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I've been in the PhD program for a couple years now and I feel like people have a lot of expectations about the way I should think and feel about things. Not just my technical competence, but also my motivations and personality. I am wondering if my motivations disqualify me from being a good PhD student.

  1. People expect me to have a specific research area I'm very interested in. I would be fine working in any area and I'm not particularly passionate about any specific field. They also expected me to know who I wanted to work with before I applied to the school (or even choose the school based on the advisor), and I only started thinking about that during visit weekend, when professors pitched their research to the students.

  2. I chose which schools to apply to based on the US News rankings, and I went to grad school because it was more prestigious than the jobs I would be capable of getting. It seems like nobody in grad school does this, even though I feel like for most people it is natural to go with the most prestigious option.

  3. People expect me to go to talks and read papers for fun. I don't understand how most people could possibly find talks fun. Honestly I would rather watch a movie or play tennis. I also find papers boring and difficult to read, unless they are in very soft subjects with no math.

  4. When people come to my school to give talks, people invite us to meet with the speaker one on one. I have no idea what students would talk to the speaker about or why they would want to sign up to talk to a stranger. I guess they could collaborate with the speaker on research, but I would expect the professors to set up these kinds of collaborations instead of the students. (It would seem weird to finagle my own collaborations because the advisor might not want to collaborate with those people.)

  5. I have seen professors leave my university and expect their students to go with them. I think if my advisor left my university, I wouldn't want to leave, because I have good friends here and I am dating someone. It seems weird to be expected to uproot your life and move across the country just because your boss is leaving.

  6. I follow my advisor's instructions on things and once in a while he says that I need to be more independent. But if I did that I would be going against what my advisor tells me to do, and I think it's weird that my advisor tells me to do things and then tells me not to do what he tells me to do. He said he expects me to "push back" and I find that kind of intimidating, because he is a professor after all.

1 Answer 1

You have been in the PhD program for a couple of years now, and still surviving.

Presumably you have passed the qualifying exams / oral exams, and did ok for the coursework. I would say that you are doing well, from the perspective of a fellow graduate student.

I think the only personality trait you need now is perseverance. Only think about the rest once you have completed your PhD and decide whether you want to continue in academia.

The fact that your adviser wants you to disagree with him sometimes is a sign that you have a good advisor who doesn't mind being challenged.