How to obtain PhD degree

copyright: D. Kumlander
Last updated ( 2008.11.07
Status: in progress


This text is written to encourage business community people to consider studying and then obtaining the PhD degree. The subchapter is composed getting into account practises of Tallinn University of Technology (TTU) / department of informatics.

How to proceed?

So, what is the minimum requirement to become a doctor of science? First of all (and that is the crucial one) is to write at least three articles to any scientific journal or publish them in conference proceedings. Thereafter you will have to compile you superior doctor work presenting your original research (method, algorithm, approach etc hopefully improving something sufficiently). The length of it should be approximately 70-80 pages (excluding appendixes and so forth). The work (sometimes called thesis) can be done either by combining your articles or writing it from the scratch. Finally it should be presented to a group of highly educated people sometimes called professors and in this particular case gathered together to understand “who are you?”, “why you are here?” and “does your work satisfy to requirements defined by this particular university for obtaining PhD degree?”.

Normally there is one more requirement to the minimum requirement mentioned above: learn at the university something useful and gather a certain amount of academic points (AP). For example TTU requires studying around 10 subjects.

How to achieve that?

Of course it is possible to pass this with minimal requirements (so called extern) but history know very little such example, so I will assume you are not mad enough to do that. Mostly the study will be compiled from a set of seminars on which you will find yourself presenting your ideas, describing something new from your PhD area etc. therefore I would call that: “having fun”. Of course you will have to study a set of other subjects like for example the scientific writing, but those varies from department to department and are not so numerous and you can pass them easily and quickly doing it “right” (spending minimum efforts and time)


We will be discussing this a bit later including formats, structure, content etc.


What I could say about such important question? Well I suppose everyone think that you should get one before considering continuing your study as a PhD student. Actually I think that this opinion is slightly incorrect. Of course it will be nice if a student has got a beautiful idea to work on in advance, but actually it is not quite required. Moreover I do not believe that a student can come with a ready made idea before starting the study, because it requires quite sufficient time to formulate, understand and make it correct. Actually the PhD study is about to do all this and therefore the idea will be formulate during the study, not before. It is obvious that the PhD work should be some kind extension to the master work, but it mean only the field of the research. Therefore don’t afraid to start having no brilliant ideas. Moreover the research subject can sufficiently change during the study period and migrate to a co-field. Besides a lot of students got the idea done somewhere in the study by a day …. something strikes your head once and vu a la you are done. The only remaining activities are to write, present and celebrate.

Finally I would make a very “criminal” point from the academic research perspective. I have seen a lot of people who actually got the PhD for a very, very strange works (if to not say for nothing), so if you will finally arrive to the presenting your work in front of professors I shall say you will get your PhD for sure.

The thesis (dissertation) defence process

So, we have arrived to a topic of presenting the final work. The actual process of presenting the work is very formal (both from the regulation and the result point of view) and always ends with promoting the person to PhD degree. The reason is simple – normally it is too late on this stage to present doubts or negative result and will mean doubts in quality of the student supervisor and opponents. Therefore and the first and most important event that should happen before – your supervisor should let you (promote) to the final work presentation and s/he will not do that unless w/he is sure that the quality of the work is good enough. Notice that existence of your articles will not always mean the quality if those was written together with others, but normally are aimed to verify your expertise. Secondly, your opponents should agree to be opponents (participate). As a rule, those will not agree if they doubt in the quality of the work (or will decline later after reading it to avoid conflicts on site during the presentation process). That is why they normally would like to read your work and will force you to make certain changes (if the quality can be adjusted at all).

Job/position, i.e. how to earn money been PhD student

The question of being in a certain position (working for .. some company/institution) is also a crucial factor moving toward our PhD goal. Normally there are two ways either to be working for a commercial company or become a part of an institution working there as a lecturer or a researcher. The last one normally mean that you will not be getting paid well, but will have a lot of time for your research (and finally become sure that you are much better that “ordinal” people :) ). Besides you will be able to meet useful people and talk to bright scientists. After saying that I would actually like to make an opposite suggestion. Working for the institution is not the only way to be successful on the road to PhD and it is possible to become a doctor working at the same time in a business sector. So, the main topic of this post is to encourage specialists from commerce to start the doctoral study and reach the goal. Don’t be afraid, it is possible and actually I did prove that by my experience and would like to help others as well. Actually a lot of researches in IT start to understand that there problems and ideas are rather artificial and requires real examples and cases.


It is obvious that working for your employer you will get paid for all your time spent for them, so will get money and other bonuses. Advantages of this are: a) you don’t depend on other people (like for example you parents or your wife); b) you don’t suffer from cold and hunger, don’t have to rent a flat with two or three friends c) you can avoid wasting your time, for example in public transport moving around in your personal car and d)get what you need when you need that (books, journals, Internet access etc) instead of asking for funds filling numerous forms for the university. I think you will agree that it is much easier to think and research in good conditions, rather than missing very basic things (like been in a cold, noisy room with a poor Internet access). The obvious disadvantage (that we will have to balance) is absence of time (this will be our limited resource :)).

