Moving to academia
In February 2003 I moved from a commercial company (Advanced Visual Systems) to a more academic workplace (Swiss National Supercomputing Centre) where I continued working in the same field: scientific visualization.
I have found the following documents useful to understand this new environment and to produce documents and talks in line with my new job.
- You and Your Research (1986), by Richard Hamming. A must read for everyone entering the research field or a research institution. In this Bell Communications Research Colloquium Seminar Mr. Hamming basically tried to answer the question: “Why do so few scientists make significant contributions and so many are forgotten in the long run?”. Stimulating.
- Technology and Courage (1996), by Ivan Sutherland.
- How to Build an Economic Model in your Spare Time (1994), by Hal Varian. This is an essay providing advice to graduate students in economics about how to do economic modeling. It was written for the American Economist, and is part of a collection titled Passion and Craft: Economists at Work, edited by Michael Szenberg, University of Michigan Press, 1997.
- How To Do Research In the MIT AI Lab (1988) edited by David Chapman.
- The ironic How to have a Bad Career in Research/Academia (2001) (2002 revised version or a local copy ), by Dave Patterson.
- Doing research in the behavioral sciences: practical advice for graduate students (2001), by Rudolph P. Darken.
- A Letter to Research Students , by Duane A. Bailey. This short memo is chock full of good suggestions for researchers. Highly recommended.
- How to Succeed in Science (local copy ), by J.D. Watson (do you remember DNA?). Transcript of a 1993 talk.
- The Researcher's Bible (updated 2004), by Alan Bundy, Ben du Boulay, Jim Howe and Gordon Plotkin.
- Becoming Part of the Research Community (1994), by Marie desJardins. This section is part of a guide aimed to graduate students, but this part has a more general focus.
The research notebook
How to write
If you try a web search, it returns a huge list of “how to write a scientific paper” documents. Some of them are content or structure oriented and some others are style oriented. Here I list only three of them that I have found more interesting, unusual and useful. Instead for the "How to…" section I have found really helpful advice from conference and journals referees, i.e. the users of my writing.
- The Science of Scientific Writing . "If the reader is to grasp what the writer means, the writer must understand what the reader needs". Good advice by George D. Gopen and Judith A. Swan (1990).
- Twenty-One Suggestions for Writing Good Scientific Papers by Ken Lertzman (Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America 1996) modified by Dr. Michael D. Delong.
- Three Sins of Authors in Computer Science and Math (1997), by Jonathan Shewchuk. Quite unusual advice.
- And for an Italian language guide try: Piccola guida alla stesura di una relazione scientifica (1999) (local copy ), by Giovanni Righini. A professor tired to see always the same errors in his students' papers.
- How to Increase the Chances Your Paper is Accepted at ACM SIGCOMM by Craig Partridge. The first half of the paper has general remarks on the paper evaluation process and advice deduced from it. The remaining of the paper is quite specific to networking papers.
- Similar in spirit is the paper: How to Get Your SIGGRAPH Paper Rejected ), by Jim Kajiya. He was the SIGGRAPH 93 chair.
- How To Have Your Abstract Rejected (alternative location), by van Leunen and Lipton.
- Advice to Authors of Extended Abstracts (local copy ), by William Pugh.
- An Evaluation of the Ninth SOSP Submissions, or, How (and How Not) to Write a Good Systems Paper by Roy Levin and David D. Redell.
- If you want to write a scientific paper, you must know the correct phraseology and be aware of the importance of the “least publishable increment” principle .
How to present
Well, I have a long history of talks and lessons, so this list is quite short.
- Oral Presentation Advice (1997), by Mark D. Hill with a section on "How to Give a Bad Talk" by David A. Patterson.
- How to give a good research talk (1993), by Simon Peyton Jones, John Launchbury, John Hughes.
- How to Present a Paper in Theoretical Computer Science: A Speaker's Guide for Students , (1988) by Ian Parberry.
- Ten Lessons I wish I Had Been Taught (1996), by Gian-Carlo Rota about his experience as a MIT professor.
- An interesting guide covers how a scientist could deal successfully with the news media .
Adding some points from my experience:
- Beware of colors! Test them with a real projector. There are colors that cannot be distinguished in a real conference room.
- Less text, more images. I'm in the visualization business!
- Think about your audience. Why try to present program source examples in front of scientists?
- Prepare a first question to make to yourself to "break the ice" at the start of the question time.
Networking and personal marketing
- Phil Agre, Networking on the network. Many graduate students don't realize just how much networking is necessary to begin building a research career. This essay is an excellent introduction to some of the things you need to know about building your research network. It contains an excellent list of references, as well. Reread this every few months until you've developed your own research network.
- The Need for Self-Promotion in Scientific Careers.
- From a more business oriented viewpoint: Networking Strategies for Shy Professionals. (2003), by Judy Rosemarin. Also the whole CareerJournal site contains a lot of interesting advice.
Conferences and workshops
- Hilarious advice in Conference Etiquette (1997), by Mark D. Hill and David A. Wood.
- How to Get the Most Out of Scientific Conferences by Richard M. Reis (serious) and again a more recent How to get the most out of conferences by Scott Berkun.
- A trip report from my first visualization congress as CSCS employee and another one from an unusual conference (Gordon Research Conference on Visualization 2007).
Be a referee
The peer review of scientific manuscripts is a cornerstone of modern science. So being a referee for a journal or conference is one of the jobs that sooner or later you should do in academia.
A quick search lands you on various guidelines and suggestions on how to serve the community as a referee. For example here is a 1990 advice by Alan Jay Smith on how to review a paper and another one on Ethics of Peer Review: A Guide for Manuscript Reviewers written by Sara Rockwell of the Yale University School of Medicine.
Moreover every conference put out useful guidelines about the referee work. For example: Ethics of the Technical Papers Review Process from the SIGGRAPH conference.
And my short experience as a referee:
- Ask to yourself: after reading this paper, will I be able to reproduce the research?
- Check and read every reference.
- If the names of the authors are available, try to check other works from the same people (sometimes they try to resubmit an almost identical paper).
- Be helpful about communication: the paper should be comprehensible! And this before delving into the paper content.
But it is not only a burdensome job. When you review a paper you are in contact with the most advanced research in your field, you are "forced" to read and understand in depth new works and you become known in your field as an expert.
Late addition: I have found two interesting papers on the referee work: How NOT to Review a Paper: The tools and techniques of the adversarial reviewer and the more serious The Task of the Referee again by Alan Jay Smith.