How to succeed as a PhD student

Nature’s article on this topic caught my eye.

Chenevix-Trench errantly blames high PhD attrition rates on poor academic standards and lack of passion or hard work. A study by Barbara Lovitts and Cary Nelson (Academe 6, 44–50; 2001) found no meaningful difference in academic performance between completers and non-completers. Graduate students who don’t finish their degrees are typically less integrated into the department, suffer intimidating, hostile or laissez-faire departmental culture, and have poor relationships with supervisors.

Two people didn’t finish their PhDs in my group, of the twelve who started. One had a daughter who had all the symptoms of leukemia. He had no insurance, so he called his old bosses (a pub house) and got re-instated immediately. While it turned out that she didn’t have a life threatening disease, he decided that the “fun” of getting the PhD wasn’t worth the risk of financial disaster for his family. The other is STILL at the university, 20 years later, taking classes and working in different departments.

Neither of these people had problems with our department.

It makes me wonder how the study determined what they did. Was it self reported? That would make a huge difference. Sometimes students who aren’t doing what the dept asks maintain that the problem is with the dept, not with their efforts.

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