Sunday, 20 May 2012

How To Write a Good PhD Dissertation

How To Write a
Good (no, Great)
PhD Dissertation

^ ~10 years of experience in fault-tolerant distributed systems research
^ Both at the enterprise/desktop world and the embedded world
^ Established a fault-tolerant industrial standard
^ Previously CTO & VP of a company that I helped to start (based on my
PhD research)
„ Research
^ Dependable distributed systems
„ Teaching at CMU
^ 18-349: Introduction to Embedded Systems
^ 18-846: Fault-Tolerant Distributed Middleware Systems
^ 18-549: Embedded Systems Design

about the author


„ Thrill of finding out something that
no-one else has done before you
^ Being a pioneer
^ Becoming a world-class expert in
cutting-edge topics
„ Going to conferences
^ Location, location, location, ….
^ Great motivator ☺
„ Matters both in industry and in

What’s a Ph.D., Anyway?
„ Significant and substantial piece of ground-breaking work
^ Can be in one single field or inter-discplinary
„ It’s about defining a hypothesis and providing arguments to
substantiate or refute that hypothesis
„ Evidence that you can do independent research that matters
^ Your work must somehow make a difference in your field
„ Must have 2-3 key research ideas that you should be able to
articulate at the drop of a hat
^ Definitely do not settle for less because of a rush to graduate
„ Your Ph.D. dissertation is a significant piece of independent writing
that you want to be proud of, for years to come
^ Don’t write something in a hurry that you will cringe at later

What’s a Great Ph.D. Dissertation?
„ One that kicks the door open for another 3-4 future dissertations
^ Means that you started an area of work or a line of thought that opens
many more lines of thought
„ High-impact, i.e., “Look, Ma, I …….”
^ Have left my mark behind in my field
^ Fundamentally changed the way that something is done today
^ Introduced a new concept that can be “mined” by others in the future
^ Solved a problem that has plagued the field for years
^ Eliminated a fundamental assumption that has been made in the field
^ Provided strong empirical evidence that the field has been lacking
^ Will continue to influence the field and be cited by others
„ Accessible to others in computer science/engineering
^ It’s great if you have a wonderful theory/system, but what if no-one except
you (and your advisor) understands it?  


this is to think and get started WRIIIITINGGGG


Step 1 – Writing Your Dissertation Abstract
„ Paragraph 1: What is the problem?
^ Not more than 3-4 sentences telling the reader what the problem is, in as simple
English as possible
„ Paragraph 2: Why is the problem hard?
^ What has eluded us in solving it?
^ What does the literature say about this problem?
^ What are the obstacles/challenges? Why is it non-trivial?
„ Paragraph 3: What is your approach/result to solving this problem?  
^ How come you solved it?
^ Think of this as your “startling” or  “sit up and take notice” claims that your thesis
will plan to prove/demonstrate
„ Paragraph 4: What is the consequence of your approach?
^ So, now that you’ve made me sit up and take notice, what is the impact?
^ What does your approach/result enable?


Step 2 – Your Thesis Title
„ Think of what you would want others to “google” your thesis for
^ Be precise and don’t look for “wildcard” words that cover a range of topics
„ You should be able to state your contribution/approach/result in no more than
7-8 words (that’s the ideal thesis title)
„ Look through your dissertation abstract
^ What are the half a dozen keywords that you would italicize for emphasis?


The Dreaded Thesis Outline

2. literature review
3. mthodology
4.first year
5. second year



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