More About the Seminar

How do you start on the process of PhD research, if you have not done it before? What are the processes you will be expected to follow and tasks you will be expected to perform (without necessarily being told how to)? How do you know when you have become ready to “do research”? Is P=NP?! We can’t tell you the answer to that last one, but we hope to help you with the others in this seminar!

Objectives and Outcomes

Doctoral research students form a critical part of this department, as of any research active department. In the last decade, we have significantly increased the size of our Ph.D. program, and with the added size, we are putting in place additional mechanisms to help our students succeed, that will scale to this larger body of doctoral students. This research preparation course is one part of the improved first-year Ph.D. experience we are creating.

In particular, we have observed that while most of our doctoral students do very well, increasingly there are a few each year who are starting their research activities significantly late. Our objective is to help provide all our incoming doctoral students get with the activities and processes of research as early as possible. Getting engaged and staying continuously engaged in research is the best way to achieve success in your research career – not just during your Ph.D., but beyond.

This seminar was created to help you do that. The main objective of this course, then, is simply to help our first-year Ph.D. students get an early start on research. For such an objective, the following outcomes can be defined in general terms.

After taking this seminar, students should be able to:

  • Describe the life-cycle of a research project,
  • Describe the process of research archival and dissemination,
  • Describe the structure of a research paper, and identify specific structural components by reading a research paper,
  • Criticize research papers, posters, videos, for effectiveness of communication,
  • Evaluate proposed approaches to sample research projects for appropriateness of methodology, completenss of study, and correctness of conclusions from data,
  • Apply standard methodologies to sample research problems posed,
  • Produce professionally written work products for all of the above.

Mechanisms

The best way to learn is by doing, and it is the only way to learn something which is essentially a craft. As a researcher, you have to:

  1. Learn about the processes of your craft,
  2. Try out these processes yourself, see what works and what does not,
  3. Manage (prioritize) your time and effort, so you can:
  4. Keep practicing your craft.

(1) above can be imparted by lectures and examples, and this is how we will start the semester; we will also go back to this “lecture mode” a couple of times later in the semester as we start upon distinctly new topics. But the most value you can get out of this course is in (2), so we will give you samples of real research project, papers, posters, reviews, throughout the semester, on which you can sharpen your skills. We cannot really help you with (3), except by allowing you to take this course for credit (and thereby freeing up a course-worth of time in your schedule); but we will try to remind you to do it a couple of times. Finally, (4) is the rest of your research life beyond this course – this will be up to you; initially your research advisor will help, but at the end of the day, your research success will depend on you continuing to prioritize your research work.

Even in learning about something as fun as research (think solving puzzles or riddles for a living), one-way lecturing can quickly become boring, so you will all look like this:

so even the initial sessions will frequently involve class discussions. Think of it like a book club or reading group: an ongoing conversation among a group of people with varying degrees of experience in research, discussing and sharing what worked for them, and diving in to try them out (with possibly occasional guest speakers or session conductors). Then we can all enjoy it, and look like this: