How to do a PhD

The following 10+1 commandments are meant to help our students understand what it means to get a PhD. They have been inspired by many sources, some of which are listed below. Special thanks go to Luca Aceto, for his inspiring work and his suggestions to improve the commandments.

  1. FIND A TOPIC

    Find a topic you really care about and that is interesting for others as well. Focus on a problem that needs to be addressed, not on tools or methods. You have to push forward the frontier of knowledge, but you do not have to solve necessarily a big problem.

  2. FIND A SUPERVISOR

    Consider the interests and expertise of potential supervisors. The more a supervisor is interested in a topic, the more (s)he will be committed. Meet your supervisor regularly to discuss your work and to evaluate your progress.

  3. FIND YOUR TRIBE

    You will be part of a community: people who are interested in your work and can evaluate and criticize it. Identify your community, and make a list of venues – conferences and journals – where it meets to discuss and exchange ideas.

  4. KNOW YOUR ROOTS

    Acquire a strong background, then specialize. Identify the classics and best-sellers in your community. Learn the tools and methods in your chosen field as well as their limitations.

  5. STAY UP TO DATE

    Keep track of the hot topics and latest results in your community. Regularly check the list of accepted papers in your list of venues.

  6. LISTEN

    Attend courses, seminars, and conferences. Respect the speaker: be there mentally, not just physically. Be active, make questions. Read papers wisely: read the title first. If it’s interesting read the abstract. If it ‘s still interesting read the introduction, the conclusion and the references. If it’s still interesting, read it all in a critical fashion.

  7. TELL

    Share what you learn and discover: write notes and papers, give talks and talk with your colleagues in informal settings. Publish rationally: focus on solving problems and on quality. Consult your supervisor before preparing a paper.

  8. EVALUATE

    Evaluate the work of other researchers to understand how to improve your own work and how it will be evaluated. Do joint peer-reviews with your supervisor.

  9. BE OPEN MINDED

    Focus on your tribe, but listen to others. This may be your last opportunity to dedicate time to topics not strictly inherent to your work: not all companies apply Google ‘s 70/20/10 innovation technique.

  10. MARRY THEORY AND PRACTICE

    Computer Science has both a practical and a theoretical aspect: good systems are based on fundamental theory and good theory has practical relevance. Independently of the theoretical level of your work, keep your eyes open for possible applications. Conversely, try to base your practical work on good theory.

  11. HAVE FUN

    A PhD is not just a job, it’s a passion. Completing a PhD in 4 years is not easy. You will have to work very hard and professionally, and you will succeed only if you enjoy it.


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