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[article index] [email:matt.might] [@mattmight] [rss] The attrition rate in Ph.D. school is high. Anywhere from a third to half will fail. In fact, there's a disturbing consistency to grad school failure. I'm supervising a lot of new grad students this semester, so for their sake, I'm cataloging the common reasons for failure. Read on for the top ten reasons students fail out of Ph.D. school.
Focus on grades or coursework
No one cares about grades in grad school. There's a simple formula for the optimal GPA in grad school: Optimal GPA = Minimum Required GPA + ε Anything higher implies time that could have been spent on research was wasted on classes. Advisors might even raise an eyebrow at a 4.0 During the first two years, students need to find an advisor, pick a research area, read a lot of papers and try small, exploratory research projects. Spending too much time on coursework distracts from these objectives.
Learn too much
Some students go to Ph.D. school because they want to learn. Let there be no mistake: Ph.D. school involves a lot of learning. But, it requires focused learning directed toward an eventual thesis. Taking (or sitting in on) non-required classes outside one's focus is almost always a waste of time, and it's always unnecessary. By the end of the third year, a typical Ph.D. student needs to have read about 50 to 150 papers to defend the novelty of a proposed thesis. Of course, some students go too far with the related work search, reading so much about their intended area of research that they never start that research.
Advisors will lose patience with "eternal" students that aren't focused on the goal--making a small but significant contribution to human knowledge. In the interest of personal disclosure, I suffered from the "want to learn everything" bug when I got to Ph.D. school. I took classes all over campus for my first two years: Arabic, linguistics, economics, physics, math and even philosophy. In computer science, I took lots of classes in areas that had nothing to do with my research. The price of all this "enlightenment" was an extra year on my Ph.D. I only got away with this detour because while I was doing all that, I was a TA, which meant I wasn't wasting my advisor's grant funding.
Perfectionism is a tragic affliction in academia, since it tends to hit the brightest the hardest. Perfection cannot be attained. It is approached in the limit. Students that polish a research paper well past the point of diminishing returns, expecting to hit perfection, will never stop polishing. Students that can't begin to write until they have the perfect structure of the paper mapped out will never get started. For students with problems starting on a paper or dissertation, my advice is that writing a paper should be an iterative process: start with an outline and some rough notes; take a pass over the paper and improve it a little; rinse; repeat. When the paper changes little with each pass, it's at diminishing returns. One or two more passes over the paper are all it needs at that point. "Good enough" is better than "perfect."
Chronic perfectionists also tend to be procrastinators. So do eternal students with a drive to learn instead of research. Ph.D. school seems to be a magnet for every kind of procrastinator. Unfortunately, it is also a sieve that weeds out the unproductive. Procrastinators should check out my tips for boosting productivity.
Go rogue too soon/too late
the advisor should be hands on.D. It's important for students to maintain contact with committee members in the latter years of a Ph. Reading through all of the related work takes biblical levels of devotion. The end brings an ecclesiastical robe and a clerical hood. And. Toward the end. They should be capable of selecting and attacking research problems of appropriate size and scope. school is neither school nor work. Ph. On the other hand. The trick is getting the timing right. Treat Ph. nights and weekends.D. Once the inversion happens. she needs to "go rogue" and start choosing the topics to investigate and initiating the paper write-ups.D.D.D. continuing to act only when ordered to act past a certain point will strain an advisor that expects to start seeing a "return" on an investment of time and hard-won grant money. doling out specific topics and helping to craft early papers. Students that treat Ph. students to be proto-professors with intimate knowledge of the challenges in their field. Going rogue before the student knows how to choose good topics and write well will end in wasted paper submissions and a grumpy advisor. They need to know what a student is doing. Ph. Early on. students forget that a committee has to sign off on their Ph. school like school or work Ph.The advisor-advisee dynamic needs to shift over the course of a degree. Solving problems and writing up papers well enough to pass peer review demands contemplative labor on days. school even comes with built-in vows of poverty and obedience. She needs to do so even if her advisor is insisting she do something else. . a jealous hobby. school is a monastic experience. Advisors expect near-terminal Ph.D. or end up ABD.D. Ignore the committee Some Ph.D. the student should know more than the advisor about her topic.D. school like a 9-5 endeavor are the ones that take 7+ years to finish.
