Day: November 25, 2020

Carrying Over the Finish Line

Over the years, as I gained more experience as advisor, I realized that I could successfully advise a much wider range of students than I had initially thought. We faculty start out more-or-less thinking all graduate students are like us, motivated to the same extent and by the same things. Experience quickly disabuses us of this fallacious notion. People do a PhD for many reasons, and some whose reason is “I want to land lucrative corporate employment” do a bang-up job on their PhD, while some with nominally lofty academic aspirations cannot, in fact, do research successfully at all.

But I think experience has also made me too relaxed, because I started believing that, if I sufficiently personalized the mentoring strategy and project to the individual, I could bring almost anyone to a PhD.


It turns out, I was mostly lucky, and my luck has run out.

The past 2-3 years have jolted me out of my complacence. People need to have high aptitude and be genuinely motivated and interested in the work. Not just pay lip service to their aspirations, but work hard and keep reading and thinking and struggling and pushing things a bit further every day. Initiative and self-reliance are critical. In my experience, the students who look like they’re limping out of the gate generally keep struggling regardless of the amount of feedback or the personalization of mentoring style and project choice. They generally do not have the capacity to do so independently enough, and the advisor and/or group mates have to carry them over the finish line. There are exceptions to this, of course, but the one exception I encountered cost me far too much time and money sunk into a majority who were not.

I need to be more resolute about putting a timely end to things that aren’t working out. I don’t want to carry another person over the finish line.