Many, many, many books have been written on how to obtain a Ph.D degree or how to write a Ph.D thesis. I’m not really into self-help books, but I heard that some books are really helpful. In the Higher Education section of The Australian, Maria Gardiner and Hugh Kearns of Flinders University share their 7 secrets of doctoral success.

During the past 15 years the pair has studied why students battle with perfectionism, over-commit, self-sabotage and lose motivation and focus while writing a PhD. They offer free workshops and seminars to Flinders University PhD students, attracting hundreds of students to ‘the seven secrets of highly successful PhD students’ seminar.

“We’ll have a group of probably 10 confident PhD students and at the end of probably an hour and a half they’re all saying: ‘I don’t think I’m good enough to do this.’ [Good Work!, Ed.] Those negative feelings lead to procrastination and other feelings.”

One participant of their workshops explains how it works:

“I was the coffee shop’s No.1 customer. I was the sort of person who sat around talking and not doing much.” But after learning he did not have to be perfect and his work was unlikely to be worthy of winning a Nobel prize, Mr Moore finished his PhD on schedule. “It helped me to understand it wasn’t the most important thing in the world … and recognition that it didn’t have to be perfect,” he said.

It is so simple. You just lower the expectations, compromise quality, and make students realise that nothing needs to be perfect and you have created highly successful PhD students. You see, it’s not that difficult. After all, to undertake a PhD you only need 10 per cent intelligence and 90 per cent persistence. According to Mr. Kearns.

And if you make it to defending your Ph.D thesis, Kerry Soper has 12 tips on “What not to say at your Dissertation Defense

This article has 13 comments

  1. Mike

    Hello Eric,

    Would like to ask whether USyd awards scholarships to international students especially in the physical sciences. If not, are there any research or teaching assistantships available for doctoral candidates, and are they easy to come by?


  2. Eric


    I don’t know how hard or easy it is to get scholarships or doctoral research fellowships in the physical sciences. That of course depends also on your own qualifications. Here are some links to get you started:

    Uni Sydney Scholarship (I’m not sure if this includes postgraduate scholarships)
    Postgraduate Research Scholarships
    University of Sydney Research Fellowships
    – also take a look at the faculty website of the discipline you’re interested in!

    Hope this helps. Good luck!

  3. Anonymous

    Thanks a lot for what You are doing!Information, that I managed to find here
    is extremely useful and essential for me!With the best regards!

  4. Talleyrand

    I think that you are missing the point of Kearns’ advice. Most of it is practical time management and prioritization strategies and the bit about it not being a nobel prize is aimed at people who either can’t start because doing a perfect job is too intimidating or people who won’t finish because it always needs a bit more work. I think that both my and your phd thesis should be classified as mediocrity if the criterion for not being so is recognition by the Swedish committee.

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