by George Popescu
In addition to the work carried out in his/her own laboratory, any Ph.D. student has other numerous research opportunities during the full length of his thesis preparation.
Lab work usually involves working on a topic defined during the first year of research. After the grant proposal has been defined by the Ph.D. student and his advisor, The Swiss National Science Foundation selects best proposals and finances Ph.D. work. However, there is more to Ph.D. research than thesis work.
CUSO or Conference Universitaire de Suisse Occidentale, is a common institution that connects universities from the French part of Switzerland. It promotes coordination and collaboration between students and professors enrolled at universities in Suisse Romande. First of all, registering for CUSO is free of charge and attracts a number of benefits. CUSO offers doctoral students summer and winter school courses. Such courses are thought by well-known professors for the duration of a day, few days or even a week. The main themes correspond to the general curriculum of Ph.D. research. For example, in computer science, there are seminars and courses on the topics of: privacy, social mining, distributed computing, design, state machines, etc. Secondly, CUSO provides reimbursement for travelling (going to another city by train in second class) and housing (e.g. hotel registration for summer schools). Moreover, attendance to courses is free for all people belonging to the affiliated institutions, namely: Bern, Fribourg, Geneva, Lausanne and Neuchatel.
Internships are often the choice of Ph.D. students working closely with industry labs. The main advantage of doing an internship in industry during the Ph.D. work is going more practical experience. This often attracts the possibility of publishing conference papers with former colleagues. The main disadvantage is that the Ph.D. period might be extended due to the amount of work required in the lab the Ph.D. student is active in. Teaching activities, for example, can sometimes be very time-consuming. Whether or not a Ph.D. internship is a good opportunity the student must discuss this with his advisor and agree on the work that he will do in the company.
Summer Research Institute
Just recently, as in every year, EPFL has organized a two-week long research seminar with the purpose of creating an informal environment that would foster research bonds between participants: speakers and attendees. Ph.D. students participate in open discussions while attending (usually) one-hour presentations on the topics closest to their research. Famous guest speakers are invited to have these presentations and introduce students to the state-of-the-art in the field.
Most faculties at EPFL organize annually a one-day event called the research day. The theme gets selected one year in advance and is something of great interest to the academic community. For example, the Faculty of Computer Science introduced “Trustworthy computing” and talks about security, privacy and trust information in communication systems were the main axes of presentations and discussions. Not only that Ph.D. students enriched their knowledge from attending presentations but they also got direct feedback on their work by presenting recent research during the poster session.
Inter-lab research discussions
Sometimes during Ph.D. work students are invited to attend presentations from other labs in order to get insights and work on larger projects. As professors are responsible for facilitating the collaboration between Ph.D. students from various institutions, they invite fellow colleagues to present their work. This creates common ground for discussions and contributions.
To conclude, Ph.D. work is never a “same work day-after-day process”. On the contrary, it includes a series of activities that facilitate knowledge discovery, cooperation, and emergence of new ideas.