Previous month:
September 2010
Next month:
November 2010

October 2010

HR Tips and Career Advice

I recently discovered a great blog called Evil HR Lady, which provides excellent advice on most issues people in industry face. (Academics might not find it as relevant, as there is not much for HR to do regarding faculty members, who have a clear trajectory with clearly defined promotion opportunities, but can use the posts to advise students and alumni.) Since I find myself agreeing with just about everything EvilHRLady writes, and since many of my students are currently on the job market - facing HR people in first-round interviews - I thought I'd mention a few of her recent posts:

  • I'm clearly the best candidate, so why am I not getting the job? I loved the post because it illustrates the frank but caring style of the EvilHRLady - she doesn't sugarcoat it, but she doesn't hurt/embarrass the people who ask her for advice either. In this case, a reader is trying to explain his difficulties in getting job offers by saying that in many cases (85%, according to him), it's not the most qualified candidate that gets the job; he thinks he needs to figure out how to tell recruiters "what they want to hear" and that will solve his problems. Click on the link to read the excellent response! For more straight advice, My HR manager is a nightmare is another great post.
  • MBA-related advice: How to tell if you should get an MBA provides some great food for thought, while My MBA isn't helping my career discusses potential pitfalls for someone who kept working at the same company before and after the MBA. It's another example of the blog author's direct style without being needlessly antagonistic. ("But, they aren’t paying you what they would pay an unknown replacement.  Hmmm, perhaps they like you because you’re smart, dedicated, have a sense of loyalty to the company and are cheap.") The commenters on BNET offer good insights too. 
  • As an aside not related to EvilHRLady, I also recommend two excellent blog posts on the WSJ's Hire Education blog, where the same author provides (deliberately) conflicting advice: Why you should pursue an MBA and Why you shouldn't pursue an MBA, with a focus on aspiring entrepreneurs. I find the second post a bit more convincing than the first one; at the very least, it raises important issues every MBA hopeful should consider before accepting an admission offer.
  •  Finally, EvilHRLady links to AskAManager's blog, who provides excellent advice too, such as My new favorite interview question, 21 things hiring managers wish you knew (absolutely outstanding, and so true - I particularly liked Items #6 "We need to know your real weaknesses" and #9 "The phone interview is not a casual chat"), In a job interview, how to explain you were fired (of limited interest to college seniors, but possibly more relevant to readers a few years out of school) and finally the must-read 5 myths that are crippling your job search, such as "You can only get a job through connections these days".

You can also follow RealEvilHRLady and AskAManager on Twitter.


Creativity on Campus

The creative campus: time for a "C" change, by Elizabeth Long Lingo and Steven J. Tepper, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, offers fascinating insights into how universities have attempted to foster creativity on campus. The authors give the following examples: "Experiments might take the shape of a physical space, like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center; multidisciplinary problem-focused centers, like Stanford University's d.school or Harvard University's The Lab; or academic programs, like the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor's interdisciplinary creative-process course and Vanderbilt University's Program in Creative Enterprise and Public Leadership."

The article also provides a list of teachable competencies that can help anyone develop more creativity, such as divergent thinking and synthesis of competing solutions. The authors note: "Developing and refining such capacities seem to be exactly what 21st-century undergraduates want... 84 percent of undergraduates surveyed say creativity is an important or very important skill (compared with 61 percent who say being able to solve quantitative problems is important or very important)."

Even more surprisingly, "[i]t turns out that knowing whether an incoming student is creative is a more reliable predictor of freshman academic success than are more-traditional measures like the SAT or high-school GPA." The authors describe criteria for a successful effort to foster creativity ("student-focused", "broadly-defined" and the like), but remain vague about what such an effort should look like. "We need Web sites, interdisciplinary journals, conferences." is not what I would call an inspiring action plan, but the authors also refer to useful resources, such as Wake Forest University's Program for Creativity and Innovation and the conference it held on creativity and innovation in 2009.

Ultimately, creativity (at least in my field) is about developing innovative solutions to existing problems in order to add value. It holds much promise because of the increased customization we are moving toward - companies now expect tailored solutions in exchange of the hefty consulting fee they pay. This doesn't necessarily mean to break the rules (no one wants a "creative" bridge that collapses under the weight of traffic) but instead to think outside the box to provide the best solution to the problem at hand, as opposed to a cookie-cutter, mass-produced solution where a consultant applies his favorite tool to all the companies that he works for.