Some remarks on what you need to start

Fortunately we have been discussed already that the efficient study (which is also quite a fun) will not require too much time. Besides the process of finding an idea do require a concentration on that instead of a permanent presence of you at the university. What you do really, really need is a) a wish to get the desired PhD degree (in order not to cancel your study somewhere in the middle; b) an employer who is willing to let you go to university to participate in classes or visit conferences when you need that (instead of following some kind fixed vacations schedule). “A wish to become a doctor” - I think it is crucial to decide about that starting your study to avoid spending your valuable time dropping the study later. From my point of view, the clever (meaningful) person should evolve all the time. Additionally you will have an opportunity to travel all over the world participating in conferences and al this will be paid by the university. Besides, later you will have at least something to recall as your greatest contribution. “An employer” – I strongly believe that if you are so clever that you are starting PhD study then you will easily find a good working place (otherwise your knowledge is highly artificial) and then you will easily become a very valuable specialist and your company will always be ready to find some kind trade off between your duties and needs, so you could agree on having time (for example counting that as vacation days) during which you can visit conferences.

Summarising all said above I would encourage you to start PhD study even working full day somewhere. Don’t miss one of the greatest challenges of your life.

Keep pushing

One of the most important principles you have to follow working on the PhD thesis – „you should rapidly move the work towards the finish stage (in our case to defence date)”. Practically this topic splits into two. First of all you should permanently invest time into PhD work by writing articles, working on main PhD thesis, reading other authors etc. Secondly you should avoid freezing and waiting for something (like a princess waiting for her prince in a tower).

A requirement to work on articles/work constantly without freezing means that you should not overestimate your geniality (or brightness of what you have done so far) and permanently try to improve it, solve in a better way, find new applications or effects. Quite a common mistake that make majour number of students is submitting an article into a conference and waiting until the decision will be issued. Knowing that the author notification deadline could be up to 3 month after the submission deadline it will mean a lot of time that they simple loose as cannot concentrate of other contributions waiting for reviewers opinion on their latest finding. Moreover, if the work will be accepted then it will prolong the negative effect until the conference finish date, which is 3-4 month later once again.

I especially highlight this problem here, as this text is designed a lot for those that will try to achieve PhD rank in parallel with working somewhere and so it is very easy to switch from working on PhD to the main job tasks been reluctant since „the work is done, lets wait for the answer”. The same holds if you switch to your family rapidly forgetting about PhD activities. PS: If you are not able to concentrate on new results and contribute efficiently into articles writing, then read at least others authors articles as those could give a lot of new ideas to you and increase your professional level, which is easily visible in your articles.

The other problem preventing students from moving efficiently towards the goal is an „illness” of concentrating on some kind particular idea that results in producing constantly the same result in a sort of cycle and permanent attempts to push it into different conferences. Like a donkey travelling always toward a carrot been fixed a meter from his nose.

It is useful to fix all ideas somewhere (for example in the old way on a paper) after you have generated those and then attempt to distance from it by asking yourself “what else can be invented?” This will allow you continue thinking as we need to generate a bunch of ideas rather than stop and concentrate on one (which can be potentially wrong or incomplete). In the worst case (you were not able to imagine anything better) you can always return to the fixed idea and continue developing it.

Generating ideas, it is important to invent alternative solutions one after another as long as you got a creative thinking flow. If new ideas don’t popup in your mind by themselves any longer you could use the basic mathematical combinatorial search approach to find new: each topic can be evolved by either a deeper research of different parameters of it or widened by replacing some properties of it / applying the topic to new subjects.

Been stupefied

Normally, the process of writing of PhD work/articles is well-balanced and rapid, but sometimes a certain problem occurs when you have no ideas how to evolve the work further. You just cannot think of any good ideas and this lasts quite a long time – a week or a month. It seems that all ideas left you head and promised never return back and the best thing you can do is to apply to some none-intellectual type of work. It is especially sad since you had a lot of good ideas just 10 minutes ago .... and now you can park a truck or two into the completely empty garage called „your brain”.

Such problems are quite common and experienced by most scientists during certain periods of their life. What you desperately need in such case is to obtain (somehow) a new point of view on the problem you deal with in your PhD thesis. The best way to get it is to communicate the problem to somebody else. This person can be your supervisor (why else you need him / her :)? ) or another student probably having the same problem and so a lot of time to talk about whatever you would like to talk about.

Besides such discussion with your supervisor is very useful because of a set of extra reasons. Notice that supervisor mostly means superior, i.e. having a lot of experience and therefore a constant communication will surely accelerate your progress moving toward the desired goal.

First of all you can communicate to supervisor the current status of the work and articles. Sometimes supervisor can help just by asking “right” questions pushing you in the certain direction or way of thinking highlighting the point where you did something incorrectly or incompletely Secondly s/he can show you new ways, directions, which are obvious for him/her. Notice that you should not afraid that if the idea is produced by supervisor, then it is no longer yours and you will be just a „work force” evolving others thoughts. The truth is: each research is a lot of work and certainly much more just one sentence said once. It is different hypothesises, proves, collecting statistical information or measuring some process, solving local problems and so forth. In other words it is all that your supervisor has neither time to do nor intentions to do. S/he has a lot of own ideas, which s/he is fond of.

Finally it will allow you just to talk the problem out and probably you will find new ideas and solutions just properly formulating your thoughts in front of some superior person.

