What is good advisory of PhD students?

“Students?” barked the Archchancellor. “Yes, Master. You know? They’re the thinner ones with the pale faces? Because we’re a university? They come with the whole thing, like rats –”
“Moving Pictures” by Terry Pratchett

Going through some issues of the “Communications of the ACM“, I came upon an impressive opinion piece/experience report by David A. Patterson. In this four pager he describes what he has learned in 32 years of advising Ph.D. students.

He covers a lot of issues in these four pages, from the ground rules for Ph.D. students (“Show initiative, for fortune favors the bold”, “Sink or swim”, “Educate your professor”), via establishing the right environment (which helps “Acquiring research taste”, gives “Frequent feedback”, “Foster camaraderie and enthusiasm”) and the techniques to reach these goals (“Exciting multidisciplinary projects”, “Research retreats”, and “Open collaborative laboratory”) to actual advising (“each student is different”, “bolster confidence”, “practice public speaking”, “spend the time”, “give feedback, quickly and often”, “be a trusted counselor”, and “you’re a role model; act like one”). He also mentions that students often find their research topic worthless and what to do against this and he gives clear advice for advisors: “help if they stumble”, “aid non-native speakers”, “try co-advising”, and “mentorship doesn’t end at graduation”.

It’s an impressive read and well-worth reading if you work with students. I especially like his insight that:

“your main academic legacy is the dozens of students you mentor, not the hundreds of papers you publish”

Perhaps you must be near the end of your career to say something like that, but on the other hand, if you are really good and are good with students (including their selection), how can you fail to produce great papers (and conference proceedings and prototypes)?

The article is: Patterson, D. A. (2009). Your Students Are Your Legacy. Communications of the ACM, 32(3), 30-33. doi:10.1145/1467247.1467259

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