Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Meetings with Graduate Students

I think one of the signs a graduate student is on his or her way to graduating is when they start taking control of our meetings. With younger graduate students, I've found I have to set the agenda -- asking questions, pulling out information from them, and telling them things they need to do. Some time ago, I noticed that Adam was coming into our meetings with a written agenda. He asks me questions, gets information from me, and tells me what I need to do. And then, on a good day, we can collaborate on research.

I'm not saying that graduate students can walk in, day one, and take control like that. Indeed, most probably can't and shouldn't. But as a graduate student, the sooner you can take charge of your education and set your own agenda -- so your advisor is a resource, rather than your manager -- the better off you'll probably be.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

just curious, what were you like as a grad student?

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

anonymous asks
just curious, what were you like as a grad student?

Come now, is that a fair question? :)

My memory is undoubtedly self-selective, but focusing on the issue of the post, I think it took several years before I was capable of really taking control of my research and career. But when I reached that point, I was much more productive, and did better work, than when I just followed the lead of others.

Anonymous said...

what advice do you give to graduate students hunting for problems?

S said...

I'm a CSE grad student close to finishing, while I agree with the general idea that as we get closer to graduation we have more ideas, more initiative and direction, I would say that an adviser is always slightly different (perhaps more) than a resource. At the very least you need to get your ideas "through your adviser" before you can present them anywhere. Advisers can still be opinionated and cut off venues of exploration. They often STILL have more perspective than a student so they can still motivate papers better. Finally they always need to give you validation, even if you're a 5th year grad student you aren't always sure that you're completely sane in what you are presenting and their validation and active interest means a lot more than a passive validation from wikipedia or another source like your favorite IEEE Trans on X.

grad student said...

While I agree that grad students should get more independent as time progresses, I think it's much more inspiring to have an advisor who's very involved than one who acts merely as an oracle. I find it reassuring that my advisor sets a time aside for me every week and is willing to help me regardless of where I am (whether I need a high level discussion of what directions I should pursue, whether I'm stuck with some analysis, or I just need positive reassurance that I'm doing the right thing). If I didn't have that, I think grad school would be incredibly isolating.

Anonymous said...

What do you think of actually being forced into this independent working mode early because of working in a topic which is far from your advisor's area of expertise?

(From what you say, this situation can be cast in good light because the student has to take the initiative and set the directions themself right from the beginning. But from another view point, it might seem like its better to get a different advisor. )

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a good deal for you. You don't have to spend much time with your student and get a lot out of it.

Michael Mitzenmacher said...

That sounds like a good deal for you. You don't have to spend much time with your student and get a lot out of it.

Well, yes! However, you seem to be missing the point that it's a good deal for Adam. He maximizes his use of my limited time, and gets the most out of it.