Thinking about pursuing a PhD but worried you might not excel in such a research-intensive program? We believe you can do it – especially if you cultivate some of the top traits of successful PhD candidates.
It takes a special type of person to spend countless hours researching and writing about a niche topic. While all our higher degree by research candidates have unique personalities and interest areas, there are some attributes they tend to have in common – traits that make them a “good” PhD student and help them on their path to completing their thesis.
Here we’ll look beyond just how to be a PhD student and instead talk about what makes a good PhD student. What skills, attitudes and behaviours can you develop or practise now to set yourself up for success in the next 3-4 years?
What do PhD programs look for?
The criteria for getting a PhD scholarship provide some useful clues as to what makes a good PhD student in the eyes of an advisory board. In particular, you’ll benefit from having a strong academic record and proven abilities to conduct effective research. The academic transcript from your honours or postgraduate program can help demonstrate this.
More important, though, are the traits you developed in order to get those academic results:
enduring curiosity and a love of learning
conscientiousness and attention to detail
organisational and time-management skills
ability and willingness to collaborate with anyone
persistence and resilience (pushing through challenges and bouncing back from failures)
intrinsic motivation and self-discipline (the drive to set your own goals and follow them through).
To thrive in a PhD program, you’ll want to maintain and strengthen these attributes. The good news is anyone can practise or work on these traits to some extent, even if they don’t always come naturally to you.
Keep in mind that every candidate is different, so there’s no “correct” balance of the above attributes guaranteed to make you a good PhD student. On your research journey, you’ll quickly realise your existing strengths and any areas you might need to work on.
Some of the qualities that I find are key are being inquisitive, loving to learn and question the status quo, and being an independent and self-directed worker.
What makes a good PhD student: it isn’t a simple formula
We asked UQ PhD candidate Sarah Kendall for her advice on what makes a good PhD student. While she had some attributes to suggest, she also pointed out that candidates bring unique strengths and skillsets to their research – and this is something that can’t be quantified.
“Good PhD candidates can have many different qualities,” says Sarah.
“Some of the qualities that I find are key are being inquisitive, loving to learn and question the status quo, and being an independent and self-directed worker.”
Sarah acknowledges that some of these factors are inherent for some people more than others. But she’s also quick to remind us that completing research in a previous program can help you identify if you’ve got what it takes.
“Doing something like an honours project can definitely help you figure out whether these are qualities you have, as well as to prepare you for the kinds of behaviours you’ll need as a PhD candidate.”
Chelsea Janke, another UQ PhD candidate, adds the following behaviours and qualities to the list of what PhD programs look for:
ability and interest to learn
So, if you’re wondering how to be a PhD student, there’s clearly no one-size-fits-all answer. But if you possess a healthy combination of some of the attributes discussed above, there’s a good chance you’ll fit the bill.
Does this sound like you (or at least someone you’d like to be with some practice)? We’d love to have you contributing to the groundbreaking research projects here at The University of Queensland.