Working with me: what to expect?


This page describes the typical expectations I have for working with students. They are of course negotiable, so if you feel like you don’t understand or agree with some of it, please do not hesitate to bring it up.

Recommended reading: Imperial advice on effective-partnerships

Now my own suggestions:

My part

I commit to doing my best in order to guide you through your studies (MSc, PhD, etc) and help you achieve your career goals and your potential. This can include acquiring research skills such as reading and writing papers, analysing data, writing good code, learning data science or theoretical skills, etc. I will also offer you a confidential ear if you ever need one, and will do my best to help you through difficult times, including orienting you to get professional help, if it is needed.

Sometimes I will get excited, send long follow up emails, detailed suggestions, or even long advice. I do that in your interest, in order to provide you with the tools, ideas, and support your need to complete the project at hand. It is never because I want to micro-manage you or police you in any way. My strategy is to give you as much guidance and advice as possible, so that you can make use of what suits you the most. And if I ever inadvertently make you uncomfortable or hurt you in any way, please let me know, and I will apologise, and we will adjust our interactions accordingly.

Your part (suggestions)

I would like you to be honest (i.e. no lie or fabricate results, etc), to come prepared to our meetings, and to give me sufficient time when you need something from me. The rest is up to you: you are in charge of your studies and your project. In particular, you can work the way that suits you the most. I definitely recommend having a good work-life balance (not working on weekends, etc).

You have or will develop your own research style. This includes how you collaborate with people. However, the advice on this page are some general techniques and tips that apply to a lot of people and that you might consider using too. I personally appreciate many of them, and they help develop fruitful collaborations. That being said, it does not necessarily mean they will work for you, and I am more than happy to try to adapt to other working styles.

Get in touch before each meeting

Send an email recap of the work completed, and what should be discussed during the meeting. It’s ok if it is only a few hours before the meeting, since this is mostly to help everyone adjust their expectations and have a think about the work. Obviously, if anything requires any significant thought or action, then it is essential to give more time.

Come to each meeting prepared

If possible, arrive with a summary of the work completed (possibly including figures), and a plan of what to discuss, so that your collaborators (including myself) can give you the best feedback and help possible to make progress (time is precious, and you will find that meetings are short). Finally, leave with action items. Write notes during the meeting, and clearly collect all suggestions and action items. It’s absolutely fine if you have not completed as much as you wanted to or as previously agreed, for any reason. It’s normal to sometimes get stuck on something, or have extra work or personal circumstances intervening. The point of coming prepared to a meeting and leaving with action items is to make sure you have all the help you need to make progress at your own pace.

Keep a list of action items, open issues, TODOs

If you leave a meeting with ten action items, then they will all eventually need to be addressed, one way or another, before the project end. If I (or another collaborator) ask(s) a question or make(s) a suggestion, it is good practice to address it explicitly at some point in the future. It will sometimes be totally irrelevant (which you are welcome to demonstrate), but it might also turn up to be a very relevant comment that will help your progress and affect the project. After all, all collaborators on a project have different viewpoints and expertise, which often turn out to be complementary. It’s ok if some require time or even help from collaborators. But it is good practice to be organised and make sure all action items, questions, suggestions, etc, are collected and eventually addressed.

Embrace feedback

Sometimes comments can sound like attacks or criticism. But you will find that your supervisors and collaborators only want to 1) help you finish the project/paper 2) give you the best guidance and advice possible, 3) help you achieve your full potential as a scientist. Sometimes feedback is also delivered too strongly, not intentionally.

Recommended reading: Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well, by Douglas Well.

Be honest

It’s ok to make mistakes. But it is not acceptable to maliciously hide them and, for example, fabricate results. I will never blame you if something does not work or is not ready. Research takes time and is difficult. Scientific integrity and honesty are of the highest importance. As you will see I make mistakes and I quickly admit them and do my best to correct them.

Give me sufficient time

Sometimes you will need something from me (a paper reference, a piece of data or code, a letter of recommendation, etc). Please be mindful that those take time to prepare, so please give me enough warning. A short, informal email will suffice. And I don’t mind reminders at all - on the contrary.

Have fun

Make sure you have fun doing research - at least some fraction of your time (like all jobs, there are numerous unavoidable duties and unpleasant times). If you are having satisfaction or motivation issues, please get in touch, with me or any other person of the department you feel comfortable talking to. I personally adapted my research style and routine to make sure I enjoy my job - for example this includes allocating time for reading, writing, coding, and mathematical derivations. Everyone has a different balance that brings them happiness.

Recommended reading: Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill, by Matthieu Ricard

Learn to be productive, your way

Being productive and disciplined is extremely hard. On the topic, I recommend the following books, which give some mechanical advice that works for a lot of people: Atomic Habits by James Clear, and Deep Work by Cal Newport.