Info for Spaf's grad students



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Here is information for graduate students who are interested in having me as an advisor or committee member.

Purdue students: Here are the two presentations I make every year in the CS 591 seminar for new graduate students: the nature of science and the lecture on ethics.

All Students

New and prospective graduate students who are interested in working on a thesis under my direction or with me as a committee member should review the information on this page. Undergraduates and graduate students interested in working on an independent study project with me should see the information on my courses and teaching page.

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I encourage all my graduate students to read this material. (Thanks to colleagues who made me aware of some of these, including A. Antón H. Vaughn, and D. Comer):

Professional and Research Ethics

Making honest mistakes can be a setback. Cheating, plagiarism, falsifying data, or any of several other transgressions can ruin your career and possibly be sued or prosecuted. Even minor misbehavior can cause you a lot of damage.

As a computing professional (especially if you work in security), you have a certain set of duties to society and to your colleagues. You should definitely know and understand them — you won't be able to claim ignorance if you're caught in a dishonest act.

All graduate students who work with me (and especially those in CERIAS) should be aware of what I consider to be acceptable standards of conduct.

I require all of my students to complete the CITI Program self-study ethics module.

Communicating Well

Having the most brilliant ideas are not enough to excel. You must also be able to express yourself clearly -- in written work, in presentation materials, and in lectures. Here are some useful sources of advice on writing and presentations.

I also recommend the following two books. These can be a great help in developing proper style in writing technical papers. You can find both of these at any good bookstore, or online from a store such as Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Professor Matt Might has some great suggestions on useful references in one of his blog posts. I definitely suggest checking the books he mentions if you are serious about your writing (and you should be).

I have become a fan of Grammarly. The free version is helpful, and the commercial version is quite good. You should consider it as an add-on to whatever you use to write. Speaking of what you use to write, Word, Pages, and similar programs have minimal built-in grammar and spelling checking that you should enable when you use them.

Powerpoint presentations are not necessarily a good thing. See what the Gettysburg Address would have been like if Lincoln had used Powerpoint.
Put together by Peter Norvig, VP at Google.
(Also, you might like to watch this video by Don McMillan.)

Elsevier, one of the major journal publishers, has put together a set of online resources dealing with scholarly writing and publication. They are worth reading.

On Being a Grad Student

There are many useful tips for graduate students of all kinds. I believe these are good essays with which to start.

All About Pursuing a Ph.D.

So, you think you want to get a Ph.D. degree? It may not be quite what you think. And, it may well be the case that you are certain you want one, but aren't sure of the steps. These documents should help.

Science, Research, and Proving Things

It is interesting to note how many students get tripped up by not understanding some basic elements of proof, and by confusing building something as a matter of technology, with proving something by example.

Some Other Useful Information

Of course, my students probably want to read (and identify with) characters in the comic strip Piled Higher and Deeper.

And if my students (or others) are trying to find a good thesis topic and title, here are some suggestions.

For Prospective Students

I am currently supervising 5 graduate students in addition to being head of a graduate degree progam, and serving on many professional and government boards. I am reluctant to take on additional students except under special circumstances. Once some of my current students graduate, I may be better able to supervise new PhD students.

Students interested in working with me at Purdue must be admitted through the regular admissions process. I am not involved with admissions of students. Instead, students need to apply for admission through the individual department in which they wish to work. Information on the infosec-related programs is available on this page.

Once you are admitted to a department at Purdue and you enroll, you are welcome to make an appointment to see me to talk about your research interests. In general, I only accept as students those who meet the following requirements:

Note that I seldom have financial aid to offer to new students. I generally reserve support for students who have already completed a class or project with me. New students are welcome to work on a project in my lab in an unpaid position for the first few semesters, as a way of demonstrating their abilities and to see if we have a research topic they'd like to pursue. If the students fit in well with our group and do well in their classes here, then I will usually try to find a way to get them into a paid RA position after they have passed their first few qual exams.

You Want Me to Serve on Your Committee?

You want me to serve on your thesis committee? I am willing to consider such service when the topic area is one where I believe I can provide useful feedback. Note that I take such service seriously, and I tend to be picky about what is written and claimed in both the dissertation and defense. I have refused to sign at least one Ph.D. defense form because I did not find the work to be appropiate as a work of scholarship -- so be warned -- my signature is not a given!

I suggest you look at some of the items I have linked to this page. They may prove to be useful as you progress through your research.

If you still want me to be on your thesis committee, then please observe the following:

Once I agree to be on your committee, I expect the following to occur, in roughly this order:

  1. You will eventually provide me with a document describing your thesis research in more detail. This will include a comprehensive bibliography of related work, a statement of goals and assumptions, an outline of how you will proceed to prove your thesis, an approximate schedule of completion, and a statement of the consequences of your work. Your advisor must have approved this document. This same document will likely be used for your thesis proposal/prelim exam.
  2. At least once a semester you will send me some email detaiing your progress. You are welcome to stop in to see me to discuss your work or seek input, but that is not required unless you need it. However, I do want to be kept apprised of your progress.
  3. At least 1 month before you expect to begin a job search, you will make an appointment to meet with me. You will provide a copy of your updated C.V., copies of any publications, and copies of any statements you have prepared (e.g., statement of research or statement on teaching). We will discuss your goals and expectations, and go over the list of places where you intend to apply.
  4. You will check with me before scheduling your thesis defense to ensure that I am in town. I will not agree to a defense date that is within 5 days of the submission deadline in any semester except in very rare circumstances. Nearly every dissertation requires some editing and rework before submission, and sufficient time should be allowed for this.
  5. No later than two weeks before the scheduled defense you will provide me with a final paper copy of your thesis. This is a version that your advisor is happy with, and that you expect to defend. My decision of whether or not to sign the thesis approval form will be based, in part, on this version of the dissertation. I will not accept a new version provided less than two weeks before the defense -- and especially not at the defense itself! Schedule accordingly.
  6. Your defense should be structured as your advisor recommends. However, in general, assume your audience is familiar with the general context of your work. Assume your committee has read your dissertation. Address the important and subtle points to make your case. Be precise in your writing and speaking. Try to keep your presentation to under 45 minutes without questions.
  7. After you deposit the final version of your dissertation, it is normally the case that you present members of the committee with bound copies. I keep my copies as reminders of the hard work and creativity of the students, and I will be honored to receive a copy of your finished work.

You Want Me to be Your Advisor?

(I will more add to this as time goes on. This is currently incomplete.)

First, read through everything above, especially about what I expect from thesis students who have someone else as an advisor -- I expect all of that and more.

Students who want me as an advisor need to be very self-motivated and have a good understanding of what they want to do. Some advisors provide several meetings a week with students, but my schedule won't allow that. Some advisors provide their advisees a fleshed-out set of topics to complete, but that is not my approach. My approach is to guide students to discovering their own interests and get results. This is not a strategy that often results in multiple publications and a quick exit from grad school. Instead, I tend to work with students who want a deeper and more complete understanding of the field. This is not for everybody.

I expect my advisees to know how to write well in English, carry on a reasonable discussion with others, to be willing to investigate ideas on their own, and to apply themselves to whatever topic they are working on. If that doesn't describe you, then there are many other faculty who are looking for Ph.D. students.