Sunday, November 23, 2008

Useful Things to Know About Ph. D. Thesis Research

Quick notes on thesis writing.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Writing tips for PhD students

An interesting read by John Cochrane.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

If I were to redo the 1st year....

Just thinking of what would I have done differently for the 1st year in the program.

1) Use a bibliography software from Day 1. Use it to record each of the readings that I have done. The abstract, theories, hypotheses/propositions, results & findings, AND comments and thoughts. I think this would be very useful when preparing for qualifiers. (Sadly I only started to use it towards the end of the 1st year.)

I heard of people using Endnote. Since I'm a poor grad student, I have looked for some free solutions. One is a web-based, basic bibliography system at Another is a freeware application JabRef. Take your pick.

2) Get involved in some research groups. Keep myself busy with a two or three group and/or individual projects in hand...

3) For every research idea that I have, I would bounce it with one or two profs early. Research ideas evolve, and time and expertise are of essence. Share with the profs the idea, get their opinions, read more, and fine tune the model, and the cycle continues.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Summer research project

I'm working on a summer research project, as part of the requirement for PhD program. Very early this year (like in the 1st week of Jan), I managed to connect with a company that was (and, I hope, is still) interested to work on a project together. However, the communication with that contact person was kind of slow... due to his workload, he would take couple of days, sometimes weeks, to respond to my email, etc. Nevertheless, there was some (slow) progress.

My plan was to collect the data through the company during the summer - by June, but not later than July. Give myself 2 good months to do data analysis. A shocker came in late May, just after my final exams, that person whom I have been talking to over the last 5 months was leaving the company. Given that he was my only point of contact in the company, I had to quickly find someone else to liaise with. It took two long weeks of silence before I received the confirmation from the company, that the project would proceed. The communication with the new contact person was going pretty well, and I thought we can do a pre-test in early July (slightly later than my initial plan).

But somehow during the last two weeks (late June), things kind of slow down once again. Early July is now here, but we are still a few steps away from a pre-test. Hopefully, we can pick up steam over the next 2 weeks... 

So many  ups and downs, so many factors beyond one's control and influence. I have learnt two things through the various periods of waiting. First, always be hopeful. During the 2 weeks of silence in early June (when my 1st contact left, and before the 2nd contact responded), I was stubbornly hopeful that the project would go on. In fact, my advisers were kind of concerned about the possibility of doing the study with the company, and suggested that I think of alternatives. My first response was that I would not give up until I hear a definite "no" from the company. I continued to work on the ideas, etc., albeit at a slower pace.

Second, silence presents opportunities. Even before my advisers asked me to think of alternatives, I already had some thoughts on how else I could get the data, or what else I could examine. The time of waiting allowed me to put more thoughts to develop these ideas, which are possible projects for the future. Also, during the last two weeks, as things slowed down, I managed to enhance the data collection procedure. Had the pre-test have gone on as planned, I might not have been able to realize some possible blind-spots or work on them. Even during the early part of the year, because the communication with the first contact was kind of slow, I had the opportunity to fine-tune my ideas - so much so that the model I have now is quite different from the one then. 

Just some learning points, that perhaps could be useful in the situation that you are in. Disclaimer: being stubbornly hopeful involves risks... so calculate your risks properly. 

Thursday, May 29, 2008

End of Year 1 (unofficially)

A quick review/reflection. Grade-wise, there is a disappointment for one of the early modules that I've taken. For the other modules (for which the grades have been returned), I guess I did quite alright. Research-wise, I'm kind of focusing on one particular project. Getting some help from some of the profs, but I'm really in the driver's seat. Still ding-donging with the data source - hopefully the data collect can start soon. (Anyway, I'm working on a paper that I was doing last year before the start of the program with another prof. Hoping to get it into a special issue.)

It is kind of pressurizing when you see your colleagues embarking on multiple projects, submitting papers to conferences (and getting accepted) , presenting initial results of data that has been collected - and you don't have much to show expect for a research proposal. Is it a matter of one not working hard enough, not networking wide enough, or not being proactive enough?

Anyway, still have an exams to take (next week).... Hope that my project will bear some fruits during the summer.

Friday, March 14, 2008

1st year grad student: some reflections

I have completed almost 75% of my first year in the PhD program. Lots of thing to read, think, and write. This would continue till end of Dec 2008, before I take my qualifiers.

Looking at the last 1.5 semesters that I have taken, I must say that the coursework has been really challenging. Some have also been quite interesting and enriching. Thankfully, I think I have done relatively well in terms of the grades. What I realized is that the main "burden" is really on the research. What is the research question? What are the research motivation? What exactly am I trying to study? What has been done before? Why should I do it now? How should I approach it? Where to get the data? Seriously, these things just come naturally to my mind when my mind is not set on other things.

Anyway, I have spent the last week trying to do a preliminary analysis of some data that I have. And I'm a little disappointed and demoralize by the analysis... Before it turns into a "file-away" idea, I would try to see if there are other ways to work the data. I guess this is why it is call research - we just have to keeping search and searching again.

One challenge that I'm facing is having someone to talk and discuss my ideas with. While the profs are pretty brilliant, open and helpful, none of them are exactly doing what I'm intending to do... Sometimes it just seems like I'm isolated on an intellectual island...

Other than these, I'm surviving well for my 1st year. Thank God. -SDG-

improving your chances in PhD application

Someone asked, what should he do between now and the next round of application? Work on the GMAT and SOP?

Honestly, I think GMAT and SOP are not the key things once you have hit certain cutoffs (slightly below the schools ave GMAT; a well written SOP). The main differentiating factor among PhD applicants, in my opinion, is their research potential. GMAT score is definitely not a relevant proxy for this. Well, you may be able to show your potential in your SOP... but the best ways to indicate your potential are: (1) your research output (# of pubs, and where they got published), (2) your research experience (what's project, what're your involvements), (3) letter of recommendations (what does other profs say about your research potential).

(3) is outside your control, although you can influence it somewhat. (1) is the most influential in affecting your application outcome; but it is also the most difficult to achieve for a typical applicant. And improving this within 1 year is a tough call.... hey getting 1 pub is 5 years for a PhD student is already so tough....

(2) is something that you can improve on in one year, and in a way it can help you in (3) and potential (1). So I would say try to look for opportunities to be involved in some research project, and get into a position where you can contribute meaningfully.

Having said these, it is important to realize that the whole phd application-admission process is structurally random - there are certain things you should do, must do, or need to to, but doing these things does not necessary mean that you are the applicant whom the school school accept, must accept or need to accept.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Spring 2007 Semester

The new semester is starting in a few days' time. Apart from the 6 to 8 classes that I have signed up, there are also (1) research papers that I need to start working on, (2) grading jobs that I have taken up (for extra $$$), (3) diagnostic tests that I need to take. It is going to be a rough ride for the next few months...