My Rules for New Graduate Students

Image result for scroll rulesI am tired of telling my new graduate students the same things over and over again, so I wrote up the most important ones in a list, posted on the Signal Integrity Academy web site, for anyone to download.

There are currently 43 in the list and I reserve the right to add to them as I see needed.

I won’t repeat all of them here, but will mention a few of the ones I find the most important, especially as it relates to lab reports, or doing measurement or simulations.

9. Never perform a measurement or simulation without first anticipating the results you expect to see. Never believe a measurement or simulation blindly. If it doesn’t match what you expect, there is a reason for it. Either there is something wrong in the setup of the tool, or maybe your intuition is off, in which case this is an opportunity to re-calibrate your engineering intuition and move up the learning curve. Do not proceed with the result unless you can convince yourself it is reasonable.

10. Corollary to Rule #9: It is easy to perform a measurement or simulation. It is hard to eliminate errors and artifacts. There are so many ways a measurement or simulation can go wrong, you can never perform enough consistency tests. If you think you know why a result looks the way it does then ask, what else might be the case? Look for it to confirm you know what is going on and the measurement or simulation is consistent with the way you think the system should operate.

22. Never use auto scale on a plot. The only acceptable time is when you are taking a first look at the data and it does not come out on the scale you expected it to fit on. The purpose of a plot is to show patterns which can be immediately and easily interpreted by your engineering intuition. It should be displayed on a rational scale in units you can use to evaluate the quality of the result, and feed your engineering intuition. Use scales that are easy to use to get a “feel for the numbers.”

32. Never use a feature or function in a tool unless you know what it is really doing. No tool, measurement or simulation, is ideal. There are always hidden assumptions about what it is really measuring or calculating, written by an engineer no smarter than you. Always be aware of what the tool is actually doing to convert the result to what is displayed.

33. Often times, the documentation in a tool- simulator or instrument- is incomplete. You may have to spend appreciable time “reverse engineering” the tool in order to understand what it is really doing. Thinking of consistency tests you can do to confirm the tool is doing what you think it is, can be a very good investment of time. Always challenge the results of a tool. 

The corollary is, when using a tool or feature for the first time, ALWAYS run a problem for which you already know the answer. This way you know what to expect and can easily determine if the tool or feature is not giving you the answer you expect. If you don’t know what to expect, how can you evaluate the result?

39.Question authority. Just because someone says they are an expert doesn’t mean you have to believe everything they tell you. If it doesn’t sound right, it may not be. Become your own expert by tracing back the reasoning behind every statement to something you have high confidence in.

If you liked these, check out the whole list here.

Got one of your own not on my list, add a comment below.

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