Thursday, October 9, 2014

My students

I want my students to be: 
  1. I want my students to be restless.
  2. I want them to not be content on what they have.
  3. I want them to have a desire to achieve more/bigger/better/sooner/now/grand/
  4. I want them to bug me for more time, for more resources, for more (research) problems
  5. I want them to email me or call me at odd hours when they get to a solution and have a Eureka! moment. 
  6. I want them to be self-driven and motivated so that they can come up with their own (research)problems to solve and solutions to those problems that no one has ever thought about.
  7. I want them to write more papers, give more presentations, give more talks, go to more conferences, write and distribute more code, be better, hungrier, faster, stronger than any one else
  8.  I want them to be organized and neurotic with scheduling their work in most optimized form possible with their circumstances
  9. I want them to dream big and I want them to pursue that dream despite all odds. (It is no fun to pursue a dream if the odds are not against you)
  10. I just want the list to have ten elements so that I can say that these are the ten commandments that I want in my students.
Yes, I want them to be like me and I want them to work all the time (at least in their head), be restless all the time, be hungrier all the time, dreaming all the time.

I know I am not realistic.


  1. You and me both, brother.

    These days I am very down on how unrealistic these expectations are. Last week I walked into my lab at ~ 2 pm on Wed or Thu, and one of the students was online, with headphones, playing a MMORP game. He later proceeded to complain how he is too busy TA-ing and can't get anything done for research and how I should pay him as RA so he could get more research done. I should have taken that opportunity to tell him that maybe he'd get more stuff done if he didn't play video games in the middle of the day.

    I have another one who is TA-ing and he's completely disappeared. I don't think these kids realize what it is to be insanely busy. They actually put in 20 hours/wk and they are toast. And they all are very protective of their weekends and evenings. I have one who will not respond to email over the weekend.

    Sometimes I want to ask them all, collectively: Are you fucking well rested already?! What are you so tired from, barely working all week?

    At times like these, I totally understand the slave driver advisors. I am lenient, hoping they are self-motivated, but the result is that most of them just don't work enough. Or at all.

    That makes me pissed. Also sad. But mostly pissed.

    1. I am pissed but I want to be lenient. I worked on weekends and evenings in my graduate student days. Worked numerous nights and slept on the lab floor for I don't know how many nights; not because someone wanted me to.

      These students don't have that fire and I don't know how to put it in them?

    2. You can't. It's either there or it's not. Sometimes it does get ignited once they have reached some level of competence and have had some successes, so they feel a little more confident and get more interested in the work.

      But often it never does. That's probably the biggest and most surprising lesson learned as a young prof: most students are not like you. They will never be academics, and most don't even want to. The question is then for each one of them whether getting a PhD is still a meaningful course of action, taking into account your (the advisor's) time and energy and funding needed to bring them into competence, and the student's abilities and attitude. You can get useful work out of almost anyone. But sometimes the amount and quality of work is not worth the time and money.

      I have a student who has started his 5th year with me. He had a low-quality paper two years ago and just got his first reasonably decent (short!) paper. I thought he was much further along on his third paper that he needs to graduate, but it turns out he has been sitting on his hands for ages and what I thought was thinking deeply about how to implement something was actually tabula rasa. Not that he even sought me to discuss the problems. He was simply doing nothing and saying nothing. I am quite ticked off and am thinking of cutting losses and letting him go early, as the amount of money he costs me does not justify the minuscule output he has been having.

      Advising is tough. But all it takes is one really good student and you will perk up. Good luck!

    3. How awesome it would have been if I could clone myself as a researcher. Very productive lab I would have :D