INFSCI 3099: Ph.D. Dissertation

Marek J. Druzdzel


You may want to browse through the description of the program of doctoral studies in Information Science. If you have not done so yet, read an excellent paper by Marie desJardins titled "How to Succeed in Graduate School: A Guide for Students and Advisors", available on line. It will provide you with invaluable hints about being a doctoral student and preparing to work on a doctoral dissertation. Another valuable pointer is the paper "Networking on the Network" written by Phil Agre. Another pointer to resources available on-line is ASGS: The Association for Support of Graduate Students. You might also want to look at the National Academy of Sciences' report "On Being a Scientist: Responsible Conduct in Research" . It gives a good taste of what doing science is about along with probing some basic ethical questions of the profession. I will restrict myself to a few remarks on the issue that I find one of the most important problems faced by doctoral students: starting early with research work. Undoubtedly Marie writes about it, but since I find it so important, I cannot help reiterating on it.

Funding for your studies

There are many ways of financing your doctoral studies and obtaining funding for your tuition and a stipend is generally easier than it is for undergraduate or M.S. studies. Often, your advisor will have acquired external research funding and can offer you a research assistantship (check the list of ongoing research projects within the Decision Systems Laboratory, which is my research group, and get in touch with me for currently availabile funds). As every project has its goals and deliverables, there are certain constraints on what work you will do. Normally your work will be close to your area of research and should ideally lead you to your dissertation. The department has a limited number of teaching fellowships and teaching assistantships, which require you to teach or assist a faculty member (not necessarily your advisor) in teaching. Normally, your work will be unrelated to your research and may slow down your academic progress. Therefore, if you advisor has no research funds for you, it is a good idea to explore the possibilities of obtaining funding for your studies on your own. A successful grant or fellowship application will give you much independence in terms of your work and will, in addition, be a very welcome point on your vita. It may be a good idea to talk to your advisor about your application - very often he or she is quite experienced with both writing and reviewing proposals and applications and will be able to give you helpful suggestions concerning your application. One place where you can find information on possible founding sources is The Smart Student Guide to Financial Aid.

Time frame

It is often the case that doctoral students postpone getting involved in research until after they have found a "lifetime" topic. I believe that this is a mistake -- doctoral students should start thinking about their research as soon as they start their studies. I usually see the first semester as the time when you learn the environment: the department, the faculty, and their research interests. It is advisable to establish the first contact with your prospective advisor some time during the first semester. The following semesters of your studies are typically spent on taking relevant specialized courses to catch up on the area of research of your advisor and reading relevant literature supplied by the advisor or traced individually during library searches. Research requires in-depth knowledge and if you choose an area it will take you several semesters before you will be at its frontier -- you cannot afford to be a novice for too long. You should, of course, not forget about your other duties, such as required courses and your work if you are working as an assistant, but even though they are all very important, I believe that getting you going with your research is by far more important. It is a good idea to listen to your advisor and have him or her guide you in yoru first steps, your first papers. Around your second or third year here, after you have built enough knowledge and experience (and, along with these, confidence), you will progressively take initiative in determining what to read and what to work on (it is still a good idea to listen to your advisor). This will lead you to writing and defending your dissertation proposal, forming your Ph.D. committee, and, if your proposal is accepted, writing and defending the dissertation. There are no rules as to how long your doctoral studies should take -- it simply depends on you and your success in formulating a research problem and solving it. This is why it is so important to get involved in research as early as possible.

Working on your doctoral dissertation with me

Students interested in working with me should contact me personally (EMail, phone, or office hours). Before doing so, please, make sure that the general area of my research corresponds to your interests. In the unlikely case that you do not know what my research interests are, one of the ways to learn it is to look at my World Wide Web pages, starting from my home page. The best places there to look at are: Decision Systems Laboratory (my research group) and my list of publications. I strongly suggest that you consider taking one of my courses, Decision Analysis and Decision Support Systems (INFSCI 2130 / ISSP 2240) and later Research Design (INFSCI 2100 / ISSP 2250) to get acquainted with the general area of my work and to let your skills and capabilities be known. If you would like some initial guidance in learning what this all is about or have any other questions, please feel free to visit me during my office hours and I will be glad to talk with you.

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