Information for Prospective Students

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I’m very glad you’re interested in doing your doctoral studies with me! On this page, I have collected links to resources on my site and elsewhere that you may find useful in determining whether you are interested in working with me and navigating the process of application and admission.

You may also want to see my FAQ.

On This Page

See also my FAQ. I also highly recommend reading and watching Casey Fiesler’s Ph.D advice.

Current Openings

As of Fall 2023, I will be at Drexel University and looking to recruit Ph.D students for Fall 2024. Potential projects or areas include:

My work is highly grounded in particular applications — I do not generally pursue technologies for their own sake, but rather seek to understand their human effects and apply them to beneficial ends in the context of particular problems and applications.

If you want to work with me, apply to the Ph.D in Information Science and mention me as a potential adviser in your statement of purpose. See below for further details.

Drexel’s M.S. programs do not have theses; I am look to work with M.S. and undergraduate students on research projects under appropriate logistical designs, but doing an M.S. with a particular faculty member isn’t how the programs are set up.

Researching With Me

There are a few resources useful for understanding what’s involved in doing research under my supervision:

My primary goal in advising is to help each of my students figure out what they want to do, and support them on the steps to get there. I hope to add more resources later about the other nuts-and-bolts of working with me, but don’t have those ready yet.

If you are debating whether you would like to work with me, I recommend looking at the following:

I work on a variety of projects related to recommender systems, information retrieval, and social impact. Most of my work is connected somehow to the human impact of information access, but I occasionally have other projects. Specific details depend on student interests, available funds, and current collaborations.

Applying

A clipboard with a form saying "Application", next to a laptop.
Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash.

Students interested in doing doctoral work with me should apply to the Ph.D in Information Science and mention me as a potential adviser in their application. You do not need to contact me before applying. The Ph.D in IS program only admits for fall quarter; there is no spring admission. Further details about application process and requirements are available here.

Funding decisions are made along with admission, and full-time students receive a funding offer with their admission. You do not need to apply separately for funding.

After reviewing applications that are relevant to my work and meet the program’s requirements for potential admission, I will usually schedule interviews with the most promising candidates to make final decisions.

The Statement of Purpose

Statements of purpose are a weird document, and unfortunately there is a lot of very bad advice out there about how to write them. For good advice, I recommend reading Vijay Chidambaram’s Twitter thread.

I also have a few specific suggestions:

  • Focus on the future. The SOP is a statement of purpose, not history. The emphasis should be on what you hope to achieve in and through your graduate career. It should answer a few questions:

    • What do you hope to accomplish in your Ph.D? It’s fine to change research areas later, or not be entirely clear on your desired research area, but the committee should be able to see “if we admit this student, what might they do?”

    • How will obtaining a Ph.D advance your life or career goals? Remember that a Ph.D is a research degree — why do you want such a degree?

    • What prepares you to succeed in the Ph.D? Examples of existing research or coursework, particular skills or interests, etc. can be evidence here.

    • Why do you want to study with this adviser at this university?

    Your own background can be useful as evidence or context for some of these points, and what you will contribute to the program, but the primary focus of the essay should be on your purpose in the program.

  • Be specific. What particular domains or applications interest you? Are there problems you might be interested in solving? This is particularly important for working with me on research — my work is highly applied and connected to particular applications. While we do make use of a lot of different machine learning, data science, etc. techniques, the focus is usually on the problems with these tools as a means to an end. If there is a particular technology or field that fascinates you, such as deep learning or natural language processing, why? What problems do you see it useful for solving?

  • Be consistent. To the extent that you state specific research goals, be consistent. It’s fine to not entirely know what you want to do; however, if you do state a specific goal, such as wireless network security, and then list potential advisers who only work on something completely different like compiler optimizations for machine learning, it looks disconnected.

    I am also in the Information Science department and advise students in that Ph.D, which is distinct from the Computer Science department. Your SOP and application materials should be consistent with the program to which you are applying — there are many computer scientists (like myself!) in information science, so a CS background is good and useful, but your SOP should talk about why you want to join the IS program.

There are also a couple of problems I see that I would recommend avoiding:

  • Don’t plagiarize. Just don’t. Ever. This includes taking SOP examples or templates and plugging in your target institution and research keywords, even if those SOPs are published for the purpose of being examples in books about getting in to grad school. Mediocre text you wrote yourself is better than good text you copied.

  • Don’t flatter. Say why you want to pursue a Ph.D, what you think you might want to do, what qualifies you for the work, and why you want to go this institution. Say specific things about how the program will fit your goals; general statements about rankings and reputations are not helpful. Such statements backfire in two ways: if they are true, the people reading your application don’t need you to tell them and are are in a better position to judge impact and prestige. If they are not true1, they demonstrate a lack of critical thinking that is a red flag.

    Many example SOPs in the books I have seen about how to get into graduate school are full of flattery. I consider them to be bad examples.

Contacting Faculty

You do not need to contact me in advance when applying to work with me for your Ph.D — no permission is required to list me as a prospective adviser. I also do not take Ph.D applications by e-mail; all applications need to go through the application system. If you do want to e-mail me (or other faculty) in advance of your application, I recommend Casey Fiesler’s video on contacting prospective advisors.

I don’t mind e-mails in advance; these e-mails should be personalized (and not just the greeting, or by copying and pasting research interest keywords into an e-mail template), and they should be specific: what information are you looking to convey, or obtain? They should also mention your application status: have you already applied, are you planning to apply, are you deciding whether to apply? And they should not include trackers such as MailTrack.

E-mailing me in advance will have minimal, if any, impact on your application; it might help me identify which applications to look at, but if I have any openings I will review all applications that express interest in working with me and meet the program’s requirements for potential admission.

I am happy to answer specific questions about our program, about working with my group, or about research and graduate school in general. It’s also fine send a brief e-mail just letting me know you applied; I’ll file it away and make sure I look at your application. I do recommend checking my FAQ before e-mailing me.

Some things you might want to consider e-mailing about:

  • Specific thoughts or questions about one of my papers.
  • Questions about how the application process works, or a question that isn’t already answered on my web site about how I work with students.
  • What projects I am recruiting students to work on (although for Fall 2024, this information is already on this page).
  • A specific idea of your own you want to work on, to see if it is something that would fit with my research portfolio.
  • Skills you should work on to be prepared for research with my group (but see my skills list first).