To get a PhD...

In early 2011 I received an email with the following question:

Out of curiosity - what would it take to do a PhD under your supervision?

Intriguing question, I thought, and started to put together a list representing my view of the key properties of a good PhD student. Here is what I came up with:

You have to...

  • have (or soon receive) a Masters degree in computer science/engineering, informatics, or related fields
  • be really excited about our project
  • be persistent (get back up and continue when things don't work out as planned -- true research rarely works out as planned)
  • be fearless (e.g., be ok hacking a virtual machine, a compiler, a kernel, or implementing a complex algorithm)
  • have a small child's attitude (to want to understand and learn about everything they encounter)
  • have an engineer's attitude (not to take the first solution that comes to mind, but to look at the key alternatives)
  • have a researcher's attitude (to want to truly understand something, and to not be satisfied with the first best explanation)
  • want to look at the simple and obvious before exploring the complicated
  • be able to focus (to ignore the many other cool things one could also do)
  • derive pleasure from coming up with a logical and clear argument or explanation
  • like to read (books, papers, papers, papers)
  • like to write (prospectus, proposal, dissertation, and papers)
  • like to present (at conferences, or in class)
  • like to convince others using sound arguments
  • be ok working hard
  • under-promise and over-deliver
  • be happy staying in Lugano for quite some time
  • be ok traveling long distance from time to time (e.g., for conferences, maybe internships)
  • be ok with the USI informatics PhD regulations (e.g., TAing and taking some courses)
  • be ok investing 3+ years as a "research apprentice" (aka PhD student)

Once I had this list, I decided to use it in my PhD position announcement for the ParaBoost project. As a result the list has been blogged about. We later used it in our common announcement for the FAN Sinergia project positions between USI and ETH, and Eric Bodden used it to announce positions for his EC SPRIDE project.

It was a pleasure to receive several very nice and encouraging comments on the above list. An even greater pleasure was that the person who had asked the original question ultimately decided to join us as a PhD student.

-Matthias Hauswirth