Guide to the Advice

This guide is part of my advice pages.


Welcome Video for Students

I recorded this video before renaming this part of my site from "Advice for Students" to simply "Advice", but it remains relevant for student visitors.

What to Read

Here are some possibilities:

Why I Write These Pages

There are several reasons, some specific to students and others more general:

Sharing These Pages and Linking to Them

You're welcome to share these pages and link to them. You don't need my permission, though it's nice to hear from people who find them useful. However, you must ask for my permission before reproducing any part of my website elsewhere.

How I Use These Pages

Some are assigned reading in my courses, typically early in the semester. I ask students to read the Guide for Scholarly Writing and the Guide for Citations and References if the course contains a significant writing assignment. For courses aimed at first-year college students, I also assign the Guide for Interacting With Faculty.

I tell my research advisees to browse the guides that are specific to my lab when they join. I remind them to follow the Guide for Publishing in Conferences and Attending Them prior to starting work on their first paper submissions. While I edit their writing, I sometimes direct them toward specific relevant sections of the guides for writing and citations/references.

My website instructs students to read the Guide for Joining My Lab if they would like to work on research with me. If they send an inquiry about joining my lab that's missing key information or seems misdirected, I send them Need Help, which directs them to the same guide.

Other pages I share on a case-by-case basis. The autobiographical pages and those about academia as a career I wrote equally for my students and for the larger academic community.

How I Began Writing These Pages

The Guide for Joining My Lab (originally the "Advising FAQ") was the first one I wrote, in Spring 2019. I borrowed some inspiration from faculty members' statements of advising philosophy, but I also thought about what it would be like as a prospective student not to know what "advising" meant. It was a helpful frame of mind. When I posted this guide on Twitter, it received more attention than I expected, with over 1.2K likes. Soon afterward, I created the Guide for Interacting With Faculty (originally the "Teaching FAQ"). I wrote it knowing that I would make it required reading in my intro-level undergraduate classes, since it seemed like a way to save time and effort both for my students and myself.

I was glad to receive feedback from students and colleagues that those first two guides were useful beyond their intended scope, and I've written subsequent guides with broader applicability in mind. I also began adding the "thoughts" pages, for pieces that I don't think of as "guides" even if they're still guidance.

About My Writing Process

I don't follow a specific writing technique or system. However, here are some reflections:

I let enthusiasm guide my writing. For a given topic, I cover the aspects I'm most interested in writing about, even if that means not covering the topic comprehensively. I sometimes encourage the reader to gather advice from multiple sources and use their own judgement to integrate them. For some topics, if I've given the reader enough information to organize their thoughts and motivated them to search for more, I've accomplished a meaningful goal.

I write for everyone at once. Whether a page is targeted at students, faculty, others in academia, or the general public, I assume some subset of each of the other groups wants to read it. (I was once an undergraduate puzzled by all the different faculty job titles, and later I was a graduate student mystified by the hidden procedures of grant proposals.) This assumption motivates me to write in an approachable, unassuming way. When expectations and responsibilities are involved, this also encourages me to be open about why they exist.

I try to write whenever I feel inspired, and when that's not possible I take brief notes. Sometimes I write down specific phrases or sentences that I would like to include in a page before I know what the page will be about. Most of my advice pages started out as loose collections of notes that I gradually put in order and expanded upon until I had a result I liked. The timeline from first notes to a complete page varies widely, but typically there is a one-week period of intense activity just before I make a page public.

I aim for simple, elegant writing, where every word contributes meaning. I try to use grammar and style as a transparent container for delivering ideas: the most important role of the container is to direct the recipient's attention to what's inside. I share more about my thoughts on writing style in my Guide for Scholarly Writing.

About the Pictures

The pictures seemed like a good way to add visual appeal and to increase reader engagement. I'm a photographer in my spare time, and all of them are mine.

The pictures on each page follow a specific theme. The pictorial themes are unrelated to the instructional content, although one of the themes is a pun on the content. (Finding it is an optional exercise for the reader.) Pictorial themes on a subset of other pages represent loose metaphors for their respective pages.

View along the shoulder of a highway in a semi-arid desert, with a crumpled texture overlay
Roadside in eastern New Mexico; texture from a lichen-covered rock on Ben Lawers, Scotland.