are Your legacy
This Viewpoint boils down into a few magazine pages what
I’ve learned in my 32 years of mentoring Ph.D. students.
One oF MY favorite activities
is advising, so I was happy
to accept the invitation
to give advice about giving advice. Some faculty
members give new students a list of
their expectations and student rights.
One student did so well that I asked
him if he knew why. He said I gave him
helpful guidance upon entering graduate school, when he was eager to hear
it. He then told me what I said, which
I’ve been telling to new students ever
˲ Show initiative, for fortune favors
the bold. Don’t wait for professors to tell
you what to do; if we were good managers, we probably wouldn’t be faculty. Explore, challenge assumptions, and don’t
let lots of prior art discourage you.
˲ Sink or swim. We’ll offer you what
we think are great projects with plenty
of potential, and we’ll support you the
best we can, but it’s what you do with
the opportunity that makes or breaks
your graduate student career.
˲ Educate your professor. We’re in a
fast-moving field, so for us to give you
good advice we need to know what
you’re working on. Teach us!
taste; in particular, how to identify
problems that if solved are more likely
to scale and have impact.
˲ Frequent feedback. Offer opportunities for students to practice communication skills by presenting to outsiders,
to improve their research via honest
feedback, to inspire them with earned
praise, and to set milestones for their
˲ Foster camaraderie and enthusiasm.
Create a community that provides camaraderie, group learning, mentoring
from senior students, and learning
from peers to make the whole Ph.D.
process more enjoyable.
Meeting these goals is not always
easy. I’ll describe three techniques
that have worked well for me and many
Berkeley systems students: team-ori-ented, multidisciplinary projects; research retreats; and open, collaborative research labs.
Exciting multidisciplinary projects.
I try to work with colleagues to create exciting, five-year projects that I
would die to work on if I were a graduate student again. We self-assem-ble into teams of typically two to four
faculty members with the right areas
of expertise to tackle a challenging
and important problem, then recruit
10 to 20 graduate students to work
toward building a prototype that
demonstrates our proposed solution. The accompanying table shows
it takes a Village to Raise a child
Advising is simpler if you foster an environment that helps students learn
how to become successful researchers.
The general goals of the environment
˲ Acquiring research taste. Provide
ways for students to acquire research
network of Workstations (no W) group reunion in 2008.
PhotograPh By eric anderson