however. He got it wrong.D. but I've seen a shouting match between a committee member and a defender where they disagreed over the metrics used for evaluation of an experiment. This committee member warned the student at his proposal about his choice of metrics. Aim too low Some students look at the weakest student to get a Ph. it is not the final undertaking.It's also easy to forget advice from a committee member since they're not an everyday presence like an advisor. And.D. Einstein's Ph.D. Aiming low leaves no room for uncertainty. rarely forget the advice they give. Aim too high A Ph. He ignored that warning. to escape was probably repeatedly unlucky with research topics. It doesn't usually happen.D.D. And. It took him over ten years to finish his Ph. dissertation was a principled calculation meant to estimate Avogadro's number. . seems like a major undertaking from the perspective of the student. does not have to cure cancer or enable cold fusion. He was lucky: it added only one more semester to his Ph. The weakest Ph. It's the start of a scientific career.D. This attitude guarantees that no professorship will be waiting for them. It is. was in. A Ph. and failed his defense.D. He was told to scrap his entire dissertaton and start over. and had to settle for a contingency plan. Committee members.D. based on the draft of his dissertation. By a factor of 3. He overruled his committee's advice.D. At best a handful of chemists remember what Einstein's Ph. He still got a Ph. it all but promises failure. Another student I knew in grad school was told not to defend. But. in their department and aim for that. research is always uncertain.
with reasonable confidence. she has defended.A Ph. you get a lifetime supply of ammo. Once a student has two good publications. Once you know how to shoot. Plus. pick the topic that's easiest to do but which still retains your interest. and if she staples her publications together. Impact is something students should aim for over a lifetime of research. three publications is nowhere near enough to get a professorship--even at a crappy school. I fantasize about buying an industrial-grade stapler capable of punching through three journal papers and calling it The Dissertator. If she draws a unifying theme.D. thesis proposal. it's about enough to get a Ph. If they can. But. Of course. you can keep shooting until you hit it.D. if she convinces her committee that she can extrapolate a third..D. she has a dissertation. is about as likely as hitting a bullseye the very first time you've fired a gun. Some advisors can give you a list of potential research topics. is a small but significant contribution to human knowledge. . with a Ph. Coursework and qualifiers are meant to undo admissions mistakes. qualifiers. the real milestones are three good publications connected by a (perhaps loosely) unified theme. Once a student has three publications.D. Miss the real milestones Most schools require coursework. In practice.D. she has a thesis. she has a thesis proposal. All that matters is that you get one. It's the training that counts--not the topic. These are the requirements on paper. thesis defense and dissertation. in. that she can repeatedly conduct research of sufficient quality to meet the standards of peer review. A student that has published by the time she takes her qualifiers is not a mistake. It does not matter at all what you get your Ph. Making a big impact with a Ph.
Faculty. Done properly. rarely pass without an objection requiring a modification to the proposal. We are agreeing that if a student does X.A thesis proposal is a contract [article index] [email:matt.D. Everything else in the proposal (related work. however. Y and Z. and So what? during a defense. challenges) exists to support the plausibility of the thesis and the plan. We are never going to yield such rights passively. then we shall grant a Ph. When faculty sign off on a proposal. Qualifying exams are just exams. All good thesis proposals contain two ingredients: a clearly-defined thesis. No advisor should ever let her student stand for a defense unless the advisor is convinced the student will pass. a good proposal grants immunity against remarks like • • • I thought you said you were going to do X. treat proposals like contracts. read on for guidance. as outlined in the proposal. Students can beat them using the same tactics they used for exams as undergrads. A proper thesis defense should be a rigorous formality. Thesis proposals. If you need advice on how to do a thesis proposal. on the other hand.might] [@mattmight] [rss] Of the three official milestones1 in Ph. school--qualifying exams.D. and a specific plan for demonstrating that thesis. A thesis proposal is an opportunity for students to obtain protection and assurance. we are giving up some of our rights to object later on.D. thesis proposal and thesis defense--the trickiest is the thesis proposal. Thesis statement . Too few students take full advantage of this opportunity. I'd like you to also do Y before I sign off. Students tend to invert the importance of the proposal and the defense: they see the proposal as the formality and the defense as the challenge. prior work. It should restore some of the certainty lost in the middle years of a Ph.
