For current and prospective students.
Expectations are a two-way street.
This document summarises my expectations for current and prospective research students. Explicitly listing expectations means that prospective students know what kind of working environment they can expect, and current student know what's expected of them during their research project.
There is an overwhelming level of evidence indicating that explicitly listing expectations (from both parties) leads to higher research outputs, happier students and researchers, and a more effective and friendly working environment. For these reasons I strongly encourage all students to document their expectations of supervisors so that any mis-matches (e.g. in working style, demands, or expected outputs) are identified and worked through early on. There are many resources online that will help guide a student in making their implicit expectations explicit.
- We should meet weekly, at least. The frequency and length of meetings will vary for each student during the course of their research. It might be hourly meetings once a week, or five minute daily check-ins.
- Schedule meetings in my calendar. If a meeting isn't in my calendar, it doesn't exist. If you can't meet my scheduling constraints, then explain why in the notes of the Calendar invite. It shows me that you tried!
- No drop ins. Schedule a meeting instead.
There are exceptions. If you are having a crisis then I want you to drop in. In those cases you'll have my time and my ear. I'm here to hear and help, but only if you need it. If it helps, I am a LGBTIQ+ Ally and a Mental Health First Aider.
- Don't send an email to arrange a meeting; just send a calendar invite.
- Pro-Tip™: In Google Calendar click on Settings and navigate down to Event settings. Set Default guest permissions to 'Modify event'. That means if something changes last minute, or the time you have proposed is not ideal, then I can directly move the meeting time in both of our calendars. Without this setting it means I have to decline the event and create a new event that has all of your notes and location information.
- Default meeting times to 30 minutes unless you really think we need an hour. This is more of a guideline than a rule. In general you should consider how much of my time you need, and schedule for that. It's OK if we finish early, and if we don't get through everything then we already have things to discuss next time.
- Come prepared to meetings. Bring a notebook. Bring plots. Lots of them.
- Bring an agenda to each meeting that includes: progress summary, decisions that need making, questions, etc.
- On plots:
- Before you make a plot you should have some prior or expectation about what that plot will show you: what the data will look like, how you will interpret it, and what the primary message of that plot is.
- A great plot won't need an accompanying explanation. It should speak for itself. That means your plot needs axes, labels, legends, etc.
- You should be able to interpret and explain the broader implications of every plot you show me.
- You should have an opinion about every plot you show me. Are things working? Why? What did you expect that plot to show? If it's not working, why do you think that is? How could you find out? What have you tried already? What will you try next?
- My personal mobile phone number is in my email signature. That doesn't mean I want you to call or message me. Only do that if it's a crisis or emergency. Text messages or personal phone calls are not for science questions. I will ignore them.
Once a student was annoyed I didn't respond to a text message about a plot. It wasn't urgent. It wasn't for a grant, or a job application, or a telescope proposal, or anything with a deadline. They just wanted an answer. Now. At 16:00 on a Saturday.
At that time I didn't reply because I was four meters up on a wobbly ladder fixing weatherboards on the side of my house, right next to power lines, in the middle of summer.
I also didn't reply because don't text messages about science questions.
- I am not 'always on' for emails, or Slack. I turn both off when I want to focus on research. That means I respond to emails in blocks: all in the morning, or in the evening, or at some point. So you won't get a response immediately. If it's not urgent, you can expect to wait about a day before getting an email response from me.
- Every Friday I try to finish the week by being at #InboxZero. It doesn't always work.
- Consider that email response time before you email with a problem. Can you solve the problem in the same time? Even if you think you can't, just try the following:
- Draft an email to me that succinctly and specifically describes the problem.
- Don't send the email; save it.
- The process of writing that email can help clarify your thoughts.
- Use that clear mind to solve the problem.
- Delete the email.Or better yet, store it in an archive of emails you never sent: problems you solved that you didn't think you could at the time!
- Be kind to people. If you have to critic an idea, make sure you shield and promote the person who proposed that idea. I have no time or tolerance for racism, sexism, bullying, harrassment, or any variation thereof. Institutes and companies say they have a zero tolerance policy for this kind of thing, but I really do. I'll call the behaviour out the first time. If I think the behaviour is systemic I'll remove myself as a supervisor, and if it's reportable I'll report it. Whatever implications that has for you are on you!
- Respect other peoples' time. Don't ask people questions that Google, or the literature, can easily tell you. As an example, if I can type your spoken words into Google and find the answer then it's a waste of both our time.See 'How to impress academics' below.
- It's academia, and you have academic freedom. That means you have flexible working conditions. Work whenever you want, but I expect that you have at least some regular overlap at Monash during business hours. You should be part of the department.
- Treat research like a job. (Whatever that means to you.)
- Treat research like a profession, in that this is a workplace. It's not anyone's personal space. That means be professional in your interactions.
- Bring a notebook. Take notes.
