Advice for Students

Abstract

This text started as a somewhat random list of things, which Florian has ever noticed are interesting or important for a student to know but which sometimes nobody tells them. Later Deyan Ginev put it on Authorea to make it accessible to a wider audience.

This text is not particularly well-organized but still an extremely valuable resource for students. Many points apply in general; some are specific to Florian’s field of theoretical computer science; some are specific to him.

Note that this was advice was collected over a decade, originally without any intention to publish it. Therefore, it lacks attributions even though some of it is advice Florian got from other people.

General

There is a natural synergy between us. I want to (in the beginning) educate you so that you can contribute to research (usually later). You want guidance and opportunities to do independent research. That usually works out very well, and you should always remember that we are working together.

Therefore:

  • Do not try to impress me by pretending you understand something when you don’t.

  • Do not hide problems from me.

  • Tell me when you don’t have time to work on something.

  • Come to me when you need help – speficic to our joint work or general academic help.

  • Tell me when you do not like to do something – there are always lots of other things you can do instead.

  • Do not pretend you are interested when really you are not committed. Then we are both better off working with someone else.

Meetings with Me

I like meeting with students, and I will usually offer you some kind of regular meeting. But you should be aware of some things:

  • I have very little time, and the time I offer you is valuable. If I feel, I am not getting anything out of it, I will stop advising you.

  • I will arrange all my meeting slots to optimize the use of my time. Thus, even when you arrive on time for a meeting, I might still be in another meeting, in which case you may have to wait a bit. Always come in in that case

  • otherwise, I might not notice or forget that you’re waiting.

  • If I reserve a meeting slot for you, I expect you to show up. If you have a good reason to skip a meeting, you usually know about it well in advance.

It is a common mistake of students to skip meetings with their advisor because they feel they have not done or understood enough. In fact, those are the most important points at which to meet.

It is very useful to bring a voice recorder and a camera to meetings so that you can record what we say and draw on the board. That gives you more time to think during the meeting and maximizes how much you get out of it.

Communication with Me

My preferred means for quick communication is skype. My user name is florian.rabe. When you contact me, start by stating your question or problem. I will usually attend to it on the same day. Sometimes I don’t have time, and I will forget to answer; you should wait around one day before reminding me. However, if you come to me with questions that could be asked using Google or reading lecture notes, I will tend to ignore your message.

If I write rather curt emails to you, that (usually) does not mean I’m mad at you – it’s just an efficient way to communicate.

As you make progress in your research, your work will become more and more challenging and independent. You will notice that more and more things do not work – that’s because you’re reaching the end of current research where some things j