Saturday, June 12, 2010

Long term research goals

My previous post discussed why I decided to do PhD ? This post discusses what I want to do after my PhD. During Sigmod, I was thinking about a question that was troubling me last year: "Whether to apply for faculty position or industry job"

Somehow "academia" seems more sense for me. So, I started asking people what are skills required to get a faculty position. Here is a summarized version of collective advices from my advisor and colleagues.

I had a discussion with one of my friend in which I made a really important point. If you want to understand any major events (political, personal, social, ...), ask yourself a simple question: "How does this relate to money ?". This principle applies in academic hiring position as well. Whether or not you will be hired as a faculty or not will solely be decided by one fundamental question: "Can you get funding during and after your tenure ?"

If the answer is "may be", then and then only the hiring committee will look into teaching skills and managerial/mentoring skills.

Let's revisit the funding question. Your chances of funding will be significantly decided by three questions:
1. Is your research worth funding ?
2. How well can you present your research ?
3. How many people know about you and your research ?

The people who are involved in your hiring process will try to extrapolate the answers to these questions based on following indicators:
a. They already know you or your advisor or have at least heard about you.
b. You can give an interesting 1 hour presentation on your central research idea.
c. You have good number of first author papers.
d. You have recommendation letters from well known researchers from your field.

Here is list of things I believe a PhD student can to to improve these indicators.
  1. Find as soon as possible the topic you want to expertise in and publish as many first author papers as possible in that field.
  2. Give as many (paper, poster, demo) presentations as possible in well known conferences.
  3. Collaborate and also go for research internship. Your mentors will be the ones who will write you the recommendations. It is necessary to have strong recommendation letters from people other than your advisor.
  4. Be a (dummy) reviewer for conferences and also learn skills necessary for writing proposals.
  5. Work as hard as you can and think about your research all the time.

The corollary to above points are:
1. Number of first author papers are more important than publication count.
2. Bad papers may haunt you during hiring process.
3. Know the list of current hot topics --> also what "good" researchers are working on (Indexing)
4. Nobody cares about your GPA, courses you took or your extra-curricular activities.
5. You can give an interesting 1 hour presentation only if you have one research theme rather than papers scattered all over the field.

Of course there are exceptions to all above rules. So, don't be hard on yourself :)


Christan Grant said...

Hey niketan, can you describe a 'bad paper'

Niketan R. Pansare said...

Hey Christan, thanks for reading the blog.

Bad paper is a relative term: Its relative to what others (most cynical readers) think after reading your paper. If they get the feeling that the paper shows absolutely no original research, they might not even take time to read your other papers.

Some researchers will remember and most likely judge the student by one of the worst paper rather than good papers. (Criticism/Objections are more strong emotions than Praise) . Also, to be honest, the "bad" papers are not so "bad" if they are early in your career (i.e first two/three years of PhD) :)

I guess the situation is "sucky" because the number of papers published and also the number of applicants is too high to make a fair assessment of candidate.

Niketan R. Pansare said...

On other hand, if I was in the hiring committee, I would classify a bad paper (of a new PhD candidate) by asking the following questions (arranged in the order of importance):
1. Does author understands the problem ? Also, is the solution correct and the most efficient one (if not, why?) ? Is there a simpler and more elegant solution ?
2. Is the problem important ? If not, why is the author working on it ?
3. Has the problem being solved ? If yes, what is the author trying to sell ?
4. Does the paper align with the research interest of the author ?
5. Can the author extend his work (and get funding) ?