Information for Prospective Students
Spring 2005: I have no open slots in my research group.
I frequently receive e-mail messages from students who have been
accepted into Syracuse University, expressing interest in working with
me. I would like prospective students to understand several things:
Now, if you're a Ph.D. student at Syracuse, and we've met and had
meaningful interaction, and I have an open slot, then you might
wonder what I expect from my students.
- I don't take M.S. students into my research projects.
M.S. students are at Syracuse for three semesters, and the first
semester is spent getting up to speed on the research project, the
second semester is spent doing work, and the third is spent looking
for a job. Thus, I cannot justify the investment of time and money
for three semesters into an M.S. student for one semester of return.
- I don't take on students sight unseen. I cannot possibly judge
the research worthiness of a student remotely, particularly based on a
brief e-mail conversation. I can only judge a student after having
them in class and interacting with them face-to-face here at SU.
- My most constrained resource is my time. Thus, if I have a full
slate of students, I cannot take on another student even if that
student is willing to work for free. The time commitment of
supervising a student would cause me to neglect the students I'm
already working with.
- The first attribute I expect you to have is to be a hard worker.
I assume that you're smart, or you wouldn't be here. Successful
graduate students work hard, and don't watch the clock. Working with
me is not about putting in the 10 or 20 hours your assistantship
officially pays for; graduate school should be the most difficult
challenge you've faced. To quote Tom Hanks's character in A
League of Their Own: "It's supposed to be hard. The hard is what
makes it great. If it were easy, everyone would do it." There will be
times when you do not know what I want you to do; I expect you to ask
for clarification, and to some degree, to take the initiative to
define the problem space yourself.
- Second, almost all of my work is related to computer
systems. Therefore, I expect you to have or to acquire a
basic knowledge of Unix and Unix system programming. This means that
you have to understand most of the basic Unix commands, and understand
how to write shell scripts, compile and install software, and
configure systems. It's ok if you don't already know this, but you
have to be willing to learn it "on the job," and largely from your own
- The final, and most important, attribute is a desire to learn. I want
to know how you react when faced with a problem you don't understand.
Do you throw up your hands and say, "This machine/program/... is broken,"
or do you carefully examine your assumptions, read all the available
documentation, and perform experiments to determine the exact nature
of the problem? Is your motivation to make the problem go away, or
to understand it and truly solve it? The best learning experiences
come from exploring this kind of situation.
In closing, I ask you to examine why you want to work with me. If you
just want a grade, I advise you to look elsewhere. If you just want
rent money, there are other, less challenging ways to earn it. If you
want to attack interesting problems in CS/CE and solve them, and if you
want to be challenged to stretch your abilities and to learn about
systems, then I want to work with you, as well.
My goal is to support all of the students working with me. However, I
can only continue to support productive, talented, interested students.
Thus, a new student will go through a probationary period working on a
well-defined research project. At the end of the probationary period, I
will decide whether to continue supporting that student or not.