CIC NLP Lab Student Handbook

Rules are written in blood.
Soldiers' saying

Alexander Gelbukh, with contributions from: Daniel Alejandro Pérez Alvarez, Jason Efraín Ángel Gil.

Please help me to maintain this page updated. Please let me know if something needs change or if you can add content. Someday this may become a wiki, but for now please just send me updates by email (plus let me know in person or via Skype or WhatsApp).

This page is under development and, initially, will be a set of rather random notes.

Disclaimer: All information on this page is informal and may be wrong or outdated.

Administration and people involved

Application for paperwork (FUTE form)

Various things you need to know

Spelling of your name

It is very important to have your name spelled exactly in the same form in all your documents. Never ever accept any document with a wrong spelling of your name; always require to correct it. Ideally, the name on all your documents must match your passport exactly (see below a note on changed name, such as by marriage).

Understanding the naming system. Mexican names consist of three parts: nombre(s), (apellido) paterno, and (apellido) materno, In English, nombre(s) correspond to name(s) the apellido paterno and (apellido) materno together correspond to the last name (in informal contexts in English, such as in published papers, the spaces are often changed to dashes), for example:

Juan Rodríguez Díaz: name: Juan, paterno: Rodríguez, materno: Díaz; last name in English: Rodríguez Díaz, last name in publications could be also Rodríguez-Díaz

Juan Manuel Rodríguez de la Rosa Díaz de León: name: Juan Manuel, paterno: Rodríguez de la Rosa, materno: Díaz de León; last name in English: Rodríguez de la Rosa Díaz de León, last name in publications could be also Rodríguez-de-la-Rosa-Díaz-de-León

In informal contexts, the materno (or, sometimes, paterno) part of the last name is often omitted: Juan Rodríguez Díaz can be referred to as Juan Rodríguez, Prof. Rodríguez, or in rare cases, when this is his own preference, Juan Díaz, Prof. Díaz.

In the text, the names are always written as first-last name: unlike in French, Juan Rodríguez Díaz would normally not be spelled as Rodríguez Díaz Juan (and never as Díaz Rodríguez Juan). However, in the lists in Spanish the names are spelled as last-first, without comma. For example, this table lists Juan Rodríguez Díaz and María Pérez Sánchez:

In Spanish:

1. Rodríguez Díaz Juan
2. Pérez Sánchez María

           In English:

1. Rodríguez Díaz, Juan
2. Pérez Sánchez, María

Accordingly, in some formal documents that are thought as being part of a list or being generated from a list, the name can be spelled as last-first, without comma: "TRANSCRIPT. It is hereby certified that Mr. Rodríguez Díaz Juan has fulfilled..." You may see your name written in this way in formal documents given to you. However, when you write your name (you do not write formal documents, right?), always write it in the form first-last: John Smith, never Smith John.

Spelling of your name. Unless you are from Spanish- or Portuguese-speaking culture, you probably do not have the “apellido materno” part in your passport. Then you should always leave it blank. When it is impossible to leave it blank (say, this field is required in the web form), then "---", ".", "X", etc. can be used. When filling in a form, fill in the fields as follows:

Apellido paterno: your family (last) name exactly as in your passport
Apellido materno: ---
Nombre(s): your given (first) name exactly as in your passport

For example, depending on how your name is written in your passport:

Apellido paterno: Gelbukh
Apellido materno: ---
Nombre(s): Alexander


First name: Alexander
Last name: Gelbukh


Apellido paterno: Al-Bīrūnī
Apellido materno: ---
Nombre(s): Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad


First name: Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad ibn Aḥmad
Last name: Al-Bīrūnī

If you have your father's name in your passport, do not include it here; use only the first name and last name, exactly as in your passport:

Apellido paterno: Al-Bīrūnī
Apellido materno: ---
Nombre(s): Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad


First name: Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad
Last name: Al-Bīrūnī
Father's name: Aḥmad

If you have no last name, then you probably can use your father's name instead of last name (but check how it is written in your transcript):

Apellido paterno: Aḥmad
Apellido materno: ---
Nombre(s): Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad


Name: Abū Rayḥān Muḥammad
Father's name: Aḥmad

Note on Slavic and ex-USSR names: the patronymic name is not a part of your name in Spanish; just omit it.

Note on Vietnamese names: I don't know how to map the family-middle-main name to the Western naming system. My feeling is that first name (nombres) = <middle name main name: Chi Minh> and last name (apellido paterno) = <family name: Ho>, but there seems to be no consensus on this. Choose one and always follow the same spelling.

