Douglas Reeves


Frequently Asked Questions from Graduate Students


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Questions from currently-enrolled students...

Q1 Do you have money for new RAs?
Q2 May I do an independent study project with you?
Q3 Will you be my MS Thesis advisor?
Q4 Will you be my PhD advisor?
Q5 Will you be my (non-thesis) advisor?
Q6 What courses should I take?
Q7 Will you be on my committee?
Q8 If you're on my committee, how involved do you want to be, and when should I contact you?
Q9 As my committee member, what instructions do you have on the preparation of my thesis, and preparation for my thesis defense?
Q10 What are your research areas?
Q11 I'm a current PhD student looking for an advisor. May I sit in on your PhD group meetings to see who your students are and what their topics are?
Q12 How will you help me if I select you as an advisor?
Q13 How do I know if I'm suited for research?
Q14 How do I get started on research (i.e., on what should I work)?
Q15 What if I have my own ideas about what to work on for a thesis topic?
Q16 Where can I find information about the requirements for the degree, and about requirements / standards for the thesis?
Q17 What are your requirements for a thesis?
Q18 What should I do when it comes time to schedule the defense?
Q19 How long does it take to get a MS with thesis, or a PhD?
Q20 Can I do a co-op or internship even if I'm going to start, or already working on, a thesis?
Q21 Is it OK if I start working and finish my thesis part-time while I work full-time?
Q22 What are the ethics about citing other people's work, and about publishing my own work in multiple places?

...and Questions from prospective (incoming, not yet enrolled) students

Q24 What are my chances of admission, can the fee be waived, do I really need GRE scores, ...?
Q25 Will you support me?
Q26 How do I get support?
Q27 What should I do to get off to a good start at NC State?
Q28 Will you be my advisor (i.e., may I join your research group)?

Answers for currently-enrolled students...

Q1. Do you have money for new RAs?

A: No. Funding prospects through December 2008 for any new students are zero. My funding level is the lowest it has been in a long time.

Q2: May I do an independent study project with you?

A: No. I'm not a fan of independent study projects. My experience is that most students considering an independent study (a) seriously underestimate how difficult research is, (b) overestimate how prepared they are to do research, and (c) do not budget enough time to do something worthwhile, original, and of good quality.

Q3. Will you be my MS Thesis advisor?

A: See me during office hours, or make an appointment, to discuss.

Q4: Will you be my PhD Thesis advisor?

A. See me during office hours, or make an appointment, to discuss.

Q5: Will you be my (non-thesis) advisor?

A: Non-thesis students don't need an advisor, they just need a few questions answered. I will try to answer questions during office hours, whoever you are. Please don't bombard me with emails.

Q6: What courses should I take?

A: You'll have to meet me during office hours and tell me your goals and your background for me to help you.

Q7: Will you be on my committee?

A: Possibly. You'll have to check with me, preferably in a meeting in my office.

Q8: If you're on my committee, how involved do you want to be, and when should I contact you?

Typically committee members see students at their exams. In some cases, the committee member is actually helpful to the student in his/her work, in which case they meet as needed. "Pinging" your committee member, in person or by email, every 6 months just to let them know you are still alive and making progress is a good idea.

Q9: As my committee member, what instructions do you have on the preparation of my thesis, and preparation for my thesis defense?

A. I'm glad you asked. :-)
Since the answer is long, see Guidelines for Graduate Theses and Exams .

Q10: What are your research areas?

The areas in which I am currently working are:

  1. Network and software security
  2. Network design and routing
  3. Peer-to-peer computing

Advisees are welcome to suggest new directions.

Q11: I'm a current PhD student looking for an advisor. May I sit in on your PhD group meetings to see who your students are and what their topics are?

(See also Q4 above) My style of working with students constantly changes and at present we don't have regular group meetings. Current students and their areas are listed here.

Q12: How will you help me if I select you as an advisor?

A: For the most part, I share my research experience, give advice, and ask (and answer) questions. I rarely explicitly solve a technical problem; more likely I suggest a possible technique to investigate. Advisees have a lot of freedom to define what they work on and how they proceed. I try to redirect them if they are not making progress. I currently support several RAs, and provide equipment, space, funding for travel, etc.

Q13: How do I know if I am suited for research?

A: You can only learn this by diving in and trying it. If you have a high degree of curiosity and self-confidence, have a strong work ethic, are self-motivated and willing to think for yourself, and have the patience to work on something that may take a year or two to bear fruit, those are good signs.

