Expectations in my Research Group

Welcome to my research group! I've invited you to join my group because I'm very excited about working hard with you on difficult and interesting problems.

As a research group, our goal (which I believe we consistently achieve) is to perform world-class research. All the members of the group have made a decision to make our research one of the top priorities in their lives. This has made the group very successful. It also makes being a group member a (more than) full time job. All members of my research group work long hours. That's how it is in research.

I also want my lab to be a fun and rewarding environment for all of us, and I want us to work together to make computer systems better, faster, more secure, more reliable, and more useful. The goal of this document is to make it clear what is expected of all of us, so that we can have fun while ensuring that our work is of the highest quality. It outlines what you can expect from me an advisor and what the members of the lab (including you and I) can expect from each other.

If you have questions about any of this material, please ask me. Asking questions is harmless, and the consequences of a misundestanding can be large.

If you ever feel that a member of the group (including myself) is not meeting the expectations in this document please let me know. This is especially important if you feel unwelcome in the group, are otherwise unable to perform to best of your ability, or suspect potential academic dishonesty. All the members of the lab are committed to fixing problems that arise.

This document is not exhaustive.  I add to it when I realize there's been some miscommunication or misunderstanding about each of our roles or how we perform our work.  I expect you read all of it.  If you have questions about it or think of things that should be added, please let me know.

This document is primarily aimed at graduate students pursuing a PhD or masters degree. If you are a staff member, undergraduate, post doc, or are joining the lab in some other capacity, let me know if you have questions about how this document applies to you.

After you read and understood this document, please enter your name and the date in the form at the bottom of the page. If anything in this document conflicts with your employment contract with the university or university rules, the contract or rules takes precdence (Please let me know if you think this is the case, so I can look into it).

Once again, welcome to my research group. I'm very excited to have you on board!


Steven Swanson

Steven Swanson

My Responsibilities

As your advisor and supervisor, my job is to help you develop as a researcher, help guide you through grad school, and, eventually, to help you get the kind of job you want.  In addition to these broad responsibilities, I also commit to some specifics:

  1. I will do my best to help you become an excellent researcher.
  2. I will provide honest, constructive feedback on the work you do in the lab.
  3. I will do my best to provide a supportive, safe, and fun work environment.
  4. I will provide honest and thoughtful advice on your professional decisions.
  5. I will work with group members to set aggressive but reasonable research goals for the group.

Mutual expectations

Doing high quality research requires lots of hard work, and doing great research as part of a group also requires that we work well together. The members of the lab expect the following from you (and you can expect the same from other lab members):

  1. To treat all members of the group with respect.
  2. To work as part of the team.  I have no tolerance for any attempt to undermine another lab member's research or academic efforts.
  3. To behave honestly and, in particular, to not plagerize or fabricate data. The section below discusses this in more detail.
  4. To work hard to support the group's goal of doing world-class research. 
  5. To generally be around during the work week. If you wish to frequently work from home, you need to discuss it with me.
  6. To make pursuing the lab's research goals one of your higest priorities. That is why you are here.
  7. To make research a higher priority than course work. While you must do well in your classes, you excel in graduate school by doing great research, not by getting good grades.
  8. To follow through on commitments you make.
  9. To show up for meetings on time.
  10. To contribute to the general upkeep of the lab by performing some administrative duties (e.g., maintaining lab computing resources, occasionally helping to clean up the lab space).
  11. To provide thoughtful, constructive feedback on other lab members' work.
  12. To help make all lab members feel welcome in the lab regardless of their race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or religious background. Derogatory remarks, jokes, or materials have no place in the lab or at any lab-related event. This applies even if you believe that no one immediately present would be offended.
  13. To represent the lab favorably in professional situations. This includes not airing our "dirty laundry" in public, not disparaging our work or lab members, and not behaving unprofessionally at conferences.
  14. To not divulge non-public information about the group without my permission. This includes information about ongoing research projects and "insider" information that I may share with you about companies or other organizations.
  15. To work with other lab members to resolve problems or conflicts that arise in the group.

My Expectations of You

As your advisor, I have several additional expectations of you.

  1. Commit to becoming an excellent researcher. While you are in my group, I am committed to training and advising you and securing the resources necessary to support your work (e.g., your salary). This takes a lot of work that I am happy to undertake as long you are doing your best to be successful.
  2. Listen to the advice I give you. You do not always need to do what I suggest, but if you consistently ignore my advice, it doesn't make sense for me to be your advisor.
  3. Get my permission before undertaking any projects outside the group either at school or otherwise. There are two reasons for this: 1) I am legally accountable for how researchers funded on my grants spend their time and 2) by default, I expect that you will devote all of your research "bandwidth" to projects in my group, regardless of how you are funded.
  4. Keep track of important graduate program deadlines. It's your job to keep track of deadlines for your advancement through the graduate program (e.g., completing your research exam, courses, and advancement to candidacy). You should let me know when one of these is coming up at least 2 quarters in advance, and then follow up as needed after that point. I do not track these dates for you. If you have questions about the deadlines, please contact the graduate program coordinator.

