Student FAQ

Questions Frequently Asked by Current or Prospective Students
 

With thanks to Jon Doyle and Doug Reeves, from whose FAQ this one is adapted.
 

Currently-enrolled students:

Questions?

Answers!

Prospective incoming students:

Questions?

Answers!

All students:

Questions?

Answers!

Funding Agencies:

Questions?

Answers!

 


Questions from currently-enrolled students

QC1. Do you have money for new students?
QC2. May I do an independent study project with you?
QC3. Will you be my (non-thesis) advisor?
QC4. What courses should I take?
QC5. Will you be on my thesis / dissertation committee?
QC6. If you’re on my thesis / dissertation committee, how involved do you want to be, and when should I contact you?
QC7. As my thesis/dissertation committee member, what instructions do you have on the preparation of my thesis, and preparation for my thesis defense?
QC8. What are your research areas?
QC9. Will you be my thesis / dissertation advisor?
QC10. I’m a current student looking for an advisor. May I attend your research group meetings to see who your students are and what their topics are?

QC11. You are my advisor, and I want to defend my thesis this semester. How should I proceed?
QC12. How will you help me if you become my advisor?
QC13. How do I know if I’m suited for research?
QC14. How do I get started on research (i.e., on what should I work)?
QC15. What if I have my own ideas about what to work on for a thesis topic?
QC16. Where can I find information about the requirements for the degree, and about requirements / standards for the thesis?
QC17. What are your requirements for a thesis?
QC18. How long does it take to get a masters (doctoral) degree with a thesis?
QC19. Can I do a co-op or internship even if I’m working on a thesis?
QC20. How do I become familiar with what you do?
QC21. What software should I to use to write my thesis / paper?

Questions from prospective incoming students

QP1. What are my chances of admission, can the fee be waived, do I really need GRE scores, ...?
QP2. Will you recommend or secure my admission?
QP3. Will you provide me with financial support?
QP4. How do I get financial support?
QP5. What should I do to get off to a good start at CSU?

QP6. Will you be my advisor (i.e., may I join your research group)? 

Questions from all students

QA1. How should I contact you? 

QA2.Can you help me figure out why my circuit / computer program doesn’t work?

Questions from funding agencies

QF1. We have heard about your research and we want to give you a million dollars. What is the best way to get the money to you?


Answers for currently-enrolled students

QC1. Do you have money for new students?

A: No. I am already working with students who need more financial  support.

QC2: May I do an independent study project with you?

A: Maybe. Good independent study projects are harder than regular courses, require a serious commitment of effort, and must have a high priority in your schedule even when regular courses become demanding. Most students: (a) seriously underestimate the difficulty of research, (b) seriously overestimate how prepared they are to do research, and (c) do not budget enough time to do something worthwhile, original, and of good quality. I’m willing to talk about such projects if you understand the work involved. Plan on having to complete a substantial, well-written, paper on your study in order to receive a passing grade. If you still want to do an independent study, send me a proposal.

QC3: Will you be my (non-thesis) advisor?

A: You have to have a good reason if you want to switch advisors. If I am not convinced that your reason is good, then I will not agree to be your new advisor. I will not be your new advisor just because your old advisor won’t let you take the courses that you want.

QC4: What courses should I take?

A: In general, if you want to study controls, you should start with Linear Systems (EEC 510) and Probability (EEC 512). If you want to study embedded systems, you should start with Embedded Systems (EEC 517) and Modern Digital Design (EEC 580). If you want more specific guidance, you’ll have to email me or meet me during office hours and tell me your goals and your background for me to help you.

QC5: Will you be on my thesis / dissertation committee?

A: Maybe. First you should discuss with your thesis advisor the choice of committee members. If your advisor suggests or agrees to my name, then the answer will likely be “yes.” Occasionally the answer will be “no” because (a) I’m swamped, and/or (b) I’m not really a good choice to understand your topic. Please don’t take it personally if I need to turn you down.

QC6: If you’re on my thesis / dissertation committee, how involved do you want to be, and when should I contact you?

A: I’d like to hear about your thesis project at the time I agree to be on your committee, but typically after that I would not see you until the defense. In some cases, a committee member is actually helpful to the student in his/her work, in which case they meet as needed. “Pinging” your committee member, in person or email, every 6 months just to let them know you are still alive and making progress is a good idea.

QC7: As my thesis / dissertation committee member, what instructions do you have on the preparation of my thesis, and preparation for my thesis defense?

