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At the start ... How to write a good (no, great) PhD dissertation

From pdf.

Look around

  • Papers appearing in the top conferences (not necessarily journals) in your field over the past 2-3 years
    • Look at the best papers in those conferences
    • Look for taste in research, taste in presentation style, amount of work that it takes to have a best-paper award
  • Theses of the ACM Doctoral Dissertation Award winners and honorable mentions over the last 2-3 years
  • Your advisor’s thesis and recent university theses
    • Helps you to understand how much “work” your advisor will expect
    • Ask your advisor what he/she is proudest of and what he/she would do differently, if given a chance to re-write the dissertation

Defining the problem

  • Paragraph 1: What is the problem?
    • Not more than 3-4 sentences telling the reader what the problem is, in as simple English as possible
  • Paragraph 2: Why is the problem hard?
    • What has eluded us in solving it?
    • What does the literature say about this problem?
    • What are the obstacles/challenges? Why is it non-trivial?
  • Paragraph 3: What is your approach/result to solving this problem?
    • How come you solved it?
    • Think of this as your “startling” or “sit up and take notice” claims that your thesis will plan to prove/demonstrate
  • Paragraph 4: What is the consequence of your approach?
    • So, now that you’ve made me sit up and take notice, what is the impact?
    • What does your approach/result enable?

Writing up ... How to Write a Thesis: A Working Guide


  • Hartmann's hints
    • Title. The title should be succinct, focused and objective, giving, if possible, the scope of the thesis.
    • Abstract or Summary. Examiners will look here to find out whether it is new knowledge; and if so what.
    • Introduction. Remember that the introductory pages are important because they create the first, and perhaps lasting, impression on the examiner. Use flow diagrams, headings, sub-headings etc., to create and sustain interest.
    • Literature Review. This should be a critical synthesis of the state of the knowledge. Especially important are the areas needing further investigation: what has not been done, as well as what has been done, but for which there is a conflict in the literature. The examiner finds out how the candidate thinks from reading this section.
    • Experimental Chapters. The hypotheses must be framed carefully and experiments designed thoughtfully
to test it.
    • General Discussion or Conclusions. You may afford to be speculative here.
    • Examiners ask the following questions when reading a thesis:
      • Has the student read all the references?
      • What questions does this thesis raise?
      • What richness does it contain that can spawn other work?
      • What is the quality of flow of ideas?
    • Keep in mind that examiners read a thesis in instalments and display a natural benevolence, i.e., they do not set out to read a thesis with the aim of failing the student.
    • Read the whole thesis to pick up repetition.
    • Read your thesis for ideas and read it again for editing.
  • A common structure used for experimental chapters
    • Introduction/Aim - What did you do and why?
    • Materials and Methods - How did you do it?
      • Assumptions
      • Hypothesis
      • Methods
      • Materials
    • Observations/Results
      • What did you find?
      • Analysis of the results
    • Discussion - What do your results mean to you and why?
      • Comment on the results - what are they?
      • What meaning can you rest from them?
      • Are they in accord with accepted theory?
      • Do the results uphold your assumptions?
      • How do you treat unexpected or inconsistent results?
      • Can you account for them?
      • Do your results suggest that you need to revise your experiments or repeat them?
      • Do they indicate a revised hypothesis?
      • What are the limitations in your methodology?
      • How do your results fit in with the work of others in the field?
      • What additional work can you suggest?
    • Conclusions - What new knowledge have you extracted from your experiment?
  • A thesis must tell a story clearly and convincingly.
    • The structure impart logical continuity to the thesis in much the same way that links in a chain confer on it integrity and strength.
  • The hypothesis is all important. It is the foundation of your thesis.
    • Some different explanations:
      • The hypothesis defines the aim or objective of an experiment, that if some likely but unproven proposition were indeed true, we would expect to make certain observations or measurements.
      • A hypothesis is an imaginative preconception of what might be true in the form of a declaration with verifiable deductive consequences.
      • Hypotheses are the larval forms of theories.
      • ‘In every useful experiment, there must be some point in view, some anticipation of a principle to be established or rejected’; such anticipations are hypotheses.
  • Key features:
    • Fits known facts (know the literature).
    • Is testable (done the experiments).
  • Example from engineering.
    • Engineers invent rather than discover, but they discover knowledge along the way.
    • ANN + hardware to sort good apples form bad.
      • what is good? what is bad? what is accuracy?
    • discover works well with green apples, but not red ones.
      • discovered new knowledge.
      • suggest revised hypothesis as a starting point for new research.
      • have demonstrated the hypothesis ‘It is possible to sort good green apples from bad green apples, with an accuracy of better than 90%, using ANNs and suitable hardware’.

Writing a (Computer Science) Paper


  • Background
    • Motivation – a real issue?
    • What is the research context?
    • What is the state-of-art?
  • Hypothesis / Problem
    • What is broken/missing (the ”grab")
    • What are the research question? (more abstract than what you have done)
    • Thesis or Problem statement
  • Goals and methods
    • What are the operational goals of this paper?
    • And how were they achieved?
  • Results
    • Contributions
  • Paper overview
    • Outline of the rest of the paper

  • Main body
    • Section organization reflects how your argument unfolds
    • Each section should have a main point
    • Each paragraph should have a main point
  • Summary/Conclusions
    • Tell them what you’ve told them
      • some people only read abstract, intro and conclusions
    • Relate back to general area
    • Introduce future work

Publishing process

  • Types of venue
    • Workshops are great for initial ideas (hard to attend from NZ)
    • Conferences for work showing that have done something, have results and can reflect upon it
    • Journals don't cost anything to attend (good) but require more than conferences
    • Industry events are great for getting feedback and promoting yourself
  • Choosing a venue
  • Applying for funding to attend
  • Responding to rejection
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