[EAS]The PhD--So Long and Thanks

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Wed Sep 13 01:24:40 EDT 2000

Mail*Link® SMTP               The PhD--So Long and Thanks

Dear Colleagues -

A lot of 'resonances' in this, the student's cultural background in
relation to research performance, etc. The graduate Student
Resources Web page that Rick Reis highlights is impressively
extensive. Please forward this to anyone whom it might interest.

You have not had a mailing from me in a while. Part of August I was
on vacation, and now the start of the Yale semester has me in its
grip. But I haven't forgotten and will resume a trickle of
interesting material in your direction.

As an administrative reminder, info about (un)subscribing to this
list can be found at
http://jove.eng.yale.edu/mailman/listinfo/eas-info .

All best,  --Peter Kindlmann

Date: 9/12/00 9:37 PM
From: Rick Reis

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I highly recommend that all potential and current graduate students, 
as well as their faculty supervisors check out the Graduate Student 
Resources on the Web at: 
http://www-personal.umich.edu/%7Edanhorn/graduate.html. It has a 
wealth of information on all aspects of the graduate student 
experience with excellent links to additional resources.  Below are 
two excerpts from the posting, "So long, and thanks for the Ph.D.!" 
by Ronald T. Azuma, found at the above site.  The first excerpt is on 
initiative and the second on tenacity, both essential personality 
traits for success in graduate school and beyond


Rick Reis
Reis at stanford.edu
UP NEXT: Bridging Distance, Culture, And Time

		Tomorrow's  Graduate Students and Postdocs

	---------------------- 853 words ------------------------


"So long, and thanks for the Ph.D.!" a.k.a.  "Everything I wanted to 
know about C.S. graduate school at the beginning but didn't learn 
until later."  The 4th guide in the Hitchhiker's guide trilogy by 
Ronald T. Azuma, v. 1.07 Original version 1997, revised March 2000. 


"The difference between people who exercise initiative and those who 
don't is literally the difference between night and day. I'm not 
talking about a 25 to 50 percent difference in effectiveness; I'm 
talking about a 5000-plus percent difference, particularly if they 
are smart, aware, and sensitive to others." - Stephen R. Covey, The 7 
Habits of Highly Effective People.

The dissertation represents a focused, personal research effort where 
you take the lead on your own, unique project. If you expect that 
your adviser is going to hold your hands and tell you what to do 
every step of the way, you are missing the point of the dissertation. 
Ph.D. students must show initiative to successfully complete the 
dissertation. This does not mean that guidance from professors is 
unimportant, just that this guidance should be at a reasonably high 
level, not at a micromanaging level. If you never do any tasks except 
those that your professor specifically tells you to do, then you need 
to work on initiative.

At UNC, there is a famous anecdote about a former UNC graduate 
student named Joe Capowski. Many years ago, UNC got a force-feedback 
mechanical arm to use with molecular visualization and docking 
experiments. The problem was how to move it to UNC. This mechanical 
arm is a large, heavy beast, and it was in Argonne National Labs in 
Chicago, IL. Unfortunately, there was a trucker's strike going on at 
the time. Joe Capowski, on his own initiative (and without telling 
anyone), flew out to Argonne, rented a car, drove the mechanical arm 
all the way back to North Carolina, and then handed the computer 
science department the bill! Many years later, Joe Capowski ran for 
the Chapel Hill city council and won a seat. Prof. Fred Brooks gave 
him an endorsement. I still remember the words Dr. Brooks said: "I 
may not agree with his politics, but I know he'll get things done."

While the Joe Capowski anecdote is perhaps a bit extreme, it does 
show that it is often better to ask forgiveness than permission, 
provided you are not becoming a "loose cannon." Certain universities 
(e.g. MIT) are good at fostering a "can do" attitude among their 
graduate students, and therefore they become more assertive and 
productive. One of the hallmarks of a senior graduate student is that 
he or she knows the types of tasks that require permission and those 
that don't. That knowledge will come with experience. Generally, it's 
the senior graduate students who have the most freedom to take 
initiative on projects. This privilege has to be earned. The more 
that you have proven that you can work independently and initiate and 
complete appropriate tasks, the more your professors will leave you 
alone to do what you want to do.


"Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal. My strength 
lies solely in my tenacity." - Louis Pasteur

You don't need to be a genius to earn a Ph.D. (although it doesn't 
hurt). But nobody finishes a dissertation without being tenacious. A 
dissertation usually takes a few years to complete. This can be a 
culture shock to former undergraduates who have never worked on a 
project that lasted longer than one quarter or semester (at the end 
of which, whatever the state of the project, one declares victory and 
then goes home). No one can tell you in advance exactly how long the 
dissertation will take, so it's hard to see where the "end of the 
road" lies. You will encounter unexpected problems and obstacles that 
can add months or years to the project. It's very easy to become 
depressed and unmotivated about going on. If you are not tenacious 
about working on the dissertation, you won't finish.

Tenacity means sticking with things even when you get depressed or 
when things aren't going well. For example, I did not enjoy my first 
year of graduate school. I didn't tell anyone this until after 
leaving UNC. I was not on a project and was focused on taking 
classes, some of which I didn't do all that well in. I didn't feel a 
part of the Department, and really wondered whether or not I fit in. 
Still, I stuck with it and when summer rolled around and I got a job 
in the Department, I became much more involved in research and 
enjoyed graduate school much more. Part of earning a Ph.D. is 
building a "thick skin" so you are not so fragile that you will give 
up at the first sign on any difficulties.

One lesson I learned as a graduate student is the best way to finish 
the dissertation is to do something every day that gets you closer to 
being done. If all you have left is writing, then write part of the 
dissertation every day. If you still have research to do, then do 
part of it every day. Don't just do it when you are "in the mood" or 
feeling productive. This level of discipline will keep you going 
through the good times and the bad and will ensure that you finish.

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