Starting Graduate Research
Here are some general steps, primarily for PhD students. The process for MS students has to be shorter because of their time limitations.
Meet with me and discuss your interests, your training, your past experience, your skills, and your goals. I will try to make some initial helpful suggestions and observations. I will help you identify some good quality conferences or workshops or journals related to what we discussed. In some cases, I may also suggest an IETF working group that is actively developing new standards in a particular field.
Peruse the last year or two of the conference proceedings and journals. This
gives you a sense of what the current research topics are, what the required
background is, and what the standards for a research contribution are. It
also tells you whether you like the topic, have an aptitude for it, are
qualified to work in it, and are motivated enough to seek new, creative
[Note: When I say "peruse", I don't mean read every word of a 1500 page conference proceedings. Rather, you are skimming the table of contents to see what the scope of papers is, and what sessions or topics might be of interest. Then, you are restricting your attention to those papers. You read the title and abstract, possibly skim the figures, and the conclusions and possibly references. Now you know something about the problem, the solution, and how it was accomplished. If you do this for a conference, or for a year's worth of a journal, you get a feeling for what is going on in research, without being overwhelmed. ]
Tell me again what your interests are, now that you've got a better perspective on current research. I will need awhile to consider your interests and identify a handful of relevant, current papers for you to look at.
Read these papers in depth. Identify their limitations. Consider future directions / extensions. Present to me your findings. We'll discuss your choices and I'll make a recommendation. Read in depth whatever is known about this specific problem.
At this point, you need to start writing and doing original work. Write a 5-10 page proposal that describes:
Identifying and defining the research problem is an essential part of the graduate experience, particularly at the PhD level.
The following are the main criteria for picking a research topic:
The most important item is #1. If you don't like the subject it's going to be a long, hard slog to get the degree. Only you can decide this point. Deciding #2 is largely my job, based on my knowledge of you and my experience of what is required to work on problems. You and I jointly consider and negotiate #3. You must convince me that #4 is fulfilled, just as you must convince anyone evaluating your work.
#5 is potentially the hardest issue. It requires insight into current needs and practices, the prediction of technology trends, and an understanding of what factors and tradeoffs are important in "the real world". If you go for 4 out of 5 (i.e., a problem satisfying #1-#4, but not #5), you are working on something "of academic interest only". That is OK in some cases, if you know this is the choice you are making and want to work on it regardless (perhaps because of the beauty or elegance of the problem). Too often, however, I see students who say "X has been worked on, and Y has been worked on, but not the combination of X and Y, so I'll work on that", without even considering whether X and Y together makes sense or not. This is elevating novelty (#4) above everything else, which to me is the wrong priority.
Below are some resources in networking and security. The lists are under development, and your suggestions / observations are welcome. There is no attempt to be comprehensive; in fact, my aim is to be highly selective. To find these papers:
IEEE/ACM Transactions on Networking
IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications
ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security
IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy
Usenix Security Symposium
ACM Transactions on Information and System Security