August 28, 2019

Establishing Contact with Faculty (For Students)

The below is a copy of what used to be part of the “Students” page linked from my main web site.

The First Email/Chat

So you’re thinking about emailing me to talk about <X>? Great!

The Pep Talk

If you’re just shy about contacting me, don’t be!

Just because you…

  • are in [Psychology | Neuroscience | Electrical Engineering]…
  • are an undergraduate…
  • don’t have much research experience…
  • think that you’re excited by X, even though you’re not quite sure what that entails…

…doesn’t meant that I don’t want to talk to you! There are potential overlaps in my work with other areas, and a lack of research experience has no bearing on whether or not you are creative, curious, good at critical thinking, an excellent communicator, etc.

The Straight Talk

Please do try to be specific in your email; it helps to avoid wasting my time and your time. What does “I want to talk to you about research” mean?

  • Are you just randomly curious about some aspect of hybrid recognition-based graphical passwords that utilize user-supplied narrative cues and were hoping that I might have some insight or be able to point you to relevant papers (that’s fine!)?
  • Are you looking around for research projects because you don’t have a research advisor (or you’re not sure that your current one is a great fit) or because you’ve been given sanction by yours to look for short-term projects where our areas might overlap (that’s fine!)?
  • Do you have an idea that you think might make a neat research project (that’s fine!)?
  • Are you interested in getting involved in research because you think that the research stories that you read on <insert news site here> that have to do with security or privacy are really neat, but you’re not really sure what “getting involved in research” entails or how to go about it (that’s fine! what are some example stories)?
  • Are you trying to get a deeper connection with a (any) faculty member because you would like to have someone who is well equipped to write you a letter of recommendation later (that’s fine!)?
  • Are you trying to develop a particular skill set or find an opportunity that you can use to produce a non-coursework project to show potential employers (and the particular project goal doesn’t matter—that’s fine!)?
  • Are you looking for an RA because you need additional income or a tuition waiver, and you’d like to offer your skill set for whatever tasks I might need done (that’s fine!)?

…But I really need you, as much as possible, to let me know which of the above (or none of the above!) is you so that I know how to approach our conversation. The questions that I ask and the potential arrangements to handle the above are wildly different.

The Cranky Talk (Or, What Not To Do)

Please don’t try to tell me what you think I want to hear. It wastes my time, it wastes your time, and it sooner or later will make me very cranky (whether or not I say so).

“I like your research.” Well, thank you!

  • If you’re just letting me know and then the rest of the email gets to the point, then I feel appreciated and you’ve successfully communicated your sentiment. Huzzah!
  • If you’re using it as an opener for why you want to work with me, then please segue to more context; help me help you. ☺ Do you like that some of my work looked at augmented reality because every time you saw security attacks in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex that dealt with human augmentation, you got really excited? Do you like that some of my work incorporates qualitative methods which, while not as common in computer science work and while (delightfully? frustratingly?) messy, prioritizes the end-goals of technology creation and usage rather than going along with metric fetishism even when it deviates from the high-level goal? Are you intrigued by the possibilities of gamification and gameplay in training, but want to develop more scalable and reproducible ways to evaluate their effect?

If, after reading this page, you tell me that you read my papers “Blah” and “Blah blah” and like my research, this will be my face:


If, after reading this page, you send me an email that says that you liked my paper “Blah blah” because it [words or message from the abstract or introduction directly pasted or paraphrased], this will be my face:


If, after reading this page, you do both of the above, and then tell me that you completed courses X and Y with GPA G and have skills with C, C++, and HTML, this will be my face: