Finding a Thesis Supervisor
Finding a thesis advisor that is a good match in terms of interests, style, and temperament should be the student's top priority from the moment of arrival, if not earlier. As a result of the popularity of Area I among students, there are many more graduate students in Area I than can be supervised by the Area I Faculty alone. However, there are many faculty and staff whose primary affiliation is an area other than Area I, but who have Area I oriented research projects and supervise Area I graduate students. So, while the opportunities are plentiful, the process of identifying and picking one is less straightforward than in other areas.
Students supported by a research assistantship (RA) have already achieved this goal. Such students should register for 24 units of 6.991 (Research in EECS) or 6.ThG (graduate thesis research), plus at most two 12-unit subjects. (Note that in terms of strategy it is perfectly acceptable to register for more subjects initially, and then to drop all but one or two after sampling the first few weeks of lectures; in general, it is very easy to add and drop subjects at MIT.)
Students supported by a teaching assistantship (TA) or a fellowship (or other support) should start immediately to try to find a thesis advisor. Such students should register for 6.961, a 12-unit subject that introduces the student to graduate research in the department. The first phase of this subject involves finding a research supervisor for the term with an interesting introductory research project. Note that while most 6.961 projects evolve into masters theses, the masters thesis can ultimately go in a different direction and even involve a different research supervisor, depending on opportunities. TA’s also typically register for 24 units of 6.981 (Teaching in EECS), leaving them room for one additional 12-unit subject. Students with fellowship support usually have room for two such subjects.
Finally, some hints:
- If there is a particular professor with whom you have a strong desire to work, a good strategy is to take a course they teach and do very well in it.
- Be open to research opportunities in Area I that may be less familiar. While incoming students see examples of Area I fields and topics as undergraduates, many important and exciting themes within the area are not encountered in the undergraduate curriculum. Learning about those through the papers and web sites of area faculty, groups, and labs, should be a priority for new graduate students.
- The graduate office has a number of resources for helping students find suitable research supervisors. One of particular note is the EECS brochure Research Interests of Faculty Members Who Supervise Graduate Theses, which every new graduate student should read through.
- As in many other dimensions of graduate school life at MIT, our environment favors those with a strong sense of initiative and perseverance, and creativity and resourcefulness play key roles in finding a good opportunity. Area I graduate students frequently find interesting research opportunities in any number of different departments and laboratories on campus, as well as in laboratories off-campus including Lincoln Laboratory, Draper Laboratory, and a variety of medical and biomedical laboratories.