Creativity (in engineering) can be fostered in many ways. The first step is to understand the specificities of the problem, which requires good listening skills or at least a good attention to detail. Recognizing that previously used solutions might not work will be less daunting if people have a solid understanding of the basics (to extend approaches they know) and strong relationships with others in related fields, whose expertise complements their own (when simple extensions are not enough). Creativity in engineering is not creativity in art. It does not have, and probably should not be, a lonely endeavor. Sometimes creativity in engineering is simply learning about a technique in a different application and seeing its potential for one's own problem. This does not rise to the same level of breakthrough as Beethoven's symphonies, but generates value nonetheless.

Fostering creativity on campus ends up being about giving students (1) the skills and the confidence in their professional abilities they need to get off the beaten path, and (2) the opportunities to, indeed, try something new in the safe environment of the university, for instance through capstone projects. This requires helping students identify and develop their expertise (they don't need to graduate with departmental honors, but they do need to find an area where they truly feel they can make a strong contribution), and following their progress closely enough so that they can be helped if they stumble along the way. No drawing skills required.


Lehigh ISE alumnus and his company helped rescue Chilean miners

Lehigh ISE alumnus Bill Maloney '80, who owns Drill Leader Consulting in Morgantown, W.Va., offered his services when he heard, back in August, that rescue efforts were expected to last four months. According to this article in MetroNews (a West Virginia news outlet), he felt it should be possible to shorten these estimates and teamed up with other drilling experts - including Brandon Fisher of Center Rock, Inc., in Somerset County, Pa. - to assist the Chileans. They ultimately came up with the plan, known as Plan B, that allowed the miners to  be rescued. You can watch an interview with Maloney on the website of the TV station WOWK. In addition, I enjoyed reading that "the tools they took over to Chile were going to cost around $300,000 to ship [but] UPS stepped in and shipped the 20,000 pounds of drilling equipment for free." What an impressive team effort.


Shout-Out to Lehigh's Theater Department

I attended a performance of "Sophocles' Antigone" by Brendan Kennelly at Zoellner Arts Center tonight, directed by Lehigh professor Pam Pepper and performed by Lehigh University students, and I was amazed by the quality of the production. I came because Antigone is one of my favorite plays, especially the 20th-century version by Jean Anouilh in 1944 with Its veiled references to the fight against Nazism, and while I have enjoyed other productions of the theater department and knew it would probably be a good show, I did not expect it to be as remarkable as it ended up being - on par with many professional performances I have seen.

Sophocles' Antigone is a modern version of the Greek tragedy and benefited from an elegant and sparse set designed by Lehigh professor Jeffrey Milet, assisted by scenic artist Heeyoung Son and student Marc Rein '11 (who, as it happens, was the Orientation Leader assigned to my group for the evoLUtion seminar and will be directing Two Rooms by Lee Blessing in the Black Box at Zoellner Arts Center in March - mark your calendars). The actors had no props but made excellent use of the long and narrow drapes that cross the stage to punctuate the key points of dialogue.

While everyone in the cast was excellent, David Quinones '12 as Creon stole the show and gave an incandescent performance - the kind of performance that you do not expect from a college student, but rather from a seasoned actor with many (paying) gigs under his belt. I was glad to read in his biography that he does plan to pursue professional acting as a full-time career after he graduates; it would be a pity to see such talent wasted. According to his bio, he comes from the Bronx, is majoring in theatre, has performed in the Lehigh productions of Wintertime, The Bear, Twelfth Night, Seascape and Recklessness, and is a member of both the Latino Student Alliance and the Mustard & Cheese Drama Society (the second-oldest drama society in the country).

Both Wonu Owoseni '13 as Antigone and Kimber-Lee Alston '13 as Ismene gave very strong performances too; they more than held their own in front of Quinones - no small feat. Owoseni is an international relations major minoring in theater who is a member of Lehigh's Global Citizenship program; Alston is a theater major who attended LaGuardia High School for Performing Arts in Brooklyn, NY. I am looking forward to (hopefully) seeing them in future performances of the Lehigh theater department.

Because of Pacing Break, there will be no performance of Sophocles' Antigone this weekend. The next (and last) two performances will be on Friday, October 15 and Saturday, October 16, at 8pm both days. The play runs for about 70 minutes and does not have an intermission. Tickets at full price are $12; senior citizens and Lehigh or LVAIC faculty/staff pay $11; college students with ID (from Lehigh or elsewhere) and everybody aged 17 or younger pay $5. Steps in Diamond Theater - the smaller venue in Zoellner Arts Center - are very steep but views of the stage are excellent from all seats. Catch the play if you can; when Quinones becomes famous, you'll be able to look smug and say you saw him when he was still an unknown college student. That and the fact that Sophocles' play, broadly about collaboration and resistance, standing up for what you believe in, the fateful hubris of people in power and the way one person can make a difference, should be required reading everywhere.


