My advice

As a professor at the UoA I have worked with many students, both undergraduate and graduate. Based on this experience, I have collected here some pieces of advice for a successful student career.

Your progress is your responsibility

In general, advisors have regular weekly meetings with their students, especially the ones at the graduate level. These meetings may be individual or project-specific, if several students are working on related subjects within the same project. The overall objective of these meetings is to discuss issues that have arisen, to set new goals for the project and to make sure that all parties involved (students, supervisors, project funding agencies) are informed about the status of the project. As part of these meetings, new milestones are set and deadlines for when they should be accomplished are planned. As a student, you are responsible for making sure that these plans are realistic and doable. If you find yourself unable to meet your deadlines, make sure to inform your supervisor and your project group members for why not, as soon as possible. I have found that these meetings are more productive when all parties maintain some relevant materials in a shared repository. In my group, we have been using a collaboration wiki (for papers, drafts and annotated bibliographies) and a corresponding CVS repository (for code and design documents).

Be organized

During the two-to-five years of graduate studies, students often face the same problem under different guises. In order not to have to solve it more than once, one has to be organized and to remember the rationale of past decisions. In general, I would advise students to regularly maintain the following types of information:
  1. an annotated bibliography of papers you read
  2. a list of issues about which you have had to think and your comments on them, including how they are related and different from your work
  3. a list of open problems on which you are working

Develop strong language skills

Effective communication skills, verbal and written, are crucial to a successful academic career. Foreign students have to be especially careful. Here are some practices that will help you write good papers and deliver effective presentations:
  1. Do not make public anything that has not been checked for language and grammar correctness; this applies to email messages, wiki reports,paper and presentation drafts etc. Use automatic checking tools, like “ispell”in Unix or “language” in MS Word. Ask a friend to read and correct your materials before you send them out.
  2. Take every opportunity to present your work to fellow students, department visitors, even yourself in front of the mirror.
  3. Attend department-wide presentations; the more presentations you attend, the more comfortable you become with various presentation arguments and rhetorical structures. This way, you can learn faster what distinguishes an effective presentation from a boring one.

Build your CV

As a student, you should be aware that you are building your CV. A very important entry in this CV contains the “scholarships and awards”you have obtained. There are many opportunities for such awards and you should be proactive in applying for them. You should be aware of the university’s and the department’s web site providing relevant information. When a new award is announced, make sure you know whether you qualify; talk to the appropriate advisor of the department or your advisor. Many conferences offer travel awards. Make sure that you investigate this possibility for all the conferences in which you may participate, whether you have a paper in the conference or not.

Keep your supervisor informed

You should let your supervisor know in advance about your plans, including travel, job and scholarship applications and, more generally,anything that may impact your research plan or may require some task (such as writing a letter, for example) of your supervisor.

Maintain an interesting web site

Finally, I have found that maintaining an interesting and informative web site describing your skills and research is a good idea. It forces you to describe succinctly your research and other researchers can refer to it, thus advertising your profile to potential employers or funding agencies. It does not take a long time and it helps put you “on the map” in your research area.

A compilation of other interesting pointers on the web