In addition to communicating the problem to friends or your supervisor you can also:

  1. Postpone your work for some time and switch the type of activity – go for a walk, start building a house or garden. Here you hope that your brain will recharge after some time and you will be able to use it again later … after it was cleaned from all details you never actually needed. Once the light will turn on again in the brain and will do even more than you did so far. The biggest disadvantage is – lost time. Besides you can loose the taste for the research and find more useful to deal with the current work task, friends and family on the constant base instead of PhD activities.
  2. Leave you ideas for a while and start researching others. For example to read recent articles from your or neighbour topic hoping to get from there something, that could either be useful for you or even will give you a new, inspiring idea. The biggest disadvantage in those approaches is sufficiently decreased productivity and general tiredness that will definitely follow the no-ideas period As soon as you are not concentrated on the topic you find attractive, you will think that it is boring and is not worth to spend your time at all. Especially if you read others articles and struggle to understand the point in these papers. The reason is very simple – your body try to recover from pressure you put on it in the past by routing available resources on other type of activities or just on rest. Generally it is good as you must relax for certain time, but there is a danger to loose a taste of research, forget how interesting it as it is much more boring without details when you look at it from a huge distance.

My supervisor advices

Been a PhD students, I got once an advice from my supervisor – have a special notes book into which you can write all ideas you get.

PS: Obviously you can use any other gadgets instead of pen and paper, but I don’t see any good computer systems at the moment that could allow you to fix ideas quickly, efficiently, in any place you are at the moment.

How to write an article?


Lets assume that you finally decided to try yourself in the PhD race. We already have stated in the previous post, that the corner stone her is writing articles. It is fact, that after you have published 5 articles or more you can start to use to think that you are PhD. Notice that under "published" in the previous sentence we mean that articles were actually accepted at conferences, not just written by you.

So, we count only articles that were made available via conference proceedings or journals.

Journals publications of course "cost" more (i.e. are more valuables) than proceedings, but it is much harder to "push" your work into those (i.e. write so that journals will accept it). That is why doctor students should basically forget about it and concentrate attempts on conferences (of course it doesn't mean that you should not write some articles to journals as well, but you should not rely on those).

There are different levels of scientific conferences, but for any serious one a book of articles will be printed, which is called a “proceeding”. Level of a conference is normally measured on the high level by publisher or an indexer (i.e. in which scientific database a link to conference articles will appear). Indexer is either stated directly in the conference description (or "call for papers"), or can be identified by a publisher of the proceeding. For example Springer Verlag and IEEE (for example IEEE Computer society) are most respectful. The worst choice is a conference publishing a local proceeding (for example by the university organising the conference), but still check the indexing policy as even the local one can be well-indexed. Talking about indexer, the scientific activity in Estonia is normally measured by links on your articles appearing in ISI (Web of science). So, if you have got a paper into that index - well done! There are some other indexes that can be acceptable for doctorate students: for example EBSCO or DPLB. Actually it is also not the lowest level for PhD students - in this case local proceedings will also be accepted! There is also a certain category of conferences proceedings of which can or cannot be indexed especially if the conference doesn't have a good record of previous conferences - so the proceeding will be posted to indexer, but organisers don't know for sure in advance the indexer decision (they can consider the proceeding as too weak [so not interested] to be included into the index). There are also organisers that host series of conferences - circa 10-14 per year in different places all over the world. For example in a decreasing order of my priority list: IASTED, WSEAS, IADIS.

If you have written an article and it was accepted then you can nearly killed this a big and valuable animal or at least frighted it a lot :-) I'd like to say that there are some more activities you should do like а) always: pay the fee as an author (only then the paper will be published) b) normally: present the paper at the conference otherwise it will not be published, although in reality proceeding is published much earlier than you appear on the conference. So you need somebody to finance those activities (publishing fee, travelling). It is obvious that you will not like to finance by yourself, therefore university is the standard place to ask money from. For example in TTU we have а) doktorikool (school for doctorate students) and b) EITSA ( a non-profit organisation founded by the Estonian Republic, Tartu University, Tallinn Technical University, Eesti Telekom and the Association of Estonian Information Technology and Telecommunications Companies to support IT evolution of the country).

Finally I would like to mention virtual conferences (for example CISSE). Participation in those doesn't require to move your person from one place to another in the real dimension - just Internet connection and much less your time than usually as you can participate if you find a talk interesting or go and do some other work.

I would also like to warn you against conferences accepting abstracts (a very short article up to 1 page) instead of the full one. That is happens very often if we talk for example about German hosted conferences. Then normally promise to publish best papers in a proceeding. Be careful. Only full size articles will be counted. Abstracts will not be. Don't expect that your paper is so genuine that you will be in that chosen list of papers. If you really do think - try to submit it to a good journal (for example published by Springer, Elseveir) or to a high level conference. Normally such trick is made to increase a number of participants, so I think they just look for fools

PS: a list of conferences can be found from different Internet pages (for example). Another approach - check where participate those, whom you respect, your professors, other teachers of your faculty. For example here is a list of conferences I am interested in (or some my colleagues).



A question „whether your article will be accepted for publication at a conference” greatly depends on how much the article corresponds to the conference topics. It is highly unlikely that your current research will fully satisfy available topics. Therefore authors sometimes are practising the following approaches:

  1. First of all it is possible to adopt the work to the conference for example by starting the work (introduction) from a conference theme and then continue describing your research results. It is important to conclude the paper also with the conference topic showing how your results advance it. We could name it adoption of the research to the conference.
  2. Secondly, it is possible to write a paper specifically for the conference slightly abstracting from your main research topic. It will allow you seeing other topics etc and probably will let you find some new ideas.
Please let me emphasise once again that it is important not to ignore the question of close match between the conference and your paper. May be later, when your work will mature, you will ignore some conference and choose only those that match your work, but now you should start vice versa. You must publish the minimum requirement – 3 articles, so try all possible alternatives.


