Tag Archives: phd student advice

collaborating on academic research: a discussion with PhD students

In my last lab meeting with the five PhD students in my lab, we discussed how to collaborate on research. While I have a lab compact conveying my expectations for myself and students who work under my supervision, the lab compact focuses more on individual expectations rather than collaboration. I decided to give collaboration more attention.

As a group, we collaboratively edited a document in real-time that outlines techniques that various lab members have found to be effective in their collaborations. Most of their collaborations are with me, their advisor, and sometimes a co-advisor. Several items on the list sparked deeper discussions, which we will explore in more detail in further lab meetings. Here is our preliminary list of how to collaborate on academic research:

  • Write papers as you research (not all at the end)
    • There are many different ways to do this, so this topic would benefit from further discussion.
    • Structure the results section of your papers around key figures that tell the story. Restructure the earlier sections of the paper as necessary
  • Document research as you research (and share with collaborators at meetings)
    • Create PowerPoint presentations as you do research to stay organized, summarize progress, share weekly progress, track milestones, and document main results
    • Create text files after each meeting to summarize discussion and next steps
    • Keep a lab notebook
    • Write down what you complete every day so you can track your own progress.
  • Learn how to create figures to communicate research concepts and models to others (This is hard)
    • When you see research talks, notice good figures and emulate them
  • Share files for collaborative writing
    • Overleaf
    • OneDrive
    • Zotero – created shared set of papers (make corrections to BibTeX entries)
    • Version Control – Github /Github Desktop 
  • Task Management / tracking project progress
    • Trello boards / Todoist boards / Notion / Obsidian
  • File management. Create a folder for each paper.
    • We will dig into this in a future lab meeting

how to write about operations research

In my lab meeting this month, we discussed writing operations research publications. We read How to Write About Operations Research by Gerald G. Brown at the Naval Postgraduate School, a fabulous guide for writing technical publications in the field of operations research written in 2004. The entire paper is worth reading and discussing. The paper starts by introducing a “grand, unified design for any OR publication.”

There are five simple, essential questions you must answer in your publication, preferably in this order:
1) What is the problem?
2) Why is this problem important?
3) How will this problem be solved without your help?
4) What are you doing to solve this problem?
5) How will we know when you have succeeded?

The paper introduces a series of writing recommendations, which we discussed by listing our favorite and least favorite recommendations. My two favorites are ones that I often tell students:

  • Start each paragraph with a topic sentence.
  • Make sure that just reading your paragraph-by-paragraph topic sentences conveys all of your publication.

I also like these three recommendations:

  • Use active voice
  • Use present tense
  • Work at it

Afterward, as a group we brainstormed recommendations that we felt were missing from the list. Here is what we came up with:

  • Read your writing out loud as you edit.
  • Use inclusive and gender neutral language.
  • Describe all tables and figures in the text, i.e., do not just refer to the tables and figures.
  • Be consistent with terminology.

What are your favorite writing tips?