ISIS Grad Student Guide

Overview

Graduate study provides a unique opportunity for students, faculty, and research scientists to work together in advancing the boundaries of knowledge by conducting innovative research and by discovering new ways to apply this knowledge for the benefit of humankind.  Members of the faculty also recognize and support another purpose, which is the training of graduate students for future careers as independent investigators in academia and industry.  Research activities are central to the success of a first-class graduate program.  Consequently, faculty tenure decisions, research scientist promotions, and salaries are highly correlated to research productivity.  But other responsibilities often leave faculty and research scientists with little time to engage in all aspects of the research process.  They rely on assistance in their research from students, particularly graduate students.  This gives students an opportunity to apply theories they learn in the classroom under laboratory conditions.  Students are provided with the opportunity to develop new, important knowledge in engineering and attain an appreciation for the excitement of discovery.  In addition, students gain a mentor who can guide them through the joys and frustrations of experimental and theoretical research.  They also acquire experience in communicating their research results to the scientific and technical community by writing manuscripts for publication in archival journals and by making oral presentations at conference proceedings.  Thus, both the student and mentor gain significantly when they work together as a team, respecting each other's abilities and responsibilities, and consequently, both fail miserably when this mutual respect is missing.  These guidelines have been formulated so students can better understand what is expected of them and faculty and researchers know what they need to contribute to the development of students as they work together as partners in pursuit of common research objectives in a graduate program.

 

Faculty and Research Scientist Responsibilities and Expectations

Although graduate students are familiar with the roles of faculty as teachers and mentors, they are often unaware of other duties and responsibilities.  A partial list of expectations and responsibilities of ISIS faculty members is given below.

 

  • Teaching.  Faculty are expected to teach undergraduate and graduate level courses; provide a syllabus for each course describing course objectives, requirements and assessment criteria; discuss responsibilities with Teaching Assistants; write proposals to acquire equipment and materials for teaching laboratories; write proposals to fund innovative teaching methods; incorporate new research findings into course curricula; review faculty, course, and TA evaluations by students for each course, each semester; and evaluate teaching assistants each semester. Research scientists may and frequently do engage in similar teaching activities, including advising graduate students and participating in their PhD committees.

 

  • Research.  Faculty and research scientists are expected to engage actively in research; publish results in scientific literature (expect at least two papers per year); present results at scientific conferences; regularly survey relevant scientific literature; write proposals to fund their research program and graduate students; prepare materials for sponsor site visits; mentor individual graduate students; meet regularly with their research team; supervise undergraduate and graduate students in the laboratory; be available to discuss research projects with students; secure suitable facilities to conduct research; provide lab/office space for graduate students; collaborate with other faculty and research scientists as  appropriate; attend and assist with ISIS seminars; and evaluate graduate student research annually.

 

  • Service.  Faculty and research scientists provide academic advice to undergraduate and graduate students; write letters of recommendation for students applying to graduate school and professional positions; evaluate qualifications of applicants to the ISIS Graduate Program; critique written, oral, and poster presentations by undergraduate and graduate students; serve on MSc, and PhD committees; provide service to the professional community by serving as a reviewer for professional journals, serving on review panels for funding agencies, holding national offices in professional societies, judging science fairs, providing for public laboratory visits, etc.; serving as mentors, advisors, and sponsors for students in professional and volunteer organizations;  advising students on available summer internship and career opportunities.

 

  • Accountability.  Faculty submit a written annual report to the department chair on all research and teaching activities, which is forwarded to the dean; review the annual evaluation from the department chair;  submit written annual summary reports to funding agencies for each grant awarded; participate in periodic site visits for research and training grants. Like faculty, research scientists submit a written annual report to the ISIS Director; receive the annual evaluation from the director; and participate in all other reporting functions

 

Students should note that many of these activities involve submission of proposals, summaries, or evaluations.  In addition, faculty are themselves evaluated by funding agencies, by the department chair, and by students through course and mentor evaluations.  In short, faculty members are expected to provide professional service in many academic and research activities for which they are held accountable.