. the committee can determine whether the thesis is defensible. theory. the student will have to defend six theses instead of one. The thesis is what the dissertation will exert its mass to defend. those were just the means. Utility is subjective. feasible and useful. which meant I had to find an application of environment analysis for each of my committee members. But. just to make sure the student and the committee are in total agreement about what the thesis means. experimentation and application. Theory and experimentation defend feasibility. 2. Related work defends novelty. my committee would still ask the questions. some day. My thesis statement doesn't say anything about what technical mechanisms I used to prove environment analysis feasible. When a student doesn't provide an explicit thesis statement. if successful. Application defends usefulness.A thesis is a single sentence. "So what?" Putting it in my thesis forced me to explicitly defend against that question. My advice is to make the statement as short as possible: how much fat can you trim from it before it's too general too defend with your work? The thesis statement answers the question. Environment analysis was the end. defensible sentence. each committee member will infer a thesis statement that aligns with his or her prejudices. 3. abstract counting and abstract garbage collection to support my thesis. Of course.) The weakest part of my thesis statement is the claim of usefulness. (I developed abstract frame strings. More precisely. declarative. so that while reading and listening. 1. The thesis proposal document and the proposal presentation should place the thesis statement toward the front. Example: My thesis My thesis statement was. and whether the proposed research. would constitute a valid defense of the thesis. it is an active." This thesis segmented my dissertation into four parts: related work. "Environment analysis of higher-order languages is novel. "What did humanity learn as a consequence of this dissertation?" It's useful to carefully define each term in a thesis statement after it's given. and then. even if I took out that claim.
The plan details the conditions of that contract. and failure is always a possibility. give me a Ph. submitted for publication. I detailed 16 distinct applications of environment analysis. e. Plan Students need to realize that a proposal is a contract. Relative spacing between dates signals the estimated size of the challenge for each milestone. putting it in my thesis forced me to defend novelty in my dissertation. it needs to explain how the student will conduct validation of that claim. and a professorship" at one end to "back to the drawing board" at the other. Nothing of importance should ever be left to the mercy of a committee. so that if a committee member wanted to argue it wasn't useful. They just have to be there. If the plan contains a claim to be validated. A plan should contain the possibility of failure. survey completed. they had to argue that all sixteen applications were useless. she leaves herself vulnerable to the committee's interpretation of her plan. A good plan also contains contingencies.Ultimately. Again. If she leaves the plan vague or inspecific. her defense will go smoothly. The dates don't matter all that much. Real research is inherently unpredictable. The modifier novel is also unnecessary. If failure is not possible. it must not be research. chapter written.. but a tree. A good plan also provides the criteria for recognizing the completion of a milestone. None of my committee members were willing to take up the challenge. Committees will look for novelty whether it is claimed implicitly or explicitly.g. A good plan contains a fictional schedule--a list of remaining milestones and anticipated dates of completion. What if a claim ends up being false? What if it turns out to be infeasible in time or in cost to perform the evaluation of one of the claims? A good plan is not a sequence. The proposal needs to create the impression that failure is unlikely. If a student words the plan right and gets it approved. accepted for publication. The leaves of the tree form a spectrum from "best possible outcome. Supporting ingredients .D.