Choosing a PhD Program

I was recently asked on my advice regarding how to choose a PhD program, so I decide to write a full post about it and share my perspective with my readers. There are of course two different issues: (1) choosing which PhD programs to apply to, (2) choosing which one to join, when accepted. For today, I'll focus on identifying which programs to apply to.

  If you are the best student your whole university has had in recent memory, you will apply to the top schools in your discipline, which the "Graduate Schools" issue of US News helpfully ranks for you. But the magazine on newsstands only provides the rankings for the Top 10 programs in each field, which leaves many other students in the dark as to where they should apply.

Judging the quality of a PhD program is difficult for everyone but in particular for undergraduate students, who usually don't know what to look for; besides, a university with less name recognition than the one they're currently enrolled at can have stellar PhD programs in specific departments. If no one tells potential PhD students they should apply to this or that school, they will not figure it out by themselves, since they are most aware of the (often quite different) undergraduate-level rankings.

As an example, the university where I work - Lehigh University - is currently ranked 37th by US News among national research universities for its undergraduate programs, but my department is ranked 17th among all industrial engineering departments in the country at the graduate level. (Departments are not ranked at the undergraduate level.) I doubt our own undergraduates are aware of that.

Although full rankings are not published in US News, faculty members still end up knowing where their department stands compared to their peer group, so an option would be to enlist the help of professors - specifically, those who will write recommendation letters - in the student's department to refine a list of possible schools. The emphasis is on refine: you don't want your professors to do all the work for you. If you haven't done any research on your side, they might just mumble the first name that goes through their mind and leave it at that - not optimal.

So here is my most important piece of advice. I would highly recommend that undergraduate students interested in graduate programs download the free Excel file posted on the National Academies Press website; this file provides data on "more than 5,000 doctoral programs at 212 universities, cover such characteristics as faculty publications, grants, and awards; student GRE scores, financial support, and employment outcomes; and program size, time to degree, and faculty composition. Measures of faculty and student diversity are also included." (Registration is required, but information to provide is minimal.)

Because the data was collected in 2005-2006, it might no longer be accurate and therefore should be used cautiously to generate departmental rankings, but represents a fine starting point to compile a list of potential PhD programs. The file is quite large (35MB), but incorporates macros that lets the user only see the data he cares about, such as Engineering -> Operations Research, Systems Engineering and Industrial Engineering. This dramatically narrows down the list of programs. Then the file can be ranked according to just about any criterion used in the analysis.

The methodology provides a range of rankings (obtained by computing 5th and 95th percentiles) using two different methodologies, called R (for regression) and S (for survey), which differ in the way they weigh metrics such as program size, i.e., average number of PhDs granted over the past five years. The idea of range helps emphasize the difficulty of computing a precise rank to rate a given program, while the spreadsheet provides a trove of information for prospective graduate students, such as median time to degree and percentage of students who complete their degree in six years or less.

Once undergraduate students have compiled a list of possible schools using this information, they should also ask where students from their department have gone when they have enrolled to graduate school. This is good to know because it means the admissions committee at those universities knows the students' department and values the training they receive; unfortunately, some universities send few of their students to graduate school so there might not be a lot of data points.

Preliminary list in hand, students should spend time perusing the departments' webpages to eliminate programs, if any, that are not a good fit given their interests. Finally, they should ask faculty members for their input - especially faculty members they plan to ask recommendation letters from. Here, the conversation will shift from "what are good PhD programs?" to "where do you think I have a chance?" This discussion is particularly valuable because (a) many faculty members won't write a strong letter to admissions committees if they feel the student has little chance to do well in those programs (they don't want to weaken their credibility, as they will still have to recommend other students in later years; most professors politely decline to serve as a reference, e.g., citing time constraints, to give students the opportunity to find a better advocate), and (b) application fees are expensive, so it will save students a lot of time, money and energy if they use their professors' feedback to decide where to apply.

The topics of choosing a PhD program (when accepted to several) and of selecting an advisor will be the focus of future posts this month.


