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01/15/2015

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Someone

Marcus,
This series is useful, and I am surprised there has been so little uptake in terms of responses.
I would like to add two things, one which relates more to your previous post in the series.
First, I think one of the most telling qualities that determines who gets a PhD and who does not is the determination to get a PhD. I saw in 2 programs students who had breakdowns and were committed, but still finished their PhDs. Other students who were experiencing less stress did not finish their programs.
Second, some people should NOT be encouraged to continue through a program. Some people will discover it is not what they thought it was, and that they do not want it so much (given the other things they may have to sacrifice). That is fine. Not everyone needs a PhD. It is not a failure to change career plans. I changed mine, and now I am a philosopher.

Marcus Arvan

Thanks for your comment, Someone, and I'm glad you're finding the series useful!

Even if the posts don't get a great deal of uptake, if they help even a few people I'd be satisfied. Maybe some of the reason the response has been muted is that I'm giving some advice I've given before. Perhaps things will pick up as the series goes along, as I have quite a few posts on new issues planned.

In any case, I think your first point is mostly right. Determination goes a long way. Still, for all that, I knew at least a few pretty determined people who, for one reason or another, still didn't find their way. Further, when I reflect on my own case, the fact that I made it through seems to me partly determination, but also partly getting good advice when I needed it most. For example, the fact that I received a "How to Write a Dissertation" book in my office mailbox was a real stroke of luck. While, yes, actually following through on the advice the book gave required determination, the mere fact that I got the book was sheer luck--and when I passed it on to several other determined people, their prospects of finishing immediately improved. In other words, I would hazard a guess that finishing is roughly a matter of determination + good advice. Obviously, I can't provide readers with the former, but I can hope to provide some of the latter!

Finally, I'm a little bit wary of your second point, though I'm sympathetic with its motivation. I've heard some people suggest that programs should attempt to weed out weak students early on so they don't stick around and never finish. However, in my experience, some of the students that are initially considered very weak in a program (by almost all faculty and students) actually turn out to be very successful; and conversely, I'm seem some very well-regarded people not make it. In short, I think it's *really* tough to know in advance who is and who is not "cut out for a PhD." I've seen too many surprises in both directions (successful people initially considered unpromising, and unsuccessful people initially well-regarded) to be very comfortable with making judgments of that sort. I guess I would say each person needs to figure out for themselves.

Someone

Marcus,
My second point was not about weeding out.
Really what I wanted to draw attention to is the fact that one can enter a program and discover (i) it is not what one thought it was, (ii) one does not like it, or (iii) one does not want to make the necessary sacrifices (and there really are a lot of sacrifices to make; ask any of our partners).

Marcus Arvan

Got it, thanks for clarifying! My response was intended to address a move I've seen more than a few people make: namely, a quick inference from something like your point to the conclusion that programs should seek to weed people out. I just wanted to point out that I don't think that's a good inference!

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