The other three components in a good proposal are (1) a survey of related work. Pragmatics A good thesis proposal document can be structured like a proposal for NSF funding: a onepage proposal summary. busy committee members get crankier. As proposals drag on. A summary of prior work gives the committee a sense of what the student is capable of.D. which supports the plausibility of both the thesis and the plan. A review of the research challenges and proposed circumvention strategies supports the intellectual merit of the thesis. Cranky faculty members revert to their basest instinct: being argumentative. Proposals longer than fifteen pages are unlikely to be read in full. It's important to propose before all of the work is finished. and trigger intense scrutiny. Wielding the proposal At a student's defense. A survey of related work supports the novelty of the thesis.The remainder of a proposal exists to support the thesis and the plan. As a rule of thumb. Good proposals give the impression that between one-third and two-thirds of the work remains to be completed. (2) a summary of prior work by the student and (3) a review of research challenges. Running long is a well-tested strategy for having extra conditions placed on a proposal. If it's truly all done. Thesis proposals claiming that all of the work is already completed will be interpreted (rightly or wrongly) as arrogant. a student should pretend the last third of it isn't. she should put the thesis statement up at the start. each 5 minutes past an hour adds 3 weeks worth of work to a Ph. a fifteen-page proposal description and an extensive bibliography. . Psychologically. it's going to be hard for the committee to say she must do more work after they're reminded of the plan they agreed to. The presentation itself should be about 30 to 45 minutes. and then circle the path through the plan she ended up taking.
3 qualities of successful Ph. in hand.D. "What makes a Ph.D. they're neither sufficient nor necessary in science. must be smart." I tell them.D. students. Moreover. school can tell you: lots of stupid people make it across the finish line and leave.D.D. As my advisor used to tell me. What doesn't matter There's a ruinous misconception that a Ph. Ph. But.D. but I replace "getting a Ph..--I looked at the people dumber than me finishing theirs. dammit.D. "Smart" qualities like brilliance and quick-thinking are irrelevant in Ph." with "obtaining grant funding.") . Students that have made it through so far on brilliance and quick-thinking alone wash out of Ph. and I would think to myself. a fresh crop of Ph.D. Let there be no doubt: brilliance and quick-thinking are valuable in other pursuits.D.D. school or you're thinking about it. it won't get the job done. students arrives. students succeed and fail at four universities. There's no speed limit on how fast you can jump through all the hoops. if that idiot can get a Ph. read on. A smart person would know better than to get a Ph." (Since becoming a professor. If you're in Ph. student successful?" Having watched Ph.D. "Whenever I felt depressed in grad school--when I worried I wasn't going to finish my Ph. students: Perseverance.D. as anyone going through Ph. tenacity and cogency. I finding myself repeating a corollary of this observation.D. This can't be true. Since I'm actively looking for Ph. I infer that success in graduate school hinges on three qualities: perseverance. But.D. tenacity and cogency [article index] [email:matt.?" This is't the right question. school takes as long as you want it to.D. Certainly. school.D. programs with nagging predictability. A better question to ask is.might] [@mattmight] [rss] Every fall. so can I. being smart helps. I get the same question a dozen times every year: "How long does it take to get a Ph. "Ph.D.
The skill you accrete during this trauma is the ability to imagine plausible solutions.D. If finding a problem is hard. (Some egos seem to recover afterward. checking to see if others think what you're doing qualifies as research yet. You must be willing to fail for days on end. it wouldn't be open. But. is solving an open problem.) This phase of the Ph. school will fix it. You won't know how your mind does this.) It just will. for months on end and maybe even for years on end. of course. Every field is brimming with open problems. You can take classes and read papers to figure out where the boundary lies. The real hard part. For students that excelled as undergraduates. Since acceptance rates at good venues range between 8% and 25%. when it comes time to actually extend that boundary. if someone could tell you how to solve it..D. A lot of Ph. demands perseverance--in the face of uncertainty. there is a fierce (yet civil) competition to get them. most or all of your papers will be rejected. you will. students get depressed when they reach the boundary. you must meaningfully extend the boundary of human knowledge. the sudden and constant barrage of rejection and failure is jarring. you have to be willing to fail from the moment you wake to the moment your head hits the pillow. you must convince a panel of experts guarding the boundary that you have done so. To survive this period. If you have an ego problem. After all.D. in the face of rejection and in the face of frustration. (I don't know how mine does it. More exactly. and to estimate the likelihood that an approach will work. As you acquire this skill. That's easy. You just have to hope that you'll eventually figure out how to get your work published. you have to get into your bunker and prepare for the onslaught of failure. your mind will intuit solutions to problems in ways that it didn't and couldn't before. school.D.D. you'll be launching fledgling papers at peer reviewers. Finding a problem to solve is rarely a problem itself. If you persevere to the end of this phase. because there's no longer a test to cram for or a procedure to follow. Since there are few tenure-track faculty positions available. This is the point (2-3 years in) where attrition peaks. you need an additional quality: tenacity.Perseverance To escape with a Ph. Ph. With a vengeance. Tenacity To get a tenure-track professorship after Ph. . If you stick with it long enough and work at it hard enough. you're in the wrong field.
