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Ten Traits of Successful Ph.D. Candidates

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The Doctor of Philosophy Degree is the highest degree conferred by a University, higher than a medical or law degree. Certain characteristics are held by those who complete the Doctor of Philosophy Degree. They are:

1) Ability to live with ambiguity. This trait indicates that even though you may not know the time or the manner in which you will complete your goal, you soldier on with faith that you are on the correct course and will perform the necessary steps as they present themselves. This is probably the most important trait that a Ph.D. candidate should have.


Open Book

                                                                           Open Book

2) Self-discipline. Of course, a student who has reached this plateau has had a lot of practice in self-discipline and knows how to manage time and effort. Setting priorities is paramount, with the project being your highest priority.

3) Writing Skills. A large part of any graduate degree is a facility in writing. That includes spelling, punctuation, vocabulary and syntax, and in some cases, math skills. These skills should flow fast and easily with few interruptions for confirmation.

4) High Grades - Doctoral level courses must never fall lower than a B with the majority of grades at the A level.

5) A Proposal which is doable, which will hold one's interest over time, and which is accepted by a Dissertation Committee as a project which will add new knowledge to a specific subject area. Your major advisor will be of help in this, but the idea must come from you.

6) Sacrifice of Time - The dissertation itself is time-consuming and may require you to forgo quality time with your family and friends. A typical block of time to obtain the Doctor of Philosophy Degree is approximately four years. This does not include the undergraduate or master's degree work.


Mortar Board and Diploma

                                                               Mortarboard and Diploma

7) Communication Skills - It is necessary to stay in close contact with your Doctoral advisor so that each knows the steps which you have taken and which are the next steps in your procedure. A weekly meeting or phone meeting is optimal. Staying on task is the secret path to completion.

8) Oral Defense of Your Dissertation - Once you have completed the necessary course work and the dissertation, you must be prepared to defend your proposal, your method, your steps, and your conclusions. You must choose a dissertation committee composed of your major advisor and three or four of your former professors to hear you defend your dissertation. At this point, you are so familiar with your work that you could do this in your sleep.

9) A Vision of your Future - Keep in front of you your life after you have completed your degree. It is a life-changing occurrence. Set your sights high, knowing you are on the path and that your painful efforts are close to completion. One side-effect of completing a doctoral degree is that you will lead an intellectual life; that is to say, that you will live within your head. The result will be that you might never be lonely since you are your own best friend and will always find ways to entertain yourself just by using your thought processes.


Ph.D. Academic Robe, Oxford University

                                                Ph.D. Academic Robe, Oxford University

 10) Financial Security - Having a doctoral degree will open doors for you. It is assumed that you have high capabilities and will be given onerous tasks which others cannot perform. You will undoubtedly rise within your organization, with the concomitant larger salary that accompanies this.



Sep 10, 2014 8:09am
Great article. When I considered pursuing a PhD after completing my MA, I found most universities make the application process and requirements, prohibitive to us older folks.
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