In the second of our posts, we’ll look at what qualities are important for prospective PhD students. Of course there is no ‘ideal’ PhD student, as everyone is different and their projects are different. However, current PGRs and supervisors we spoke to agreed there were some personal qualities that are definitely helpful when committing to a PhD…
The view from students
Here are some of the qualities current PhD students suggested were important.
- Endurance – It’s really important to be able to keep going when things are taking a while. “Everything takes longer than you expect”, said one student. “Reading, fieldwork, admin… everything!”
- Passion for learning – it’s vital to be passionate about your subject, as you’ll be living with it for a long time! “It’s your project,” one PGR told us. “You need passion, not just interest.”
- Independence and self-motivation – the PhD involves a lot of planning your own time and working based on your own motivation. Be prepared to work hard, under your own steam, and plan your own work. “You need to be able to figure out everything yourself,” one student told us.
- Have realistic expectations – taking on a PhD is much easier if you know what to expect – so it’s a good job you’re reading this!
- Organisational skills – you need to plan your own time and work schedule in the most effective way. One PGR suggested, “you should ideally be able to plan out the next three years!”
The view from supervisors
Here’s a summary of what supervisors told us they thought were essential qualities in prospective PhD students.
All supervisors we interviewed mentioned self-motivation and ability to work alone as the most important quality in a PhD student. However, several of them also mentioned the importance of working collaboratively, either with your supervisor or other PGRs. Other qualities mentioned were being able to act on advice, and several supervisors mentioned the need for good communication skills, written and spoken.
One supervisor we spoke to said that, given some of the expectations made of PhD students and the difficulties of the institution, the ‘ideal’ candidate is “a 22-year-old, straight out of an MA, who wants an academic career.” This doesn’t mean it’s impossible for anyone else, but institutional difficulties can make it harder for, for example, older PhD students with children.