A: If I am on your committee (but not your advisor), and you have a thesis defense coming up in which I will participate, please help me do my job by following these guidelines, in roughly the order given:

  1. Read and follow instructions posted by the graduate school and your department for theses, scheduling exams, etc. Be sure you are aware of graduate school deadlines, which are long before the end of the semester; also allow for the lead time the graduate school requires for scheduling exams. I do not keep track of administrative issues, so it is up to you to keep track of them. Dr. Gao’s CACT web site has a good MS Word template for theses/dissertations. The College of Graduate Studies web site has a lot of resources.
  2. Get your thesis or proposal in good shape and approved by your advisor before giving it to me. The advisor is the first (and most important) person to give you feedback, and to satisfy.
  3. Contact me (and other committee members) with 2 or 3 dates you prefer, and I’ll tell you my available times on those dates. When you find a compatible time for all committee members, notify me immediately. There is often a flurry of students trying to hold exams at approximately the same time (right before the grad school deadline). First one to nail down a date and a time wins!
  4. Get your thesis copy edited for grammar, style, spelling, and consistency.
  5. Give me a paper copy of your completed thesis or proposal at least one week before the defense date. Please do not send an copy by email.
  6. The thesis or proposal should already have been proofread by a careful, qualified reader for spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors before I see it. Occasional minor errors are no problem, but if the thesis or proposal has serious readability problems I will return it for revisions. I will not be able to understand and appreciate the content if the writing is seriously deficient.
  7. After turning over your thesis or proposal to your committee, but before your actual exam, please review your slides with your advisor. With no interruptions or questions, your presentation should be approximately 30 minutes (MS) or 60 minutes (DRE) long; the actual defense will be longer due to questions and discussion. This equates to a presentation with roughly 20 (MS) to 40 (DRE) slides. Long presentations are invariably cut short on the spot by the committee, which is flustering, but entirely avoidable.
  8. You should plan on some “revision time” following a defense. It is probable you will need to make some changes to your thesis, based on feedback from your committee. It is risky to expect no changes, and to schedule something major (like leaving town for a new job) immediately following an exam.

QC8: What are your research areas?

A: Control theory, state estimation, embedded systems, and computational intelligence. See my home page for more details.

QC9. Will you be my thesis / dissertation advisor?

A: Maybe. Become familiar with my work and then talk with me during office hours. I may make suggestions about other people to talk to, or if there is substantial promise of a mutually interesting topic, I may suggest we continue to talk. The answer to QC2 also applies to this question.

QC10: I’m a current student looking for an advisor. May I attend  your research group meetings to see who your students are and what their topics are?

A: Currently I do not have regular group meetings.

QC11: You are my advisor, and I want to defend my thesis this semester. How should I proceed?

A: Plan ahead. Realize that after you get the final version of your thesis to me, it takes me two weeks for me to review it before we can submit it to your committee members. Your committee needs to have it at least a week before the defense. That means you need to get the final version of your thesis (proof-read, copy-edited, and formatted) to me at least 3 weeks before the end of the semester. Now realize that I will need to make a lot of changes, suggestions, and corrections to your thesis before it is finalized. That will take me at least 2 weeks, and then it will take you at least 2 weeks after that to implement my corrections. That means that, in general, you need to get the “final” version of your thesis to me about 2 months before the end of the semester in which you hope to graduate. See the answer to QC7 for more information.

QC12: How will you help me if you become my advisor?

A: I expect to give students a lot of freedom to define what they work on and how they proceed, but at the same time to redirect them if they are not making progress. I may provide equipment, space, and some funding for travel, etc. I encourage meetings between students and collaborators. At the same time, I usually will not pick the problem for a student; that constitutes part of the process of research.

QC13: How do I know if I am suited for research?

A: If you are contemplating a thesis and have never looked at research papers, who knows? If you read the research literature (conference proceedings and journals) and get excited about the work described, that is a good sign. It’s like cooking: if you love eating good food, you may be a great cook, but if you don’t like good food, why be a chef?

At the same time, getting excited by ideas does not always guarantee success. Research requires hard sustained effort. If you do not have a strong work ethic then you will not be successful at research. To some extent doing research becomes easier the longer you do it, but at the start it requires effort and uncertainty unlike any most students face in regular coursework. No one gives you a problem, or if they do, you cannot assume it has a solution in the form given. You will get discouraged at times during a graduate career. Find a problem that is interesting enough to keep you motivated during those hard times. Make it your own problem; doing something because someone else finds it interesting makes it more likely that you will give up some night when you realize the problem bewildering you is someone else’s problem, not one that means something to you.