000 hours of writing by writing papers. in a perfect world. None of that is going to happen by itself. Science is as much an act of persuasion as it is an act of discovery. You will have to write compelling abstracts and introductions that hook the reader and make her feel like investing time in your work. meaningful contribution. Cogency Finally. Once you've made a discovery. You will have to learn how to balance clarity and precision. (Yes. As you write. you want them eagerly awaiting the next episode. This is harder to do than it seems. . forge relationships with scholars in your field. if you're going to do Ph. When you give conference talks. the better. there's a good chance you won't realize that you want to be a professor until the end of grad school. A Ph. This is a skill that they forge in grad school. Simply showing experts "the data" isn't going to work. you have to spoon-feed the experts. so that your ideas come across without either ambiguity or stifling formality. There are few good reasons to get a Ph. You'll never even get close to 10.) Instead. 10. even aggressively. the only way to get better at writing is to do a lot of it.D. you have to persuade experts that you've made a legitimate. Generally. a competitive faculty candidate will have about 10 publications. Unfortunately. So. The sooner acquired. Researchers in your field need to know who you are and what you're doing. student must have the ability to clearly and forcefully articulate their ideas--in person and in writing. You will also need to actively. To become professor.D.In computer science.000 hours is the magical number folks throw around to become an expert at something. You have to solve several. Ironically. and get each solution published. grad students don't arrive with the ability to communicate well. this would be sufficient.D. an arc connecting your results should emerge. proving to faculties that your research has a profitable path forward. You may have to go "on tour" and give engaging presentations to get people excited about your research. a good Ph. less than 33% acceptance rate). They need to be interested in what you're doing too. school at all.D. and 3-5 of those will be at "selective" or "Tier 1" venues (crudely. "Because you want to become a professor" might be the only good one. you have to consciously minimize the amount of time and cognitive pain it takes for them to realize you've made a discovery. As you exit graduate school. do it right. for your own sake. by itself won't even get you a job interview anymore. you can't have just one discovery or solve just one open problem.
. (Toward the end of a Ph. it's not uncommon to break 12 hours of writing in a day.000 hours by writing about 5 hours a day.) That's why I recommend that new students start a blog.D. Practicing the act of writing is all that matters. Even if no one else reads it. . You don't even have to write about your research. you can hit 10. if you take six years to get through grad school.Assuming negligible practice writing for public consumption before graduate school. start one.