NAE's Grand Challenges Summit

The National Academy of Engineering's Grand Challenges Summit starts today at the University of Southern California with a "students' day", while the main conference begins tomorrow. The goal of the summit is to "bring together leading scientists and engineers, educators, policy leaders, innovators and corporate executives to address the 14 challenges articulated by NAE." These challenges fall within 4 broad categories: sustainability, vulnerability, health and joy of living (NAE's word, not mine). Each of these challenges "represent[s] key societal issues of the 21st century"; I am particularly interested to hear about advances on advanced personalized learning, although it of course isn't quite as important as, say, providing access to clean water throughout the world - another of the challenges.

The NAE's Grand Challenges page lets you select the challenge that is most important to you, and you can see the results once you cast your vote. I am surprised that "making solar energy economical" is such a clear first-place winner with almost 13,000 votes, while "developing carbon sequestration methods" only gathers about 2,800 votes (less than personalized learning, with 3,700 votes) and challenges within reach such as "advance health informatics" and "secure cyberspace" were selected by only about 2,300 voters each.

The panels at the summit will address the following issues:

  • Are there significant technological barriers that will be difficult to overcome? What is most urgently needed for technology to be advanced over the next few decades?
  • Are existing models of innovation adequate to advance these challenges?
  • Can the Grand Challenges be the roadmap to recovery, and can they provide us with an important economic advantage in global competition? How much of public R&D investment must be directed towards these challenges- if at all?
  • Achievements and innovation mean little unless they can be communicated- the idea, the efficacy, the implementation. What challenges do we face in communicating the Grand Challenges of our time in a way that is understood and impactful for society as a whole?
  • Innovation and education go hand in hand, particular in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). What education initiatives can be implemented to drive recruitment and interest in these fields of education in the U.S., at the K-16 levels? How can we ensure that our students are getting the best training and opportunities possible?
  • Is a different business model needed, and what is the most efficient means by which jobs can be created in the fields of the Grand Challenges? How can the business community get involved to capitalize on the opportunities generated by these challenges?

I find the idea of the NAE Grand Challenges Scholars program, "a combined curricular and extra-curricular undergraduate program... designed to prepare students to be the generation that solves the grand challenges facing society in this century", very intriguing. I am also looking forward to hearing more about NAE's plans to raise awareness of the Grand Challenges at the K-12 level. The invited speakers all feature prominently at the top of their fields and should generate excellent ideas.

This promises to be a fascinating conference, which I hope will receive the coverage it deserves in the media.


Tips for PhD Success, Part 2

Here is the second and last part of my post on "tips for PhD success", where I comment on Matt Might's Ten Easy Ways to Fail a PhD. (You can read Part 1 here.) Matt Might is also the author of the excellent Illustrated Guide to the PhD.

As readers might recall, my main advice for students in my previous post was that having their advisor lose patience with them is the main way to fail a PhD. This points out to an important skill - managing work relationships - that graduate students, often fresh out of college, have rarely had the opportunity to cultivate. As undergraduates, most of them did their homework and studied for exams with little exchange with professors. They didn't have to manage a relationship - they could get As without ever talking to the professor (although that is not recommended). During internships, they usually had specific, well-defined tasks to complete. All the milestones were short-term: hand in the homework, ace the exam, finish the project by the deadline.

Then once graduate school begins, the rules change. It is still called school, but results don't come right away (if they did, it wouldn't be research); any task can take months. Progress becomes harder to define, which is why it's all the more important to make sure one's advisor understands the student is putting in enough hours in the project, as opposed to spending time on coursework or any other non-research endeavor. Research Assistants cost a lot of money, in part because of the indirect costs tacked onto any grant (add about 50% to whatever a Research Assistant sees as money being spent on him/her), and money these days is hard to come by. If a student underperforms, he won't necessarily get a second chance before his advisor decides to spend his energy and money elsewhere.

Way #7: Ignore the committee. This is another aspect of managing work relationships. Might writes: "It's also easy to forget advice from a committee member since they're not an everyday presence like an advisor. Committee members, however, rarely forget the advice they give." When people bother to read a dissertation and make comments, they expect these comments to be acted upon. Committee members can make a point that has escaped the advisor's attention, for instance asking to consider the data from a different angle or try a new benchmark; they can also play the devil's advocate - forcing the student to better argue in favor of his approach - in a way the advisor cannot always do. After all, the advisor believes in the approach's potential to begin with; otherwise he would not have assigned a doctoral student to a research project on it.

