Dr. Yuguang “Michael” Fang
UF Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering
2010-2011 UF Doctoral Mentoring Award Winner
Since I joined UF in 2000, I have had the great opportunity to work closely with a group of talented graduate students, and I am truly honored to be nominated for this award. I prescribe to a famous Chinese saying “A teacher for a day, and a father for life” and hence work to develop a father-child relationship with my students. I care for them as if they were my own children. As a Ph.D. advisor, I try my best to not only impart knowledge, but also teach them the way and the skills. In what follows, I will present how I advise my Ph.D. students and help them to prepare for a successful career.
First, students should have solid fundamental training. In the first year, I usually advise my students to choose the courses they should study, not only the courses closely related to their research subjects, but also the fundamental courses for their future careers. I encourage them to study the good books and good papers, particularly the classics so that they can learn from the masters. At the same time, I ask them to read tutorial papers and papers from top journals and conferences, and to give talks in my weekly group meeting. Students present the latest papers from top publications and have critical discussions about them. I encourage them to actively ask critical questions and learn to become good critics. As the advisor, I usually give them my comments and show how we could have done better if we were the authors. Sometimes, students present their own research and receive feedback from the group before their manuscripts head out for review. In the meeting, I also discuss some of the latest developments on particular research fronts and throw out my ideas for the students to think about, hoping some students will be able to pick them up. Thus, in the first year, junior students have already been exposed to a research environment for their Ph.D. studies.
Second, students should develop their independent thinking skills. As they progress towards the second year, they have already become familiar with the state-of-the-art of their research. I constantly challenge them with problems on their research topics and make sure they closely follow not only the publications in top conferences and journals, but also the leading research groups and scientists working on the same engineering problems. Whenever a student presents a paper in my group meeting, I encourage all other students to ask challenging questions, and at the same time, I also point out how to read/present a paper and how we could improve on the presented work. In particular, I ask the student to come up with intuitive ideas for the paper he/she is presenting. Through this process, all students are able to learn the thinking process, which helps them improve their independent thinking skills. This works very effectively in my group.
Third, students should be trained to judge the quality of research work and set high standards for their own research. To achieve this goal, upon entry into my group, a student is advised to read and study papers or books, monitor publications in top journals and conferences, identify quality papers and defend their views when doing presentation. Since students are exposed to quality papers, they will have a higher starting point and hence will develop a better taste for outstanding research. Only through this process can students set a high bar for their own work and generate superior papers. I always tell my students who think they are ready to graduate, “only when you have achieved a quantum leap in the sense that you have indeed solved some challenging problems, in other words, you have had a philosophical jump in your understanding of the problem and a great sense of accomplishment, are you truly ready to graduate”. It is a great pleasure for me to see that my students have steadily improved their research in terms of both quantity and quality during their studies and reached the level of scholarship the PhDs are supposed to achieve.
Fourth, students should know how to sell their ideas. It is very important for a PhD student to become a good writer and a good presenter, i.e., a good communicator. Throughout their PhD studies, I try my best to teach my students how to write up their findings in technical papers and how to present their work in conferences. I encourage them to study not only the technical contents of excellent papers, but also the writing style and the organization of the materials. I send them to conferences to observe and interact with good researchers and encourage them to attend seminars whenever possible. I advise them to observe how the good instructors present the course materials when they attend classes and to ask intelligent questions. I use the opportunity of our weekly group meeting to point out the strong as well as the weak points of the presenter so that all students in my group can observe and benefit. I also encourage my students to become actively involved with the coordination and participation of the weekly seminar in the Wireless Information Networking Group (WING) consisting of multiple faculty members at UF.
Fifth, students should learn how to interact with their colleagues and develop their interpersonal skills. Many Ph.D. students ignore this aspect and do not know how to interact with other professors and colleagues. I emphasize the importance of networking to help them build up their skills. I first encourage them to improve their language ability, then to observe how their model colleagues or faculty members interact with others, in particular, when they are at conferences. Moreover, whenever possible, I introduce my students to my colleagues and other researchers to get them exposed to the academia. Finally, I ask my students to broaden their skill sets and collect as many ideas and techniques from magazines, journals, conference presentations and seminars so that these can come in handy when they interact with other engineers in their field. You can always learn more when your network is rich!
Finally, students should be good citizens and good persons. Only when you are a good person can you become a good team player and be productive. Thus, I teach them to become important positive contributing members in the group, to learn to get along with other members and work together on research problems. I encourage them to keep an open mind and be receptive to criticisms from other members, and be generous and helpful in daily life. I believe when you are good to others, others will be good to you, and you will gain much more in both research and life. I am extremely happy to see that my group is always like a family and we help each other as much as we can. My students realize they are not working for me, but working for themselves and I am only here to help them establish their future career. Whenever students need my help, I am always there for them from the day they join my group until after they start their own career. I am helping them to build up their total package for the future career and expect them to do the same for others after they graduate.
Since 2002 I have graduated 17 Ph.D. students, some of whom have very impressive research records and have landed excellent jobs. Among them, 7 are holding professorship (at universities such as Arizona State University, University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Mississippi State University), 7 are Senior Researchers at research and 3 are Senior Engineers. Moreover, my students and I have published over 300 journal and conference papers, including two papers winning the Best Paper Award. Currently, I am advising 7 Ph.D. students. If a professor’s personal achievement could be measured through the glories of his students, I can say that I am a very happy man.