Academic honesty

In research, the reputation of our lab and of each of us is critically important. Our peers measure our success by the work we do, the results we publish, and the impact that we have. Our ideas and results can only have impact if people can trust us to report them accurately and honestly.

We are all part of the same group and all of our papers carry the names of multiple authors, so the actions of any member of the lab can impact all of our reputations, and, by extension, our ability to have impact in the future. This has great advantages: When one of us does great work, it makes us all look good. On the other side, if any of us do anything to damage our collective reputation, it hurts all of us.

There is nothing more damaging to a researcher or group's reputation than academic dishonesty, so I want to make it very clear what is and is not acceptable. I expect everyone in our lab to carry out their work honestly and to make an honest effort to generate and present results that accurately represent your work and your understanding of the systems you are studying. In particular, I will not tolerate two behaviors in my lab under any circumstances: plagerism and the fabrication of data.

Plagerism is the theft of another person's writings or ideas. Since our reputation rests largely on the ideas we publish in papers, taking credit for others' idea can fundamentially undermine that reputation. Never give the impression in any paper, report, thesis, slide deck, talk, or conversation that you are taking credit for work that you cannot claim to have contributed to. Concretely, this means that you should never, under any circumstances, copy text or figures from another person's work without explicitly citing the source. For text, this means putting the copied text in quotes and citing it. For figures, the caption should clearly state that the figure was taken from another source, and you must cite the source. ("Nuts and Bolts of Writing Papers" has details about how how to properly cite sources.)

The prohibition against copying material from papers, etc. from outside your research group without proper attribution is absolute. However, within the group we often reuse text and figures between papers, an individual student's theses, slide decks, etc. As members of a research group, we are all collaborators, and at one time or another we will all use materials created by another group member. For papers and student talks, I will typically be aware of the reuse, and will ensure that it acceptable. For theses and dissertations, the university will require you to obtain signatures to allow the use of others' work in your thesis. If you ever have a question about whether borrowing slides or text from another lab member's work is acceptable, ask me and ask them.

Fabricating data is generating data via any method that does not honestly represent your understanding of the system you are studying. That could range from making up data "out of thin air," to purposely misrepresenting the results, to manipulating experiments in a technically invalid way for the purpose of achieving a particular result. As researchers, our fundamental responsibility is to do our work to the best of our ability and report the results accurately. Anything less is unacceptable.

While sharing the content of papers and talks within the lab is often acceptable, the prohibition on fabricating data applies just as strongly inside the group as outside. Lab members will assume that you have generated your data honestly and that it reflects your best understanding of the system you are measuring. They may make decisions about research directions based on it or include those results in published works. Presenting fabricated data to the group is dishonest and I will not tolerate it.

If even a single paper that comes out of our lab contains even a single paragraph or figure that is plagerized or with data that is found to be have been fabricated, it would do irreparable damage to all of our reputations. There is nothing that would be more damaging to our ability to continue our work. It would undermine our ability to raise funding, publish our work, and place graduates in good jobs. It would also endanger your career and degree even after you have left. Several times a year, prominant researchers (and even some politicians) have their careers ruined by allegations of plagerism and fabricating data (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, here, here).

The damage can extend beyond the researcher who plagerized or fabricated. For instance, the university could potentially revoke your Ph.D. because your thesis contains fabricated or plagerized content, even if another researcher fabricated the data or copied the text into a paper that you then (in good faith) incorporated into your thesis.

To be clear: If you fail to follow the standards of academic honesty described above, the consequences will be severe. I will refer the case to the appropriate campus Academic Integrity Review Board, and I will no longer be interested in working with you as a colleague. There are no second chances on these issues, and you should not tolerate dishonest behavior in any of your colleagues in our research group. If you believe that someone in the lab is acting dishonestly, you must let me know. Allowing dishonest behavior in our lab is as damaging as the original dishonesty and the consequences will be as severe.

Most cases of academic dishonesty among students arise from an honest misunderstanding of what is and is not acceptable. The goal of the above paragraphs is to make it clear what is expected from you as a researcher, so that you will not endanger your (or your collegues') reputation by making a mistake. These issues are complex and there are many gray areas. If you find yourself faced with a decision in one of these gray areas or have questions about any of the above, please ask me for guidance. That is the only acceptable course given the high stakes involved, and the only way to ensure that we can continue to do exciting, innovative work.

