What skills do you need to develop to get a PhD?

21 Sep 2004, Lynda, Jacco, Lloyd

This note is to try to explain why doing a PhD requires constant supervision. There is so much to learn and students are so different that you can't "teach" these things in a structured way. You have to build on the strengths of the individual and then concentrate on strengthening "the gaps". Doing a PhD is much like going through an apprenticeship. It is not like attending a "How to do a PhD" course.

Based purely on observation, you only get good PhD students out of good (those that publish in high quality international conferences and are recognised by peers in their field = serving on committees of top conferences) groups. So there is something "magic" that you need to absorb while in a good group that cannot be learned by talking to people who work in good groups, or working in a less good group. Similarly, just being in a good group doesn't mean you will do a good PhD. There are also characteristics of the student that are fundamental to the process.

Having said all this, four years is barely enough time for even good students to carry out their research and complete their PhD. This document is meant to help explain why this is so.

Research is not about creating a small, fiercely-guarded world containing your precious ideas which you water and nurture and when they grow up you harvest and put in your thesis. It is a much more outward-looking and dynamic process. You have to have a long term direction (to limit the literature you need to keep up with), but ideas should be generated fast and furiously and many rejected (quickly) and others built on and nurtured. If no-one else comes up with any of your ideas then you are working in a solitary field, which means it will be difficult to find places to publish. If your ideas keep appearing in other places (first) then you need to read more and faster to build on them and generate new ideas.

What follows is a list of skills that students need to develop. Feel free to add to these lists.




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