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Camille Bou

October 7th, 2022

What makes a “good” PhD student?

0 comments | 2 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Camille Bou

October 7th, 2022

What makes a “good” PhD student?

0 comments | 2 shares

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

Over the course of my PhD, I have talked to many individuals, from family and friends to prospective students, about what it’s like to pursue a doctorate degree. More often than not, I heard them say variations of “props to you – I don’t know if I could undertake a PhD” at some point in the conversation.

I’m a firm believer that, much like any other degree or professional activity, anybody could undertake a PhD if they were presented with the opportunity and if they’d want to – ie be motivated to, be willing to invest the time, and bear the financial costs (even with a doctoral studentship, as United Kingdom studentships don’t offer much funding and you’re not considered an employee of the university). That is not to say that I am diminishing the experience in itself – being in a doctoral programme is incredibly demanding and challenging, so it is an impressive feat – but I am saying that everybody could be up for the challenge.

Doctoral students often face imposter syndrome during the pursuit of their PhDs. I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome myself over my first year, and was able to manage my negative thought patterns through help from the PhD Academy coaching. However, I still sometimes get stuck in a perfectionism-procrastination-paralysis-cycle when my work anxiety becomes too overwhelming. Point being that if you are a PhD student who is wondering whether they belong and are “good enough” to be in their programme, or a prospective student wondering whether they are “good enough” to apply, I see you and I empathise with you.

As I’m now at the end of my third year, I’ve had time to reflect on what makes a “good” PhD student – unsurprisingly, it’s not about being the smartest person in the room. Rather, I believe that to be a good PhD student, one must embody the following traits: integrity, curiosity and conscientiousness. I believe these traits help acquire the skills which are useful to finish a doctoral thesis or paper – and a good PhD is a finished PhD.

A good PhD student also knows how to adopt a growth mindset, understanding that failures do not reflect a lack of intelligence or talents, and do no represent their value as academics, but opportunities to learn and ask further questions. As one of my professors once told me: “Even a non-significant result is significant”. Research is not just about proving or disproving your hypotheses, but also about the discussion surrounding your findings. Coming up with a good discussion requires a passion for the subject matter and creativity.

There are many articles on the internet about tips to be a good PhD student, not all of them applied to the social sciences. Some of them suggest, for instance, keeping a lab journal or working “long days all week and part of most weekends”. I wouldn’t worry too much about not being a good PhD student if you’re not following these tips – every journey looks different, and as you settle into your PhD programme you will find what works best for you, and if you don’t there are plenty of resources at LSE to help you (your supervisors and peers included). So don’t self-reject if you want to pursue a PhD and try not to worry if you currently are in one. You’ve got this!

About the author

Camille Bou

I'm Camille, a PhD student in the Department of Health Policy. I'm interested in how context shapes the experiences of young informal carers in the United Kingdom. When I'm not analysing data, I enjoy listening to music and podcasts, catching up on TV series, walking in London's abundant green spaces, and exploring the city’s diverse art, food, and drinks scene!

Posted In: Student life

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