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Christopher Vermillion

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Mentoring Plan for PhD Students

Communication and Meetings

How would you describe your advising style? Does your approach vary over the course of a student's progress within their degree?

My advising style stems from mutually agreed-upon goals and expectations set by the advisor (me) and the student. Setting these goals ensures that the student knows what is expected in order to further their own career and further the research work of the lab. My advisees receive detailed feedback throughout their academic careers, related to these objectives.

What is the best way/technology for students to contact you? Are there time frames in which students should expect to hear from you?

Students can contact me via email or via the lab's Slack workspace. When I'm not travelling, students should expect to hear back the same day.

How often do you plan to meet with students one-on-one (be as specific as possible, it's okay to describe multiple styles that may vary with student needs)? Is an agenda required? How long are meetings?

Students have weekly one-on-one meetings, which are generally scheduled for one-hour blocks of time. Rather than requiring a written agenda for every meeting, I maintain an online journal for each student (which is accessible by the student and me). Action items from each weekly meeting are recorded in that journal and reviewed the following week. Students are encouraged to provide intra-week updates to their journal.

Do you have regular group meetings? What does student participation look like in a group meeting?

Yes. Our group has weekly meetings, which can take one of three forms: (i) An interactive research presentation by one of the students, (ii) a research fundamentals work sessions (e.g., how to write an effective introduction), or (iii) rapid-fire research updates. Generally, we try to opt for (i) or (ii) in any given week, as it provides for a more organized meeting.

Research and Teaching Expectations

Describe your students' primary area(s) of responsibility and expectations (e.g., reading peer-reviewed literature, in-lab working hours, etc.).

Students are expected to make progress toward their chosen thesis topic, in addition to making progress on the project for which they are funded. Generally speaking, it takes students several months (or often even a bit more) to hone in on a thesis topic, so a critical literature review replaces the thesis-oriented work during this initial period. There is no hard requirement for in-lab working hours, but many projects are collaborative, and students are expected to be able to work together to identify mutually convenient hours. Additionally, some work involves field testing, where hours are stricter, and long hours can be expected for short periods of time in those cases. All students are expected to periodically act as peer reviewers for publications.

How do you decide authorship and/or authorship order?

Generally speaking, students serve as first authors. The only exception would be some survey papers that I take a primary role in writing. Because much of our lab's work is collaborative, students can expect to be co-authors on numerous papers for which they have contributed to, but not led, the research. However, all students should expect to serve as a first author on at least 2-3 (and ideally 3-4) journal papers over the course of their career. Finally, there are some limited instances where I will acknowledge equal first-author credit amongst multiple students (in a collaborative project). Whether the peer review community acknowledges that equal credit is outside of my realm of influence though.

Do you ask students in your group to serve as a GSI over the course of their program?

I generally try to avoid this.

Do you have general expectations for graduation?

Yes. Students whose research funding comes from an agency with limited reporting requirements (e.g., NSF) are expected to generate at least three and ideally four first-authored journal papers. This requirement drops to 2-3 papers for students who are funded by agencies/projects with more stringent reporting and/or field testing requirements. These papers are expected to be thematic and therefore contribute to a coherent dissertation. I do not impose any time requirement for graduation.

Are you supportive of your students going on internships? If so, is there a time of year that is best? How many internships can they do?

I am generally supportive of summer internships, so long as they are thematically relevant to the student's chosen topic of study.

Opportunities for Feedback

How do you provide students with feedback regarding overall progress, research activities, etc.?

In addition to weekly one-on-one and group meetings, all students receive a formal performance review at the end of each semester and at the end of the summer. In these performance reviews, we mutually identify goals for the following semester. In limited circumstances, we also identify "gateways," which serve as required milestones for continuation in the lab.

How far in advance of a deadline should a student expect to provide written work for feedback, such as publication drafts?

Students can dump a draft paper on me the day before a deadline, but I cannot guarantee that it will be able to get to a publishable state in time! The required advance notice really depends on the student, but I am generally able to work with students to turn around conference papers in about a week and journal papers in 2-3 weeks, provided that the scientific results are sound and the narrative (especially the introduction) consists of a coherent progression of ideas.

How do you solicit feedback from your students?

Rapid feedback can be provided via Slack and weekly meetings. Students also have the opportunity to provide feedback at regular performance reviews. 

Conference Attendance

Which meetings do your students generally attend? What funding is available to attend these meetings?

American Control Conference; IEEE Conference on Decision and Control; Modeling, Estimation, and Control Conference; IEEE Conference on Control Technology and Applications; Airborne Wind Energy Conference. Usually, attendance is supported via federal grant funding. The Rackham Travel Grant is also available for limited conference travel (note that this is a university-wide fund and is not specific to my lab).

Time Away from Campus

Discuss expectations regarding vacations and time away from campus and how best to plan for them. What is the time-frame for notification regarding anticipated absences?

I like to know about planned vacations at least a month in advance.

Are there specific standard times that students in your group generally take vacation?

I am very flexible regarding vacation time, so long as (i) the student is making good progress in their research and (ii) the timing of the vacation does not interfere with critical scheduled research activities (e.g., pre-planned field testing). 

What do you do to facilitate students taking time off (e.g., do you proactively encourage people to take vacation after major deadlines)?

I do not go out of my way to encourage vacations, but I also do not recall an instance where I have said "no" to a student requesting vacation after a major deadline.

Additional Information

Are there any additional points that you would like to share?


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