CS 163: The Practice of Theory Research

This is a research methods course, concentrating on the how rather than the what. We will focus on research  practices common for ToC (aka. CS theory) research and will choose theory topics for our projects. Nevertheless, the course could be useful for a wider audience with interest in theory. The course is directed towards advanced undergrads, MS students and possibly even PhD students.

  • Winter 2021 times and location: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:30 PM – 11:50, at, well, zoom
  • The course is limited enrollment.
  • Number of units: 3
  • Prerequisites: CS 161 and CS 154
  • CA: Lunjia Hu, lunjia@stanford.edu
  • Instructor: Omer Reingold, reingold@stanford.edu

Course philosophy and goals:

  • A human-centric perspective on research: how to facilitate better research by addressing the conditions needed for an individual researcher and groups of researchers to succeed.
  • Discussing and experiencing some of the main ingredients of research: critical reading of papers, choosing research problems, bibliography search, oral presentations and in writing.
  •  An opportunity to openly discuss what is usually only implicit and silenced.
  • We will also explore what makes for good theory research.

Course work:

The main thread of course work will follow a (limited-scale) research project (in groups): choosing and reading a paper, identifying follow up directions, conducting bibliography search, identifying relevant areas of relevant technical tools, reading additional papers, suggesting new insights..

  • Every student will get opportunities for frequent presentations in class.
  • Groups will produce research proposal, bibliography-search log, paper reviews, progress report, introduction and a final project.
  • Students will have opportunities for peer review and class discussions.

Schedule, Winter 2021:

Schedule and topics are tentative and may be changed (and augmented) during class based on our progress.

Tuesday, January 12

Class: Introduction, course goals and operation

Thursday, January 14

Class: Group forming meeting.

Tuesday, January 19

Class: Research-driven reading of papers
Deadline: determine groups and papers

Thursday, January 21

Class: A second research-reading exercise

Tuesday, January 26

Class: Collaborations and creativity

Thursday, January 28

Class: First paper presentations
Deadline: Write a paper review of your first paper

Tuesday, February 2

Class: The characteristics and methodology of ToC

Thursday, February 4

Class: present first ideas about paper present ideas about related literature
Deadline: a collaboration contract

Tuesday, February 9

Class: Giving good talks

Thursday, February 11

Class: Group progress reports – your literature search.
Deadline: Search log

Tuesday, February 16

Class: Ethics, research stories, written presentations, what we are looking for in a final project, your questions

Thursday, February 18

Class: groups present second paper

Tuesday, February 23

Class: groups progress reports – focusing on a research proposal

Thursday, February 25

Class: groups progress reports – focusing on a research proposal
Deadline: Research proposal

Tuesday, March 2

Class: group progress reports – digging dipper into the research

Thursday, March 4

Class: group progress reports – digging dipper into the research
Deadline: Draft final project

Tuesday, March 9

Class: Dry run of final presentation.

Thursday, March 11

Class: Dry run of final presentation.
Deadline: Peer reviews draft final project.

Tuesday, March 16 

Class: Final presentations – external audience.

Thursday, March 18

Class: Final presentations – external audience.
Deadline: Final project.

Reading materials:

The following list will be contentiously augmented. I do not endorse or agree with the approach and philosophy of all the suggestions. Furthermore, some of it doesn’t perfectly apply to ToC research (or even CS Research). Nevertheless, these links may help shape your own perspective.

http://cs197.stanford.edu/ (highly related course, many of the class topics)

http://www.weizmann.ac.il/mcb/UriAlon/movies/Nurturing%20Science (many of the topics of class: giving talks, collaborations, nurturing-perspective on research)

https://windowsontheory.org/tag/research-life-stories/ (posts on research life stories)

https://theorydish.blog/category/research-life/ (more recent posts on research life and tips for researchers)

http://www.wisdom.weizmann.ac.il/~oded/essays.html (essays by Oded Goldreich, many relevant to this class)

https://www.math.ias.edu/avi/book (the nature of ToC, especially relevant is Chapter 20.3 “ToC Methodology”).

http://www.cs.bath.ac.uk/Leon/talks/EthicsLecture.ppt (Research ethics)

http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi= (Research ethics)

https://libguides.library.cityu.edu.hk/researchmethods/ethics (Research ethics)

https://www.enago.com/academy/principles-of-ethical-research/ (Research ethics)

https://moleseyhill.com/2010-03-22-hardy-littlewood-rules.html (Hardy Littlewood Collaboration Axioms)

http://www.globalsciencebooks.info/Online/GSBOnline/images/2013/AAJPSB_7(SI1)/AAJPSB_7(SI1)72-75o.pdf (Hardy Littlewood Collaboration Axioms)

A critical perspective on alphabetic-ordering of authorship.

https://ccc.inaoep.mx/~esucar/Clases-semdr/Lecturas/ramsey00.pdf (research-driven reading of papers)

http://www.ifs.tuwien.ac.at/~silvia/research-tips/p92-parberry.pdf (paper reviewing)

http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~michaelm/CS222/hntwar.pdf (how not to review a paper)

http://www.eecs.harvard.edu/~michaelm/CS222/thoughtsonreviewing.pdf (more on paper reviewing)

https://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/dahlin/professional/badTalk.pdf (how not to give a talk)

https://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/dahlin/professional/goodTalk.pdf (how give a good talk)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pb5oIIPO62g (John Cleese on Creativity)

https://www.forbes.com/video/5312437518001/ (stop multi tasking)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5dNHrYCYMw (Meditation for creativity)

https://people.eecs.berkeley.edu/~fox/paper_writing.html (hints on giving talks)

https://people.eecs.berkeley.edu/~fox/paper_writing.html#hints (hints on paper writings)

https://www.enago.com/academy/storytelling-in-science-communicating-your-research-effectively/ (storytelling for paper writings)

http://jmlr.csail.mit.edu/reviewing-papers/knuth_mathematical_writing.pdf (mathematical writing)