Any process of accepting papers to a conference includes a set of steps starting from comparing the theme of an article to conference topics (whether it satisfies at all), formatting correctness … and including one of the most important activity, which is reviewing. That is a phase when (presumable) specialists, from the topic of the conference to which the paper was submitted, revise the content of the paper and formulates their opinion on that. The most widely adopted method is a double blind method. Here two independent reviewers will read your paper knowing nothing about the author of it and suggest whether it should be accepted or not. The review is done in the blind manner in order to abstract from the author titles so a professor paper will not get any extra points over a young researcher work.

Notice that any review is normally done basing on several properties of the paper like grammar, language, how much new it is, how logical it is composed etc. The acceptance suggestion also varies – for example there could be options, reject, accept, accept for sure, likely to accept (weak accept) etc.


It is an interesting fact proved to happen quite frequently. Mine practise shows that it doesn’t make sense to submit just one article into a conference. It is much better to send several papers (obviously different papers from the content point of view). An increased chance to be accepted here is probably related to the fact that those papers are likely to be assigned to different reviewers. Some reviewers are more requiring and strict some are less. Moreover some reviews can be done by persons that are not quite specialist from the topic of the paper (specialising on some other narrow subtopic still within the same majour topic), so it could be quite difficult to mark the paper adequately. He could end up recommending to reject that just in case (or may be vise versa – he could decide that the paper looks quite scientific, so could recommend to accept it “just in case”).


Each conference announcement contains several special dates, which are deadlines for different sorts of activities connected to this conference (those dates are also published at the conference Internet site).

First of al it is a deadline for submitting papers. Normally it should be sent approximately 6 month before the conference start date, so it can be reviewed, correctly formatted and published into the proceeding (as the proceeding is normally distributed on the conference) before attendees will arrive to the conference. No articles will be considered to be included into the conference after this deadline.

Secondly, it is a notification date. That is a date when organisers must inform authors whether their articles where accepted or not. If the paper was accepted then there could be some remarks that you probably will like to address submitting the final version. If it is rejected then you could post that paper again to some other conference hoping that other reviewer will understand and value your ideas much more. So, this date is very important planning what will be the next conference you will submit this article to :).

Thirdly there is a deadline to submit a final version of the paper. After that date no changes can be included into the paper, so, for example, all mathematical mistakes cannot be fixed any longer and if such will be there then the paper will be incorrect forever.

Less important, but still presented deadlines are a date to register to attend the conference by, deadline for payments etc.

Finally there are conference dates, i.e. deadline by which you should arrive to the conference place and presumably have a talk in front of other attendees.


There are quite a number of papers with a set of authors instead of one. It can be caused by very different reasons. The most common (75%) – different parts of articles are written by different authors or an article is completed by one people basing on ideas of others with an active input from those “others”. The second case – it is a possibility to publish an article together, i.e. administrative co-authoring. In that case the second author either finances the publication (using grants he has) or is a people who will be travelling and presenting the work. Consider for example a fact that some professors publish 50 and more articles. Clearly they cannot present all those papers by themselves as they have a lot of other duties. The third case will be a mix of previous cases. For example a supervisor permanently advices what should be changed in the paper so is a co-author and also finance the publishing and participation at the conference.

Finally I would like to mention some cases of fictional co-authoring.

There is another interesting post about this: When does Alice deserve to be a co-author?

Formatting issues

One of the most important organisational questions submitting and article to a conference is a formatting issue. Each conference defines a format and formatting rules, which authors should be using compiling their paper. At the same time those rules doesn’t vary greatly as conferences mostly use some larger publishers’ rules, so you will find similar rules for many conferences. The publishers influence is easy to understand considering the fact that those will publish a proceeding and there are not very many publishers with a name. In my practise the most important formats are produced by IEEE and LNCS). Usually a format that papers should meet is published as a) requirements (to read and understand) b) template (to start from). Therefore the most obvious way to compile the paper will be to open the template and either write your paper in or paste in (probably replacing some sample text in it).
One of the most interesting differences between different templates is software that you should be using to produce the final result (actually the type of the document, which is required). A lot of people from business community used to use MS Word, which is not widely spread at the moment in the scientific community since it is a commercial software – although the use of MS Word is slightly increased now and is often accepted as an alternative solution. One of the reasons why other standards are preferred is the publishing issue – MS Word is not the best source to obtain text from in order to publish a book. So, the main document format you could find yourself to be using in the end of ends is LaTeX or TeX. I would like also to mention GhostScript here as a considerable number of papers is stored in .ps files (so you will know what to use dealing with files having this extension).

Beside quite a sufficient time you will spend formatting your article will be formatting references. At the first glance those are identical in many templates, but the further research will sure that there are quite significant differences and if the article text can be easily reformatted by changing high level styles, then references styling is much more manual work. For example the name of the paper or the name of the publisher should be in italic or in apostrophes, the first name of the author should be either in the front of the name or in the end of the name, the number of pages should have a prefix pp. or p. or nothing, ordering of references should correspond to the names order or to the order of appearing in the text etc.