Committee members' ideas can give valuable insights into possible reviewers' comments once the thesis chapter has become a paper submitted for publication, and thus should be addressed as they arise. Ignoring the comments only sets up the student for a power struggle he will lose. (As an aside about Might's last paragraph, it is completely foolish to defend against the advice's of one's committee, as the committee members are the ones who decide whether the student passes or fails the defense.)

Way #8: Aim too low ("Some students look at the weakest student to get a Ph.D. in their department and aim for that.") and Way #9: Aim too high ("A Ph.D. does not have to cure cancer or enable cold fusion. At best a handful of chemists remember what Einstein's Ph.D. was in. Einstein's Ph.D. dissertation was a principled calculation meant to estimate Avogadro's number. He got it wrong. By a factor of 3.") Those two opposite ways of failing a PhD reflect, I think, two different reasons to apply to or stay in the PhD program.

The first attitude can reflect the behavior of a student who applied to PhD programs to stay in college a little longer, because PhD studies (at least in engineering fields) are usually funded while Master's studies are not. The student doesn't know what he wants to do later and thinks he's buying himself time to decide. Or he was advised to apply by his professors but realizes once he has enrolled that research doesn't really passionate him. A good student will still do reasonably well in classes and squeak by at the qualifier exam. Success becomes a two-edged sword: it is harder to drop out if one is not kicked out.

Two or three years go by; it becomes a little late to get out with a Master's degree. The student begins to wonder how he can get his PhD as fast as possible and move on with his life. That is when he zeroes in on the weakest student to graduate before him, as an indication of the threshold to clear. That is a dangerous calculation. Research topics are hard to compare and the advisor who graduated the weakest student is probably not eager to develop a reputation of being easy on underperforming students - it will only attract more of those. The other professors didn't graduate a student who was that weak, and presumably don't plan to start. If a student begins to think in terms of "what is the least effort I can put in to graduate?" it is probably time for a change. For instance, a summer internship in an area related to the student's research can help highlight new opportunities and demonstrate a clear reward (interesting job) that awaits after years of toiling on campus.

Students who are truly excited about research and creating new knowledge, though, are at risk of aiming too high. They want to make a difference, and marginal improvement does not sound that exciting. They are the ones who can't get started on a topic because they want to read all the relevant papers first, or can't commit to a research project because something better might come along - they look for other ideas on the side, hoping to impress their advisor with their impending stroke of genius. They were super-stars in college and yearn for their lost status (to some extent, all straight-A students entering grad school do, but the students who aim too high are those who let this loss of status, and their eagerness to claim it back, drive their actions.) They disdain the proverbial low-hanging fruit, but novel approaches, which are built step-by-step, often require the use of that same "fruit" (easy wins) to create a solid foundation.

The best that can happen to these students, in my opinion, is for them to find an advisor who will give them a small project to get started, with the clear understanding that this project might not make it into the final dissertation (although it could generate a paper). Its purpose is to help the students gain new skills and get a taste of research. This relieves the pressure students were putting on themselves to find a great dissertation topic while they have been in graduate school only a few months. These students might also require closer supervision in the early stages of their PhD training, to ensure they don't go off all by themselves in a direction that is not particularly relevant for the project.

Way #10: Miss the real milestones. Might wrote about this beautifully, so I'll give him the last word: "Most schools require coursework, qualifiers, thesis proposal, thesis defense and dissertation. These are the requirements on paper. In practice, the real milestones are three good publications connected by a (perhaps loosely) unified theme."   


Tips for PhD Success, Part 1

I came across a post entitled "10 easy ways to fail a PhD" by Matt Might, an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah, some weeks ago so I thought I'd use today's post to comment on the 10 behaviors mentioned in that post.

Way #1: "Focus on grades or coursework." I somewhat disagree with the idea that "no one cares about grades in grad school." I care about the grades of prospective students who want to work with me; I want to see if they're able to understand new concepts quickly and perform at the level required for success in a PhD program. I think students should work very hard to do as well as they can in the courses of potential advisers and dissertation committee members - those are the people who will write recommendation letters down the road.

All doctoral students in my department have to pass a first-year review, which considers both (a) results at the qualifying exam and (b) performance in class. I expect doctoral students to get mostly As and A-s in core doctoral courses related to optimization (my research area). Of course, there are mitigating circumstances: students need time to adapt to the kind of work required in PhD programs, and our first-year students serve as Teaching Assistants in addition to taking three courses, which makes the first two semesters in Bethlehem particularly challenging. But overall it's much harder for me to get enthusiastic about a student if he gets a lot of Bs (or - gasp - less than Bs). I've got to explain, though, that grades in graduate school are mostly As and Bs, with B- being in many professors' mind what C- is to undergraduate classes. I'm not aware of any doctoral student succeeding in our program while having received a C+ or lower in a core course.

