Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Writing articles or "How easy it is to become a doctor of science II"

Lets assume that you finally decided to try yourself in the PhD race. We already have stated in the previous post, that the corner stone her is writing articles.

It is fact, that after you have published 5 articles or more you can start to use to think that you are PhD. Notice that under "published" in the previous sentence we mean that articles were actually accepted at conferences, not just written by you.

So, we count only articles that were made available vi conference proceedings or journals.

Journals publications of course "cost" more (i.e. are more valuables) than proceedings, but it is much harder to "push" your work into those (i.e. write so that journals will accept it). That is why doctor students should basically forget about it and concentrate attempts on conferences (of course it doesn't mean that you should not write some articles to journals as well, but you should not rely on those).

There are different levels of scientific conferences, but for any serious one a book of articles will be printed, which is called a “proceeding”. Level of a conference is normally measured on the high level by publisher or an indexer (i.e. in which scientific database a link to conference articles will appear). Indexer is either stated directly in the conference description (or "call for papers"), or can be identified by a publisher of the proceeding. For example Springer Verlag and IEEE (for example IEEE Computer society) are most respectful. The worst choice is a conference publishing a local proceeding (for example by the university organising the conference), but still check the indexing policy as even the local one can be well-indexed. Talking about indexer, the scientific activity in Estonia is normally measured by links on your articles appearing in ISI (Web of science). So, if you have got a paper into that index - well done! There are some other indexes that can be acceptable for doctorate students: for example EBSCO or DPLB. Actually it is also not the lowest level for PhD students - in this case local proceedings will also be accepted!
There is also a certain category of conferences proceedings of which can or cannot be indexed especially if the conference doesn't have a good record of previous conferences - so the proceeding will be posted to indexer, but organisers don't know for sure in advance the indexer decision (they can consider the proceeding as too weak [so not interested] to be included into the index). There are also organisers that host series of conferences - circa 10-14 per year in different places all over the world. For example in a decreasing order of my priority list: IASTED, WSEAS, IADIS.

If you have written an article and it was accepted then you can nearly killed this a big and valuable animal or at least frighted it a lot :-) I'd like to say that there are some more activities you should do like а) always: pay the fee as an author (only then the paper will be published) b) normally: present the paper at the conference otherwise it will not be published, although in reality proceeding is published much earlier than you appear on the conference. So you need somebody to finance those activities (publishing fee, travelling). It is obvious that you will not like to finance by yourself, therefore university is the standard place to ask money from. For example in TTU we have а) doktorikool (school for doctorate students) and b) EITSA ( a non-profit organisation founded by the Estonian Republic, Tartu University, Tallinn Technical University, Eesti Telekom and the Association of Estonian Information Technology and Telecommunications Companies to support IT evolution of the country).

Finally I would like to mention virtual conferences (for example CISSE). Participation in those doesn't require to move your person from one place to another in the real dimension - just Internet connection and much less your time than usually as you can participate if you find a talk interesting or go and do some other work.

I would also like to warn you against conferences accepting abstracts (a very short article up to 1 page) instead of the full one. That is happens very often if we talk for example about German hosted conferences. Then normally promise to publish best papers in a proceeding. Be careful. Only full size articles will be counted. Abstracts will not be. Don't expect that your paper is so genuine that you will be in that chosen list of papers. If you really do think - try to submit it to a good journal (for example published by Springer, Elseveir) or to a high level conference. Normally such trick is made to increase a number of participants, so I think they just look for fools

PS: a list of conferences can be found from different Internet pages (for example). Another approach - check where participate those, whom you respect, your professors, other teachers of your faculty. For example here is a list of conferences I am interested in (or some my colleagues).

Monday, 21 April 2008

Supervisor role in writting master work

As an addition to the previous post about writing a master work, I'd like to add a post about the supervisor role in this process.

This role contains several sub roles. First of all the supervisor should direct and verify the content of the work. Normally it means
1. Plan the work on the highest level: majour topic of the work and subtopics; overall logic of discussions.
2. Give advices how to write the work, which topics to include to make the work logical and how to position those to avoid misunderstanding of the work by future reviewers. For example any analysis should be based on certain criteria that are important in this particular type of environment etc. In other words the selection of criteria and description of those should precess any analysis. It is also important to show why one or another methodology for comparison is chosen (to show that it is applicable to the topic of the work).

3. Prepare a time plan (schedule) of writing and defending the work.
4. Compile a content by proposing chapters, sub chapters basing on previous .discussions and finalise by defining an approximate size of each sub chapter length.

The last item actually merge with the second role of the supervisor, which is to direct and watch formatting of the work. There is always certain (sometimes informal) requirements starting from the font size and ending with the number of pages (including formatting of tables and figures, number of sub chapters etc). Notice that in master and similar works the rule "the more the better" doesn't hold. Knowledge (know hows, reviews etc) should be clearly written and concentrated to not exceed the limit of pages. Otherwise reviewers will had to read too much, so will simply read the introduction and conclusion, so there will be a risk that they will simply misunderstood the whole point of the work.