Tip: If you are not using MS Word then you will find quite hard to number references and provide right links in the text of articles. In order to make your life slightly easier you could start using right from the beginning some kind alternative numbering (for example letters) and only after the article is finished you will replace it with the correct numbers (that do correspond to references order in the last dedicated to references section).


PS: A lot of conferences will ask you to submit a paper using pdf format. You can easily convert your file into pdf fail simply by printing it into PDF writing software like for example CutePDF. This software will produce a pseudo-printer after is installed, which will write pdf file from the print stream.


Once I got an advice from my supervisor that I believe is the most important from the whole our co-work – in the end of the work (article, dissertation etc) you should arrive to the same things that were defined in the beginning. It is important to produce a cycle within the work. – define in the work introduction goals and tasks to be solved and in the conclusion show that it is done and shortly trace the solutions path been explained in the body of the work.

Having defined such task you will be surprised how many exceptions will occur during your work on the article. If the article starts to move to some other direction and force the summary to be slightly or completely different then you should seriously reconsider the content of the paper (and notice that without explicitly defining the cycling target you will easily miss this fact). The first possibility will be to cut the branch that move to any other direction probably isolating it into a standalone research. If the branch means that initial statement were incorrect then the whole article requires revision and rewriting the introduction.

Having defined the general level direction you have to think through all sub-elements of the paper. How it starts? All problems to be solved should be explicitly defined. By the way, most reviewers will read just the introduction and conclusions and if they will dislike those elements then the rejecting conclusion will be defined immediately without reading the paper body. Quite many authors will not describe in the conclusion what is done and what is new in compare to the previously published works.

The author should also consider sizes of each sub-chapters of the paper. Those should be balanced (!!). It is irrational (or may be ironical) to have a four pages introduction and a body of the same or even smaller size.

If the paper is theoretical and contains some variable to be used later in equitation or in an explanation then those variables should be in italic to distinguish between words and variables. For example if we start a graph theory paper then we could have written: “Lets have G=(V, E), where V is a set of vertices and E is a set of edges connecting vertices”.

It is important to add into the paper proves of what you stated. For example if you publish an algorithm, then it will be not enough to say that it should be faster than any previously published. Sometimes even mathematical proves should be accomplished by tests (as sometimes those do not follow your math) and especially if you have not defined any theoretical proves. Having added tests you should actually specify environment those tests where conducted in or define how those results can be else reproduced.

If the paper is not mathematical then all statements should be accomplished with use case defining how evidence of your theory where gathered, where, method and so forth.

The next important and logical part to have in the paper will be a comparison with other exciting methods including strong and weak sides of the method proposed in the paper. Notice that if you cannot find any weakness of it then you are likely to under-research the method. Science knows very little really universal methods. Sometimes there are some kind special cases when the method is not applicable.

Finally nothing should be included into the paper without giving a good reason.

If the proposed method is compared with any others then you should define why those methods where selected for comparison and what were selection criteria. The same should be indeed used for the paper as well – why the author thinks that this area of research is worth to be studied and why the new method should be used. It is not enough to derive some kind tiny or virtual benefits.

Another common mistake is submitting to the conference to brief research. It is never worth to do what ever reason made you believe else. If the deeper paper will exceed the requirement by pages then it will be better to split the paper into subtopics and present them as separate papers. If you don’t have enough time then skip the conference. It will be much better than submitting a work that anyway will be rejected. At least you will regret about that ….. if not now then later when you will achieve more in science.


I would like to talk here about our attitude to failures. An ability to overcome any kind of stress working on doctor work is a key success factor. It is well known that stress produces illness and vice versa. The sick person has restricted abilities to move towards the goal. Probably s/he starts to rush, make wrong decisions, is not able to concentrate on open problems and finally have a limited ability to progress the work.

The first type of stress occurring for students working on PhD thesis is rejections of their articles submitted to conferences. Every student is one hundred percents sure that his/her work is brilliant. The huge amount of efforts and times s/he spent on writing this article just increases his/her believe that this must be rewarded and reviewers will definitely see the geniality of ideas. Unfortunately even for post-docs the acceptance rate for their work is just 50% in average – but they are already skilled and accepted as professionals.

Clearly the majour reason of a stress here - too high expectations. Many students consider each attempt to pass the reviewing process like the last chance to survive and take the reject decision too seriously and personally.

As I pointed earlier you should accept that there are very different reviewers. Moreover you should let them have their own opinion and accept this opinion can easily differ from yours. Consider each reject as an opportunity rather than failure - I have seen cases when an article rejected on very weak conferences have been finally accepted for a serious one. Basically it just indicates that either reviewers were not qualified enough or topics of those conferences were not inline with the main topic of the article.

Summarising, I'd like to give some advices on how to overcome this problem

  1. Don’t set expectations too high. You are just studying (although you are not the first year student any longer). Therefore just forget about the article submission after it is posted to the conference – accept internally from the beginning that it will be rejected. It will let you continue working on your doctor work main topics instead of been frozen waiting for an answer. That is a way to decrease stress on rejection and produce some extra happy moments if the article will be finally accepted.
  2. Consider the rejection decision as a possibility to improve the work further. Some conferences do post reviewers opinion showing why they disliked the work. Unfortunately ost of those explanations are redicolous as reviewers don’t borther wrtting a good text having rejected the work, but some still could have good points.
  3. Don’t forget that the best way not to fail is do nothing, but it also never will lead you to the desired goal. Keep pushing and you will be rewarded.


