Today is presentation day on the MPhil in Advanced Computer Science. Fifty Masters students have twelve minutes each to explain their Masters project. They will be assessed on style, comprehensibility, and content. That is, two-thirds of the assessment is on the quality of the presentation and only one-third on the academic content. This bias is because the presentation is assessed as part of my Research Skills course: we want to know how well they have acquired the skill of presenting. As the module convener, I teach them how to present and I moderate the assessment. The buck stops with me. Last night, by contrast I playedRead More →

My academic department is running a research poster competition today as part of the department’s 75th anniversary celebrations. All attendees are being asked to judge the posters and to pick the best ones. There is a saying that you cannot judge a book by its cover. That is, you should not judge the content of a book by what you see on the cover. A research poster, however, is essentially all cover. Everything is immediately visible to the reader. So, how do you judge a poster? And what makes a good research poster? I tackle this question in my Research Skills course. Three things seemRead More →

I have many calls on my time. I prepare lectures, give lectures, set work, mark work, give tutorials, apply for research grants, administer research grants, manage post-docs on research grants, review research grants, advise PhD students, advise potential PhD students, review PhD student applications, examine PhD dissertations, write academic papers, review academic papers, administer paper submissions to the journal that I help edit, help organise conferences, and do my own research. On top of these standard academic jobs, I have roles that require me to approve research grants, approve applications for travel funding, approve reimbursement requests for travel, attend management committees for the department, faculty,Read More →

In my Research Skills course at the University of Cambridge, I use the Gettysburg address as an example presentation. The course is about how to give good research presentations, so it may seem curious that I use a political speech from the 19th century as an example. However, I find that this speech has much to teach us. Peter Norvig My original reason for choosing the Gettysburg address was that Peter Norvig has produced a Powerpoint presentation of it. His set of slides demonstrates how a presentation tool can turn a good speech into a poor presentation; this was the key teaching point in the first year I used it. The Gettysburg address is sufficientlyRead More →

I teach the Research Skills module to Masters and PhD students in Computer Science at the University of Cambridge. I aim to improve their writing, reading, and presenting skills. A major part of the course is the writing of scientific papers. But what is a scientific paper? Scientific paper as message-bearer A scientific paper is foremost a mechanism for communicating a scientific idea. A paper’s purpose is to convey ideas from one researcher to another. A paper should be written with this in mind: as an author, you are writing to convey an idea from your mind to your reader’s mind as accurately and effectively as possible. YouRead More →


Last week I appeared on radio and in print, both in heavily edited forms. The editing process is like looking through glass: it distorts but you can still see what was meant. Tamsin Hughes, a BBC Radio 4 producer, telephoned me in October, and interviewed me two weeks later, for a couple of hours. The interview was used in a half-hour programme, “3D in Perspective,” broadcast on 7 December. Our two-hour conversation was edited down to four snippets, interwoven amongst three other interviewees and the presenter’s script. Tamsin put enormous effort into weaving a compelling story from hours of source material. I think she recordedRead More →