Graduate Students


For the purposes of the GRA contract issued by department, the description of your duties is:
Doing theoretical research with analytic and numerical techiques; organizing or analyzing data; presenting findings in publications or dissertation and in talk at OSU and elsewhere including international meetings; collaborating with faculty in preparing publications and proposals, especially for computer time; collaborating with research of postdocs, GRAs and undergraduates; other research activities and other related duties as assigned.

Time spent

A reasonable expectation is 60+ hours per week. During this time you should do several things:

You can't do this on 40 hours a week. If you try, you will take longer to get a PhD then the best people do, and, worse yet, you will be less well prepared than the competition elsewhere that has been working this hard.


Weekly read the literature -- both papers and preprints.

You should regularly look at important developments in the following journals: PRL, PRB, APL plus about five other journals in your specialty. Consider subscribing to a free periodic listing of articles in given subjects, such as nanophyscis

You should subscribe to the daily emailing of condensed matter preprints from http://arXiv.org.

Occasionally you will find a preprint or paper in your SM4100 mail folder. This is a "gift" from me -- something you should look at, think about or use to develop a group talk


Attend seminars: condensed matter theory, condensed matter, colloquium and our group. In addition you may go to more specialized seminars such as electronic structure and chemical physics. On my web page are links to all these seminars.

Take notes on the seminars, even if you don't keep them. The act of trying to take notes will help you focus on the talk.

Ask questions. While you are taking notes, try to think of questions. If you can't think of questions, you probably don't understand the seminar. By the time you are third-year graduate student, you should be trying to ask a question each week in one seminar. If you can't do this, you are not functioning at a high enough level to survive the international competition.

That faculty don't ask many questions doesn't mean they don't have questions. Often they have decided that their question will be too disruptive to the flow of the seminar and they will have a chance to ask it later when they meet the speaker at a prescheduled meeting during the day of the visit. You may not get such a chance (see next item) and don't have enough experience to make such a fine judgment. A good rule is the following: if you don't understand something, there is good chance that your contemporaries at the seminar don't either. Many in the audience would appreciate the question. Don't worry about asking a `dumb' question. No one who matters will think the less of you for asking; instead they will respect you for trying to understand the talk.

Meet the speaker. Take an opportunity to meet the speakers on interesting topics. In the condensed matter theory seminar, we have reserved the lunch time after the seminar for anyone to talk to the speaker; come to 4100B. In addition, if the speaker is close to your interests, sign up for a meeting. The contact person will normally do everything possible to put you on the schedule. If you have trouble, ask me. But plan ahead: (i) ask early to be put on the schedule, and (ii) write out your list of questions or point you want to make to the speaker.

Weekly meeting ground rules

  1. The hour belongs to the student or postdoc in the sense that they pick the order of the topics discussed. However once a topic is started it may go in unexpected directions. Many meetings you will not get past the first topic. Start with the one that matters most.
  2. If you want me to have read something in advance, remember that my reading times are generally Tuesday and Thursday mornings. So if you get it to me the day before a Tues/Thurs before your appointment with a note that you want to talk about it at the next meeting I will try to oblige you. Of course, if the item is short -- an abstract -- I can do it at the meeting. Please feel free to use electronic mail. If it is hard copy, make sure you hand it to me. Giving it to my secretary will generally cause it to be put in a grey folder that gets looked at once a week at best.
  3. When you go to the blackboard, erase the whole blackboard first. Start writing in the upper lefthand corner.
  4. Bring enough background material with you so that you don't always have to say that you have the information but don't have it with you. Since you are picking the topics, you can plan ahead.
  5. Some times you will have not made any progress on a problem and don't want to talk about it. So you need backup items. Of course you can always cancel the meeting, but how often will you get the undivided time of someone willing to critically examine your views? A recommended strategy is to discuss a recent paper or preprint you are reading. Not only will I learn something but also you will eventually learn to read the literature more clearly.


Time spent, literature, seminars, Weekly meeting

Rules above apply.

Professional development

Developing research topics.. As a student, you may have largely done problems your adviser devised. With luck, by the end of your thesis, you had your own ideas and were telling the adviser to "butt out." Certainly that is my expectation for my students.

Of course, you came here because you expected to work in a general area. But the specific project must be mutually agreeable to you and me. I expect you to propose the project and then we will discuss it. Often it takes several weeks to months to develop a coherent direction. During this time, you will continue to read and think broadly, and also perhaps to finish projects/papers left from you last position. But you must multi-task.

When you first come, I will ask you to speak to every condensed matter faculty -- theorist and experimentalist -- so that you have some idea of the resources here. Often projects develop from these meetings. They should be done at the outset before you are emersed in the daily activities. The first few weeks are a time to be open to new beginnings. Of course, you should always be so open, but new starts are a most favorable time.

Preparing proposals.. From time to time, I may ask your help with a proposal. I hope to keep this to a minimum, but some times events catch me up. These should be looked at as opportunity: to learn about proposal writing without being "under the gun."

As explained in the section Computing Resources under Proposals, you will be responsible for obtaining and managing your computer resources.

As explained in the section Postdocs writing proposals under Proposals, postdocs staying more than two years are strongly encourage to write proposals to federal and other agencies.

Finally, I will occasionally give you papers to referee. Initially I will assist you in the process. Eventually I will be unnecessary. This is a task you will do the rest of your life -- evaluating others -- no matter where you go.

Supervising students.. What makes the group work is that everyone learns from everyone else. Students learn from more experienced students; students learn from postdocs; I learn from all.

Even if you do help supervise a student, I remain responsible for the student. Don't think you have to solve every problem; come to me. Typically a postdoc is amazed how slowly a beginning student does things. I am used to that and will attempt to teach you patience. What I don't want is that the postdoc sets a student on a project and then, impatient, does the project or competes with the student.

Your comments and suggestions are appreciated.
To cite this page:
Edited by: wilkins@mps.ohio-state.edu on