Designing and Building a Critical State of the Art for Research

Participant profile

Doctoral students of the UPV/EHU


November 2021

Duration / Timetable

10 hours* (three three-and-a-quarter hour clases run over three weeks)

Time: 10:00 to 13:15

*The certificate of attendance and achievement will include a total of 10 hours.


Students will be expected to attend 100% of the clases together with submission of all three practical work assignments.




A real-classroom

Location and dates

Carlos Santamaría building,
Room 4
Tuesday Nov 09 Nov 16 Nov 23
Micaela Portilla Research Centre
Room 0.6
Wednesday Nov 10 Nov 17 Nov 24
Biblioteca building,
Room 7
Thursday Nov 11 Nov 25 Dec 2

Speaker, Trainer and Profile

Tim Smithers: I have a degree in Aeronautical Engineering, from Kingston Polytechnic, London, and a PhD from Cambridge University, for research on computational techniques for the design of cyclically symmetric structures, which I used to design the main reflector support structure of the James Clerk Maxwell millimeter wave telescope built on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. Following this, I worked for a small company on the design of parallel algorithms and parallel hardware architectures for finite element analysis -- a widely used numerical modelling technique. I then moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, to work in the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Department, on intelligent design support systems, and intelligent robotics. I also taught Masters' and PhD courses on Knowledge Representation and Reasoning and Intelligent Robotics, and supervised PhD students. After a two year sabbatical at the VUB AI Lab in Brussels, where I continued my robotics and AI in Design work, I moved to Donostia. Here I have worked in all of the Universities in the region, and several Technology R&D Centres, leading international research projects, directing research groups, designing and running PhD programmes, and teaching undergraduate, Masters' and PhD courses. For the past ten years I have worked as a freelance Research Practitioner, developing and teaching courses on the Foundations of Research Practices for mixed discipline groups of PhD students, helping research groups design research programmes and strengthen their research practices, and working for the EU Commission. Over the years I have worked with many different people, on a variety of different research topics, including with artists, bio-chemists, historians, medical doctors, and physicists. I continue to design things, make paintings using Logo, and currently work in a small collaboration on a topic in Number Theory.

Group size

There is a maximum of 18 students in Donostia-San Sebastián and in Leioa, and 15 in Vitoria-Gasteiz.


Registration closed

NOTICE: in order to participate in the school's transversal activities, it is necessary to have paid the registration fee for the new academic year 2021/22 at the time of enrollment.

NOTICE: priority will be given to students enrolled in the Campus to which the Doctoral Programme in which they are enrolled.


The foundation of all good research is a well designed, well built, and well maintained Critical State of the Art (SoA). This is usually the first major task as a PhDer, and one that researchers will continue to need to work on throughout their PhDing, and perhaps beyond. How good the Critical State of the Art is will determine the quality of the research they do, and thus how successful and worthwhile their PhD research will be.


The course is composed of three three-hour classes run over three weeks, with practical work set each week to be completed and presented for the following week. There will be a 15 minute break about mid-way through each class. And the practical work will need between three and four hours each week.

All classes will work as seminars, and include both presented material and open discussion. So, researchers should come prepared to make their own notes, and actively engage in, and contribute to, each class.

All clases will be conducted in English and it will be expected to use and work in English during the classes. A good level of confidence of working in English is therefore recommended. But the English does not need to be perfect, just good enough!


The three classes and practical work of this SoA course will cover the following major aspects of the practice of designing and building a good Critical State of the Art:

  1. Looking for, selecting, and acquiring your SoA materials;
  2. Critical reading, understanding, and organising your SoA materials; and
  3. Designing, building, using, and maintaining your SoA.

See more

Foundations of Research Practices

This course is offered in collaboration with Euskampus Fundazioa.