Phiosophy and Guidelines for the Graduate Students

Collaboration and Sharing Ideas

Talk about your ideas. Help your colleagues work out their problems. Pay attention to what other people are doing, and see if you can learn something, or if you can contribute. Other than the mundane goal of getting your master or PhD, you are in graduate school to push back the frontiers of knowledge. You do this by generating and exploring new ideas. There is no way that you will ever be able to explore all of the ideas that you generate, but some of those ideas that you discard might be just what some of your colleagues are looking for.Human nature tends to make us want to hoard our own ideas. You have to fight against that. Human nature also tends to make us treat other people’s ideas with disrespect. The closer the idea to our own area of research, the more likely some part of our brain will try to find fault with it. Fight against that even harder.

You will find many people in academia who give in to the dark side. These Stealth Researchers never discuss what they are working on, except in vague and deceptive terms. They are experts at finding fault with the work of their colleagues. The Stealth Researcher writes papers that make very grand claims, but you can never quite figure out what they’ve accomplished and what they haven’t. He is a master at omitting the key detail of the design or process that would enable others to follow his work. The Stealth Researcher is a knowledge diode, a roach motel for information. He has replaced the fundamental goal of discovery and publication with the twin evils of ego and empire.

Be open about what you are working on. Be honest about what you’ve done, and even more honest about what you haven’t. Don’t ever hide an idea for fear that someone will steal it, even if you are talking to a Stealth Researcher. With patience, maybe we can cure them.



A research university exists to train students and to discover and disseminate. Traditionally dissemination has taken the form of publication (although the web is changing that somewhat, or at least changing the definition of publication).Conference publication serves to expose a particular research community to your ideas and results. A few hundred people will see your paper within the first few months of its appearance. Very few copies of the conference proceedings will exist after a decade has passed.

MEMS conferences tend to have pretty fast turnaround. You submit an extended abstract (typically 1 page of text and 1 or 2 of figures) six months before the conference. A couple of months later you find out if you are accepted. If accepted, you have another month or two to write the full/final version of the paper.

Journal publication (sometimes known as archival publication) serves to preserve your ideas and results indefinitely. Hundreds or thousands of libraries will keep copies of your paper for decades.

It’s OK to submit a conference paper to a journal (this is common and encouraged, if it’s a good conference paper).

It’s OK to submit the same ideas to two different conferences if they are in two different communities as long as you let both conferences know that that is what you are planning to do. If you’re working on the border between two fields (say control and MEMS), this may be the only way to get people in both fields aware of your ideas.

It’s NOT ok to submit the same ideas to two conferences in the same field, although lots of people do this (see LPI, below).

It’s absolutely NOT ok to submit the same ideas to two journals, same field, different field, whatever. Your ideas should be archived once only.


LPI vs Innovation

Many people seem to like to pad their resumes with conference publications. This leads to phrases like “least publishable increment” and “epsilon improvement”. Don’t do this.



Most academic communities are pretty small, and the people on top usually have pretty good memories. As a result, your reputation is extremely important to your success.
Things to avoid:- promising more in the abstract than you deliver in the paper
– misleading or vague results, descriptions, etc. (Stealth Research)
– LPI/epsilon publishing

Note that your reputation is intimately tied with the reputation of your advisor and your colleagues in your group. If you screw up you put a little tarnish on the reputation of everyone you work with.


Publish something that other people find so useful that they start doing it themselves.




Be absolutely brutally honest. Describe carefully what you have done, what you haven’t done, and what you expect to do by the conference date.
Give clear reasons why your work is important- best performance so far (cite specific examples)
– completely new capability
– completely new idea

The abstract will never be published, so you can afford to be a little more harsh and forward in your comparisons to other work. Sadly, this often makes a big difference in getting accepted. Don’t forget that some of the people you compare to will be reading the abstract!


There are no simple guidelines for who should go on the author list, or in what order. If someone is involved in the creation of the ideas that are in the paper, then they should definitely be on the author list. If they helped out with some of the testing, or helped you debug a design, or edited a version or two of the paper, then they deserve a mention in the acknowledgements for sure, but not necessarily inclusion in the author list. In general, adding another person to the author list doesn’t “cost” you anything in terms of credit, so it’s ok to err on the side of inclusion.