 

Responsibilities and Expectations of ISIS Graduate Students

To facilitate the success of your academic and research training, as graduate students you should be aware of some important program expectations and student responsibilities.  These, along with relevant guidelines, are provided below.

 

  • Research.  New graduate students are expected to familiarize themselves with available ISIS research projects and to discuss research topics with ISIS faculty members and research scientists. Students are typically supported as Graduate Research Assistants (RAs). Research assistantships (RA-ships) are funded by sponsored research projects with specific deliverables and outcomes. Ideally, the Ph.D. research topic and the research conducted for their RA-ship overlap, but this is not always the case as it depends on the availability of external funding.  Therefore it is possible that RAs research supervisor and the academic advisor are different persons. In general, the MSc or PhD faculty advisor is responsible for the academic work. The Principal Investigator (PI) (or his/her designate) acts as the research project advisor. Under the supervision of a faculty mentor and under the leadership of the research project advisor, graduate students are expected to engage in research during the academic year and in the summer, and to maintain a consistent, high level of motivation and productivity.  They are expected to gain the background knowledge and skills needed to successfully pursue their research project.  Students should work with their supervisor(s) to develop a research plan that includes a timetable for completion of each stage of research.  They should meet with their faculty and research project advisor(s) regularly to assess research progress and discuss possible revisions to their plan, and strive to meet appropriate deadlines, while adhering to their academic and research schedule.  If conflict arises between academic progress (e.g. courses taken) and progress required in research projects, students need to initiate a joint meeting to resolve the conflict. They should take special care in collecting, labeling, and preserving experimental software and data, and should provide their supervisor(s) with full access to all software, documentation, and data.  Students are free to make copies of software, documentation, and use these outside of ISIS, but must consult with their research advisor before sharing these with individuals outside of the research team.

 

  • Attendance, Holidays, and Vacation.  ISIS prepares students to become professionals.  Professionals are expected to be productive beyond the standard work hours from 9 AM -to 5 PM.  Evenings, weekends, summers, and academic breaks are excellent times to engage in research activities.  No one expects graduate students to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to work on their research. However, professionals are expected to be responsive to communications (e.g. emails) within a reasonable amount of time (e.g. 1 day during work-week, 2 days during week-ends). The number of hours spent on research is a function of the other obligations of the student (e.g., courses, teaching responsibilities, outside job) and on the nature of the research project.  Students who receive an annual compensation are expected to do research 40 hours per week during the summer.  Graduate students with full course loads who are funded as Research Assistants are expected to spend 20 hours per week on research during the academic year.  The number of hours is expected to increase to 40 hours per week as didactic coursework is replaced with research hours (usually -369 or -399) courses.  Students are expected to attend research project meetings, to work as a member of a research team, to encourage and assist other students in the same or related research group, to plan for enough time each week to conduct research scheduled for that week, to assist their advisor(s) in preparing research proposals, and to regularly monitor the available scientific literature relevant to their research area.  Graduate students at ISIS should be treated like professional staff in regards to holidays.  With the exception of Labor Day (classes are held), they may take standard Vanderbilt University holidays (New Year's Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day) and two personal days.  Students receiving summer compensations will be treated as professional staff in regards to vacation accrual rates, amounting to 15 work-days per year.  Ordinarily, vacation is taken between the end of the Spring Semester and the beginning of the Fall Semester, but students may elect to use some of this time during academic breaks.   Compensation will be reduced proportionally if larger time increments of leave are sought.  Students are expected to consult with their advisors before taking personal days or taking vacation time.  In keeping with the professional nature of the graduate student-faculty/research advisor relationship, students should inform their advisor(s) when they must be absent because of illness or an emergency, just as faculty should inform students when they will be absent for an extended period of time.