Note of changed name: If your name is spelled differently on some of your documents, e.g., if you changed your last name by marriage, please (1) use your name on all current or future documents exactly as in your current passport; (2) together with each old document you submit, attach (better in the same PDF) an official certificate of changing name (such as your marriage lines), which states that the old name and the name in your current passport refer to the same person. If you have your name spelled differently on a document that requires an apostille or legalization, then please have apostille or legalization also on the document that certifies the equivalence of the two names (such as marriage lines).

Hours of presence at the school

You need to be present at CIC at least 8 hours a day. Namely, between when you check your entrance (with iris) and when you check your exit, there must pass at least 8 hours. If the system has registered, say, 7:59:59, this is a COMPLETE day of absence. In my case, I set up a timer on my phone for 8:00:00 and go only when the timer gives an alarm.

If you have (more than a few) days of absence, this may lower your semester's score (which will lower your CGPA and can prevent you later from obtaining awards), or, with many days of absence, can lead to cancelation of your scholarship. The counting is automatic: the system counts the number of days (an integer, not "but it was just by a few seconds") when you did not stay 8 hours or more, and above some threshold, the system will notify CONACYT for cancelation of your scholarship.

If you missed some day(s), ask your advisor to submit a letter with justification -- such as illness or a trip to a library. (But do tell the truth to your advisor!) Justified days are excluded from the count.

English certificate for the graduation and for mobility

It seems (I am not sure) that for your graduation, you will need a certificate of English within its validity period (i.e., not expired). You can ask at DTE (and tell me what they say).

I have also heard (but I did not check this) that for your graduation, you need the corresponding English level for each skill independently (such as TOEFL 18 for each one of the four skills). That is, if  your TOEFL score is, say, 72 = (18, 18, 19, 17), then (for PhD) you might need to get a new one, with all 18 or more, before your final exam. Please investigate this with the DTE and/or Dr. Moisés if it is your case.

For some calls, such as CCA's mobility call (to recover the cost of the ticket), you also need an English (or that country's) certificate within its validity period. If you plan to apply for something (mobility?), check this in advance. If you discover it at the last moment, there will be no time to get a new certificate.

Note that the IPN has its own rules as to the validity period of the English certificates (usually 2 years) different from the rules of the authority that issued the certificate. That is, your certificate may explicitly indicate some period of validity, but the IPN may consider its validity within a different (shorter) period. The official link for this information was, but now this link is dead; you can search for this information.


Plagiarism is gaining increasing attention at all levels, from the government to journals and colleagues. Zero tolerance to plagiarism is rapidly becoming a common norm. Do not be involved in plagiarism.

What is counted as plagiarism. To be called a plagiarist, you don't need to copy a whole document. Copying even several words without proper attribution is plagiarism, and combined with the policy of zero tolerance to plagiarism can have catastrophic consequences for you. If your writing contains an idea or a piece of text (without proper attribution) similar to some pre-existing text with low probability of coincidence by chance, you will be accused of plagiarism. For example, suppose a paper [1] by J. Smith says

Then if you write in your own paper or thesis:

What is counted as self-plagiarism. If you copy from a pre-existing text that was written by you, you commit self-plagiarism. Usually it is considered just the same as plagiarism. Once your (previous) text has been published, it becomes just a published text, and you should treat it in the same way as any other published text (your own or not).

How to avoid self-plagiarism in your thesis. The institutional rules require for the thesis (1) to contain only previously published things: whatever you write in your thesis should have been published in top journals before, and (2) not to contain any previously published things, otherwise you are committing self-plagiarism. In an ideal world, the rules would be changed, but this will take time.

My advice is to do publish all your research in top journals. When times come to write your thesis, write it from scratch, avoiding any re-using of existing texts (but re-using their ideas). Open an empty file and write what you know and what you remember. If you have published many good papers in top journals, then don't try to make the thesis too complete: the jury will understand that what matters is your papers, not your thesis; instead, just comply with a minimum requirement. (But if you did not publish many good papers, then the jury will really want to see a good thesis.) We are required to write at least 50 pages, at 1.5 line spacing it is not much. Include there plots and tables with the results of the runs of your program that were not included in your published papers (keep these tables, plots, and listings during all years of your study). I agree that this is some amount of pretty useless work, but it is not too much as a formality for your degree.

MSc student trajectory

Please see my presentation about choosing the topic etc. Much of it is applicable to MSc as well.

