Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Golden rules of PhD

OK... I venture to give out my hard-earned 'gyaan'.. which is the other name for all the mistakes I have made.. on How to go about getting a PhD and enjoy the process too! Contrary to popular opinion (perpetrated by the grad students themselves), it IS possible to do a PhD and enjoy it at the same time. Don't believe me ? Well, if you follow my golden rules you certainly will believe that, after all, PhD is enjoyable.

I'll add a disclaimer though. PhD is a very very personal thing. It's like swimming. Each learns it on their own pace/method. There are no universal rules which will make every PhD student's life easy. Everyone of us have to be baptized in the fire individually!

Having said that, it is still worth to learn from others' mistakes and experience. However, please feel free to ignore many of the following that does not apply to you :).

  • Be realistic about what a PhD program is. PhD is NOT about getting a nobel or a fields medal. It is a training program to get those medals. If good luck prevails and your work breaks the ground (;)), it's a bonus.
  • Consistency, Perseverance and Schedule. Work daily. Work consistently. And persist with the problem until it cracks.
  • Plan on thesis from day one. Think of how the work you do can go into thesis. Ask yourself whether a particular result can be an appendix, a chapter or a section of your thesis.
  • Review your work every 3 months. Write a detailed critical evaluation of your work. Think of this task as though your funding depends on it. This helps when you write your thesis. Just collate the review documents and your thesis is almost done.
  • Plan to have complete paper ready before a month of conference deadline.
  • Attend as many conferences as possible. Don't wait for dept funding. Spend some of your own. Remember, this is your PhD.
  • Meet the advisor once a week with proper agenda. At the end of meeting, you should have clear idea of what was discussed and agreed upon in the meeting.
  • Creativity comes in bursts. Unless you have done the background work, you can't take advantage of these bursts. Be consistent.
  • Read 5 papers from your area every week. Take notes and update your BIB file.
  • Plan for thesis defense from day one. If you can explain your thesis to a high school student in 15 minutes (without boring him/her) you are ready to defend your thesis.
  • Avoid prolonged breaks every day. When it is time for work, it is time for work.
  • Have at least two colleagues to carry out technical discussions. This does NOT include your advisor.
  • Have at least one colleague (who is not from your dept) to discuss your work. Sometimes they are able to cut through a lot of stuff that keeps you clouded from looking at the problem constructively.
  • Have a social life. Don't over do it.
  • Physical health must be on top of your agenda. Healthy body is healthy mind.
  • Keep a list of questions (and update it regularly) that are basics of your subject area. This is especially important for thesis defense and keeps you in touch with the fundamentals.
  • Maintain a research dairy. Just before you go to sleep, list all the things you did. Before going to lab, list all the things you want to do.
  • Have at least one person to let your emotions out... which means cribbing [;)]. This is very important because you should NOT let emotional backlog to grow. Family and friends are usually best choice since they really care about you.
  • Don't associate yourself with people who are overtly negative. This destroys your mood and amounts to wasting of time.
  • Stock your library. This is a good time to buy a lot of books.
  • Don't assume that your advisor is out to get you. If he/she asks you to do something he probably has a good reason to say so. But do take his/her advices with a pinch of salt.
  • Aim for an internship at the end of your second year in PhD. Working in an environment away from lab helps you get a better perspective.
  • When things are going bad, think of one person you'd wish to acknowledge in your thesis. This should serve as a good motivation to finish your thesis.
  • Brush up your maths fundaes ever so often. Also, solve puzzles, brain teasers etc etc. Keeps your brain fresh.
I have left out on how to choose a thesis topic. This is beyond the scope of my post ;)
More rules as and when my gyaan improves and I learn even more :)