My five criteria for supervising a PhD student
To start with, you would do a PhD thesis in computer science, and so you need a Masters' degree in computer science or a related discipline. Your thesis will need to have a computer science component but it can be very small (look at my past research projects).
Apart from that, there are five general criteria I consider important for a PhD student to meet, if they are to work under my supervision. The list is somewhat ordered from the most to the least important, but points 1–5 are definitely all important to me. These criteria reflect my personal preferences, but I think all of them are relevant to consider for anyone who wishes to work in the academia.
- Intellectual curiosity. Do you spend time reading content (books or web articles) or listening to podcasts outside of the mainstream media? Can you get excited about a topic, and remain excited for a while? Are you interested in multiple unrelated topics? Do you feel especially attracted to topics few people know about? Do you get easily absorbed trying to find answers to questions on the Internet?
- Intellectual honesty. Do you care more about finding out the truth than being right? Are you comfortable with being proven wrong and changing your mind? Are you open to the possibility that you are completely wrong about issues you care deeply about? Do you value research transparency and the sharing of research material for helping other researchers find possible mistakes in your work? Do you like being ahead of others in terms of methodological rigor?
- Comfort with written communication. Do you like to read? Do you like to write, at least some of the time? Can you write short essays that are coherent and easy to understand? Are you able to read and summarize a dozen of web articles on a specific topic? Do you value clear and accessible writing? Are you comfortable with reading and writing in English?
- Interest in science and rationality. Do many of your readings have to do with science? Do you think it is important to try to be rational and methodical if we want to achieve major goals, like helping people? Do you value the production and dissemination of knowledge? Do you think we should put politics, ideologies and advocacy aside when searching for answers to important questions? Are you considering staying in academia after your PhD thesis?
- Interest in the PhD topic. Are you excited about the PhD topic you are considering? Do you have a prior exposure to (or clear interest in) the disciplines and areas it relates to? Have you seriously considered whether the city, working environment, and advisors suit you? Did you inquire about what a PhD thesis entails, how hard it is, and how serious a commitment it is?
- Other (things in no particular order that are definitely helpful but not absolutely necessary – I'm far from checking all those boxes myself). Do you like to share stuff online? Are you comfortable with having a web presence, or better, are you already present on the web? Are you sharing a portfolio of the stuff you've made? Do you like working in teams? Are you good at taking advice? Are you good at handling criticism? Can you focus for long periods of time? Have you often experienced a flow state while working? Are you organized? Are you resistant to stress? Are you good at giving talks? Is your oral English good? Do you like to teach and explain? Are you an agreeable person? Do you convey enthusiasm? Do you have empathy? Are you creative? Do you often have ideas, bad and good? Are you aware of recent science epistemology topics like the replication crisis, publication bias, p-hacking and open science? Are you ready to move places for a few years after you get your PhD? Domain-specific (HCI and VIS): Are you highly computer literate? Do you like programming? Do you like tinkering? Are you interested in how people think, perceive and behave? Do you have an artistic bent?
The more "yes" answers, the better. Again, there's no way anyone checks all those boxes so don't worry if you don't! Criteria 1-5 are important though. It's possible that you don't perfectly fulfill all of them as I stated them, but that you think you would still make a good PhD student. For example, maybe you feel you can improve quickly on some of the points, or maybe some of them aren't completely clear to you now, or maybe you have compelling arguments against some of them. It's fine but please let me know explicitly and ahead of time. Some advisors test their applicants on point 3, and I'm considering doing that.
Of course you should also make sure I fit your own criteria. I wrote a guide for finding a PhD position that addresses this and other issues.