Joining the Personal Robotics Group

We're often looking for help in the lab, but there are a couple of things to bear in mind if you want to join the group. The big one is that, although I'm officially in Mechanical Engineering, I am a computer scientist by training, and (almost) all of my research centers around writing software. If you don't have any computer science background, and can't program comfortably in Python, C++, or (perhaps) Matlab, then you you might not be a great fit for the work we do in the lab. However, there are a bunch of other faculty in robotics that are looking for different skills; one of them might be a better fit for your skill set.

For Undergraduate Students

  1. Can I work in your lab?
    In general, I prefer students to have some significant programming experience (usually in C, C++, or Python) before they get involved in research. What constitutes "significant"? That depends on a number of things. As a bare minimum, you should have successfully completed the introductory computer science sequence or something equivalent. If you're coming from outside of the computer science, or are interested in a project that does not involve programming, then we can discuss the relevant background that you'll need.
  2. What about mathematics background?
    Robotics and machine learning research requires a fair amount of mathematics. If you're seriously interested in doing research, then you'll need to have a basic grounding in linear algebra, probability theory and calculus. A good rule of thumb is that if you can't write Bayes rule on the board on request, then you probably don't have enough of a background to jump right in. If you have some subset of these skills, then we can talk about how you can get involved.
  3. What's the first step?
    If you're interested in the work we do in the group, a good starting point it to talk to some of the other undergrads who are working in the group. Then, >a href="mailto:bill.smart@oregonstate.edu">send me an email and let me know you're interested, and we can take it from there. Don't be upset if I tell you that there are no openings in the group; I have a limited capacity, and am usually running close to it. If I tell you that there are no openings, chances are that there really are no openings.
  4. What does working in the lab involve?
    As a general rule, I'm most interested in "structured" research, where you work on a well-specified part of larger project. If you're more interested in tinkering with robots, then you should get in touch with the OSU Robotics Club. If you're just interested in talking about robots and learning in general, to try and get a handle on the sorts of things that we do, then you should do three things. Read about the research that we do on my web pages. Find a student who has worked with me and talk to them. Finally, when you have a rough idea of what we're about, send me a brief email and we can meet if I have some free time. Free time, however, is a rare commodity these days. Again, please don't be offended if I say that I'm too busy; it's likely to be the truth.
  5. Can you pay me for working in your lab?
    Probably not, at least until I know you and your work. Unfortunately, I've got limited funds to pay undergraduate students, and I already have more students than I can support. My general rule is not to support a student that isn't already working in the lab. Practically, this means that I'll probably ask you to volunteer your time for at least a term before we can talk about a paid position. If you have an external source of funding, or would like to go after one, and you have the skills that we need in the group, then we should talk.
  6. I'm still here. What now?
    If you've made it this far, then you must still be interested. Don't worry too much if you don't meet all of the criteria above. If you meet most of them, then send me email, and we can discuss things.

For Prospective Graduate Students

  1. Will you be my Ph.D. advisor?
    If you're considering the graduate program in Robotics here at Oregon State University, then I encourage you to apply. I can't admit students directly, so don't ask. Every potential student must go through the same formal application procedure. I will ignore letters about admissions and assistantships. If I'm looking for new graduate students and you've applied, then I'll find you.
  2. But, our research interests really overlap!
    If you're a prospective graduate student and your research interests seriously overlap with mine, then send me an email, and briefly tell me about yourself, so that I know to be on the lookout for your application packet when it arrives. Letters with full CVs or ones that don't mention specific research issues will be ignored. Telling me that you "read my web pages" and "our research interests overlap" doesn't count. Email without my address in the To: line will also tend to get ignored, since that usually means a mass mailing. Finally, you should put the word "Sisyphus" at the start of the subject line; that way, I can identify the people who have taken the time to actually read this page, and weed out those just sending mass emails. If you don't have this word in your subject line, I will not read your email. I'm sorry to make this so onerous, but I get an overwhelming amount of email from prospective students, and I don't have time to read all of the ones generated by scraping the University web pages.
  3. I'm a current graduate student at Oregon State. Can I check out your lab?
    If you're currently a graduate student at Oregon State and you're interesting in talking about working with me, send me a brief email, and we can take it from there.