Research Guidelines with Chip
A good working relationship between a research advisor and a student is
a matter of compatible styles and
flexibility for both parties. Here's what I expect from a student (this is mainly geared
toward graduate students).
For new students, give me an idea of how YOU like to work
so that I can better adjust my advising style to fit your person.
Rank on a scale of 1-5 where 1=not true and 5=very true.
- You gotta have a passionate commitment to doing science. You gotta love
something about science because doing good science (the only kind worth doing) is
hard work. You don't have to promise your life to astronomy or even to science,
but tackle your tasks with gusto.
- Frequent communication. Unless you are an advanced graduate student
well into your
dissertation, I expect frequent progress updates every few days.
I don't generally come knocking on your door to see how things are going.
I expect you to come knocking on my door frequently with questions, new plots,
new ideas, etc. Students whom I don't hear from for weeks on end don't usually
- Work independently
and use other resources as much as you can, but don't spin your wheels....
come ask for help if you are stuck. Yes, I am frequently busy
and may seem like I am preoccupied, but don't interpret this as a lack of interest in
you or your project. I DO want to hear and see what you've been doing. It just takes
a few moments for my brain to change gears from what I was doing the moment before.
- For undergrads, you do research for the experience to see
if it's for you. Do it only as you have time. Have fun, and learn what you can.
There's no expected amount you need to accomplish unless you plan on completing
a senior thesis. Even then, don't stress over it. Enjoy your work.
- For undergrads, I hope that you'll consider working with multiple faculty members on different projects during your undergraduate career in order to gain broad experience. But I ask that you commit to one project at a time so that you can bring each one to a reasonable stage of completion before moving on to something new. This also prevents you from being overly stressed by having too many obligations in addition to your classwork. And, I ask that you keep me informed if you are changing projects or interested in getting involved in a different project with another faculty member. This helps me know whether I or someone else is responsible for you and your professional development (and funding?).
- Expect that research is never a
linear path from idea conception to completed project (unlike
a solution to a HW assignment, for example). Rather, there are many miscues,
false starts, dead ends, and iterations on ideas until the completed product
emerges. The job of the advisor is not to prevent all of these (if that were even possible!)
but rather to keep these from being too many.
Expect snags, expect to re-do things many times,
expect that it will take even longer than you expect. Science is 90% figuring
out what to do and 10% actually doing it.
- If your PhD project is successful, you'll learn lots of things
that I don't know...and you'll teach yourself to do things that I can't do. This is normal.
- PhD students should recognize that original research means that you'll likely run into
problems that I can't tell you how to solve. If research were just following a formula, it would not
be worthy of PhD research. I'll do by best to connect you with the tools and
experts in the field you need to complete your work.
- Graduate students intending to make a career in science need
to view their job as a 45-60 hour per week job. There
are weeks where you'll need to do more than that. That's just the cold hard facts.
call their students at 7 a.m. to tell them to get in to the lab. Others
dictate 7 day work weeks. I won't do that.) That's the effort
you'll need to be competitive for a future in the field. Even if
your goal is to teach at a small college or community college, you will still
be expected to supervise students in research and to serve on hiring committees
that require you to make judgments about a candidates scientific credentials.
Both of these activities will require that you have done excellent science yourself.
- Even if I am paying you, don't think that you are working for me.
You are working for YOU! What you accomplish during your (under)graduate school days
will largely determine how far you can go with astronomy as a career.
- Don't be tempted to compare your project/thesis to that of another student. In science, every project is different and has its own challenges and moves at its own timescale. If you start comparing too much, you'll only make yourself unhappy with the "grass is always greener" syndrome. Just focus on writing the next paper.
- My job is to steer you toward interesting and fruitful areas, help provide you data and connections and resources to do your science, and to help find you funding. Your job is to enthusiastically and tirelessly read papers, learn analysis tools, write papers, and bring new ideas, plots, etc, for us to
talk about on a regular basis.
- To be successful as a scientist you need to become good at writing and speaking. Embrace these as goals. Give lots of talks. Write a lot. Reading a lot (quality literature) is one good way to become a good writer.
- For grad students and undergrads, classwork always comes first. During breaks and summer we can work hard
on research. For grad students, teaching duties are also important. Some students
focus on their teaching to the exclusion of research. This is a mistake. You are here to get
a research degree. Occasionally, a grad student also neglects to put sufficient
time into preparing to teach. This is irresponsible.