 

  • Publications. An important research goal is to disseminate knowledge to the scientific community in the form of published manuscripts.  Reasonable expectations are at least one journal and/or highly selective conference publication for an MS project and multiple such publications for a PhD project.  Students are encouraged to publish their results as the research unfolds, rather than waiting until the entire project is completed.  Presentations at scientific meetings are also encouraged.  The student and supervisor have a joint responsibility to publish work that arises from the supervisor's research program. Students will share authorship on all manuscripts that result primarily from the creative research and writing of the student.  Students and supervisors should agree on revisions before a manuscript is submitted for publication and should decide together the order in which they appear as authors.  Since publications are essential to the research process, the research advisor has the right to submit a manuscript for publication if the student leaves the program, refuses to write a manuscript, or causes excessive delays in the publication process.  Manuscripts written under these circumstances will not be considered for inclusion in a thesis or a dissertation. 

 

  • Individual Fellowship Applications.  The average cost of tuition, compensation, fees and benefits for a graduate student is approximately $50,000 per year.  Students with appropriate qualifications are expected to apply for their own financial support in those cases where they have been notified of special funding opportunities by their faculty or research advisor.  These applications must comply with all University policies and procedures for application of external support, including, but not limited to, approval through the academic department and the University's extramural funding transmittal process.  The academic advisor, the research advisor, and the ISIS grant administrator will advise and assist in the transmittal process and students should consult with them in a timely manner when preparing applications for sponsored research to ensure such compliance. 

 

  • Renewal of Financial Aid. Students should realize that renewal of financial support is not automatic.  Financial support is contingent upon the availability of funding, on academic performance, and on adequate research progress.  Research progress is based on annual reports submitted by the student, the faculty advisor, and the research advisor.  Academic performance is based on the GPA and on adherence to degree program requirements.  ISIS advisors review student performance on a semester-by-semester basis, and allocate financial aid accordingly.  ISIS will attempt to fund all continuing students as long as they are in good academic standing and are making satisfactory research progress.   Students should realize that ISIS is evaluated on the basis of the quality of our research and the quality of the students that graduate from our program.  It is the responsibility of ISIS to admit students with excellent qualifications and we expect graduate students to assist us in maintaining the high quality of the program.

 

  • Moonlighting.  By accepting a compensation students agree to devote full time to their research and graduate studies.  Vanderbilt Academic Regulations strictly prohibit other employment during the period for which aid is provided unless prior approval is obtained from the Department Chair and the ISIS Director. . If outside employment becomes necessary, then institute aid will be withdrawn or reduced.

 

  • Tuition Scholarships. Tuition scholarships are restricted to a maximum of 24 hours for MS students and 72 hours for PhD students.  Additional hours needed to correct undergraduate deficits, to fulfill departmental requirements, or to raise a student's GPA to 3.0 to satisfy the Graduate School graduation requirement must be borne by the student. Tuition scholarships will typically cover 9 hours (but not more than 12 semester hours) in a single semester.  Some research grants have limited funds available to pay tuition, so students should consult with their research advisor before registering for classes to determine the maximum number of hours that can be charged to a project.

 

  • Intellectual Property. Students should be aware that some research activities may have commercial potential.  Vanderbilt University has a strong interest in maintaining and protecting these rights.  Research results are not to be disclosed outside of Vanderbilt University without appropriate non-disclosure agreements in place.  These agreements are negotiated through the Vanderbilt Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization.  If you have any questions concerning the commercial potential of a laboratory activity, you must discuss them with your advisor.

 

  • Service.  Success of ISIS depends on service of its faculty, research staff, and graduate students.  Examples of service include assistance in mentoring undergraduate students in laboratory projects, assisting less senior graduate students with troubleshooting laboratory problems, assistance with the recruitment of new graduate and undergraduate students, providing laboratory demonstrations to the public, serving on university and departmental committees, and other non-academic tasks.  Graduate students are expected to partner with faculty and research staff in providing these services.  Many research groups also expect faculty and graduate students to contribute to the laboratory environment by caring for specific software tools, hardware equipment, etc.  Students in such laboratories should consult with their advisor(s) for individual laboratory responsibilities.