QC14: How do I get started on research (i.e., on what should I work)?

A: There are many ways of proceeding, depending on how much you have already read and done. Here are some general suggestions.

  1. Have an idea of your interests, and then identify the high-quality conferences or journals that specialize in that topic. The CSU library web site, www.ulib.csuohio.edu, is an excellent source for literature searches and for getting copies of papers.
  2. Peruse the last year or two of the proceedings or journals. This gives you a sense of what the current research topics are, what the required background is, and what the standards for a research contribution are. It also tells you whether you like the topic, have an aptitude for it, are qualified to work in it, and are motivated enough to seek new, creative solutions. To “peruse” does not mean to read every word of a 1500 page conference proceedings. Rather, you are skimming the table of contents to see what the scope of papers is, and what sessions or topics might be of interest. Then, you are restricting your attention to those papers. You read the title and abstract, possibly skim the figures, and the conclusions and possibly references. Now you know something about the problem, the solution, and how it was accomplished. If you do this for a conference, or for a year’s worth of a journal, you get a feeling for what is going on in research, without being overwhelmed.
  3. Pick two or three papers that you particularly like and are interested in. Read them in depth and understand them. Then bring those papers, and your opinions and ideas about them, to discuss with me. I will ask you questions, find out what your motivation is, make suggestions about alternatives you may not have considered, and in general explore the topic with you. Even better is for you to write an analysis of the papers for me or fellow students to read.
  4. Although you should become familiar with my own research interests and might well read some of my own publications if you want to work with me, under no circumstances should you expect to read only my publications in finding a research topic. If you do not attempt to understand what I do, one might conclude you are not serious about working with me. That might not be a problem, as I might still be able to help in identifying a faculty member who might be an appropriate advisor. However, if you do not attempt to understand what others have done, one might conclude you are not serious about research. That certainly will be a problem, at least if you expect to complete a degree.

Following something like the procedure just described will save a lot of time all around. Regardless of whether it leads to a thesis, you will benefit from the time spent; for many students, it’s the first encounter with the research literature they have ever had.

You may think “but what are you doing to help me?” The answer is that I guide you, not push you from the rear. Identifying and defining the research problem is an essential part of the graduate experience, particularly at the doctoral level. Indeed, once you do find a good topic, it is up to you to work hard on mastering the relevant background and literature. I can offer suggestions and help you interpret what you find, but the burden is on you to learn and exploit the material, not on me to teach it to you. The same goes when solving your problem, and when writing a thesis. I can offer suggestions and critique drafts, but I will not solve your problem or write your thesis for you.

The biggest problem facing many students is understanding that graduate research is completely different than undergraduate studies. As an undergraduate, one expects to be assigned problems that have solutions, that require known amounts of effort to solve, and that will be explained in lecture. As a graduate student, one typically is not assigned a problem, but must find it. One does not know how much effort will be required to solve the problem. The problem will not be explained in any lecture; instead you will have to educate yourself in the literature and needed background. Indeed, your thesis defense will be the first lecture on the problem and its solution. The student who enters graduate school expecting to be taught everything he or she needs to know puts himself or herself at a disadvantage.

As a graduate student, one should always stay occupied with trying to understand and solve problems. One cannot choose a thesis topic if one does not understand what are the real problems, as opposed to the superficial problems. One cannot choose a thesis topic if one cannot tell how interesting are the problems, and how much aptitude one has for them, or what background one needs. Working on a problem or portion of a problem reveals many of these things in a way that helps one choose how to proceed. To complete a thesis project, one needs this knowledge. One must therefore work at it all the time. People have been known to be struck with inspiration that identifies an important problem and its solution; but such inspiration comes most frequently to those who have prepared to receive it with persistent self-motivated study.

The ability to read and think critically forms a key element of success as a researcher. In particular, when reading a paper or part of the literature, the student needs to keep asking the following questions.

The student needs to ask these questions about every paper of interest, including those I have written, or risk failing to understand the material. Never stop reading, and never assume you have read enough. If I suggest looking at a paper, do not read it and stop. Instead, use your understanding of it to help you identify the next paper or papers to read, whether from among the papers cited by the article or by searching for uncited papers on related topics.

QC15: What if I have my own ideas about what to work on for a thesis topic?

A: Wonderful! Be ready to discuss and justify them, and possibly to refine the ideas as a result. Even if your ideas don’t work out, it shows me you have initiative and enthusiasm. Note: a follow-on question might be “If I bring my own ideas, does that mean you won’t consider me for funding?” If you work on something of interest to me, it may be fundable.