So in a way, it's true that GPA doesn't matter: there is much less volatility in grad-school GPAs, and the GPAs (of students who don't drop out) tend to be higher; hence, grades can't differentiate that much between applicants. The thing that sets students apart is of course their doctoral dissertation; ideally, they will find a job very closely related to the expertise they have developed while they were writing their thesis. But they will also have to grow in their job and learn new skills, and performance in courses can serve as an indicator of how well they learn new topics. In the end, grades matter more than students think.

Way #2: "Learn too much." Might explains: "Taking (or sitting in on) non-required classes outside one's focus is almost always a waste of time, and it's always unnecessary." I agree. I suspect international students fall prey to that temptation more often, as US engineering students have often had to take humanities and social sciences courses to fulfill "breadth requirements" as they studied for their Bachelor degree. The higher-education system in other countries, such as France where I got my "diplome d'ingenieur", is much narrower and specialized. Once I entered engineering school in Paris, I took classes in thermodynamics, materials, control theory, and also accounting and business, but nothing was offered in history or French literature. Those topics simply are not aligned with the purpose of an engineering school. In addition, there was not nearly as much choice for the technical electives.

I was amazed by the breadth of the offerings when I first entered MIT, in engineering but also in public policy and political science. An international student can easily feel like the proverbial kid in the candy store and decide to take a broad array of classes because he is more keenly aware of the lack of choices he had as an undergraduate. As Might underlines, the risk of selecting courses unrelated to one's dissertation is greatest when the student is not on a Research Assistantship; if he is, the faculty member providing financial support will usually keep a much closer eye on the student's academic plans to make sure grant money is not "wasted" on courses that will not help the project.

Way #3: "Expect Perfection." Might explains: "Students that polish a research paper well past the point of diminishing returns, expecting to hit perfection, will never stop polishing." I haven't met such students yet, so I can't really discuss that point. I think it's more tempting for the advisor to ask for one more extension before sending the paper out for review, because it is much harder to convince a negative reviewer to change his mind in a subsequent round of review than impressing him favorably the first time around. I can't imagine a professor saying "let's submit this" and the student replying "no! no! let me make it even better". But maybe it does happen.

Way #4: "Procrastinate." That's probably an advising failure as much as it is a bad behavior on the student's side. Advisors sometimes struggle to find the time to meet with their students, especially when they have multiple courses to teach (and grant proposals to write and committee meetings to attend), and some students can't bring themselves to work hard if there is no prospect of looming advisor-advisee meeting. Then they wonder why they're not getting funded the following semester. Self-motivation is critical to succeed in PhD programs.

Way #5: "Go rogue too soon/too late." "In Might's words, "[t]he advisor-advisee dynamic needs to shift over the course of a degree." That's very true. There comes a time where the advisor shouldn't have to guide the student step by step any more. He can give the student pointers and the student should be able to fill in the blanks, addressing any issue that comes up in the meantime. Students eager to graduate might think "I'll just do exactly what he wants and he'll have to sign off on my dissertation", but they are expected to display significant independent-thinking skills before the PhD process ends. A student who is not capable of doing that is not ready to graduate.

Way #6: "Treat PhD school like school or work." Might writes: "Ph.D. school is neither school nor work. Ph.D. school is a monastic experience. And, a jealous hobby." I wouldn't call it a monastic experience - I spent wonderful years as a PhD student in the Harvard Square area of Cambridge, which was a lot of things but definitely not monastic. It's true, though, that you have to be ready to work a lot, at all sorts of hours. Graduate school is not a nine-to-five job. While it's good to take some rest, you don't get the whole weekends off. If you're not ready to sacrifice parts of your Saturdays or Sundays, then you probably shouldn't do it.

Overall, my main piece of advice is that, in my opinion, having your advisor lose patience with you is the main way for a student to fail a PhD. He can lose patience because you're busy studying for courses you don't need to take, because you're procrastinating, because you're aiming for perfection, because you've got nothing new to show on Monday mornings, because you're not developing your independent-thinking skills, or other reasons. But once your advisor has decided his time was better spent on other students, it is extremely hard to turn the situation around. Managing the advisor-advisee relationship correctly is the single most important thing students can do to ensure their advisor will remain supportive throughout the PhD process.

As for the next 4 ways described in Might's blog post, I'll write about them in my next post.