Spence Green

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I work at Lilt. In addition to computers and languages, my interests include travel, running, and scuba diving. more...

Archive for the ‘Grad School’ Category

Grad School Principles to Live By

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Having been admitted to the Ph.D program for Fall 2011, I’ve finally allowed myself to think in broader strokes about the next few years. I’ve also been talking to anyone who will listen about how to structure a “successful” program. It turns out that success is specific to the individual, although a reasonable starting point is to settle the industry v. academia career question. Of course there are commonalities between the two trajectories: you must pass quals, you must write papers, you must complete a thesis. However, the end-goal should shape the nature of the research and how time is invested. Prospective professors should focus solely on a high-impact scientific contribution. It seems that networking opportunities, invitations to speak, and so on follow from doing respected work. Make a name for yourself.

The industry track is either easier or harder, depending on the time scale. If you want to spend your career in an industrial research lab, then you can do more practical grad school research, network at conferences, and do internships. However, if an executive role is the final objective, then it might be wise to include a b-school certificate, to collaborate with a company during grad school, and to take some non-technical courses.

Presently, I am working through these alternatives.

In my conversations with both peers and professors, a core set of principles has emerged that seem reliable irrespective of the career path. They are:

  1. Take classes, but no more than one per quarter: Stanford’s Ph.D program does not require coursework. As I did not have a thorough undergraduate training in my research field, this aspect of the system works against me. I need to take courses, but the challenge is to limit the interruption to my research.
  2. Work on two projects simultaneously, but no more: It is refreshing to switch projects when a barrier is encountered. The mind benefits. However, life is short; two is enough.
  3. There is no substitute for good research: It’s like cash in your checking account.
  4. Mind the technical foundation: Every project has an engineering component. I find that my mathematical and analytical skills erode when I spend too much time programming. A good way to workout those muscles regularly is to write “squibs,” or short pieces on a specific proof, idea, technique, etc. Writing is equivalent to implementing. If you can write it down, you know it.

Written by Spence

April 27th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

Posted in Academic,Grad School

Grad School Tips for AI People

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Today I listened to Profs. Daphne Koller, Andrew Ng, Sebastian Thrun, and Fei-Fei Li talk about how to succeed in grad school. The following agenda was set, although not all topics were covered during the hour:

  • Being a good grad student
    • What commonalities do great grad students share?
    • Clearly a lot of effort is required, but what sets the best apart?
    • What are common pitfalls that younger grad students encounter?
    • How can undergrads and masters students best prepare for a successful graduate career?
  • Mentoring and Recruiting
    • Advising students is one of the most important roles of a professor, and something that is difficult to learn.
    • How can you best direct the research of collaborators and other students (like CURIS)?
    • What are good methods for recruiting good students to supervise?
    • More concretely, what are some tips for interviewing potential students?
  • Life as a faculty member
    • What are your least favorite aspects of being a professor?
    • How does being a professor compare with other jobs like working in an industrial research lab or a startup?
    • Professors seem even more busy than grad students. Is it difficult to “have a life”? Sorry if this one sounds rude.
  • Getting a faculty job
    • What sets apart great faculty candidates from mediocre ones?
    • The obvious answer is the quality of your research, but what other aspects set people apart from the pack?
    • What are the common weaknesses of faculty candidates?
    • How do you give a good job talk?
    • Reference letters are also important – what can grad students do to get good letters?
    • What are some of the resources people use to find and apply for faculty jobs?

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Written by Spence

April 25th, 2011 at 9:39 pm

Posted in Academic,Grad School

You’re Not As Special As You Think You Are

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In a few months I will complete my master’s degree. Clearly I have learned little since, instead of getting a job and making money, I have decided to begin a Ph.D program next year. But one of the genuine insights from graduate school–and I strongly believe that you learn this lesson only in situ–is that I’m not as special as I thought I once was. Smart? The world is full of intelligent people. Hard-working? I sleep, which makes me comparatively lazy. Ambitious? Observe a faculty member. Well-traveled? Yeah, yeah, you can’t get into school anymore unless you speak Bantu and have crossed the Empty Quarter. Alone.

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Written by Spence

February 14th, 2010 at 11:30 pm