Why should you go after your article is accepted

At the first glance (may be after you have presented your work once on the conference) it looks like the most correct answer is: THERE IS NO REASONS to go. Fortunately there are still some benefits of visiting conferences and the answer is correct just at the first glance – therefore lets discuss some disappointing moments first.

There are a set of reasons why you can be dissatisfied after your first conference and if you do not understand those in advance (read accept those) you are likely to set expectations too high and disappoint been on site.
First of all, it is likely that the audience of your wonderful presentation (on which you spent several days preparing it) will be just 3 or 4 persons including the session chair. The reason is very simple: results of your work are likely to be interesting for somebody only after this or similar problem will occur in his/her practice, not in advance. Therefore you will rather get references on your article later, when somebody will be searching Internet trying to solve the problem than immediately after you have presented the work on the conference.

Besides it is very hard to understand talks on site been unaware in advance about the specific (narrow) topics of those. Therefore majour part of conference’ participants will prefer to read articles after the conference from the conference proceeding, do it slowly and may be several times. All this decreases your talk potential guests list a lot and sometimes the only persons presented in the auditorium are presenters of other articles within the same session.

Secondly you are a young researcher so people are likely to visit „stars” presentations instead of yours.

Finally, having limited connections to other conference attendees and been the young researcher it is hard to find yourself in any conversations in conference halls and therefore you are likely to feel yourself as a not very welcomed quest.

Despite all of earlier stated problems there are still good reasons to go.


Majour: PS: Sometimes too high expectations are motivated by PhD students supervisors defining clear goals on publishing articles and having not said anything specific on visiting conferences. Therefore students are left alone and start to imagine something that doesn’t align to the reality at all.

Presenting the work

As a rule of thumbs each presentation should be approximately 20 minutes – at least it is true for both doctor work and conferences’ article presentation.

It is very stick with this time restriction in order not to be interrupted in the middle of your presentation as a child will be interfering into parents conversation. You risk to leave very bad impression about yourself and you work and, what is more important, will have to skip a lot of details that can be either small or extremely important. Of course nobody will interrupt you during the doctor work presentation but you will face another risk – the committee will fall asleep by the end of your speech and this will be written by the red ink into history of the university and into your unofficial CV.

It is quite common at conferences that the session chair will give you a mark when you are dangerously close to the end of the time frame and there are no signs that you are completing your speech. For example s/he can show you a peace of paper with number 1 indicating that just one minute left. In practise it means that you should immediately proceed with conclusion as you have no more time to describe the content of your paper.

The core element of each presentation is slides shown normally on a screen. As a rule of thumbs you should plan the number of slides as a slide per 2-3 minutes – then you will have enough time to explain each and slides will not transit neither too fast nor too slow (so people will not be tired looking at the same peace of information). If your slides contain graphical representation of data then those surely requires explanation of what and how (!) is presented there: what is x-axis, what is y-axis, what means each point on the graph. Moreover you should explain what is the trend and its meaning: is it good that the line is growing of falling. Only thereafter you could proceed with conclusions that can be made basing on this picture since only then you and your auditorium will have a common understanding on what is going on the screen.

A very trivial advices, which has a lot of hidden reasons to give – your should try and conduct the presentation before the real one at home. You should not react on this: “Of course .. it is obvious” since the following reason will probably be not as obvious as you think:

Direct reasons: such in advance test will help you to understand what you are going to say because ad hoc talk could easily move you to some other topic or you will find that you miss some important data. So the in advance training will a) let you to build up a plan of the talk; b) let you to understand what expressions you will be using in order to make your talk absolutely correct and make others understand what you are talking about; c) find definitions and terms to be used.

Indirect (or hidden) reasons : such training talk shows whether you meet the time requirement or your talk tends to be long and frustrating. Practise shows that you will have to cut from 20% (for experienced) to 50% (for beginners) of what you thought initially you will be saying. So you need to find how much exactly you have to cut in order to avoid cutting during the real talk risking to cut too important issues then.... and obviously you should repeat the talk in order to identify whether the new speech meets requirements. It will be fine to have approximately one training for presenting an article and 3-4 for presenting your doctor work.

If the presentation is a presentation of PhD thesis then you should also try to show slides (not only make a talk) in order to synchronise your talk and slides and balance time you spent on one or another slide. Moreover you could find it to be hard to understand what your are showing / explaining using your slides. Then you will have either to rebuild your slides or (may be) use more than one screen. Two screen technique is spreading more and more among lecturers. There are several reasons why two can be used. For example some lecturers will show on the second one the previous slide so you will not loose the talk logic. The second method will allow parallel presentation in order you, for example, would like to show the original and modified text and so forth. Finally you could decide for two screens if you want allow to follow both the general level logic (on one screen) and the details logic (on another).

Finally before giving the talk to the broader auditorium you should identify what will be typical attendees of the presentation. Depending on that you should use one or another language – set of terms and level of details. Probably beginners will require some extra introduction into the topic while expert will prefer you to proceed directly with the core diving more extra details during the talk.