Giving Talks and Writing Papers

(Grad students and post-docs only)

Presenting our work in writing and giving talks about it are the two primary mechanisms we use to diseminate our reseults and influence the course of technology. Since we aim to do world-class research in my research group, we must also strive to produce world-class publications and presentations.

In most cases, new graduate students have not had much experience with either preparing publication-worthy research reports or giving presentations that rise to that standard. That's OK, since you will learn to write papers and prepare and deliver talks in my group over your time in graduate school. This takes time and effort.

To get started, read these documents on writing papers and giving talks. When you write a paper (or part of one) or give a talk I expect you to follow these guidelines in these documents. In addition to providing practical advice about writing papers and giving talks, they also outline my expectations for your availability prior to paper deadlines (Long hours every day in the weeks leading up to the deadline) and the amount of effort you'll put into papers (everything you've got). I expect all the members of my lab to be familiar with the contents of these documents and the responsibilities of authors, in particular.

Time Off

(Grad students only)

The group's vacation policy for student researchers reflects three competing goals: 1) The importance of time off to recharge, enjoy ourselves, and take advantage of the flexible schedule that grad school offers and 2) the need to get work done, and 3) my legal accountability for how employees funded my grants spend their time. Here is the policy:

  1. You have two weeks plus one day (i.e., 11 week days) of flexible vacation time. You must get it approved by all your advisors before you book tickets or take any other non-reversible action.
  2. To provide more flexibility in when you work, six days (one week + 1 days) of your flexible vacation time correspond to the annual school holidays (Veteran's Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, President's Day, Cesar Chavez Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day). You are free to spend them on these day or at other times. You should not assume that meetings etc. will be canceled on these holidays, and if there is a paper deadline, you should, in particular, expect to be working.
  3. You get two floating weeks of flex time during your graduate school career. They must be taken 1 or 2 weeks at a time. These are meant to accomodate once-in-a-lifetime things (e.g. weddings, honeymoons), but you can use them for anything.
  4. You get the two weeks before the first day of instruction in Winter Quarter (e.g. Dec 19 - Jan 2). Check the offical UCSD academic calendar for dates in a given year. These dates are not flexible. This ensures that group members are on vacation at the same time. You may not borrow days from this period.
  5. You get the Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving week off and the 4th of July. These dates are not flexible. You may not borrow days from this period.
  6. You cannot exchange the standard days in for more flex days.
  7. Your flex-time includes any days you are not in the office and working (e.g., family visits, traveling a day early for a long weekend).
  8. Your flex-time includes extracurricular activities and accidental absences including false imprisonment/jail time (it's happened!), visa delays, political protests, etc. If necessary, you may borrow from a future year's flexible days to cover unexpected circumstances.
  9. Jury duty doesn't count towards your flex days, but you should do your best to defer it to a time when it will not conflict with a paper deadline.
  10. During your last year or so, you should expect to take less vacation than normal. You'll be very busy interviewing, writing your thesis, etc.
  11. It may be important for you to be around campus at the beginning of each term because there are forms that need to be filled out (e.g., for visas). It's up to you to make sure you know what needs to be signed when. A good guide is to be back by the "instruction begins" date on the offical UCSD academic calendar.
  12. The month (or longer) preceding paper deadlines that you are working toward is generally off limits for flexible vacation time.
  13. Getting cheaper flights, etc., is not an excuse for exceeding your allotment of vacation time.
  14. Travel to work-related conferences does not count as vacation.
  15. You must enter days you are planning to be absent in the calendar for the lab/group that you belong to (e.g., the NVSL or the GreenDroid group).
  16. If you are co-advised, your other advisor(s) may have different vacation policies. If they conflict in some way, you need to discuss it with me.
  17. If any of the above conflicts with university policy, university policy takes precedence. If you feel this is the case, please discuss it with me.

Getting Jobs and Internships

It's critical that you talk with me before interviewing for or accepting either an internship or permanent position. I work to track good openings at interesting companies (Google, Facebook, HGST, Microsoft, stealthy start ups, non-stealthy start ups that eventually sell for billion dollars [it has happened!], etc.) for my students and since I have many contacts at the companies, I often can you get you considered for jobs/internships that would not otherwise be accessible to you. I get many emails from these companies asking for interns/new hires. In the past, students have missed out on some great opportunities because they went ahead and accepted a job or internship without talking with me first.

Of course, the ultimate choice of where you work is up to you, but I want to make sure that you have the best possible options to choose from.

As a note to first years in particular, the recruiting season for most internships starts in January or so. If some extremely interesting opportunity comes your way before that, let me know. Otherwise, we'll find you a good internship then.

A few additional notes about internships are available here.

Miscellaneous Guidance

You must also read and be aware of the contents of this page. It includes several pieces of information that'll very useful for you as you go through graduate school, including tips about getting internships, getting good letters of reference to travel to my group laptop policy.