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MS and PhD Committees

Here is a rough list of points about my serving on MS thesis, PhD qualifier, or PhD dissertation committees. If I am asked by the department to serve on a qualifier committee, the points about topic and familiarity would not apply as much, but the rest of them will.

  1. Topic: I strongly prefer to serve on committees for students whose topic is an area of interest to me. When I am not interested, the work is a bit of a chore and I have little value to offer the student. In particular, if you are from a department other than CSC and are looking for a random computer science faculty member, I would not be the one.
  2. Familiarity: It is best if I know you through a course (presumably you did well in such a course) or know of your advisor's work sufficiently well. This makes it easier for me to evaluate your work with greater confidence.
  3. Schedule: It is best to discuss your general schedule well in advance. Frequently, I will have travel plans during summer and inter-semester breaks. Plus I would want to avoid conflict with significant deadlines of my own. Although I would be reluctant to make a guaranteed lock on a time slot months in advance, I can give a tentative lock and would request a change only rarely.
  4. Venue: I strongly prefer that the exam location be on Centennial Campus. Going to the other campus adds to the overhead, and unnecessarily so from my point of view.
  5. Progress: I generally don't need to remain in close contact regarding your progress. For PhD students, I would like an occasional email. Verbal descriptions of what you are doing would usually be incomprehensible to me, so meetings are unnecessary. However, if you can give me a draft document (in a good enough state: see below), I may be able give you quick comments on them. MS students don't even need to send updates, but they can if they wish to.
  6. Quality: Please proof read or have someone proof read the document. Excessive or egregious grammatical errors are not OK. At your discretion, you might review some pages I have prepared for my advisees.
  7. Brevity: Short documents and short presentations are good! Have something interesting to say and say it quickly. For qualifier documents, don't go beyond the equivalent of 8 ACM proceedings pages including all figures and references. I don't have page length guidelines for theses, dissertation proposals, or dissertations. However, each such document should include a 1–3 ACM (conference style) pages long writeup describing what you have accomplished or propose to accomplish. A typical presentation for whatever exam should be about 30–40 minutes if there are no questions (longer in practice, but only because of discussions).
  8. Publications: For PhD students, I would like to see some publications, especially at the defense, but it can't hurt to have published while you are at earlier stages in the program. The more prestigious the venues the better. So allow enough time that you can get such publications—or, more precisely, to get your submissions officially accepted.
  9. Document: You can send me URLs to PDF versions of your close-to-final thesis or dissertation, in case I am traveling. Attachments are not welcome. In general, I would prefer to receive hardcopy of a close-to-final version 10–14 days before the exam date. For interim drafts (highly optional), hardcopy is sufficient. The hardcopy you turn in should be single-spaced with figures in their correct places, and should preferably be printed two-sided, and stapled (ideally parallel to the longer side of sheet or up to an angle of about 45 degrees, i.e., up to about 90 degrees to the principal diagonal) in the top-left corner. I will bring my comments to the exam.
  10. Reminders: Soon after we agree on a time and location, please send me a confirmatory email. Importantly, send reminders close to the exam, especially a week, a day, and a couple of hours before it is to be held. If you can't remind me, I can't promise to show up! In case you are wondering, I have not shown up for one such case and I have been on committees where other committee members didn't show up. This wastes the time of the people who are punctual.
  11. Updates: I will be updating this document continually, but I don't expect you to review it continually. However, I ask that you review it a month before each exam in which I will participate on your committee.

If I serve on your committee (whether I am asked by you, your advisor, or the department to do so), I insist that you respect these requirements unless your advisor can persuade me otherwise. When I join your committee, please print and sign this document, and hand it over to me. Your signature certifies that you were given these requirements and that you understand that I can reasonably hold you to them.

Your name and your advisor's name

Your signature and date