I'll offer my experience with doing pull-ups. Procrastinate productively. Invest in making your work-space a comfortable. Use a citation/paper-management system.Contents Jump to: 1. so I did some pull-ups. My philosophy: Optimize transaction costs. Every time I passed by. for whatever reason. Work from a laptop. Salvage dead time with technology. 6. People are shocked when I tell them I'm lazy. It's been on the floor for months. so I attached a portable pull-up bar to the door outside our bedroom. and I haven't done a pull-up since. I exploit it.] In short. because I saw the pull-up bar all the time. which makes it all the more important to force yourself to go into work every day. and that ten seconds has become a transaction cost. Power-use a smartphone. Get rid of your TV. [This is the hardest principle for engineers to accept. Use a calendar system. the transaction cost of a pull-up was near zero. my high-level advice is: 1. and partner with specialists when you need to do something else. I wanted to start doing pull-ups. enjoyable place to be: . I try to make sure that the laziest thing I can do at any moment is what I should be doing. Minimize collaboration costs. My philosophy: Optimize transaction costs Distilled into empirically-wrought principles. Turn off instant messaging. 14. 3. Erect transaction costs to engaging in counter-productive behavior. I didn't have to remember to do pull-ups. 13. Moreover. I don't try to change the fact that I'm lazy. 10. Iterate toward perfection. 9. 2. 3. 7. Eliminate temptation to waste time. productive. 12. 2. 8. As an anecdote. It would take about ten seconds to re-install the bar. One day. the bar was taken down and placed on the floor. Don't work from home Home is full of distractions. We feel that if we can do something. Consolidate email accounts. but I'm often in a rush. Don't work from home. mold your life so that the path of least resistance is the path of maximum productivity. Reduce transaction costs to engaging in productive behavior. Do what you're best at doing. Minimize opportunity cost. Academics have flexible schedules. we should. 11. 5. 4.
selecting just the few I want to read in more detail. Somehow. I highly recommend the Kinesis Advantage . and it's habit-forming. I use RSS and Google Reader to funnel all of the sites I read into a single stream. My default behavior when I wasn't doing something else became to reflexively type cnn. and on top of that. I've never developed the Facebook addiction others seem to have. 4. I started blocking access to them completely by putting them into my /etc/hosts file. (It took me months to break the habit of typing in my favorite URLs. I use LeechBlock for Firefox to limit browsing my time-wasters to exactly these time periods. and I'd fall quickly back into my reading addiction. and then I'd unblock a site. Restrict access to sites to optimal hours.com. reddit. Salvage dead time with technology . Dump polling as a web-surfing style. It's hard to do work at home when references are at work. Periodically polling web sites for updates is inefficient. As always.com or boingboing. etc. inevitably.net into my browser.com. Psychologists have long known that randomly rewarding a subject for good behavior leads to the strongest conditioning. It's hard to find online news that matches the caliber of these newspapers in their reporting. Subscribe to dead-tree newspapers. Three techniques have helped me manage the habit: 1. and the habit gets reinforced. This is a forcing function more than anything else. But. voting sites. One last piece of advice for breaking a browsing habit: prepare yourself for withdrawal symptoms. To stop losing time to these sites. which makes it less tempting to go looking. 3. but I haven't had to take it to this level. Eliminate temptation to waste time I developed a serious post-9/11 online news-reading addiction. but on the 101st check. learning moderation is key. Get a high-quality ergonomic keyboard. I found myself sorely tempted to circumvent my own blocks on an hourly basis after I first put them in place. Utilize every anti-circumvention feature available at first. I'd want to check on some news.1. with the longest period to extinction when the reward is removed. you get a nugget. and I can tear through hundreds of headlines and snippets. forum sites. You may check a site 100 times with no updates. blogs.7pm.) Now. 3. I just check the reader stream. and the The Economist on weekends. I read the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times during the week. Move your books into your work-space. I also use SafariBlock for Safari to block access to the sites I regularly visit. I read everything: mainstream media sites. and slowly disable them once you've "detoxed" from your browsing habit. 2. Make it a fun place to be. Others have suggested using Apple's parental-control features on yourself. in a few minutes. Get an ergonomic office chair. Once LeechBlock lets me in to my sites. Nothing beats the Aeron chair. Decorate your work-space. fark. 2. even when I knew I would see a blocked screen. I limit myself to 45 minutes maximum per day across all of these sites. My brain is slowest in the morning and right after I get home from work around 6pm .
