Jesse Thomason

Assistant Prof @ University of Southern California
USC Viterbi Department of Computer Science
I am recruiting PhD students for Fall 2021. Apply by Dec 15.
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The FAQ-style information below is a collection of resources I hope are helpful for any student or peer navigating academia. As a first-generation college student, I know academia is riddled with implicit assumptions about what you know and don't know, and there's a strong bias generally that favors students in the academic in-group. I also know that as a white dude comfortable in my assigned gender, I can perceive only a tiny spectrum of academic hostility and othering, so please reach out if there's more you'd like to see suggested here. Updated Nov 13, 2020.

Applying to graduate school can be expensive; between application fees, GRE costs, and relocation, I was in debt for years after starting graduate school. This year, USC and many other CS departments will not require the GRE, at least. You often can get application fees waived, and requesting waivers should not affect your application. Unfortunately, many schools and departments either intentionally or unwittingly make the procedure for applying for a waiver difficult to untangle. When applying to USC, you can request a fee waiver by sending an email with the CV and transcripts to: [email protected]. If you are comfortable doing so, CC my USC email (top of this page) when you do so. I would like to pressure the administration to waive application fees, and hopefully someday to remove them.
I really like Yonatan Bisk's writeup about this. Lifting the main portion of an answer directly:
Copied on Nov 13, 2020 from
Success in academia, like many aspects of society, is often a function of who you know and networking. Students of famous professors don't need to email because they know their applications will get read carefully. Further, they may have had the opportunity to meet potential advisors at conferences and so they are already well connected when applying. If you don't fit this description, as many of us don't,
  • How are you supposed to break into the "in-group"?
  • How is someone from a smaller lab, a different discipline, or an underrepresented group supposed to change the field?
They have to email. They have to take the chance of getting no reply to at least put themselves out there. If this is you, please email me and everyone else.
There is a lot of good content in this writeup generally about contacting professors and navigating academia.
I feel like Twitter is the obnoxious, unfortunate, and true answer to this question. In both NLP and Robotics, Twitter is a great way to keep up with the field. Here are some great #RoboNLP-related PIs to get started in a tiny corner of academic Twitter (please note that this is a pitifully small sample): In your Twitter bio, I suggest a (super brief) set of research interests, your current level and location (e.g., UGrad @ Uni), and maybe a quick action statement (e.g., "I am looking for PhD programs in X"). Linking out to your personal website (and creating a personal website!) is also helpful. I try to follow-back accounts that I can identify easily as students. Additionally, there are a number of affinity groups drawing together marginalized communities within AI / CS / academia. These groups hold networking and workshop-like events at conferences, and maintain social media (e.g., Twitter) and digital community spaces (e.g., Slack). For those thinking about whether to apply to PhD programs, I was involved in a PhD recruiting event that remains active as a Discord server to network with other students thinking about the same.
Yes. Your personal website can be a central landing page for your CV, your research interests, research projects, and publications. If someone wants to know more about you, your personal website is a much friendlier option than generating LinkedIn notifications because your page was checked. You can host a website for free on GitHub (and note that GitHub Pro is still free for students).