Annoying Writing

My advisor told me yesterday my academic writing was annoying. In a quest to
be a better writer, I am mostly documenting this as a set of notes for me.

  1. Don’t try too hard. I am a mega culprit of this, and often use words that,
    while they sound cool, offer little meaning to the sentence.
  2. Never overstate. Science is about just presenting what you’ve done.
  3. Verb choice is really important.
  4. Stop using passive voice. I use lots of passive voice in my first drafts of
    things, and it just leads to bad writing. Utilize the “by zombies” trick when you
    are in doubt. (
  5. Avoid statements that don’t add anything. In the context of a paper about social media being used to
    identify disinformation campsigns, a sentence like “Social media is the new frontier for disinformation campaigns”
    is a terrible sentence. It doesn’t add anything to the writing.

Being a First Year CS PhD student

I just submitted the last paper that I started during my first year, so I am
officially deeming my first year as done. Now that it’s over, I’m writing
this down to reflect on how the year has gone, and hope that my musings may
help you (the reader) as you navigate your first year as well.

  1. Imposter syndrome is real. It takes a long time to get used to being “in charge”
    of research and being an academic peer that professors will listen to. Don’t let it
    hamper your curiosity.
  2. Find an advisor that you can be friends with. Some people prefer
    “professional relationships with their advisor”—but I can’t imagine what my first
    year would be like if my advisor didn’t act like a friend to me from day 1.
  3. Make friends with your labmates. If they are shy, force them to be your friend.
    A good group culture leads to better discussions which leads to better ideas and
    as a result, better research. It’s only been one year, but I’m happy to call my lab
    mates my close friends.
  4. Show up in the lab, even if you aren’t doing anything valuable. You learn a lot
    from others in your lab by just being there, and it sets up a good habit for
    when you are going to be doing this all the time in future years.
  5. Tell your advisor you want to start on research immediately. You never know
    what projects are just sitting around waiting for people to do things on them.
  6. (Controversial, I think) Pay attention only in the classes that matter to your
    research, and do the minimum for everything else. More time on task for research
    is the most important thing.
  7. Jump on as many things as you can. Failure is okay, especially in your first
    year. Find your breaking point, then adjust.
  8. Have fun. Research is supposed to be fun, and so is grad school.