The PhD Research Process


This course aims to develop skills in, and awareness of, research methods that are practiced by Ph.D. students in engineering. The course meets weekly, with a combination of lecture-style presentation, class discussion, and small group activities. The students complete several small assignments in preparation for class discussion, along with three major assignments related to their individual research topic: a background report, a research proposal (in a hybrid format based on graduate fellowship and small research grant applications), and a final presentation (emulating the UMich Mechanical Engineering Research Fundamentals Exam format). The course objectives are summarized below.

  • Understand how and why research is a dynamic and challenging process—an intellectual adventure—requiring both structured and unstructured thinking.
  • Teach basic methods for designing and implementing your individual graduate research program, aiming to:
    1. Improve your ability to analyze the literature and identify the important questions/needs related to your research theme.
    2. Improve your ability to define both short-term and long-term goals, and to manage your time effectively.
    3. Improve your writing and presentation skills.
  • Emphasize how to build a constructive relationship with your advisor and research group.
  • Emphasize good research practices and responsible conduct of research.
  • Discuss the research landscape beyond the day-to-day life of a Ph.D. student, including the writing and evaluation of grant proposals, university administration, and commercialization.

Syllabus, Winter 2012 [pdf]

Lecture notes, Winter 2012

Copyright John Hart, for personal use only

00 Introduction slides
01 Defining “research”; learning styles slides
02 Searching and analyzing the literature slides
03 Choosing a research problem; creativity, invention, and innovation slides
04 Planning and time management slides
05 Advisor-­student relations; mentorship and collaboration slides
06 Responsible conduct of research slides
07 Formulating and writing a proposal slides
08 Evaluating proposals slides
09 Graphics and visualizations slides
10 Organizing, giving, and evaluating presentations slides
11 Research administration and commercialization slides