What are successful factors in completing a PhD degree? There is no ideal student who knows what he/she wants from the very beginning till the end, however, there are several aspects that a student should learn in order to be well prepared to work as a research in the future. Although a PhD degree is awarded based on a successful defense of a PhD thesis — a report on research results that a student completes during his/her studies — a PhD student should be active in the community, publish papers in conferences and journals, and, most importantly, do some innovative work. A PhD thesis is thus a report describing results of a PhD work which reflects the student’s life.
In my view, you as a PhD student should ideally:
- Know what to do. Before you start a PhD you should already know what your PhD should be about. This does not mean that the idea should be clear, but the direction of your work should be clear. This is usually dependent on a research group that you are working with, however, frequent changes of topics is not a good sign.
- Be at the right place. It is important that you are affiliated with a right group that works in the area of your PhD topic. A student alone is unlikely to do a valuable research as research areas are usually so broad that one cannot cover. Talking to professors, attending meetings, lectures, etc. is the most important thing in getting enough background knowledge for your thesis.
- Have the experience. Depending on the research topic, it is sometimes important that you have some experience with “real life”. Research is about creating new methods, technologies, or techniques which can be used for better solutions of real problems. Lack of real-world experience might cause resulting work to be “off the grounds”.
- Have a motivation. Doing a PhD is a long way to go. Getting familiar with the field, learning how to publish and write, finding out gaps to solve, etc. are all important aspects of your research. It is very much easy to lose the motivation on the way in many aspects. You may feel that what you do does not have any value. You may feel that you cannot do any innovative work as what you do has already been done by hundreds of others. You may feel “down” once you get rejection of your paper from a workshop or a conference. At some point in time you will understand that all this is about understanding of how to do research, how to publish and write.
- Keep deadlines. It is easy to say “there is enough time, I will do it tomorrow” or “there will be another opportunity to publish my paper”. Postponing your deadlines is a start of losing your way in doing your research and, most importantly, completing your thesis. External deadlines such as those set by conferences or journals are very important as you cannot change them, so keeping those always bring you a step forward.
- Know your supervisor. A good supervisor is one of the most important things in your PhD. A supervisor is an expert in your field and gives you feedback to your intermediate results and teaches you the technical quality of your work. He/she should also provide you with the access to the community, that is, he/she should introduce you to people, research groups, and provide you with publishing opportunities (well-established conferences, journals, magazines etc.). The supervisor is also usually busy as he/she might have more students, managing more projects, etc. Despite what your supervisor does or does not, it is the person who approves your work and eventually your thesis. So, it is important that you learn how to deal with your supervisor, i.e. what are his/her requirements and what you have to do to fulfill those requirements.
- Have enough time. Students are usually young, knowledgeable and enthusiastic so it is easy to commit students to too many things. You can end up teaching, working in projects, managing projects, organizing conferences, meetings, or doing some evangelism of your research field. Although all of these are very much important tasks that are certainly very important to learn, however, you should keep them in line of your original PhD work while at the same time not committing to too many of them as they can easily distract you from your work.
I have also seen many students who started their PhD from several reasons. The first group of students just want to extend their student life – they feel to be still “young” to start a “serious” life while they want to stay in touch with the university, with student style of living. The second group of students are naturally born theoreticians and researchers who want to push their idea forward, make it right and make it real. The third group of students love expressing themselves in front of some audiance, they love to teach and explain stuff to others. The fourth group of students want to get their degree as they think it will bring them an advantage in finding a good position in the future. There is certainly a big overlap between these groups, however, a common thing to all is that as a PhD student you are supposed to learn what the research is about so that you are well prepared to work as a researcher in the future.