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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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
Your name and your advisor's name
Your signature and date