We receive many emails from individuals seeking positions. To avoid common mistakes and misconceptions, please note the following:
- We only answer emails that clearly stated why they wanted to work in the DACHB lab. We ignore generic emails that could be sent to any faculty.
- We primarily support students who pursue a thesis in computer science. For specific projects, we may offer positions to students in other departments (e.g., health, biology) and these will be advertised. In other words, if you are not applying for an advertised position, then you should be a computer science student.
- We are a research laboratory. We offer research positions, not teaching positions. If you seek a Teaching Assistantship (TA) then you need to email the assistant to the department chair.
- We will only consider hiring students who are already at NIU once they have demonstrated excellent performances in a research course taught by the lab director. So if you are already at NIU and wish to be considered for a position, you don’t need to send any email, all you need to do is enroll in one of our courses. Once you are enrolled, let the instructor know about your interest in pursuing research. If you are not physically at NIU yet, we may arrange for other forms of evaluations.
Why join us?
The experience you get from being a member of a research lab is much more than simply taking courses. You will be provided close mentorship so you can develop research skills and apply them to practical problems. This includes fundamental research skills (e.g., how to write a research paper, how to synthesize existing research, how to find good open research questions) as well as technical skills in the domains covered by the lab (e.g., network science, data mining, population health informatics). The assumption is that you do have a passion for developing such skills; if instead, you are looking for a standard programming job, then a research lab may not be a good fit for you.
As a member of a lab, you’re part of a research community. This is obvious in a physical sense. You get a dedicated desk which comes with a computer selected based on the needs of your research. You are welcome to personalize your desk so that you like your space. You also have a mini-fridge and kettle. But a community is more than a collection of desks where people happen to do research: it’s the set of interactions with your peers and the support you get in developing your skills. We have many collaborators, so the chance is you’ll be working with more than one expert. For example, if you need a lot of computing power (e.g. large-scale simulations), then we have several faculties to help you use a high-performance computing cluster. If you need to understand a problem in health before you start crunching data, there are experts who can clarify concepts with you. And most importantly, there are other students around who, whose skills may help you at times, and who one day may remember you when looking for a new hire.
We have a strong track-record. Every student whom we have supervised has published. This does not mean that publications fall off the sky if you stay around long enough: it means that students have put hard work but got the right mentorship so that they could make a research contribution. We also support our students in attending conferences. In 2016, 3 students attended the Collaborative Modeling conference in Michigan, while others participating in conferences in a variety of locations such as Los Angeles.
What are the expectations?
As an employee in a research laboratory, you are expected to maintain a professional standard of work. You should be punctual, dependable, and productive. Specific expectations include:
- a clean desk. You can customize it with anything you want, put family pictures all over and bring in a giant plush if you fancy it. But it cannot be dirty, with leftover foods, liquids in open containers, etc. The reasons are simple: food attracts insects, liquids fall into keyboards or computers, and occasional visitors should quickly see that this is a professional environment.
- being at meetings on time. It is disrespectful to have people wait. If you are running late by 5 to 10 minutes to see one person, then text them ahead of time. Having a whole room waiting for your presentation is not an option. Not showing up at a one-on-one meeting can result in termination of a contract.
- delivering on time. From one week to the next, objectives are set together with your advisor. For example, you may have to produce a synthesis of 5 research articles or implement an algorithm. When the next meeting occurs, it is not acceptable to have done nothing. This is particularly problematic because, in a team setting, there may be dependencies that you are unaware of. Not giving a synthesis at 5 pm on Thursday may mean that we’re breaching a contract, or that another student now has nothing to do. If you realize that you are unable to accomplish your objectives, you should email your advisor ahead of time, clarify what the barriers are and either what help you need or when you think that you can deliver.
- actively participating in research talks. We regularly organize research talks, either from faculty members or from other students. As a member of a research lab, you are expected to attend all these talks and ask questions in them. Not asking questions when we invite a faculty member would suggest we’re a very poor host who does not care about his/her research. Not asking questions when a student presents is failing to provide useful feedback to the student’s work.
- replying to emails in a reasonable time frame. When you receive an email asking “please send me the code for your software” or “please schedule a meeting with Dr. X for your project”, you don’t need to think much to get it done, so an answer within 1 working day is expected.
- keeping an open line of communication. If you need something or have any concern, you should feel free to email your advisor. We may be able to solve it by email, or we’ll schedule an extra meeting. You are encouraged to be direct and straightforward. Even if you think that research is not working out well for you, feel free to discuss that so we can look at alternatives.
How do I join?
First, you should read about our values, which defines the way we work. Then, look at our Research area to see what we do. Then you can send an email to Dr. Giabbanelli detailing why you think this is the right lab for you: what projects look interesting, and why.
If you are considering joining us at Northern Illinois University, you may be interested in having an overview of our MS Degree as well as the current cost of the degree and its estimated cost in the future. We do have funding to help you get your degree while doing research. There are also fellowship opportunities which you should check before joining the program. If you’d like to check that we are the right place for you, you can visit our campus. To apply or review the admission requirements, please visit this link. Questions related to the degree, admission or scholarships should be sent to the relevant administrative contacts.