Sunday, April 12, 2009

I Feel Sorry for This Student

Here is some (redacted) e-mail I received today:

Dear Professor Jeffrey Shallit,

I am a Ph.D. student in the University XXX in XXX . I passed the theoretical courses and comprehensive exam and plan to defend my Ph.D. thesis proposal in next few months.
I would like to have your scientific support in my Ph.D. program as a co-supervisor. My Ph.D. thesis is about Cryptography Protocols.
In fact my research interest is about the following topics:
1. Distributed Cryptography Protocol such as Threshold Cryptography, secret sharing, ...
2. Security and Privacy Issue (specially Location Privacy)
3. Desinging and Evaluating Interactive Protocol
4. Digital Signatures

Please let me know if you could help me to define a research probelm or to define a project on any of the above topics to do it co-operatively.
I should mention that my M.Sc thesis was about XXX under the supervision of "Dr. XXX".

I do not need any finantial support. I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

I have attached my CV to this e-mail.

This student seems quite misinformed about the process. Finding a topic for a Ph. D. thesis is the job for the student and supervisor together; the supervisor suggests possible problems to work on, and the student surveys the literature and attends conferences to get ideas about others. But sending e-mail to request good topics is very likely to fail because (a) the number of really good problems is small (b) they tend to be jealously guarded by professors in order to distribute to their own students and colleagues. By a "really good problem" I mean one that few have thought of or worked on before, or a new approach to an old problem, and one that is likely to be interesting and have impact, and yet solvable in 2-4 years.

Finally, the student chose me to ask for topics, even though I have never published in any of the topics he/she listed.

This student is not getting very good advice from his/her advisers.


andrew said...

The student isn't getting very good advice from Mirriam-Webster either.

miohippus said...

Hey jeffrey, can I have a research problem?

visitorX said...

"Finally, the student chose me to ask for topics, even though I have never published in any of the topics he/she listed."

this might be because you listed

Center for Applied Cryptographic Research

as a professional activities on your website?

Garkbit said...

Andrew - well he's either a native English speaker with poor language schools or a furriner with very good language schools. It sounds like Jeffrey is actually giving him the good advice he needs, but it's a shame he isn't getting it from his own school.

Jeffrey Shallit said...


Cryptography is a large area with many facets; there is no reason to think I would necessarily work on those four topics, especially if the student took the two minutes to look at the list of the papers I've published recently.