Real presentation will surely differ from what you though it will be and inexperienced presenter could be even disappointed in the end of ends comparing his talk to what he was going to say or ... may be ... how smoothly it went. Therefore it is advisable, during the training, identify sub parts of the talk that you will be able to through out in order to meet the time frame in case due one or another reason (may be which doesn’t depend on you) your talk is starting to be late. So, you have to split your monologue into sub parts and define what could be the next slide. Text in case you cut something. Moreover you could cut right from the beginning but leave some slides/text to be used in case you proceed faster than it was planned.

Summary - The presentation should be just right by time – no longer no shorter than the time – frame you have. - Slides should not change too fast. - Slides should not be overcomplicated containing too much information. - Try to grab attention of your auditorium and make them to understand what you are talking.

PS: The most killing presentation I have ever heard was given by Chinese or Japan students. Usually the difference in language is so huge that they either don’t understand what they are saying in the foreign language or just read the paper since are afraid to say something wrongly. In the result, the presentation is very monotone and boring. Try to avoid making the same type of presentation and make your talk to be remarkable and memorable. One professor advised to start from a joke to make the talk less official and grab attention. Even my chess trainer said something similar once describing how he was learning in the music school – the most memorable (and so affecting the end mark on the exam) will be the first and the last composition you are going to present ... therefore all compositions to be performed by the same student are arranged so that the best will be in the beginning and in the final of the his performance.


There are different ways to participate in conferences and one of those is presenting the work as a so called poster. In the general meaning, the poster is a printing material that can be attached to a wall and can be either textual or graphical or mixed. In our case posters are mainly papers that were not accepted to the conference main stream (as a presentation), but which still have a chance to appear on the conference. The main idea of posters is to give a high-level overview of the work. Those are normally printed out by authors and posted to special transportable walls in conference halls. Each conference attendee, walking in halls can have it read and get introduction into the work. Normally the authors should also be presented somewhere close to the poster so everybody interested in the work can discuss it in more details.

Some conferences do position posters as an official participations in the conference with an article, while other as an un-official. The difference between those is – whether the article will still be included into the conference proceeding or not. If it will be included then it is treated as an article when the author has no right to talk loudly about it unless somebody asks. Otherwise it is a way for students to communicate the work and discuss, but it will not count for the PhD requirement to have x articles published, and so is not worth to accept the invitation in majour cases. Notice that sometimes those are printed in a local proceeding. Therefore you should be very careful if your work is accepted to the conference as a poster and find out in advance what it means from the publication point of view and then check with your supervisor whether it counts or not for your PhD articles requirement.

There are different ways to compile a poster. Mostly posters are prepared by authors in a classical way as a A1 or A2 size paper that contains a composition showing the logical flow of the paper from introduction to the conclusion. Some authors doesn’t bother to produce something creative picture and just put on the poster a set of slides they would show if they are allowed to present the work as a talk. Minor number of authors will just print out A4 pages and put them instead of A1 having printing out nothing more than the text of the article.

There are some examples from ICEIS’08 conference.


There are two typical place where a conference is held: either in a university or in a congress center. The first place is mostly chosen because it is either free of charge or very cheap having the entire infrastructure you need to organise a conference: auditoriums, projects, chairs, WiFi and so forth. All this is built for students, i.e. is already paid either by state or by students and can be just consumed. Besides science activities aligns well to university positioning itself as a “science center”. The only and the largest disadvantage – infrastructure is heavily used by students and therefore is not in good conditions. Therefore some conferences would prefer to use congress centers, which have the same equipment, but the equipment is much newer and modern. Unfortunately the price is also increased, but that is the amount you have to pay for ensuring the certain level of service for attendees.


Any conference is not just a crowd of abstract individuals with mad eyes talking randomly. It is a well-organized event with own, internal rules and practices. Here we describe the conference participation process using ICEIS'08 conference as an example.

Any conference starts for you from a registration desk, which is usually opened from an evening before the conference first day and until the conference last minute. Registration is held in the conference main location, which is either a hotel/conference center or a university. As the desk is constantly open some authors will prefer to appear in the very last minute before the talk (and sometimes it means just the last day of the conference).

The registration process is designed to

  1. Inform organisers that you are here (arrived) so
  2. Distribute to participants the proceeding (that is the most important book for students as proceedings should be presented to the committee before defending PhD thesis to prove that you fulfilled the published articles requirement) and other conference materials including schedule of sessions, an invoice (which should be presented to the organization funding the visit after you are back). As a rule of thumbs the package includes a pen(cil), a notes book and a bag to make all those gadgets portable.
Usually the entire information on the conference - schedules, changes in it, sessions time and place including names of authors presenting papers in each is located somewhere on the wall in the conference hall or close to the registration desk. The most valuable information is when and where talks are held. It is advisable to check in prior whether your talk is scheduled, does it scheduled to the time you expect it to be in and how you can find the room. Follow the plan or signs and check that you know for sure where your room is located, check it (size, equipment etc) – all that can affect how you organise your talk, where you will have to stand during it etc.

Additionally you will find in halls a set of portable walls (stands) where posters are presented. Notice that they can are also scheduled - for a certain period of time. Authors should post them on the wall no earlier that the start time and organisers will collect them from walls after the finish time, so other posters can be made available.

All talks are divided into plenary talks and ordinal. Plenary talks are given in big rooms by starts or super-stars in computer science (or particular topic of it).