There is also a none official role of the supervisor, which includes the following
1. Inspire a student to start and write to the end the master-work
2. Help students to relax (decrease stress) and produce a confidence that the work will be successfully defended
3. Force the student to meet the schedule (time-plan) of writing the work and ask why s/he doesn't.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Master work

This post is designed to extend the earlier started discussion about PhD works as a master degree is an entry level for the doctor study :).

One of the major questions that students and reviewers appear to struggle with is the difference between a bachelor and a master works: what are requirements failing to meet which the work will be graded as "no more than BS"? I am going to give an answer basing on practices of Tallinn University of Technology / Departments of Informatics:

- A bachelor student should demonstrate in his work an ability to use acquired knowledge showing what he got from university.
- A work meeting the "master" level should contain a certain level of analysis done by the student - understand the system, formulate advices how it can be developed further, formulate an opinion on the system stating advantages and disadvantages of it, conduct a comparative study of the system etc.

Master works are divided into two categories:
- applied (engineering)
- scientific

The scientific one is a starting point for a doctor work, since the master one should be further developed there on a higher, PhD level.

The engineering one usually requires sufficiently less and that is why such works sometimes are considered to be too weak i.e. with a conclusion that the work is nothing more than a BS one. Notice that any engineering work normally deals with some kind already existing application or ideas of further development of a real system. That is why it is so important to fulfill all requirements and particularly write why you decided for one or another alternative instead of just describing it. It is very advisable to include into the work a preliminary analysis of alternatives conducting a comparative study.

Regarding the work formating: Normally the work should contain no more and no less than 50-60 pages, font - 12pt with 1.5 line spacing. A paragraphs' depth should be no more than 3 levels.

Your work should generally contain the following chapters
1. An introduction into the area of the work, a description of problems to be solved in this work.
2. An overview of alternatives, existing methods to deal the earlier stated problem. This is done on detailed, professional level (while the introduction contains history, high level descriptions etc.)
3. Conduct the analysis (i.e. the main analytical content of the paper)
4. Conclusion

Considering the requirement to have no more than 3 sub-chapters we could come up with the following calculation: 55 pages divide by (4 chapters * 3 sub chapter [depth only 2]) equals to 5 pages per chapter, which is very very limited amount of pages.

- If you have a lot of ideas - you should train yourself to express within the required scope (number of pages)
- If you have very few ideas to publish - well the required number of pages is not too big, so you don't need a lot to fill just 60 pages :)

Finally, the master work should be written during a semester right before completing the master study.

PS: Each country obviously could have own, specific requirements. For example, Estonia requires:
- If your work is written in English then it should contain a summary (1 page) in Estonian
- If your work is written in Estonian then it should contain a summary (1 page) in English

Monday, 14 April 2008

An open letter to VW: Usability / Answer

Today I got an official answer from VW saying:

With reference to your remarks in connection with the instrument panel readings, please allow us some explanations:

The choice of the illumination colours in Volkswagen vehicles has been subject to several customer studies. The blue background and red pointer illumination make up a high contrast together. This leads to a simple and quick recognition of the pointer position, which contains the necessary information for the driver.

The visibility angle of the human eye is higher with blue than with green light; therefore the instruments can be watched even when the view is not straightly directed on an instrument.

All these relevant factors have lead us to choose the given colour combination.

Nevertheless, it is not possible to avoid that difficulties may occur in individual cases - since an automobile producer, as you will certainly appreciate, sometimes has to make compromises.

May we, in closing, thank you for informing us of your opinion.

Yours sincerely,
i.V. Michelina Lauriola Maenza i.V. Karin Gaedecke

Friday, 4 April 2008

Why customers are disappearing

I am not a marketing expert, but I tend to believe that “customers will complain if something is wrong” is nothing more than a belief.

Consider for the beginning the following post. It adequately reflects the fact I would mention: customers will extremely rarely return to software vendors with sufficient complaints, instead they will rather select some other product, i.e. you will just loose the customer knowing nothing about reasons.

Imaging for example you are buying a car. You will visit several dealers and have some test-drives and even have several offers, which you will discuss (making sellers to believe that those are close to a deal). In reality you will buy no more than one car (or even none). Will you go through other car makers’ dealers and explain your choice?

I suppose you are not sо young that it is your first car, so you had another before. BUT, you probably decided to switch to another brand. Will you return to your previous car brand dealer and explain why you have chosen another one?

If a dealer will call you will you give them a fair answer? You will likely to give the shortest answer, which rarely will match with the fair one.

The reason is simple: you (the customer) have already decided and you don’t want to spent any more your time for this! The problem is solved and you start to solve another one.

Moreover customers will rarely to return to a producer with complaints right after buying if they don’t expect the producer to fix the ware (in software world - the current release). Have you ever send a feedback to companies like SONY, HP, AEG, Microsoft etc after your discovered that something is user-unfriendly or so? I don’t really believe.

Summarising, if you are designing a product, then don’t make a decision like: let’s do in one or another wait and customers will complain if it is wrong. It is nearly hopeless to expect customers be giving a feedback. It will happen only if you have very good relations with your customer or they have no real choice (nobody else producing something similar).