If you get impatient with research papers, think they are exercises in academic navel-gazing, want to work on something that will be finished in 3-6 months, ..., then my advice is to go to industry and be a gazillionaire. I don't think you will be happy doing research. Likewise, if you are cautious, unwilling to take risks, need someone to tell you what to work on and why, or what to think and why, ...; in my opinion, you won't be happy pursuing a PhD (at least with me as advisor).

Q14: How do I get started on research (i.e., on what should I work)?

A: Another lengthy subject with its own page: Getting Started on Research .

As Dr. Jon Doyle says: "Identifying and defining the research problem is an essential part of the graduate experience, particularly at the PhD level."

Q15: What if I have my own ideas about what to work on for a thesis topic?

A: This is fantastic!

Q16: Where can I find information about the requirements for the degree, and about requirements / standards for the thesis?

See Guidelines for Graduate Theses and Exams .

Q17: What are your requirements for a thesis?

A: thesis = publication . I will not advise theses whose only significant output is "I learned a lot". Expect to submit papers before you graduate.

For an MS thesis, I expect useable data/software, and/or a publication. For a Ph.D., I expect to gain new insights, new funding opportunities, and 5+ publications. That's a lot!

Q18: What should I do when it comes time to schedule the defense?

A: Clear the date with your committee, get their signatures, send confirmation by email, and submit the required university form.

Contact the department to schedule the conference room / projector .

Remind me to pick up your folder an hour before the exam. Also send a reminder to your committee the day before your exam about the time and place.

Talk with the graduate secretary in your department (ECE or CSC) about filling out all the necessary paperwork to graduate .

Q19: How long does it take to get a MS with thesis? to get a PhD?

A: Since there is no formula for degrees, I can only answer this in a general sense based on past experience (no lawsuits, please). A typical MS student takes 2 years overall, and should be working on a concrete thesis problem 9-12 months before they plan to graduate.

A typical PhD student (already having a MS) takes 4 years (the first year is mostly filled with classwork). Here is my "recipe" for the PhD (already having a MS):

  1. First 12 months: take courses, find an advisor, set your direction.
  2. Next 6 months: undertake a small scale research project, end by passing your written prelim (qualifying) exam. Submit for publication.
  3. Next 18 months: define your thesis topic. Bite into it, hard! End by taking your oral prelim exam. Submit 1 or 2 more publications.
  4. Next 12 months: Wrap up your thesis research. End by writing the thesis and defending it. Submit 1 or 2 more publications. Find a job!

This is doable, but it doesn't happen automatically or easily. To make this schedule you need to stay on track every step of the way (if you slip 3 months on one stage it will be very hard to cut 3 months from the next stage).

Q20: Can I do a co-op or internship even if I'm working on or going to start a thesis?

A: Early in your research, yes. Having more experience, particularly in a research lab, is a plus both before and after graduation. Later in your research is probably not a good idea; you lose momentum and delay graduation (perhaps forever) in this case.

Q21: Is it OK if I start working and finish my thesis part-time while I work full-time?

A: I discourage this. Vastly better to complete the degree and then start the new job with your full attention and energy.

Q22: What are the ethics of using other people's work, and of publishing my own work in multiple places?

Please see the great statement about this topic by Professor Wes Snyder (used with permission).

 

...and answers for prospective students

Q24: What are my chances of admission, can the application fee be waived, do I really need GRE scores, ...?

A: These are all questions for the graduate administrator, and most of them are answered on the department web pages for graduate students. I will simply ignore questions like these by email.

Q25: Will you support me?

A: No. I do not provide financial support (i.e., research assistantships) to first-year students.

Q26: How do I get support?

Funding decisions for first-year students are made by the admissions committees of my two departments; contact the department directly.

It's a pretty good bet that the top-quality (upper 25-35%) graduate students will get a research assistantship after their first year or two, from some faculty member in the department. My best advice to brand new students is therefore to a) pick courses in areas in which you plan to specialize, and b) excel in your studies in your first year.

Q27: What should I do to get off to a good start at NC State?

A: See Q26 above.

Q28: Will you be my research advisor (i.e., may I join your research group)?

First, get admitted to the department. Second, enroll. Third, interview potential advisors during your second semester of graduate study. I will not respond to this question by email from students not yet enrolled at NC State.

Some links

Dr. Annie I. Antón has a very good page for graduate students ; highly recommended.

Dr. Douglas Comer of Purdue University also has some pithy and highly amusing pages. (Also see his web page for further advice if you are a tenure-track assistant professor!)

 

Final remarks...

I wish you good results and a truly enjoyable experience in your studies.

-Douglas Reeves

 


Last modified on Wednesday, 17-Sep-2014 07:00:22 EDT
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