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Paolo Elvati

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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 general advising style is promoting self-learning for the students to gradually become an independent researcher. Initially, I ask the students to work on a series of specific tasks for basic technical training. Next, I assign the students a simple project with a plan to investigate it; I ask the student to find and read relevant literature starting from a few initial papers and to proceed with the investigation. For the following projects, I will provide increasingly less help and ask the student to progressively take ownership of their research, at a pace that depends on the degree of research independence.

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

Depends on the content and urgency. Emails and chats are generally the best way, but if the timeliness or practicality requires it, a virtual meeting is preferred. In person meetings, are also possible, but may require a few days. My email response time varies from hours to a day or two, depending on the circumstances.

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?

It depends on the degree of independence and the speed of progress. On average, 1 to 4 meetings a month are enough for projects that are proceeding smoothly, with meetings that can go from 30 to 90 minutes depending on the projects. However, shorter but more frequent meetings are preferred if issues are encountered. For the meetings, my expectation is for the students to have some form of representation and quantification of the results or issues that need to be discussed. There is no need for curated slides, which are in general discouraged, with preference for media that are either quicker to generate (“working” plots) or closer to a final product (article outline/draft). As my goal of these meeting is also to help the students overcome the obstacles they encounter, I expect evidence that a reasonable effort to find answers and to follow up on previous discussions has been made. Over time, I also expect the students to be able to justify and explain their choices of how they approach the research.

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

Occasionally, especially when students are preparing presentations.

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.).

I expect students to be responsible to take courses in or self-learn the subjects relevant to their research, to self-acquire computer skills necessary for their research, and to keep up with the conference and journal papers relevant to their research. While I expect students to write and debug their codes, I can help if issues cannot be solved in a reasonable amount of time. Moreover, for group coding projects, good collaborative practices are a requirement (e.g., following group practices, checking code before pushing, discussing major changes before implementing them).

How do you decide authorship and/or authorship order?

Authorship order is based on the amount and relevance of the contributions in different areas (e.g., Conceptualization, Methodology, Simulation, Coding, Post-Processing, Writing). When there are equivalent contributions from students working on the same project, we use alphabetic order and add a note that indicates equal contributions. We also add, when publications allow it, the details of each author's contributions.

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

Generally, I do not encourage any activity beside classes and research. As research goals do not change based on additional activities, working as GSI prolongs the time spent as a PhD student. However, exceptions can be made under special circumstances (e.g., an agreed upon plan where the student asks for teaching experience). 

Do you have general expectations for graduation?

A minimum of one to three (depending on the journals' impact factor) first-author paper(s), ideally more. The ultimate detail depends on the type of research (multi group projects can have long publication times), but the student needs to show the ability to complete a research project independently, from planning to conclusion. Project conceptualization and mentoring are not required.

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 do not encourage it, as I find it preferable for the students to graduate faster and then get the same experience with full salary.  I encourage my students to only go on targeted internships (company that they have a strong interest in working in) and generally only during the last year of the PhD. 

Opportunities for Feedback

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

The periodic research meetings are the time for feedback and discussion.

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

It strongly depends on the student experience, number of people involved (especially if involves other groups). For the first few papers, the students can expect several iterations, which is why we encourage working with first on an outline and delaying the full writing until an agreement of the publication content is reached.

How do you solicit feedback from your students?

I prefer a constant discussion on new ideas and suggestions of what can be improved. I generally prefer open face-to-face conversations, but email or even discussion via intermediaries have worked well in the past.

Conference Attendance

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

It strongly depends on the research subject, as we cover biology, material science, combustion, and machine learning. Conference attendance is conditional to presentation of a paper or a poster (for smaller ones). I encourage students to apply for the Rackham Travel Grant and the conference travel grants, and I will cover the remaining expenses.

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 communicate well ahead of time all the deadlines and tasks associated with sponsor reporting, which I ask for the student to consider when taking time off. Beyond that, I just like to be notified beforehand that the student is taking time off.
Regarding office presence, I am very flexible and while initially some in-person time is probably more effective, generally I leave to the students the choice to work remotely. 

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

No. I communicate ahead when I take vacation so that the students are aware when my availability is limited, but they are free to take time when they prefer. 

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

I strongly encourage a healthy work-life balance, but I do not pretend to know what is better for the student. However, if I notice signs of tiredness, unhappiness, or low-productivity, I do my best to work with the student around the issue (reduced load, suggesting time off or external resources).

Additional Information

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

Email me if you have any questions!

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