Lots of good advice on this Quora post: http://www.quora.com/What-qualities-cha ... hD-student
Hope it helps any prospective students/ even current students.
Anyone who is already a graduate student disagree or agree? Like to add anything?
TakeruK wrote:Some of my disagreements might just because a lot of the answers are CS based while I am in planetary science/astronomy.
1. Acceptance rates are not 100%, but you should not be expecting "most of your papers" to get rejected. Unless you are submitting to Nature or Science or other similar high impact journals, I feel that if you are submitting a paper that you aren't sure will be accepted, then you are not getting the right guidance from your advisors. As long as you are doing legitimate and interesting science, I would say the acceptance rate is almost 100% in my field. Now, whether or not your paper will be read and cited/recognized by others is another story (definitely agree with the statements on communication/persuasion here)
2. I also disagree with the statement that a PhD student needs to be "comfortable with long periods of intangible progress without losing motivation". We are humans, not machines. You are not a "bad student" if you start doubting yourself or losing motivation when you face setbacks. Instead, I would phrase this as "a good PhD student knows when they are facing these troubling times and knows how to overcome these anxieties and worries". It's not a matter of avoiding these feelings, it's a matter of knowing what to do when you face failure.
3. All the comments that imply machoism. Ugh, I hate it when people "take pride" in how crappy their work life is. If it's that bad, then you are either not a good fit for grad school, or something is seriously wrong and we should look into fixing it. I can't stand people who think suffering is good for you and/or because the older generation did it "that way" so we need to do the same in order to attain the same greatness. No. There are lots of much more forward-thinking departments and schools that regularly evaluate their own time-to-degree and success rate and then make changes to the programs to improve these stats.
4. "You should find it difficult to tell the difference between work and play". NO. This is probably another "machoism" like comment, but I want to put this separately because having a good work/life balance is really important and comments like this neglect that (or even imply that it is bad). Yes, you must have some passion for the field, but I can completely tell the difference between work and play. I definitely do not include any astronomy or planetary science (or even much science) at all in my "play" now. Work is hard. I make sure my down-time/play-time is really "play" so that I completely step away from it every night and every weekend so I come back fresh each weekday morning.
1. Intelligence is important, but you only need to be "smart enough". Once you reach this, being smarter doesn't necessarily make you greater--it's what you do with the intelligence that counts.
2. Willingness to change. You won't be able to always get your way. Perhaps you will have to follow the funding when it comes to your thesis. Or you will want to make sure you take on projects that develop the skills that will get you hired (i.e. what's popular in your field right now) and that means choosing projects that might not be your #1 passion. Or, you might just find that you do not click at all with the supervisor for your #1 passion project. Be willing and able to change.
3. Discipline. As a grad student, you have a lot of choices on how to spend your time. It's easy to spend the time unwisely by either not working enough or working too hard and burning out. Or, working on the wrong things. Make sure you know what you want out of your PhD and have the discipline to ensure you continue on this path. Have the discipline to say no to requests from others that take you too far from the path. Have the discipline to say no to procrastination when you need to get something done. At this level, we are responsible for our own success, and that requires discipline.
4. Networking/communication. You cannot expect to just "persevere" and "be good at what you do" and everything will "fall into place". You need to do the first two things, and you also need to let people know that you are good at these things! Find opportunities to present your work at conferences and convince your supervisor to send you. Apply for external funding where possible to get more opportunities. Talk to visiting scholars and seminar speakers, get to know them, get to know what people are looking for, and talk to them so that they know you and will think of you in the future. Be good at communicating your work, your ideas, and basically your passion/personality. There are so many grad students out there, don't wait for them to find you.
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