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Finding and Training Your Advisor. 2013 CRA-W Graduate Cohort Workshop. Diane Litman PROFESSOR COMPUTER SCIENCE DEPT UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH. *Thanks to prior speakers for these slides and content. Diane Litman. Education MS/PhD: University of Rochester, 1986

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2013 cra w graduate cohort workshop

Finding and Training Your Advisor

2013 CRA-W Graduate Cohort Workshop

Diane Litman




*Thanks to prior speakers for these slides and content.

diane litman
Diane Litman
  • Education
    • MS/PhD: University of Rochester, 1986
    • AB: College of William and Mary, 1980
  • Positions
    • 2001-present: University of Pittsburgh
      • Computer Science Department (Associate/Full Professor)
      • Intelligent Systems Program (Secondary Appointment, Past/Upcoming Director)
      • Learning Research and Development Center (Research/Senior Scientist)
    • 1985-2001: AT&T Labs - Research (formerly Bell Laboratories)
      • Artificial Intelligence Principles Research Department (Member of/Principal Technical Staff)
    • 1990-1992: Columbia University
      • Computer Science Department (Assistant Professor)
  • Service
    • Chair (elected): North American Chapter of the Association for Computational Linguistics, 2000-2001, 2002-2003
    • Editorial Boards (current): Journal of AI Research, Transactions of the Association for Computational Linguistics
    • Member of many technical program committees
    • Speaker: CRA-W Graduate Cohort, 2007
my research areas
My Research Areas
  • Speech and Language Processing
    • Spoken Dialogue Systems
    • Enabling Technologies
  • Artificial Intelligence in Education
    • Tutorial Dialogue
    • Web-Enabled Peer Review
    • Automated Essay Assessment
  • Knowledge Representation and Reasoning, Natural Language Learning, and User Modeling
advanced degree research need an advisor mentor
Advanced Degree == researchNeed an Advisor/Mentor
  • At some point in your graduate career, you need to find a research adviser/mentor
  • How do you do that? What is important about the process and that choice?
what is a research advisor
What is a Research Advisor?

Learning to do research – Apprentice relationship: Explains, shows and helps you do research

  • Find a research problem
  • Get a proper background: literature, skills at critical reading and understanding
  • Apprentice research --
    • How to identify problems worthy of Ph.D
    • How to tackle problems
    • Organize and write papers & proposals
    • Give talks
what is a mentor
What is a Mentor?
  • A Mentor
    • acts as advocate for your professional & personal development as well as research
    • develops and lasts over an extended period of time
    • provides help, advice, contacts, and information
    • provides encouragement and acts as advocate
  • Research advisor may or may not be a mentor
need both or more
Need both , or more
  • If advisor not a mentor, need to find one – or more
  • Could be in department or not
  • Could be in research area but in different university or industry
  • Can have more than 1 mentor
  • Finding a research advisor that is also a mentor is ideal, but you can find a mentor elsewhere!
expectations from the combination of advisor and mentor
Expectations from the combination of advisor and mentor

Beyond research:

  • Help build confidence – encouragement
  • Helping with networking
    • Conferences, workshops, email
  • Helps prepare you for talks
  • Helps prepare you for interviews
  • Helps with funding
finding an advisor
Finding an Advisor
  • Two important components
    • The research
    • The personality
doing a phd is not easy
Doing a PhD is not easy
    • It takes sustained work in an area
    • There are many hurdles to get over

But the rewards are amazing!!!

  • You need a research area/topic that you truly enjoy and can have passion about
  • You need an advisor that will help you achieve your potential
where are you now
Where are you now?
  • Best case situation: you know what research you want to do before you even choose your school
  • In this case: you don’t shop for a school, you shop for an advisor
don t know your research area
Don’t know your research area?
  • You need to shop for one – but you should consider advisor personalities as you do so
  • How?
    • Take classes
    • Talk to professors
    • Do projects with professors
    • Talk to other students about the faculty
finding evaluating an advisor
Finding/evaluating an advisor
  • Is the person in a research area you like?
  • Is the person’s work current and relevant? Funded? Where published?
  • How many students does she supervise?
  • How long does it take students to finish?
  • What is the placement of past students?
  • Are students given responsibilities?
  • How responsive is advisor?
    • How long to return written materials?
    • How accessible?
    • How helpful?
finding evaluating an advisor1
Finding/evaluating an advisor
  • How much freedom does the student have?
    • Learn to do research – find problems
  • Does the advisor publish with students? What is the order of names?
  • Who presents the papers that are co-authored?
  • Does the person take students to conferences and help with networking?
  • Are the person’s work habits compatible with own?
how to find out
How to find out
  • Look at faculty’s web page
  • TALK to current and past students!
  • Work on a small project with her/him
  • Take a class from faculty member
advisor student relationship
Advisor/Student Relationship
  • Not one size fits all!
  • There needs to be a match for you
    • What motivates you
      • Praise/criticism?
    • What is your working style
      • Groups (what size) versus alone?
      • Pressured or relaxed?
      • One track or multi-task?
      • Quiet or hustle and bustle?
      • Regular meetings or on-demand?
barriers to good mentoring
Barriers to good mentoring
  • Faculty member doesn’t have enough time to devote to mentoring
    • Being too busy is not acceptable
  • Faculty member and student are in competition with each other
  • Faculty member and student lack personal experience with people of different backgrounds
  • Trust/Respect is not there – different agenda
  • Communication problems – listening
  • Unrealistic expectations
do and don ts
Do and Don’ts


  • Listen and consider advice of adviser
  • Talk to adviser if you have problem in research
  • Make sure you are getting what you need from an adviser
  • Talk to adviser if not satisfied
  • Make sure (mutual) expectations are clear


  • Criticize your adviser in public
  • Get too involved personally with adviser – including intimate relationship
it doesn t always work out
It doesn’t always work out
  • Sometimes an advisor/advisee don’t work out together
  • The earlier this can be identified, the better off you are
  • Be honest and open about any problems
  • May need to simply find another advisor!
    • Funding implications?
    • Hard feeling? (hopefully not!)
  • Don’t bad mouth your advisor even if you switch
advisor mentors
  • Advisors and Mentors – very special people in your life. Relationship will have lasting effects on your career and your life
  • A mentor relationship(s) grow over time – and may be found in unexpected places
  • These are important relationships and having a match is something that takes some thought.

Take the time to do it right!


Thanks to others who came before me for the deck of slides!!

    • Chandra Krintz, 2012
    • SohaHassoun, 2011
    • Mary Lou Soffa, 2007
    • .. And beyond..