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Starting a PhD | Reply
This is not really job-related, but more career related. I am planning to start a PhD next year. My problem is that there are too many things that interest me and there are too many universities that I would like to study in.

So how do I choose my topic of research? How do I choose my supervisor and university? How should I write to a potential supervisor? How can I be polite and sound enthusiastic at the same time?

I want to hear people's stories about how they got involved in a PhD. I want to know about your application process, your area of research and just PhD life in general.
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by dimkadimon) | Reply
you can get a good advice from here...
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by relic) | Reply
Thank you. That was very helpful. I was surprised to learn that most US PhD programs take an average of 6 years! In australia its only 3-4 years.

According to the rankings in the document the top 4 CS US Programs are: Carnegie Mellon, MIT, Stanford, California-Berkeley and Illinois Urbana-Champaign in distant 5th.
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by dimkadimon) | Reply
There's a Carnegie Mellon starting up in Adelaide soon, if you don't want to have to move to US. Just a suggestion.
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by sql_lall) | Reply
Really? Thats very cool. Do you know when it will start?
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by dimkadimon) | Reply
I saw an article about it on ninemsn ( It says "to establish a campus of the Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide from 2006".
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by aussie) | Reply
Wow CMU is my alma mater...

Have heard nothing about this before, and I was even at Carnival this year...
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by sql_lall) | Reply
I can see only one problem with moving to Adelaide - the summer heat ;)

What are the rental prices like near the city? Anything cheap at the moment?
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by dimkadimon) | Reply
Heh, I was thinking more of the winter cold (it's too cold for me even up here in Brisbane).
I probably won't end up doing any post graduate study, at least not soon, but I haven't really decided yet. If I do decide to, I'll definately look into doing it at CMU Adelaide now that I know it's going to be there.
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by aussie) | Reply
Too cold in Brisbane?!? You should try living in Hobart, especially on the mountain where I live! The other day, we had snow in the morning.
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by dimkadimon) | Reply
Agreed, Australia is really cold place.
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by dimkadimon) | Reply
For a PhD, your advisor is the most important thing. Name recognition of the school does matter, but if you pick a bad advisor at a good school, there's a good chance that you won't finish, in which case the name of the school never does you any good.

Having said that, if you're like most people, you probably won't really know whether you like your topic or your advisor until you get started. Therefore, all other things being equal, it's better to pick a place that has multiple people and topics that you think you could work with than a place with only one potential advisor. In a similar vein, look for a school in which it is possible to change advisors. In most places it won't be easy to change advisors, because your funding will be tied to your advisor, but some places make it easier than others.

One last note. I would avoid anyplace that has a model of "weeding out" their students. Some places/projects bring in more students than they can support in the long term, planning to drop some of them along the way. It's one thing if you decide on your own to leave, but you don't want to get a year or two in your program and be told that you have to leave because your project can only support the top N of their students and you didn't make the cut. Of course, such places aren't likely to tell you that that's the way they work ahead of time, but you can probably get some idea by talking to the current grad students.
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by vorthys) | Reply
From what I understood if you have a particular interest and aptitude it is common to transfer at the graduate level once accepted. CMU has a good robotics and hci branches developed. (Worked for a former director of the robotics institute). They were just starting to develop more strengths in database technology also. Sometimes it helps to know what the school wants to develop rather then going right for the toughest field immediately.

Foot in the door approach.
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by vorthys) | Reply
Thank you vorthys - that was extremely useful! I have some follow up questions.

Suppose I have a choice of picking between a young energetic, but inexperienced advisor and one who has a lot of experience, but also many other commitments (eg other students, editorial board etc.) Which one should I go for? I know for 1-year projects (we call them honours) its important to meet your advisor on a regular basis to tell them about the progress of the project. However, does this apply to a PhD? - from what I've heard most PhD students barely see their advisor. Is this true?

On a similar note, would you pick a well-known advisor who has little experience in your topic, or would you pick a less-known advisor who specializes in your topic? I know that having a "big name" behind your PhD is important for papers and conferences. Then again, there is no point of having an advisor if he doesn't know much about your topic.

Like most TopCoders I am interested in Algorithms. Which schools would you recommend for the study of algorithms? I know Waterloo and Toronto are pretty good for this. I am also interested in Games Research, would Alberta be a good place for that? Alternatively, what topics would you recommend that involve a lot of algorithmical work and problem solving?

I would like to know which topics people are researching right now (or have in the past) for their PhD?

Finally, do you know which schools have the "weeding out" system?
Re: Starting a PhD (response to post by Olexiy) | Reply
What makes you say that? Have you been to Australia and if so which cities?

I would have to say that Tasmania is in general a cold place. Places on the mainland are much warmer (except maybe Melbourne).
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