25 points for new PhD students

I wrote these at the conclusion of my PhD summarizing how I survived the tortuous process that was as much intellectually as psychologically challenging.

1. I am not my work; my work is not my worth.
This took a while to learn, but once I did I was no longer offended by my algorithms performing 250% shittier than state-of-the-art.
 
2. I can only do as best as I can do.
That there is logic.
 
3. I can’t please everyone.
I have learned to deal with the fact that some people have sticks up their asses. It is not my job to whittle them.
 
4. Burn no bridges.
I made that mistake one time too many, and in graduate school I put it in practice.
 
5. If I want to get a grip, I have to let go.
That there is semantics.
 
6. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Yay!
 
7. A Ph. D. is something one does while living.
In other words, life happens.
 
8. Take nothing personally.
Conference paper rejected? Water off a duck’s back. Professor jumping into bushes when he sees you coming? Water off a duck’s fucking back.
 
9. Surround yourself with motivated and inquisitive people. If you don’t know anyone, spend your time in the library until you do.
I perform my best when other people are doing their best. And I do my best so other people can do their best.
 
10. Research should be scary and uncertain if the terrain is uncharted. Think of yourself as a pioneer.
The first part was told to me by Dr. Gibson. The second part was told to me by Dr. Rabiner.
 
11. If your advisor says nothing, take that as a complement.
See #8.
 
12. Learn to depend only on yourself, e.g., JFGI, RTFM. Don’t be needy.
Maybe I have a stick up my ass too?
 
13. A dissertation should tell a story of research; it does not need to solve the world’s problems. You are not expected to solve the world’s problems.
Good advice from all my advisors.
 
14. Question everything. Argue carefully. Point out all assumptions. Make logical steps to your claims. Be honest. Respect peer review. It is why science is the most trustworthy reflection of the real world. Don’t fuck that up.
These are incredibly important for distinguishing your work from that of the makers of The Secret (which does not even deserve a hyperlink, JFGI), and other inane bullshit peddled by anti-science cretins.
 
15. Intelligence is not as important to doing a Ph. D. as the diligence, persistence, honesty, and bravery of your spouse.
 
16. Work on yourself as much as your research. Join a support group, start therapy, work a 12-step program.
Also turning 30. My concentration when hyper when I turned 30.
 
17. When interacting with your advisor, do not bring baggage accompanying personal problems. Do not give too much information.
Following this has made interactions pleasant and productive.
 
18. You don’t need to know everything. By the end you will understand how to be comfortable with the feeling that you don’t know everything, nor need to, because you know where to begin.
Completing a Ph. D. brings the confidence of critical thinking, of communicating your ideas, and to lead into the darkness.
 
19. If you wish you could find the answers in the back of a book, but your stomach drops when you find a paper that appears to address the same problem as your research, you are on the right track.
Strange how that works.
 
20. Keep an honest record of how you spend your time.
I kept a spreadsheet logging the hours I spent doing research, class work, teaching, and putzing around on the Internet. It helped keep me on track, but made me a bit anal. Plus, at the end, I made cool graphs and saw my behavior around conference deadlines.
 
21. Keep a thorough record of your research, including questions, insights, thoughts, ideas, graphs, programs, doodles, correspondence, CFPs, etc.
I got a bound chemistry lab book and starting keeping detailed records. When code would disappear, I could go back and see what I wrote. Best of all, someday they could end up in a museum, or presidential library!
 
22. Break your tasks into small manageable chunks. Create and solve “toy” problems.
Good advice dispensed by Dr. Rabiner.
 
23. Collect and annotate all references. I use Bibdesk.
This record is indispensable when managing more than 50 references. (And now, with my experiences here, I say start a blog and contribute good research to the Internet.)
 
24. Compile into reports all the research and work you do over each month.
My main advisor made me do this and give him copies; and then after four months he admitted, “I never read those.” Then I realized, “Those are for me, not him. I am the grasshopper, Wise One.”
 
25. Don’t be discouraged when looking at other people’s dissertations — yours will appear just as complex to them.

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