All other talks are clustered into sessions – each hosts 4-6 individuals presentations of 15-30 minutes each, including 5-10 minutes for questions and answers. Sessions are normally organised in parallel in smaller rooms all over the building. Each small room is equipped with a projector, laptop and a big screen. Normally there is a rule that presenters should appear at least 15 minutes before the session starts in order to load their presentation into the conference laptop or ensure that their laptop can be used and is compatible with the projector, and report to the session chair that they are here. Notice that although conference laptops always have either MS Power Point (or some other software used to present the work accordingly to information organisers post on the conference page), sometimes it is not compatible with your version and so organisers will allow you to use your own with a version you know exactly will play slides correctly.
Besides it is always advisable to spent some seconds before the presentation standing on the presenter place (position) to get used the role, check what you can or cannot do (for example how you should walk during the presentation in order to avoid crossing the projecting picture). Btw: one professor told me once that you should stay on the right side from the screen (on the left side from the auditorium perspective).

Traditionally the conference fee includes lunches, so attendees could save time and communicate to each other behind one table instead of loosing the time looking for a good place to eat close to the conference location. If you have no friends or colleges participating in the conference then such lunches will be a perfect way to find contacts or improve relations. That is why quite big tables are normally used instead of small ones. Such lunches are offering very different kind of food, so each standard requirement is satisfied. Besides, those lunches can be a perfect way to try and test the local food.

Finally there are coffee breaks each 4-5 hours (i.e. 2-3 times a day), so between sessions you can recharge. Traditionally tea, coffee or some sort of juice is offered, with cakes or sweets. It can be a standard cake or something specific for this region (I have even seen conferences serving beer – you can imagine it was somewhere in Germany).


Who is who in universities

The main goal of this post is to give a high level description of ranks in universities (academic world) - in other words: who is stronger Seniour researcher or Assistant Professor :)

There are two parallel structures: one for teachers and one for researchers. By the way researcher are normally seen as an activity that should be done outside of university scope since the primary goal of any university is teaching students. Normally researchers are done mainly in labs although teachers do also a lot of research. The main question here is financing. Theoretically researchers should be financed only via grands, while teaching is done after getting a job in university for money tha are collected either from students or government.

The high level of hierarchy can be described as (from lowest to highest):

Each level requires a certain degree obtain from an university. Those degrees are well known - bachelor, master of science, doctor of philosophy (PhD) (notice that there are two doctor degrees in some countries). For example the doctor degree is required to be promoted to the seniour research position / assistant professor and higher. Obviously it is possible to pretend for a lower position having higher education level, but a rule of thumbs is the higher degree you get the high position you will be promoted to, although it depends on open position in universities. The master degree is required to become a researcher or lector.

It is possible to find more details from wikipedia. for example by searching a definition for professor. Notice that the hierarchy greatly varies from country to country and can include much more positions, but earlier listed key position will still be there.

I think everyone would like to obtain the professor position (or at least the status :), so talking about that one we should mention that The emeritus prefix can be added to many other ranks as well.

PS: Do you know that Adjunct rank means a part-time position normally for those who are working outside this academic institution.

Why should I try to obtain the doctor degree if I already have a good idea to work on?

Quite recently I got a question from one of my friends, which was formulated as “Why should somebody do a lot of work researching different items in order to obtain a doctor degree if he already has an idea? Consider for example S. Brin or S. Jobs. Those who have ideas could develop them, but those who do not have any are forced to work for others. Therefore the question is why should I spend time on this degree? What will it give me except a potential workplace in companies owned by people having ideas and implementing those in their business?

First of all, as I meant to say in the original post promoting the doctor study – this study will provide a lot of fun and memories to you in the future, so if you are not a brilliant sale person and will not eventually earn a lot of money, then at least it will be a top result you have achieved in your life. Moreover if you already know how to earn a lot of money right now, then don’t spend time on the study. Instead grab all those billions and later return to this topic.

Secondly, a doctorate student rarely comes with a ready, well-formulated idea. Normally s/he will have no, or it is too general to develop into a commercial one. Moreover the whole point of studying at university is to get access to online knowledge via libraries of articles etc, attend conferences and discuss different ideas with different people. In other words the study allows searching, finding and developing ideas effectively (!). The same happened with earlier mentioned Brin who left the doctor study since started developing PageRank – an idea he produced during the doctor study with people he found during the doctor study.

Besides the answer on the question greatly depends on the kind of the idea. For example it can be something extremely theoretical (like math theorems), not very broad to provide good enough return on investments or something that cannot be commercialised at all. In that case the doctor study will be the only and the best option to develop such ideas. Another factor I would mention here – this path is much more obvious to choose and follow for those who do not become from commercially successful families and therefore is usually taken. The best option (I tend to believe) will be to study and implement ideas as an own business in parallel.

At last (but not least) – one of my friends Roman answered: “You should not forget that PhD and MBA mean a lot in business and especially in such areas (countries) as Middle East and Germany. Besides you should study if you feel you need that and would like to do it.” I fully agree with that. The only way to complete this road will be to know why you need that and to enjoy this several years long walk. Besides, if you will complete the study and you will not be promoted on your current work place then you either work for the wrong company or your study was a fiction.

The concluding remark will be – the doctor study teaches you to formulate your thoughts, correctly explain them to others (so your ideas as articles would be accepted), how to work with information and knowledge bases, how to generalise and apply ideas producing something brand new.

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