Graduation requirements and importance of journal publications

Please keep a very detailed record of all the runs of your programs, including the information that is not included in your published papers: you will need it for your thesis (see my note of avoiding self-plagiarism in your thesis).

Obligatory and optional courses

Topic registration

Closed-door exam

Final exam

See the description of the MSc and PhD final exams.

Paperwork for obtaining the diploma

PhD student trajectory

Please see my presentation about choosing the topic etc.

Graduation requirements and importance of journal publications

Please keep a very detailed record of all the runs of your programs, including the information that is not included in your published papers: you will need it for your thesis (see my note of avoiding self-plagiarism in your thesis).

Obligatory courses

Topic registration

Pre-doctoral exam

At the DTE, you will be given a page with explanations of the rules. Please read my comments on these rules (with translation).

Publication in a top journal

Closed-door exam

Final exam (MSc and PhD)

This section applies both to MSc and PhD exams.

Date of graduation. It is usually preferable to have you final graduation exam in the first days of a month. Here is why:

  1. If at you have the CONACYT scholarship, it will be paid for the month that includes the date of your exam. However, on the 15th day of the month, CONACYT will schedule your payment for the next month, which cannot be cancelled quickly. Thereofre, you will have to return this payment, which is a complicated and slow bureaucratic procedure. Instead, if you notify the CONACYT about your graduation well before the 15th of the month, then they will not schedule the undue payment and you avoid all the trouble of returning it.
  2. If you are in MSc and plan to continue to PhD with us in the next semester: If you get any (extra) money in the month next to your graduation, the procedure of returning that payment takes over three months. Until you return that money, you cannot apply for a new CONACYT scholarship. With this, you will likely miss the call for the PhD scholarship in the next semester. To avoid the problem, you should notify the CONACYT about the termination of your scholarship before the 15th of the month of your graduation. Maybe you can voluntary cancel your scholarship in advance, not sure (I think no, because then the CONACYT will record the reason of terminating your scholarship as cancellation instead of graduation, which can cause you problems in getting your PhD scholarship).

Type of exam. Procedure. Presentation. Time. Questions. Banquet / food.

Paperwork for obtaining the diploma


First-time enrollment

Semester enrollment


Regular scholarship



From the second semester, everyone can have the scholarship.

Academic requirements for the scholarship for the first semester: Average of 7.80 (scaled to a scale from 6 being the minimum pass and 10 being the maximum possible) at the level of studies immediately prior to that applied for (that is, BSc if you apply for MSc, and MSc if you apply for PhD) for studies in Mexico, or 8.0 for studies carried out abroad. If you don't have this, there are various workarounds; contact me.


First, you need first to obtain (1) a temporary resident card (FM-3), which contains a CURP key. With this CURP key, you need to (2) registrer the so-called CVU, (3) obtain the electronic signature "e.firma" from the SAT (Ministry of Finance) office, and (4) open a bank account.

1. Obtaining the FM: If you are a foreigner already residing in Mexico with a non-student temporary resident card (FM), you can also apply to scholarship with your current resident card.

Otherwise, foreign applicants must have (1) a visa and (2) a temporary student resident card (FM). Our lawyers will guide you in obtaining the FM card.

2. Registering the CVU. To be written.

3. Obtaining your electronic signature from the SAT:

  1. Get a PDFversion of your CURP key for print:

  2. Get your RFC (VAT registration certificate) using your CURP key:

  3. Book an appointment for getting your digital signature "e.firma": There are several offices to go for this in different parts of the city (one of our students went to the office "ADSC Distrito Federal 3 Oriente", very near to the Metro station Mixiuhca, and the process was very fast). For your appointment, you need to take with you the following: (1) resident card (FM-3) and its photocopy, (2) passport and its photocopy, (3) printout of your CURP key, (4) an empty USB drive to which they will copy your digital signature when ready, (5) your email address, (6) a proof of residence (water bill, phone bill, or electricity bill) and its photocopy.

4. Opening a bank account. To be written.

Initial application

Semester evaluation

BEIFI scholarship

A very limited number of small (about 1000 MXN a month) scholarships may, or may not, be available. Ask your advisor if there are available slots. For the very few slots available, if any, priority is usually given to the students who published a top journal paper in the current semester.

Initial application

Semester evaluation

Research stay scholarship

Research stays

Some useful information about the visas and travel can be found in my notes that you probably have read upon acceptance.

Things you need to know about Mexico

Electricity, currency, etc.

