Biggest Mistakes Made By PhD Students

What are the biggest mistakes made by PhD students? Well, there are too many to try to list in a single article, but there are some general themes. And in fact, they align well with the mistakes described in many classic personal effectiveness guides. 

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Finding a Research Topic Vs Doing the Research

One common question among new and prospective graduate students: “Is identifying a research topic harder than doing the research and then writing papers / your dissertation PhD dissertation?”

The answer to this question very often depends on your source of funding (if any). If you have a research assistant role in grad school, you are mostly likely given a publication-worthy topic(s) on a silver platter. But you may not like the food on that platter as much, at least initially. Kind of like my kid and nearly any vegetable you put in front of him.

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Research Experience for a PhD

One question I hear frequently from folks who are considering grad school: “How do I get research experience for a PhD?”

“Well,” I reply, “it depends on what you mean by “research experience”.” Do you mean “How do I get work experience doing research that I can employ for a PhD program?” Or do you mean “How do I get experience with the standard research steps that are part of a PhD program, like writing papers, presenting those papers at conferences, presenting a research plan to my committee, and defending my dissertation?”

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Grad School Funding

For some folks, the biggest concern regarding grad school is money. And it’s a very valid concern: PhDs do cost some money. However, I can confidently say that the AMOUNT of money it takes varies widely depending on the school you choose. Tuition can vary nearly an order of magnitude from well ranked public schools to the most expensive private schools. Some schools are located in highly affordable cities, and others are located in the most expensive parts of the country. I’m a strong proponent of finding an affordable school and location, unless of course you get a full ride financial offer or fellowship.

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Returning to Grad School Later In Life

I returned to grad school after working in industry after working in industry a few years, and I ended up defending my dissertation when I was 32 – much older than most of my fellow graduates.

If you’re thinking about returning to grad school later in life, you’re probably thinking through many of the same questions I considered myself.  Mainly: is it really worth it to return to grad school? 

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