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  1. Paper readings each weeks with Prof. Mike. Accompanying summaries.
  2. Progress report!
  3. Send report/note early

Coffee and drinks

The Heilmeier Catechism

DARPA operates on the principle that generating big rewards requires taking big risks. But how does the Agency determine what risks are worth taking? George H. Heilmeier, a former DARPA director (1975-1977), crafted a set of questions known as the "Heilmeier Catechism" to help Agency officials think through and evaluate proposed research programs. What are you trying to do? Articulate your objectives using absolutely no jargon. How is it done today, and what are the limits of current practice? What is new in your approach and why do you think it will be successful? Who cares? If you are successful, what difference will it make? What are the risks? How much will it cost? How long will it take? What are the mid-term and final “exams” to check for success?

PhD Grind

Be proactive in talking with professors to find research topics that are mutually interesting, and no matter what, don’t just hole up in isolation To see if I could sell him on my ideas.

  1. What’s the problem?
  2. What’s my proposed solution?
  3. What compelling experiments can I run to demonstrate the effectiveness of my solution? Research lab notebook


we were not “insiders” in the empirical software measurement subfield Most importantly, they frequently served on program committees and as external reviewers for the relevant conferences, so they knew exactly what it took to write publishable papers in this subfield. one must be well-versed in the preferences of senior colleagues in a particular subfield who are serving as paper reviewers. Tom was able to deftly frame our contributions in the context of related work, argue for why our results were novel and significant, and get our paper as polished as possible.


Except that I now paced myself a lot better to remain healthy and avoid burnout. How a project might fail

I can see why this project was likely to fail because of misaligned incentives. In contrast, Joel was a mid-stage Ph.D. student who was itching to publish the first paper of his dissertation, and Scott was an assistant professor who needed to publish prolifically to earn tenure. These two opposing experiences taught me the importance of deeply understanding the motivations and incentives of one’s potential collaborators before working with them.

3rd year limbo

It was now the middle of my third year, and many of my fellow students and I fell into a state of “limbo” where it became difficult to motivate ourselves to consistently come into the office every single day.


This mismatch of incentives between tenured professors and Ph.D. students is a common problem in most labor-intensive science and engineering research projects. In effect, Ph.D. students working with those young researchers were more easily able to publish and graduate, while Dawson’s students had a much harder time by comparison.


The sad irony here is that since Dawson’s direct competition was now serving as conference program committee members and paper reviewers, it was much harder to get his papers published despite the fact that he co-founded this subfield in the first place


Getting a full-time researcher position at MSR is as difficult as getting a job as a professor at a prestigious university. our managers planned well-defined projects that would likely result in a paper submission. Perhaps the longest-lasting impact of an MSR internship is the friendships we all made. (THAT made me wonder if ..) Another officemate was a UC Berkeley Ph.D. student who spent his nights and weekends working on a separate research project with collaborators across the country in addition to doing his internship project during workdays. These peers will likely grow into award-winning professors, research leaders, and high-tech entrepreneurs, so I am humbled to have been in their presence for a summer. Tom liked my paper, so he decided to hire me as his summer intern.


From this experience, I learned about the importance of being endorsed by an influential person; simply doing good work isn’t enough to get noticed in a hyper-competitive field. Even a quick thank-you email goes a long way.


Getting immediate daily feedback made it easy for me to stay focused and motivated.


competitors was that these people didn’t have the deep programming expertise required to create a fully automated solution such as IncPy. At best, they might create semi-automated solutions that would not be substantive enough to publish in a respectable conference.

Workshop papers

Workshop papers are meant to disseminate early ideas and are not scrutinized as rigorously as conference papers. Thus, top-tier computer science professors strongly encourage students to publish more selective conference papers and eschew workshops altogether.


I discovered that this strategy of finding and setting short-term deadlines for myself would work wonders in keeping me focused throughout the rest of my Ph.D. years. Without self-imposed deadlines, it becomes easy to fall into a rut and succumb to chronic procrastination.


I emailed the UC Berkeley neuroscientists again to ask for a second chance, but I got no response. I had one shot, and I blew it.


Within the next twelve months, though, I would publish four conference papers and one workshop paper (all as the first author), thereby paving a clear path for my graduation. Without a doubt, my fifth year was my most productive of grad school. I was relentlessly focused.


By now, I understood the importance of aligning with the subjective preferences of senior collaborators (and paper reviewers), even when doing research in supposedly objective technical fields. 20 tips

  1. Results trump intentions
  2. Outputs trump inputs
  3. Find relevant information
  4. Create lucky opportunities
  5. Play the game
  6. Lead from below
  7. Professors are human
  8. Be well-liked
  9. Pay some dues
  10. Reject bad defaults
  11. Know when to quit
  12. Recover from failures
  13. Ally with insiders
  14. Give many talks
  15. Sell, sell, sell
  16. Generously provide help
  17. Ask for help
  18. Express true gratitude
  19. Ideas beget ideas
  20. Grind hard and smart