Saul Greenberg

Grad Tips


Learn how to think and behave as a professional researcher:

  • discovering and framing research problems
  • deciding and proposing a thesis topic
  • presenting and writing
  • associated skills...

General philosophy

While the undergraduate program usually teaches methods that you can apply to solve problems, the graduate program trains you to define problems in a way that they can be solved. This is far more difficult to do than most people think.

Learning how to define a solvable problem is an important part of your training. Your supervisor's job is to give you guidance and advice on how to find a problem that fits your interests, and how to craft it so you have a reasonable chance of success during your time here. Don't expect your supervisor to just give you a very well formed problem with a detailed methodology on what to do. Depending on where you are starting from and your personality (as well as the supervisor's personality), you may get only a little or lots of guidance.

PhD students usually have to be far more aggressive at determining their research than MSc students, but all have to take the initiative.

Life as a Grad Student

Is grad school for you?

Do you really want to be a graduate student? Read So long, and thanks for the Ph.D. by Ronald T. Azuma. He provides excellent reflections on why he chose to be a grad student, and the qualities he believes makes for a good graduate student.

A typical grad program

What does it mean to be a graduate student? What are your goals? What is a typical schedule? What other things are there I need to know about?

The Art of doing a PhD

Jakob E. Bardram's slide deck on various aspects of doing a PhD. (U. Copenhagen)

10 easy ways to fail a PhD

The top ten reasons students fail out of graduate school. By Matt Might licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License

So you want to be a scientist?

This is a CBC Quirks and Quarks radio podcast that goes over the trials an tribulations of becoming a scientist. Well worth listening to. ~55 minutes long.

Tips for (1st year) grad students

A well-written list of quick tips that can orient you about topics, supervisors, labs, etc

Developing a Research Topic

Where do ideas come from?

Good ideas do not fall out of the sky. Rather, they are the result of hard work, much searching and reading, and considerable reflection. I suggest a top-down and bottom-up approach to getting started.

How to do research

The ICE Lab Guide from Dan Olson at Brigham Young University provides a variety of helpful documents to guide computer science research and software development

The Illustrated Guide to a Ph.D

A cartoon that quickly summarizes your life over the next several years (Humour). By Matt Might licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License


Structure of a Chapter 1

The first chapter of most theses motivate and define the research. While there are many ways to write it, they generally follow similar structures that reflects how one should think about research.

How to write a research paper and thesis

There are common strategies to writing research papers and theses, no matter what its content.

How to write a literature review

Your job when writing a literature review is to add value to all those papers you have read, where you explain how the many salient ideas of others (often gathered from many disparate sources) have led up to and have contributed to your research problem.

  • Why you should use video, by Tony Tang, argues about the value of video and provides much useful advice.
  • Making a video is my own collection of brief tips for shooting and editing short technical videos.


How to give presentations

While there are some 'naturally born' presenters, most of us have to work at becoming good speakers. This presentation (and its speaking notes) describes some basic tips for giving effective presentations to audiences.

The thesis oral

The thesis oral and defence is a special type of presentation with its own unique considerations that you have to prepare for.

The elevator pitch

Elevator pitches are very short summaries of your research - from 10 seconds to 1 minute - that captures and motivates the essence of your idea, and that excites others. This radio broadcast - although geared to movies and ads - explains elevator pitches.


Scott Berkun provides valuable tips on How to give a Perfect Demo.


How to grade

A very funny video illustrating a rapid (but suspect) grading technique. From the CBC Television comedy series, Mr. D.

Other Skills

How to referee

Refereeing is an important skill. The more you evaluate other people's work, the more you will understand what others will look for when refereeing your own work.
How to run meetings

Meetings can be productive or a time-waster. Here are some tips.


Plagiarism, whether intentional or inadvertent, is a very serious offence that can get you thrown out of university. The sad fact is that there is no need for plagiarism, for the Science discipline actually encourages researchers to make use of prior work in the form of references, citations and quotations.