Daylight saving time change

Daylight saving time change usually occurs in Mexico City on first Sunday of April and last Sunday of October, but check this page for specific years and more details. The rules and dates are different in different states of Mexico (and out of sync with other countries, so the time zone difference between Mexico City and your home country can vary during the year).

For example, in 2019, during the night from Saturday 26 to Sunday 27 of October, the clock returned back by 1 hour: after 01:59, the clock was returned to 01:00. I.e., Monday classes started one hour later than one's clock would show if it is not adjusted. After the first Sunday of April, the classes start (the flights take off, etc.) one hour before than you might expect.

Cultural peculiarities

Language and gestures

Equality and non-discrimination

Some parts of this section may sound trivial for people from European culture, but may contain important or unexpected information for people from different cultures.

In Mexican society, strong emphasis is put to equality. As a general rule, there is no discrimination by gender, race, or religion; at least I have never seen any cases of discrimination in the environment where I am (in academia).

Gender. Women in Mexico have strictly equal rights with men (plus many exclusive rights and advantages).

In particular, I have never seen any discrimination of women in academia (I have heard that some women complained of improper treatment, but I have no evidence of it). Numerous committees and public and governmental organizations protects the rights (and, in my feeling, advantages) of women in all shperes of society and life. Women are given preference in some settings; for example, in public transportation there are exclusive parts of the platform and exclusive cars in the train or parts of the bus where men are not allowed to enter (while women are allowed to enter to any car or part of the bus or platform); legal or labor-related conflicts are often resolved in favor of women.

In everyday life, it is considered good manners to give preference to women, to be nice to women, to help women, to allow women to pass first (for example, in a door); a man should walk half a step behind the woman, etc.-- this set of social norms is called "ladies first." In particular, preference is given to a woman even compared to a man of (much) higher social status: e.g., when a male professor and a female student come together to a door and both need to pass through the door, the man will normally offer the woman to pass first (but in this situation, I would still advise you, if you are a woman walking with a man who is much elder or of much higher social status, to offer it to you, or even offer him to pass first -- but you must accept it after he offers you to pass first; not accepting it is offensive, like doubting that he is a gentleman).

Race. Mexican population is highly mixed. Probably for this reason, I have never seen, or heard of, any cases of discrimination by race or nationality. Most Mexicans look very similar to people of European, Indian, or even East Asian origin, so people from those regions would not even be perceived as foreigners.

Black race is a bit of exception. Unlike Europe, it is very rare to see a black person in Mexico. For this same reason, there is no special attitude (good or bad) to black people. In particular, I know two black students in the school, and I have never heard of any discrimination towards them. However, if you come from a culture where being a minority gives advantages over other people, don't expect it in Mexico: equality does not imply advantage. You will be treated exactly as anybody else, with no preference because of your skin color and with no special rights that others don't have.

Religion. TBD.

Sexual preference. Homosexuality in Mexico is not discriminated, but is not encouraged and, in everyday life, is not socially approved. At the official level, Mexico takes a modern (liberal, tolerating) attitude towards homosexuality. At least in Mexico City same-sex marriage is allowed, gay parades are sometimes held, and, similarly to European countries, public actions towards promotion of tolerance to sexual minorities and spreading awareness of their rights are held.

However, in everyday life most Mexican hold traditional, religious (Catholic) attitude towards homosexuality, perceiving it as a deviation from the norm and seeing it with pejorative attitude: e.g., words hinting to homosexuality are routinely used as offensive or swear words; folk jokes present homosexual people in pejorative perspective. I know only one homosexual (former) student in our Lab (of over 50); to my best knowledge he did not have any problems in socializing and of course was not discriminated in any way; however, I think many homosexual people in Mexico refrain themselves from disclosing their homosexuality without need (statistics would suggest that there were more homosexual people in our Lab who did not disclose their sexual preference).

If you are homosexual and come from a culture where this is welcome, encouraged, or advantageous, I would advise you not to disclose you sexual preference unless you feel it necessary and are ready to face possible consequences such as some of your classmates preferring to avoid you; however, nothing particularly bad would probably happen if it is disclosed.

If you are from a culture where homosexuality is unacceptable, please refrain from expressing your views in public or formal settings (this may be illegal if it is qualified as hate speech), though in private settings most people would probably share your views. Prepare yourself to that occasionally you would see homosexual couples (married or not) in the street, see homosexual signs (such as the rainbow flag) in public places, or sometimes see gay parades; this is part of how freedom and democracy are understood in Mexican culture.