QC16: Where can I find information about the requirements for the degree, and about requirements / standards for the thesis?

A: See question QC7 above.

QC17: What are your requirements for a thesis?

A: A masters thesis should involve independent research by the student (with guidance from the advisor), and should result in publishable work. A doctoral dissertation should result in original contributions to the engineering literature. Masters and doctoral work can involve either theory or practice. The more theory that is involved, the less application is required. The more application that is involved, the less theory is required.

Published work is essential. I will not advise theses whose only significant output is “I learned a lot”; that outcome characterizes independent study courses, not theses. Expect to submit papers to conferences or journals before you graduate. Often a conference paper provides the blueprint for a thesis.

QC18: How long does it take to get a masters (doctoral) degree with a thesis?

A: There is no formula for degrees, and times can vary greatly. A “typical” masters student starts in fall of year Y, takes two semesters of course work and begins working on a thesis in summer of Y+1, then completes two more courses and the thesis by the end of spring Y+2, or (frequently) early summer Y+2. Plan for at least 2 full years.

A “typical” doctoral student (already having a masters degree), if there is such, takes courses for 1 year, starts research and finishes any remaining courses in the third semester, and works full time on research for another 2 years. Now we’re at 3.5 years. Five years is not unusual. Theoretical (mathematical) theses can take less, but it takes an unusually good student and fortuitous choice of problem to achieve that.

QC19: Can I do a co-op or internship even if I’m working on a thesis?

A: Early in your research, yes. Having more experience, particularly in a research lab, is a plus both before and after graduation. Later in your research it may not be a good idea; you lose momentum and delay graduation (perhaps forever).

QC20: How do I become familiar with what you do?

A: Read some of my papers and see the answer to QC8 above.

QC21: What software should I to use to write my thesis / paper?

A: Most papers written to communicate or publish results in the relevant areas of research require use of LaTeX. It takes time to learn, but in the long run you will be much better off if you learn it. If all you know is Word or a similar WYSIWYG formatting system, I recommend that you learn LaTeX as soon as possible. However, I do not insist on this.


Answers for prospective incoming students

QP1: What are my chances of admission, can the application fee be waived, do I really need GRE scores, ...?

A: These are all questions for the graduate college, and most of them are answered on the College of Graduate Studies web site. I am not in charge of admissions, and I do not keep track of admissions requirements. I am not an administrator, I am only a professor.

QP2: Will you recommend or secure my admission?

A: No. Admission decisions are made by the admissions committee, as a division of labor among faculty members. If I have never met you, they have the same basis for decision as I would. If you presented a paper at a conference I attended and we talked about your presentation afterward, let the committee know that you spoke with me.

QP3: Will you provide me with financial support?

A: No. I do not provide financial support (i.e., research assistantships) to first-year students. We have many good students who are already enrolled who are looking for financial support. If I get some funding then of course I will give my funding to students who are already enrolled at CSU.

QP4: How do I get financial support?

A: It is very difficult to get financial support before you have started attending classes. Typically financial support is available from professors who have funding. They give financial support to the best students, based on their experience with students in their classes.

It’s a good bet that the best (upper 20%) graduate students will get a research assistantship after their first year, from some faculty member in the department. My best advice to brand new students is therefore to a) pick courses in areas in which you plan to specialize, and b) excel in your studies in your first year.

QP5: What should I do to get off to a good start at CSU?

A: See above.

QP6: Will you be my research advisor (i.e., may I join your research group)?

A: First, get admitted to the department. Second, enroll. Third, contact potential advisors during or after your second semester of graduate study.


Answers for all students

QA1: How should I contact you?

A: Email is the best way to contact me. My email address is on my home web page. You can also call me, but I check email more frequently than I check phone messages. CSU’s mail server automatically deletes ZIP, RAR, EXE, and other similar attachments. So if you must send me a ZIP attachment, rename the attachment with a different extension and let me know in your email what you have done.

QA2: Can you help me figure out why my circuit / computer program doesn’t work?

A: If you are not one of my students, then I do not have time to debug your hardware or software. I wish I could help everyone, but I do not even have enough time to do justice to my current students.


Answers for funding agencies

QF1: We have heard about your research and we want to give you a million dollars. What is the best way to get the money to you?

A: I am so busy with students that I do not have time for additional funded research. Please do not bother me with emails / phone calls / etc. I wish I could help you but I am just too busy.


Professor Simon’s Home Page

Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Cleveland State University


Last Revised: February 21, 2006