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Thoughts about the PhD program and success

Everyone wants to succeed in their doings – ambition is part of the human nature, even for those that are lazy. What differs us, humans, from one another is the

degree of ambition flowing in our blood. Why is it so important for most people to feel successful? What stands behind this drive to be one, if not, the best in its field? In my opinion, the answer is quite simple: self appreciation. Self appreciation is one of basic feeling that makes a person happy. At the end of the day, fellas, we all want and crave for happiness. That simple.

So, how can we achieve this happiness in a very competitive and in the face of uncertainty? First thing, before setting out to the lab for a 12-hour session of pipetting, I recommend everyone to ask themselves the one single and most important question: What is success? What makes a certain result a success? and how we define failure?

This is a key question, as you may realize, as this simple question defines the boundary in which one is satisfied with its end results or even more, his or her life. Of course, the fact that a high school kid is pleased with a “C-” doesn’t mean his parents will be as pleased, and for obvious reasons – everyone has its own perception of success and failure.

In this regard, if you are a 3rd year grad, or just have started your first page  in your lab notebook, please sit down at a quite place and list what are your objectives that will keep you satisfied and will define a successful PhD program in your mind. Remember, satisfaction leads to happiness and eventually, that’s what all of us seek!

Several imprtant points that will help you feel successful:

  • “What do you want to do when you’re grown up?” – Yeah, it’s one of those questions that many find it hard to answer. Even when they are 40 years old. No problem! You can try and realize where do you want to be when you graduate, use a good portion of your imagination if needed. If you still don’t have a clue, no hurry. Just remember to ask yourself the same question six months ahead. If you’re postponing your answer for the second time, it looks like your avoiding confrontation with your life.Tackle it!
  • Aim high but not too high – Set out objectives which are reasonable and within reach. You can set an objective to produce 3 “Science” papers within your PhD, but let’s be honest, if you gonna produce only one “Science” I would say you will be in good position for a respectful post-doc position.
  • Lead – Its quite common that the ambition of your supervisor gets in the way of your ambitions. Do you best not to slide into your supervisor path, as much as you can. Yeah, it’s not easy, I know. That’s why it is wise to sniff around when you just thinking of joining this cool lab with all that $$$ flying around. See that the boss is not hiding a long and nasty whip under the table, keeping everyone on a tight leash.
  • Develop skills – when I say skills, I mean skills that can help you secure a position at a very competitive post-doc lab  (one that produces couple of “Sciences” per year) or securing a position in the industry. Keep in mind that these two options (among others) have different skill requirements thus you will need at a certain point to decide what do you want to do (go back to the first point). For example, you will need good organizational and managerial skills to be qualified for a position in the industry.
  • Don’t forget – the main aims of any PhD program is to teach you a multitude of skills and to develop scientific thinking.

And to finish up this post, I invite you to take a look at the fresh articles posted by “Nature” in regard to the PhD program – it will surely give you some perspective about the field.

Education: The PhD factory

Reform the PhD system or close it down

Rethinking PhDs

See ya soon,



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