyone finishes
successfully, many smart graduate students never complete their Ph%D%?s% 4here is no dishonor in this%
2ndeed, such students often go on to have successful careers, (ith the most o.vious cases .eing Larry
Page and Larry Brin, the t(o founders of google (ho dropped out of the Ph%D% program at Stanford and
(ho are no( highly successful industry leaders :and .illionaires;%
Being a good student is a necessary preAcondition for success in graduate school, .ut it is not sufficient
in itself% -ou must .e creative, in/uisitive, dedicated, intelligent, driven, curious, and resourceful%
Either you possess these /ualities or you do not 9 there are no miracles 9 they cannot .e learned and 2
cannot teach them to you% 4he most 2 can do is give you the opportunity to demonstrate that you have
these /ualities, and then help you develop them if they are present%
4he university, the college, and the department all prescri.e various hurdles that graduate students must
satisfy% 2n addition, you should assess your o(n progress on a continual .asis% 2f things are not going
(ell and your research is not advancing under the criteria 2 have <ust descri.ed, it is .est to .e honest
(ith yourself and .egin investigating other career options% 4here comes a time (hen students (ho are
not ma1ing a significant contri.ution can no longer .e supported financially%
1%. Summar'2 3asic 4ualities for Success
4he /ualities necessary to .ecome a successful researcher are similar to those needed for success in
other parts of life% 4hey include&
Creativity 9 finding solutions to hard research pro.lems re/uires thin1ing in ne( (ays, .ringing
together ideas in (ays no one has tried .efore%
2nitiative 9 you must drive your o(n research for(ard% -ou should not depend on anyone else to
outline each step and (al1 you through it .y the hand as though you (ere still in college%
4enacity 9 hurdles constantly arise in the course of doing research% A good researcher is not (illing
to give up, al(ays .elieving there must .e a (ay around the current stum.ling .loc1%
*aturity 9 strive to understand the .ig picture, learn (hat you need to do to succeed, and do it%
8eali6e that your (or1 is part of a larger pu66le and that other people are depending on you%
Attention to detail 9 to solve a pro.lem no one else has .een a.le to solve, you must 1no( it .etter
than anyone else% 2f there are important points you do not understand, or related (or1 you have not
studied, the li1elihood you (ill ma1e a useful contri.ution is small%
Confidence 9 an appropriate level of confidence is vital for a successful researcher% 4his is a /uality
that you (ill develop over time% 5eep in mind that, (hile you have already proved yourself to .e a
good student, proving that you are a good researcher re/uires demonstrating a different set of s1ills%
Please 1eep in mind that no document li1e this can ever .e completely comprehensive& every student
research e,perience is uni/ue% 4he most important piece of advice to 1eep in mind is that if you ever
have /uestions or are unsure a.out something, as1 meM 2f you do not approach me, 2 cannot help you%
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