I tried about one new email client each year: Outlook. to even a month. Netflix and iTunes. Originally. Your eyes will thank you. but I quickly grew to prefer its interface. thin tablet holding all of the research papers you have read (and the ones you want to read) salvages a lot of otherwise wasted time. . the iPad is better than the Kindle for almost everything. the Kindle's crisp digital ink still has the edge. GMail takes a major step out of migration to new computers. there are now low-transaction-cost devices which make it easy for an academic to be productive the moment dead time begins: eReaders like the Kindle. I don't miss TV at all. pine. Over the course of a year. Through IMAP. For extended reading on the iPad. the iPad. waiting before a lecture. Apple Mail. the iPhone and. I set up GMail as a spam filter for mutt. For the last four years. Thunderbird. mutt. For years. and I don't miss emails. so I have one place to check. Consolidate email accounts All of my email accounts forward into GMail. for reading. Being able to carry around a small. But. particularly peer-reviewing for conferences and journals. and for some. dead time adds up to weeks.Life is full of dead time: waiting in offices. I keep all of my emails synchronized with my iPhone and backed up to my hard drive with Apple Mail. With sites like Hulu. you don't really need a cable bill anymore. of course. Get rid of your TV I noticed leaving the TV on in the background could sap productivity all day long. These devices reclaim a lot of dead time with productive reading. waiting on the bus. Fortunately. I've been totally satisfied with GMail: 1. I even uploaded eight years of email history to GMail so it would all be quickly and easily searchable. hotmail. use the Accessibility controls to invert the display to white on black. In my opinion. Evolution. waiting in airports.
Use your laptop as your primary hard drive. I used to run my own SMTP/POP servers for my domains. 3.net). the changes are reflected immediately on GMail and vice versa. 4. GMail allows synchronization through IMAP. really) on your laptop. If something about GMail bothers you. When choosing a laptop. Until recently. The same advice for web-browsing also applies to email. Big second monitors have been proven to boost productivity. my virtual server went down after four years of uptime. GMail respects power users with flexible filters and keyboard shortcuts. optimize size and battery life for mobility. About 100 of those reach my inbox. If you have sensitive email (or any sensitive information. Note to privacy hounds: If you object to handing a company like Google all of your email. if I send. Use a server for number-crunching. too. SAMBA or AFS works about as well. I had all my domains back up and running within a couple hours after setting them up on Google Apps. you can fix it rather quickly. 4. realize that your incoming and outgoing email passes unencrypted through multiple intermediate servers and routers. GMail has a public. 5. mouse and monitor. 7. Google. so you can share the same view of your email through multiple computers and multiple clients. and a lost/stolen laptop is less catastrophic. documented Greasemonkey scripting interface. Your ISP already harvests all of your packets for advertisers. Make your laptop your centralized data store to avoid synchronization headaches. For instance. Constantly checking email wastes time. Work from a laptop 1. 10. Labels are strictly more powerful than folders for email cataloging. ditto. GMail has excellent spam filters. Install a notification tool (like GMail notifier). so you can keep personal backups of all your email. While I still had a desktop. you are doing it wrong. Many Greasemonkey scripts for GMail already exist.000 spams per month. and you're not encrypting your hard drive with strong encryption and a good password.2. Then. I get 100. I exported my home directory over NFS from my laptop to my desktop. read or sort email on my iPhone. and anyone else that wants it. GMail can view PDF. Accessing email while away is easy. Excel and PowerPoint files without an external viewer. . 2. This makes it a lot easier to upgrade my server now. GMail allows export through POP. maximize harddrive space. 5. and backup your laptop on a weekly basis. taking half a day's email with it. so you only check your email when you get a new one. 3. 9. If you "care about privacy" but you're sending or receiving anything sensitive over email without encrypting it with something like PGP. Get an external keyboard. 6. Buy a separate power adapter for every location where you regularly use a laptop. Word. Google Apps is a simple way to manage email for a private domain (like might. Apple's built-in Time Machine software makes backing up completely automatic and transparent. Properly encrypting your data is the only way to keep it safe from prying eyes. already has most of your email. Prove this to yourself by sitting done near a public wi-fi access point and running ethereal. 8.
