John Heidemann / Teaching / Advice to Students

Working with Me or Others at USC

Advice to students interested in working with me

If you are interested in doing research or directed research (DR) with me, the best thing to do is take a course from me and then talk to me during the semester. (See elsewhere for what classes I teach.) I generally do not reply to unsolicited requests for research assistantships or directed research.

I recognize this policy is a problem for students who have not taken my class or who cannot take my class. My recommendation in these cases is: have a USC professor recommend you to me. Presumably you took some other USC class and did well—ask that professor to send mail to me saying you’re a promising student.

Unfortunately, due to the large number of USC students and the requirement that I have sufficient time to work with my current students I cannot do all the DRs I might otherwise do.

Advice to students applying to USC

I am not involved with standard student enrollment or recruiting. See the CS Dept. web page for information about enrollment. I generally do not reply to requests about enrollment.

If you want me to look at your admissions file, please list me as one of the professors you want to work with in your application to USC.

If you want to maximize your chances of getting my attention, please describe some aspect of my prior work and your prior work that overlap, and what you’d like to do. Ideally mention what that is in your application’s statement-of-purpose, or in e-mail to me, or both.

Advice to students already at USC

In semesters when I teach, I have regular office hours on campus. Feel free to come by during those hours (no appointment needed—that’s why they’re regular office hours).

For class related questions other times during the year, or if you cannot make my office hours, please contact me by e-mail. Please indicate the reason you want to talk in the mail.

In general, it is always helpful to have some context about why you want to meet. “I want to meet with you” is not helpful, while “I did well in your class and would like to a DR on topic X” is.

Advice to students already at USC and in my class

You should have heard my advice in lecture :-) You may find my class (and exam) FAQ helpful.

Advice to undergraduate students interested in working with me

I teach graduate classes, so it’s difficult for undergraduates interested in working with me to take my class.

I sometimes take undergraduates through the Viterbi SURE program (Summer Undergraduate Research Experience); they have their own application page.

USC undergraduate research matching also identifies students.

Undergraduates interested in working with me should register with the USC undergradate research program and indicate interest in my work. Two other things help: (1) also send me e-mail with specifics about what you are interested in, (2) include a reference of an USC undergraduate professor that can comment on your strengths.

For undergraduates not already enrolled in USC and not the Viterbi SURE program—please start by joining the USC computer science program.

Advice to students requesting letters documenting class work

Since I teach regularly, I get a reasonable number of letters from prior students of my classes asking for letters that document what their class work was. (Often these are useful as part of the process of getting permission to work in this country.)

In general, I’m happy to document what work you did in my class. If you want such a letter, please send me a draft with which you are happy, and send me specific instructions where you want the final letter to go. I will edit what you send me and send it out.

Some suggestions about the letter, though:

General Advice about Getting a PhD

I am often asked “should I get a PhD”. My general advice is: it’s a long and uncertain process, please think about why you want a PhD and ask yourself if it’s the best choice for you.

There are many reasons to get a PhD or to not get one. Two poor reasons to get a PhD are to make money (you’ll almost certainly make more money getting a MS degree and starting a job 3-4 years earlier), and because my parents want me to (in graduate school you need to make your own decisions). One clear good reason to get a PhD is because you want to teach at a university (although the next question is: why do you want to teach?).

Other folks have written much more careful descriptions of why to get a PhD or not, what it’s like, and what it takes. Here are some that I think are generally on target:

Copyright © 2003-2011 by John Heidemann