- It's very bad form to play games on the computers at work, much more so to
let someone like a faculty member see you playing games.
It shows a lack of interest in astronomy
and will naturally lead people to question why they are supporting you.
- Vacations and days off are important. Take holidays and parts of weekends
off when you are able to spare the time in order to recreate.
Resting and laughing and playing sharpens the mind and body.
Live healthily by eating and sleeping sufficiently. It's part of being a
- I endeavor to treat students as junior colleagues. At first, the
relationship is somewhat one-sided, but as students grow, the relationship becomes
much more like colleagues working together. Hang in there, you'll get there!
- Your thesis/paper/project is not the PRIMARY product of your
(under)graduate education. YOU are the product of your (under)graduate education.
The skills and abilities you build and character you develop as a person and
as a scientist is the First Thing.
- With the caveat directly above, completing a published work
IS important for your graduate career. The best advice my advisor ever gave me was
"Just write the paper. It's never too early to write the paper. Work on the paper that is
closest to being done." Nothing counts on your CV as heavily as a first-author
journal paper. To be competitive for jobs when you graduate, you need 3-5 of these. It's not that it's publish or perish. Rather, papers are simply the currency of our field. If we were car salespersons, we would be judged on how many cars we sold. If we were bankers, we'd be judged on how much interest we earned on our investments. Because we are scientists, we are judged on our scientific output.
- If you're doing a sufficiently challenging project, there will times of discouragement
where it looks like the project is going no where, or when the task ahead seems overwhelmingly large
and long. Developing the character to persevere through these obstacles is
an important part of the PhD process, and is, quite arguably, more important than the
- My philosophy as an advisor is that each student has his or her own project.
It will, in most cases, be related to something I am already doing or interested about in some way.
It may or may not be related to projects other undergraduate or graduate students are doing.
I want students to lead projects rather than be data slaves. Therefore, the success of each
project depends on the motivation and perseverance of the student. I want your project to result
in a published paper...in most cases, I consider that before I turn you loose on a project...but how far it goes
depends on you.
- Usually I can't tell exactly what a student is thinking or feeling about a project.
Projects have their ups and downs, even the best of them. Faculty-student relationships have
their ups and downs, even the best of them. Here are some things you should feel free to
tell me, as needed: "I need more help, more guidance." -- "I'm feeling discouraged." -- "Let
me do it and figure it out more on my own." -- "How am I doing?"
- Sometimes student think that their professors expect them to follow certain career paths. I don't. If you find a job that makes you happy where you put your training to use in a way that's beneficial for society, then that makes me happy.
- Lessons from years of research:
- There are times where you get discouraged when you think your intended project has already been done by someone else; but nearly always, there is an angle or aspect where you can do better than someone else has done.
- I've never regretted holding onto a paper longer to make it better. I have regretted submitting a paper too soon.
- Expectations for a nearly finished PhD student:
- Have published at least 2 papers as first author (ideally 3-5).
- Be able to write nearly perfect manuscripts in terms of grammar, organization,
professional format, and flawless figures (with minimal advisor oversight).
- Be able to present a polished professional presentation.
- Have a deep understanding of the chosen subfield, including the fundamental astrophysics,
major papers and results in the literature, and the major open questions, including
how the new work addresses the previous.
- Be intimately familiar with the data reduction and analysis methods in at least two
areas or types of data (i.e., spectroscopy, imaging, radio, polarimetry, etc.) or
with methods of programming and coding to model data relevant to the science.
- Be a skilled observer with two or more instruments at WIRO or elsewhere (by implication,
this means dozens of nights of observing).
- Have written at least a handful of competitive telescope proposals for national observatories
- Have several semesters of experience as an instructor, preferably beyond simply
TAing a class taught by a professor.
___ I need someone to help me set deadlines in order to achieve goals.
___ I like frequent discussion and feedback from my advisor when I work.
___ I work best when people just leave me alone and let me work at my own pace.
___ I like step-by-step instructions to help me understand what to do.
___ I prefer frequent encouragement to assure me that I'm doing well.
___ I like to be given a very general instructions and then go
figure out the details on my own.
___ I'm good at encouraging and motivating myself.
___ I often get distracted by other things when I need to be working (by playing games, during the web, etc).