- Find a note-taking system that works for you. Options include a Google Slide deck where you can throw plots in, or Evernote, Google Docs, or a physical notebook.
- Set up a data backup system that is impervious from you fucking it up.I couldn't destroy my backup system if I wanted to. All code is on GitHub. I make all presentations in Google Slides. My laptop is automagically backed up over wifi to a RAID-5 volume on a network attached storage device. Weekly backups are copied remotely to three separate locations. As David W. Hogg would threaten: "I should be able to throw your laptop in the Hudson river today and you should be working tomorrow without any loss of productivity."
- Use GitHub (or similar) to store your code. You get unlimited private repositories if you sign up using your Monash account. If you're coding then you should be pushing commits about every ten minutes.
- Use GitHub to write papers. Don't use Overleaf or any variant thereof. That stuff is total trash.Yes, I will fight you about this. Please schedule a time for our fight.
- Jupyter notebooks are great, but if you have a weird bug you should restart the kernel before you talk to me. You may have a state error.
- If you have a code or data analysis problem you want my help with then you should create a minimum reproducible example. Doing this will probably help you solve your problem!
- Read the literature. Read astro-ph. Either sign up to daily emails or develop a system that works for you. Either way: read it. Skim titles and abstracts, and read relevant papers.
- On writing: don't send me your first draft. Send me your fifth and tell me it's your first public draft. You're wasting my time if I am correcting your typos. Nothing infuriates humans more.
- Learn to write. Read creative writing books and do. what. they. say.
- Go to seminars. I don't care if you feel busy. An expert has travelled away from their family and work to distill everything they know about a topic and you are encouraged to ask them questions. It's the speakers' job to give cogent answers. You learn. You build breadth of knowledge. You network. And it's about being part of the department.
- Interact with the seminar speakers. Go to coffee with them. Speak with them at lunch afterwards. I cannot even express how important this is.
- If you really want to Win The Game: read a paper by the seminar speaker before they arrive. Even better if it's on the topic of their talk. Ask them good questions about their paper/science before their talk.
If you disagree with any of these expectations you should tell me you do because this is a living document and feedback is how we all navigate this world.
How to impress academics
What follows below are not expectations per se but are good tips on how to impress academics. Many students find these kinds of tips useful to make sure time with their supervisor is effectively spent. You should know that you don't necessarily have to 'impress' anyone during your career. But most researchers with good jobs (in industry and academia) were undoubtedly helped by the positive impressions they made on well-known people throughout their career. In the future those people you impress could be your supervisors, mentors, letter-writers, or people who chair fellowship or tenure committees.This section includes points that I had thought about before, but were cogently distilled by Professor Lisa Kewley (ANU), Professor Darren Croton (Swinburne), and Professor Matthew Colless (ANU) at an Astro3D workshop in 2019, held at the Australian National University.
- Do lots of consistently good work. To be great just means to do lots of consistently good things.
- Do not bother academics with minor problems. Solve them yourself. Search Google, search the literature, and develop a plan of things to test that will help solve your problem. Document your progress so you don't get stuck in a rabbit hole. Ask more senior students or junior post-docs.
- Interact on a regular basis (e.g., weekly, bi-weekly). Keep a constant stream of positive communication (e.g., results and progress).
- Bring lots of plots to meetings. But don't just make plots for the sake of making plots. There should be a reason or meaning you want to convey for every plot you present. Before you make a plot you should have an expectation for what the data, and that plot, should look like. You should have an opinion about every plot you make. After you've made a plot, ask: what plots would they want to see next?
- Don't miss meetings or deadlines. If you can see you are not going to make a deadline, communicate and re-schedule it the moment you know.
- Learn from them. Bring a notebook to every meeting. Use it. By taking notes you are consolidating your understanding. Making sure they don't have to say the same thing to you twice.
- Give them excellent first drafts of papers. Don't send them your first draft. Send them your fifth draft, or tenth, and tell them it's your first public draft. In order to write excellent papers you must read (many) papers.
Research has feedback and momentum, and it's not for everyone
Academics can identify which students are really committed to their research project, and those that are not. The more you contribute to a project, the more of my time and resources you will get.
Lastly, you should recognise that most doctoral students do not continue in academia. Perhaps 1% of successful doctoral students will be offered a tenured position at a research institution. That means academia is the alternative career path! You should do whatever makes you happiest, but you should let your supervisors and mentors know what your 5 year and 10-year goals are. If you don't have career goals on 5- and 10-year timescales, you should start making some. Don't let your career happen by chance. Tell your supervisors and mentors what those goals are, and how you plan to achieve them. They will help guide and challenge you.
The section on "How to impress academics" were inspired by Professor Lisa Kewley (ANU), Professor Matthew Colless (ANU), and Professor Darren Croton (Swinburne) based on an Astro3D workshop in 2019, held at the Australian National University.