Advice for Graduate Students

Students pursuing advanced degrees should consider the following as they progress through their program of study and research.

    Advisor-student relationship

  • Your advisor is responsible for many more tasks than you ever imagined.  Your advisor's time is extremely valuable.
  • Graduate students should be prepared to spend more time in the lab/at the computer than their advisor.  If your advisor is "on the job" more than you, you are probably not working hard enough.  Graduate school is nearly a 24/7 job!
  • Your advisor is in complete control of your academic and professional development program.  Any change in your program of study, research topic, course schedule, research lab schedule, school break plans, and job search plans should be discussed and approved by your advisor.   The advisor's decision is final.
  • Your degree is complete when your academic and research objectives are complete.  The duration of your studies is irrelevent.  Your advisor will NOT allow you to graduate automatically after your have spent X number of months/years at university.
  • An accepted job offer is not sufficient grounds for graduation.
  • Performing research

  • Research takes time.  Be prepared to spend some long hours performing design, simulations, experiments, testing, and writing.
  • Read the literature to obtain background for your research topic.  The literature will NOT contain the answer to your research question.
  • Resist the urge to keep reading the literature forever.  You must do something.  If you do not know where to begin, recreate some work found in the recent literature.  In doing so, you are bound to come across open research questions.
  • You must perform the research.  The advisor will not tell you every step to make.  The advisor only directs (advises) the general research direction.
  • If you encounter a problem in your research, try to figure it out yourself.  Try approaching the problem from several different directions.  If you cannot find success, schedule a meeting with your advisor at your advisor's convenience.  When meeting with your advisor, be sure to have specific questions prepared.
  • Financial support

  • Financial support for your thesis topic is not guaranteed.  Universities exist to "educate" students, not "employ" them.  Some of the most revolutionary research ever performed was "unfunded".
  • If you are funded, there is no guarantee that the funding will support work that is related to your research.  Teaching assistantships, lab experiments, measurements and other tasks must be performed in support of the university's teaching, research, and service missions.
  • Funding concerns belong to the advisor.  Do not, repeat, DO NOT tell your advisor that you must be funded.  If your advisor has funds and so wishes, you will be funded.  The student's main focus is completing academic and research objectives with the highest possible quality, not obtaining/worrying about/demanding financial support.

What must I do in order to graduate?

This is a question that will be answered by your advisor.  However, if you ask this question to determine the minimum requirements, then you should really consider whether you belong in graduate school.

As an example, students performing VLSI design research can expect to do the following in order to graduate.  (These lists are provided strictly for illustrative purposes.)

  1. Develop research concept
  2. Define research objectives and/or performance specifications.
  3. Show analysis that verifies objectives and specifications are achieveable.
  4. Design circuits and/or systems.
  5. Simulate circuits and/or systems.
  6. Fabricate circuits and/or systems.
  7. Test circuits and/or systems to verify objectives and specifications are met.
Since dissemination of research results and communication skills are important, each Master's student will need to accomplish the following before graduating: 
  1. Write and present at least one conference paper on your research.
  2. Write at least one article for IEEE Potentials.
  3. Write and defend a thesis in accordance with department and Graduate College regulations.
Each Ph.D. student will need to accomplish the following before graduating 
  1. Teach at least one semester of an university laboratory or lecture section.
  2. Write and present at least three conference papers on your research.
  3. Write, submit, and have accepted at least one archival journal paper on your research.
  4. Write at least two articles for IEEE Potentials.
  5. Write and defend a dissertation proposal in accordance with department and Graduate College regulations.
  6. Write and defend a dissertation in accordance with department and Graduate College regulations.

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