Advice for Graduate Students

Scholarship opportunities

I am listing a few opportunities to get scholarships while working here.
  • Vanier scholarship for national and international students. Quite prestigious, big money. You have to be VERY good to get it, i.e., having a few papers at good places (ICML, NIPS, JMLR, PAMI,..), etc. Contact me if you want to apply by sending your CV.
  • The department webpage links many opportunities.

Prepared for research? (Generic advice)

  • Do you have to be a genius to do math? According to the Fields medalist Terence Tao ``the answer is an emphatic NO''. Read the blog of Tao to understand how you can make a difference in math.
  • David Dobb's article: How to be a genius? (New Scientist, 15 Sept 2006). Quote: ``Geniuses are made, not born.'' Worth reading.
  • Tao's career advice has a section for graduate students that you can read here. He is making points about working hard and professionally, having fun, asking questions, how to write papers and more.
  • Fan Chung's (e.g., spectral graph theory) advice for new grad students on how to do research. The advice is given in the form of bullet-pointed list and starts at "What is research?" and finishes with advice on how to collaborate.
  • "The scientific life of mathematicians can be pictured as a trip inside the geography of the “mathematical reality” which they unveil gradually in their own private mental frame." This is how A. Connes sees a mathematician's life. For more click here.
  • Gian-Carlo Rota: Ten Lessons I Wish I Had Been Taught. On lecturing, blackboard techniques, publishing the same result multiple times, small bag of tricks, the Feynman method to be a genius. Nice stories and some good and some controversial advice. A good read!
  • Michael Nielsen's ``Principles of Effective Research'' is geared towards physicist and I personally find it a bit lengthy. The author says at the beginning that he deliberatively limited the essay to 10 pages. This is long to my taste! Anyways, you can read it here
  • Randy Pausch's famous last lecture video. A former computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon, he passed away July 2008. In his lecture he talks about achieving your childhood dreams (i.e., persistence) and how research and family life can be made nicely fit together. The lecture is a must see. The book is good, too.
  • A piece of advice by Michael Steele. This includes "How to look for a Problem" and "Tricks of the Trade". A very important point of the advice in my opinion: You need to put in an honest days work, say three genuine research hours (pencil in hand or fingers on the keys) and two genuine reading hours. I have never in thirty years known or heard of a student who did this five days a week for two years who did not get a thesis.
  • Graduate Research, Writing, and Careers in Computer Science, a large collection of links is here
  • Collected advice on Research and Writing here.
  • Resources for grad students
  • Manuel Blum's advice. Good stories, wise advice.

Choosing your research topic

  • Finding problems to work on. In his blog, Lance talks about how to find a problem, why a graduate student might be able to solve open problem that established researchers did not solve, etc.
  • You and Your Research by Richard Hamming. Hamming argues that you should aim for the big questions.

On writing

My ultimate advice is that you should aim for writing good papers only. Quality (content-wise, presentation-wise) is what matters. There are too many crappy papers appearing in the literature already. However, don't be afraid of starting to write a paper just because it might not be the best paper ever: All what I am saying is that aim for high quality. Often, the real challenges become apperant only after you start to write a paper. So start early.

Teaching, lecturing, presentations