"Superman" Ph.D. student

Submitted by chaky on Thu, 10/21/2021 - 20:32


I heard a lot of discussion among my colleagues about what they think is a good Ph.D. student.  In this post, I summarize down some of the important characteristics of a Ph.D. student that was often talked about.  Knowing these characteristics will allow you to know what is important and strive to improve.  

Remember, this is not given to anyone since birth, and that anyone can reach this point through self-improvements.

  1. Obsessive (and a bit crazy) - you are obsessed with what you do.  Outside people see you as mildly crazy. But craziness and foolishness make one different.  
    • Symptoms: Thinking even in the shower or at lunch! 
  2. Self-discipline - they can independently carry out their research with huge self-discipline.  They know that their supervisors are busy and they are on their own.  They are self-motivated.  Rather than asking or waiting for other people to tell them what should they do, they fully leverage the resources around them.  This is probably one of the most common characteristics that almost all of my colleagues talk about. 
    • Symptoms: Have a clear idea of what to do each day; track progress and deadlines.
  3. Hard-working and perseverance - they can work really hard on things they care about.  I mean...really hard...   They also hardly give up.   One wise man once said, “a good student is always three steps ahead of their professor”.
    • Symptoms: Read a lot.  Code a lot. Think a lot.  Write every day.  May feel down occasionally, but never let those feelings trump.
  4. Logical and detailed - know what is important and what is not, know what to prioritize and what is secondary.  Basically, they ask the right questions and they have a great sense of how to do research “systematically”.    When it comes to communication, they can express what is in their brain clearly.  when writing a paper, they know how to clearly and logically articulate their research argument.  They discuss concrete ideas, they show graphs and prototypes, rather than saying some vague ideas.   They prefer actions.  They are very careful and attentive to details because they know these things make the difference.
    • Symptoms: Papers are logical and well-written.  Experiments are well-designed.  Smile on the professors' faces.
  5. Intelligent and creative -  they are blessed with a great number of skills, e.g., math, machine learning, coding, etc.  When they do not know something, they can quickly grab the concept and learn within weeks.  They are also extremely creative with their solution. Somehow, they can link all knowledge and come up with some very good ideas, and no one knows how they do that...
    • Symptoms: You don't quite understand what's so hard about research.....seriously...you want more challenging stuff (while others are crying)!
  6. Positive -  gifted with a positive mind.  They accept criticisms with an open mind.  They accept struggles as a natural process of learning and meeting goals.  They never blame others but seek to improve themselves.  They have a growth-mindset. They are like angels in the human world!  No one knows who gives birth to them...
    • Symptoms: You don't quite understand what people are complaining...