Power-use a smartphone Smartphones like the iPhone and those running Android are a quantum leap ahead of their predecessors in terms of capabilities. my schedule is packed with a random assortment of appointments and places to be. Of those three. Minimize collaboration costs 1. SMS or email. email. Make it real by branding your research group: give it a name. but it makes it too easy to be interrupted. there are great citation-management tools to automate much of the hassle now. This set-up takes a lot of the overhead out of staying organized that lazy folks like myself are prone to avoid. Use a citation/paper-management system In grad school. If you don't have to synchronize your calendar with someone else. net-connected portable device with access to GPS. two-way. Tools like SVN and CVS allow multiple people to work on the same document simultaneously. interruptions are fatal to good research. CVS was the old standard.Use a calendar system As a graduate student. Zotero and CiteULike. and in science. give the project a product name or a code name. The people that actually need to be in touch with you can call. web sites. 2. Exploit collaboration tools for writing papers. in part because there are apps available to do just about anything you can think of doing on a small. svn) for your research group. Set up a virtual dedicated server to run services (ssh. As a professor and a father. Most of the time. I recommend whatever the cheapest plan on linode. I'm partial to the iPhone. My wife and I synchronize our calendars using Google Calendar. I managed a BibTeX file by hand. forums. we also have real-time. I've tried Mendeley. 3. and my BibTeX file would get out of sync. Running a research group is a lot like running as small business. this system would start to collapse. shared disk. life was simple enough that I could keep what I had to do and all the major deadlines in my head. the Filofax system is a great pencil-and-paper alternative. Whenever I started working on multiple projects with multiple people. wikis.com is for this purpose. Fortunately. Using NuevaSync (free). I prefer CiteULike: . Subversion (SVN) has been accepted across many academic disciplines. it can integrate changes without asking the user what to do when two people modified the same file. over-the-air syncing for our calendars and our iPhones. Turn off instant messaging Instant messaging technology is great. (Like U Combinator!) If you're working a project.
5. Procrastinate productively If you must procrastinate. Perfectionism is crippling to productivity.1. RPT is based on good conferences rather than good journals. Send this to a workshop to get feedback on the idea. Iterate toward perfection Treat perfection like a process. One good-enough paper that got submitted is worth an infinite number of perfect papers that don't exist. provide some examples and motivate intuition. try procrastinating on meta-work like trying out things from the Academic Productivity Blog. when you've had time to distill the essence and the impact of the work. The publication structure of computer science even rewards the iterative process. CiteULike does the best job of accurately importing citation information." and after that. keep in mind that workshops are meant for preliminary research.] 3. not preliminary papers. 4. I just think it's unrealistic to expect it. 1. 2. If the idea looks like a good one. If enthusiasm for the idea is high. I don't think it's bad to want perfection. I'm not so sure one should be proud of perfectionism. "better than good enough. make iterations easy: 1. 3. [In computer science. so you can freely move or collaborate with another citation-management system like BibDesk. Send this to a good conference. write the journal article a year or so later. To achieve an iterative work-flow. A workshop paper still has to be a complete. I've known academics that can't even start projects because of perfectionism. Otherwise. if there's time. create a blank presentation file. try to procrastinate on something with a later deadline rather than something frivolous. If you can't bring yourself to procrastinate on work. Forget that the word perfect exists. Also." if time permits. not an achievable state. Mold an idea until it's well-formed. start on it right away: create a blank document file. empirically validate it and firm up the theory. wellwritten paper. I often spend the day before a submission deadline working on my next paper or grant proposal. 2. I know some academics that defend their lack of productivity by proudly proclaiming themselves to be perfectionists. start drafting the email (with To: field . do preliminary empirical validation. Once you know you're going to do something. CiteULike supports importing citation information automatically from many existing scientific databases. CiteULike BibTeX files for a user or group can be pulled from a URL on the command line with tools like wget. CiteULike makes group collaboration easy. The metric academics need to hit is "good enough. as I'm sure it does in other fields as well. one can sink endless amounts of time into a project long after the scientific mission was accomplished. CiteULike exports in plaintext.
and only n free days are left. you're moved to work on it. . 2. the transaction cost of doing a little more work is near-zero.blank). Then. if at any point in the future. Don't pay attention to deadline ordering unless it's an n-day project. Work on a project whenever you're moved to work on it.
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