Category: Academia

  • An Epidemic of Rat Farming

    In Hanoi, as the story goes, the French placed a bounty on rat pelts. The locals responded by farming rats. A child who gets candy for cleaning up a big mess is likely to create another mess the next day. These are perverse incentives: incentives that have unintended and often undesirable side effects. As a […]

  • Self-Checking Projects

    Matching students up with research projects is entertaining but difficult. The project has to be at the right level of difficulty, has to fit the student’s time frame, and has to interest the student. If grant money is going to be used to pay the student, the work has to fit into the funded project. […]

  • Why Take an Operating Systems Course?

    [Also see why take a compilers course and why take an embedded systems course.] The other day, while having coffee with a colleague, I mentioned that I’ll be teaching OS in the fall. His area is far from computer systems and he asked me what’s the point of this class? What are the students supposed […]

  • Book Review: Surviving Your Stupid Stupid Decision to go to Grad School

    Good jobs have barriers to entry.  Sometimes these barriers are natural (not everyone is capable of writing a novel or being a leader) and sometimes they are artificial (not everyone is born in the right place or to the right parents).  Many well-paid jobs requiring very specialized skills are protected by — among other mechanisms […]

  • How to Get a Grant (from NSF, for Computer Scientists)

    Learning to write good grant proposals is hard. First, while we learn to write papers in grad school, most of us only learn to write grants after completing a PhD, and possibly only after getting a faculty position. Second, the hit rates for grants are typically lower than for papers. Third, it’s fundamentally harder to […]

  • Straight Man

    Hank Devereaux, chair of the dysfunctional English department at a small university, is having a midlife crisis.  His wife, leaving town, fears he’ll be either in jail or the hospital before she returns — and she is not disappointed.  Straight Man is hilarious, I had to stop reading it in bed because it was too […]

  • Picking a Research Topic in Computer Systems

    This post is a collection of observations and advice for people who want to choose a research topic in computer systems.  I’m not claiming to be some kind of genius in this area, but I have enough ideas that they seemed worth writing down. This advice is probably most useful for graduate students in CS, […]

  • How to Evaluate a Computer Systems Research Paper

    Some excellent resources exist about how to write a good systems paper. This post is about a slightly different topic. In a typical recent year I review about 100 papers, mostly conference papers 8-14 pages long in 9 or 10 point font. People in similar positions — mid-career computer systems professors — are generally in […]