Advice for Prospective Students

I’m actively seeking undergraduate and graduate students to work with me on research. However, not every student is a good fit. The advice on this page will give you a sense what I’m looking for, so please read this entire page before asking about a position. There are several parts:

Also please have a look at the webpage for my lab, which will give you an idea of the kinds of research projects we work on.

Contacting me

Like most professors, I have many more demands on my time than I have time. This is especially true for email. Therefore, I have some specific requests for students who want to contact me:

  1. Make it clear that you have read this webpage in its entirety.
  2. Please don’t find me in my office. If I’m in my office, I’m concentrating on something, and I will ask you to email me instead.
  3. Be clear about what you want me to do in response to your email.
  4. If you want to meet me about something, visit my calendar and propose a 30-minute block that shows me as available. I strongly prefer to cluster meetings, so please pick a time adjacent to something else.
  5. Be persistent. If I don’t respond to your email, and you followed these requests, most likely your email got lost. Wait several days and try again.

For all potential students

Interest in Research Required

I’m looking for students who are interested in being part of ongoing and new research projects related to the goals of the lab. That means if you’re looking to flesh out your CV/résumé or to get some additional software development experience, this is probably not for you. Also, research efforts take time, so if you only have one semester to devote to a project, it might be difficult to benefit from the experience. Software and hardware we build is meant to test out new ideas/techniques and to answer open research questions (i.e., it might be buggy, incomplete, etc)—we are not focusing on building commercial grade software. If that’s your interest, pursuing an industry internship may be more up your alley.

If on the other hand, you’re truly interested in getting involved in research—creating new user experiences and exploring unanswered questions, you may be in the right place. For undergrads this could also be an interest in trying out research to help you consider graduate school options.

One of the best ways for me to judge whether you’d be a good fit for the lab is for you to take a class with me first. That will give you a sense for how I work with students and, depending on the course, the kinds of research I do. It also gives me an opportunity to see you and your skills in action. If possible, enroll in a class with me before seeking a position in the lab—this is especially important if you are new to RIT and in your first year of study here.

Motivation and Independence Required

Two key characteristics necessary to succeed in my lab are motivation and independence. Doing research requires an excitement about solving problems and a willingness to independently learn how other people have solved similar problem and to acquire the skills necessary. I provide a lot of guidance to students in attacking problems, but the projects we work on are not usually easily broken down into simple “do this, then do that” kinds of tasks.

Skills I Look For

The research I do involves a variety of technical skills, and the needs of particular projects vary. If you’re a graduate student you should already be comfortable with a variety of these skills, beyond a single class worth of learning. Undergraduates should be adept with one or more and have a willingness to learn quickly about others.

  • Making and building: almost all of my research takes place at the intersection between software and hardware. Do you have experience with Arduino or other electronics? Have you built robots, furniture, go-karts, a 3D printer, or made art?
  • Machine learning and pattern recognition: much of of work involves teaching the computer about the user’s activities or physical properties of objects and then acting on that information. I use techniques like dynamic time warping and support vector machines to accomplish these projects.
  • Computer graphics: many of my projects involve manipulating models for 3D printing. Do you know algorithms for working with 3D graphics? Do you have experience with computational geometry? Does the phrase “pinhole camera model” mean anything to you?
  • Computer vision: to create 3D models that work with objects in the real world, we need to understand the real world. Have you worked with depth cameras, object segmentation, or tracking?
  • HCI: the basis of everything I do is a desire to improve people’s experiences with technology. Can you design and conduct a user study, write and administer questionnaire, or interview people about their experiences? Are you majoring in sociology or anthropology? Can you work in grounded theory or ethnography?
  • Software development: most, but not all, of my projects involve software development. Currently, our work involves some or all of Android, Arduino, iOS, Javascript, OpenGL, and Windows programming.

The First Semester

I don’t offer paid positions during the first semester of work with my lab (the exception is PhD students, who receive a stipend immediately). Instead, we will do an independent study, which will provide you with three hours of elective credit. If both of us are satisfied with the outcome of the first semester, then we will talk about whether a paid position will become available in the following term.

Contacting Me

When you get ready to contact me, it will be very helpful for you to do several things:

First, I’ll want to know why you want to work with me in particular rather than any of the other fine faculty at RIT. You can help by including this information in your email to me. The more details the better! Rather than simply, “I like that you do HCI,” look through my research and publications and see what work that I’ve done is particular appealing to you.

Another useful piece of information you can include when you contact me is what kind of work you’d like to do—if you know; if you don’t, that’s okay. For example, telling me that you are passionate about programming, that you love interacting with people, or that you enjoy nothing more than soldering can really help me to think about how you might fit into the projects I have going.

Finally, if you have a resume, portfolio, or other examples of work or experience, please go ahead and send them along. I strongly prefer PDF format.

Potential Capstone Students

Are you finishing up your Masters degree and you might like to do a capstone project or a thesis with me? Read the advice above for all students, then keep reading here.

My current policy is to only supervise capstone and thesis students who are interested in working in an area directly related to my research (see my front page for a description of my interests). The reason for this is that I take a lot of time to work with the students I supervise, so I want to be sure that I’ll be able to work with you effectively.

Do you already have an idea for a capstone project or thesis? If so, make an appointment with me via email (following the advice for contacting me above) and we can talk about it.

Are you looking for an idea for a capstone or thesis? It would be helpful if you take a class with me first so I have an idea of your interests and skills, but it’s not required. One way to approach thinking about your final graduate work is to think about what kind of job you want to get and what kinds of skills and knowledge will help you to get that job. Go look at recruiting sites and find jobs that make you feel excited. What kinds of skills would help you to be an outstanding candidate for that job? If you can figure this out, I can more effectively help you think about a project or thesis.

Please note: I do not accept capstone or thesis students mid-semester! If you would like to work with me, I require that your capstone proposal be complete and approved by me before the beginning of the semester in which you will be doing the work, meaning that you must get the proposal to me at least two weeks before the start of the semester so that I will have sufficient time to review it.

Here’s what a typical capstone timeline should look like:

Weeks Task
-4 Discuss capstone ideas
-2 I review proposal
-1 Committee signs off on proposal
0 Start of semester, start of work
1–10 Work on project, continually update document
11 Finish writing capstone document
13 Final draft of capstone document
15 Final approval of capstone document
16 Capstone defense

Potential PhD Students

Are you a current PhD student, or you’d like to be? Read the advice above for all students, then keep reading here.

If you’re a current PhD student and you are thinking about switching advisors, send me an email. Include the things above, but please also give me some context about why you’re interested in switching.

If you’re thinking about applying to the PhD program at RIT, great! Please go ahead and contact me; it’s incredibly important to include as much context as you can, as outlined above: why you want to work with me, what kind of work you’d like to do, your previous experience and portfolio, and so on. Also I’d like to know why you want to get a PhD, what you hope to get out of the process itself, and any other information specific to the process.

Do note that I can’t admit PhD students directly; however, you can find more information and apply online at http://tinyurl.com/rit-phd In your application, be sure to note that you are interested in working with me, and your application will be brought to my attention. Note that, unlike some other programs, our PhD program admits students directly to a professor; this is good in that it means you come in knowing who you will work with, but the downside is that you don’t have as much of a chance to explore who you might be a good match with.