 

  • Seminars and Workshops. Like faculty, graduate students are expected to attend all ISIS seminars, whether they are taking the ISIS seminar course for credit or not.  Graduate students should participate in departmental seminars by asking questions, making practice presentations for scientific meetings, and by presenting the results of their MS research to the rest of the institute.  Students and faculty should make an effort to attend PhD dissertation defense presentations given by ISIS graduate students.  All first year ISIS graduate students are encouraged to attend the "Ethical Conduct of Research" seminar series, and students supported by training grants are required to attend these seminars.

 

  • Academic Progress.  Students are responsible for informing themselves of all academic and degree requirements.  Every student should become familiar with pertinent information contained in the Regulations of the Graduate Program in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at Vanderbilt University, these Guidelines for Graduate Student Research, and the Vanderbilt Graduate Catalog.  All are available online at the website of the department. Students should consult the Vanderbilt University Schedule of Courses each semester prior to meeting with faculty mentor(s) regarding course selection.  Graduate students are required to maintain a Vanderbilt graduate GPA above 3.0, and ISIS PhD students are expected to maintain a GPA above 3.3.

 

  • Progress Reports. Graduate students are required to submit an annual progress report documenting the courses they have taken; Research Assistant activities; program milestones reached; a short research summary; and a list of publications and presentations.    The report will be reviewed by the student's faculty and research advisor(s) as it provides the student an opportunity to review his/her progress during the past year and to plan activities for the upcoming year.  It also provides needed information to the faculty concerning student performance and productivity.  Feedback based on this report and other sources, such as the research supervisor's evaluation, will be provided to the student by the faculty advisor.

 

  • Mentor Evaluations. PhD candidates who have completed all requirements for graduation except for submission of the dissertation are requested to evaluate mentoring provided by ISIS faculty and research scientists.  This should be submitted to the ISIS Director, who will provide anonymous feedback to the faculty and research scientists.  A student may request that the chair postpone feedback until after the student has graduated.

 

  • Student Conduct. Students are expected to behave ethically in conducting their research, as well as in the classroom. Falsification of data, plagiarism, or any violation of the Vanderbilt Honor Code is grounds for immediate dismissal.  Students should respect the rights of others in office and laboratory areas by keeping those spaces safe and orderly.

 

  • Communication.  Students are provided with a (physical) mailbox at ISIS and an email account and should check these daily during the week.  Important announcements involving registration, seminars, fellowship opportunities, employment opportunities, and other matters are routinely sent via email.

 

  • Institute Resources.  ISIS will provide students with space appropriate for their work.  Typically, first year students are assigned a carrel in a room with other graduate students, consistent with their need to interact with other graduate students.  Computers provided by ISIS or by individual preceptors are for academic, non-personal use.  Software installations must be approved by the ISIS network administrator.  Students are responsible for maintaining a professional local environment with minimal disruption of the activities of others. Students should also be mindful of the limited ISIS resources and research programs when making photocopies, generating computer output, or using laboratory supplies.

 

  • Resolution of Conflicts.  Students who are having difficulty working in laboratories or offices because of disruptions by other students should discuss this with the faculty/research supervisor. Students who have been advised that they are not making satisfactory progress, who are unsure of their role on a research project, or believe that they have been treated in an unfair manner should meet with their faculty/research advisor to resolve these issues.  If the student is not satisfied with the outcome of that meeting, then she/he should discuss the problem with the ISIS Director.  If the problem is still not resolved, the student should present his/her grievance in writing to the ISIS Director.  The Director will appoint a committee of impartial faculty and researchers to review the grievance and their decision will be final.