Friday, November 25, 2011

Qualities of a Successful PhD Student

 Prof. Matt Might of the University of Utah has lost of valuable advice to grad students. This one is short, but a must-read!

You should also read his page more often.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Authoring a PhD Thesis: Google Book

Patrick Dunleavy's book on Authoring a PhD is a good resource for those of you who have done most of your work, and are planning to write the thesis soon.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Where do we get stuck?

If you are doing a PhD, or a research masters, there are a few places where you might have problems. Before getting to details, I will try to list them:
  1. Managing time
  2. Deciding your thesis topic
  3. Interacting with your supervisor/s
  4. Writing
  5. Presentations
A long list, isn't it? Fortunately, things are not that bad. Most students have trouble with only a couple of them. In coming posts, I will try to provide you a few tips on how you can do these things better. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Experiments and Results

 We researchers do experiments and evaluations all the time. Most of the time, these don't give us the results that we wish for. For example, if we design a computer system that can recognize pretty girls by monitoring a camera, it will also recognize several grandmas as pretty girls :-p.

We usually have two choices when this happens. If we are a professor, we can refuse to let our students go on vacation until they improve the results. If we are not, we tinker with the system until the results are more acceptable.

However, there are some occasions where we get really good results. This is supposed to be good, but it actually freaks us out. Most of the time, such good results are a sign of a silly mistake during the experiment, or forgetting to consider something very basic.

A good example of this is the recent news about neutrinos traveling faster than light. Now they have found that they have forgotten that the GPS satellites are moving objects (oh well, it is not like they are rotating around our heads and we see that all the time. Can't blame anyone for forgetting that :-p).

If you are the Einstein-aware type, you can read about the neutrino mystery here:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Steve, Apple and Research Funding

Computer Science conferences have a list of sponsors, that includes almost all big IT companies. Google, Microsoft, HP, etc, etc. There is one notable exclusion. Apple.

We conducted a thorough survey (okay, asked around) to find out why. Here are the possible reasons:
  1. A survey by Apple revealed that the total financial value of the return from multimedia research in the last five years is 51 cents.
  2. Steve's notebook already has all the "novel" ideas that we presented in the last 15 years, and will be presenting in the coming decade.
  3. Some researchers just wait until Steve comes up with a new device so that they can do research on it. So, they are always behind Apple.
Bye, Steve, we miss you more than all the computer science researchers put together!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Best Papers Vs. Rejected Papers

Almost all research conferences give a "Best Paper" award. Let me explain how this is normally done.
  1. If the reviewer thinks that the paper looks very good, he names it as a "best paper candidate."
  2. A few members from the conference organizing committee looks at the best paper candidates, attends the presentations, and select one.
So, the decision is on the hands of about 5 or 6 people. So, let's see how reviewers select a best paper candidate:
  1. If the reviewer is a student (who was asked by the supervisor to do the review), he usually avoids nominating it as a best paper candidate ('not my business'). However, those who do will nominate papers with large numbers of equations that they could not understand at all. Occasionally, they might nominate a paper that the supervisor had good comments about.
  2. If the reviewer is a postdoc, he nominates papers that come from his funding agent, his country, same national as him although from another country, and so on. Most papers are "anonymized" and reviewers are supposed to not know the authors, but practically we know where the papers are coming from.
  3. If the reviewer is a senior professor, he might recommend a  very good paper or a very bad paper. The selection is purely random.
The committee members will usually give an award to a paper coming from a sponsor of the conference. After all, who wants to lose funding or sponsorships during hard economic times?

At ICME 2011, a multimedia conference, we are allowed to vote for the best paper. Nobody counts the number of votes each attendee gives, but the decision is not solely based on votes. Not sure how useful this method will be.

When a paper gets the Best Paper Award:
  1. The authors get a bit of money
  2. They get another sentence on their resume that might allow them to get a better job, get tenured etc.
I am yet to know a best paper that actually resulted in something great. But let me finish by mentioning two rejected papers. They both ended up becoming great things that we all need:
  1. Google's search algorithm
  2. World Wide Web (the Internet, the one that we cannot live without now)