Religion and prayer

Honesty and trust

The boundaries between honest and dishonest behavior, truth and lie, loyalty and treason are quite different in different cultures. What is perceived as a clever trick or ingenious shortcut in some cultures, in Mexico could be perceived as as gross dishonesty or unacceptable lie (and, of course, vice versa).

If you are from a culture in which doing tricks with other people is socially acceptable, then until you get a reliable understanding of what is acceptable and what is not in our culture, as a rule of thumb try always saying only truth, never cheating, never taking or using things that don't belong to you, doing your work well, and always following the rules exactly. When  in doubt, ask your advisor.

I emphasize again that what you perceive as an innocent "small" deceit or a clever shortcut to the rules may have absolutely catastrophic consequences for your social life, your relationship with people important for you (including your advisor) or your status as a student. Indeed, in our logic, if you are caught once with what we consider lying, then we will never, even after many years, be able to trust your words, your work, your technical results, or your code. As advisor or team member, I cannot afford working with a student whose words, work, writing, code, and results I cannot trust. Thus, having lied once, you will probably be expelled from the university, at the least.

Note again that we also do some small tricks occasionally, but if you want to try it, you need first to gain a very clear understanding of what we consider still a small trick and what already a gross lie.

Cleanness: space, body, clothes


If you are from a culture where water is used to clean your body in the toilet, you probably will have to get used to use toilet paper instead. No bidet showers or water vessels such as bodna are available in the toilet cabin, and you should not install or leave them there.

It is important to wash your hands after toilet. Even if you don't feel a need in it, other people could notice if you don't do it, which may severely damage your social relationships and the attitude of other people towards you for a very long time.

Immigration formalities

This section is for international students.

Useful information can be found on the site of the International Students Organization (ISA) of our school. We also have WhatsApp and Facebook groups for international students; you can contact the ISA to join these groups. Please consider joining the ISA to help other students.

Initial formalities

Upon your arrival, you will need to obtain a CURP number, which is an ID number assigned by a special governmental office, which you will need to visit. Please ask the administration for instructions.

Translation of your documents into Spanish can be done upon your arrival; please contact me for this.

The Institute will manage your further immigration formalities. You will be put in contact with a lawyer, who will accompany you to the Immigration office (called INM), with all your original documents (including the form that you filled in at the airport), where your fingerprints and a photo will be taken and the stay permit will be applied for. The paperwork lasts about a month, and the stay permit will be a plastic card that allows you to stay in the country for a year (then the process is repeated). Always have this plastic card with you.

Yearly formalities

Your stay permit (FM-3) will be valid for a year. Every year, a month before expiration of your stay permit, you will need to go to the immigration office (INM, National Immigration Institute) together with the lawyer assigned to you, probably Ms. Emelia Velázquez, to get a new stay permit. Before that, CIC's administration should send an official letter to the Lawyer's office, to start the process.

Two months before expiration of your FM-3 permit: Ask the contact at CIC whether your letter is ready. Ask again until you are sure that the letter is sent.

One month before expiration of your FM-3 permit: Expect to be contacted by the lawyer, or contact her on your own, to go to the INM office to renew your FM-3 permit.

See below for restrictions on traveling around the time of renovation of your stay permit.

Leaving or entering the country temporarily

Your FM-3 permit is a substitution of a visa. You can enter the country with it without a separate visa. When leaving the country, you must have your FM-3 along with your passport. At the airport, after registration for the flight, you should go to a special booth (already after the customs control, near the gates) called Immigration (Migración), where with your FM-3 you obtain a form called Immigration Form. Getting this form takes time, allow for half an hour for it before the flight! Of this form, you produce one part when boarding, and you must keep the other part to show it when you enter the country upon your return. Failing to produce the other part (with the correct number and stamp) at your return may result in substantial fine.

The renovation of your stay permit can be applied for only within a month of its expiration date, and it may take several weeks. So chances are you are left without a valid FM-3 for some weeks. If you need to leave (yes, even just leave) or enter the country in this period, you should obtain a special letter from the INM, which is in a way equivalent to a temporary FM-3 with which you can leave or enter the country; for this, address the same lawyer, probably Ms. Emelia Velázquez, who helps you to renew your FM-3. This letter can be obtained only for the duration of 35 days. After that period, you probably cannot leave the country until your new FM-3 is ready. To enter the country after that period, you may need to obtain a new visa via an Embassy as you did when you first were admitted; this can be quite complicated and slow. If possible, try to avoid traveling abroad in the period around the expiration of your FM-3.