Why you are not the ‘star student’ (and how to become one)

I have a friend doing his PhD, let’s call him Ronald.

Ronald is clever, bright and diligent. He’s spent many, many hours in the lab building prototypes and producing copious amounts of data. He’s clearly on the verge of a breakthrough that would change his field (but has yet to publish anything for fear of being scooped). In fact his work is so original and complex that most people don’t understand it. Ronald’s had the opportunity to go to a couple of overseas conferences, but he’s refused each time. He’s on a limited income and the funds on offer wouldn’t quite cover all the expenses he’d calculated.

Ronald always attends and contributes to lab meetings. He knows it’s important to talk about his work with colleagues, but only turns up to the social events occasionally. He has a wife and a large network of friends outside the university. He’s sociable, he just has a lot to do. His focus on work is absolute. Going out for a coffee during a work day would be a waste of time and he really hates the ‘paperwork’ parts of academia. The number of emails the school sent him asking for stuff drives him crazy. Last summer he just declared email bankruptcy and deleted all of the old mails on the assumption that someone would chase him up again if it was really important. It’s the work that attracted Ronald to the PhD in the first place and he wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of his breakthrough.

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-9-59-03-amSadly, Ronald’s supervisor, a big name researcher in his field, doesn’t seem to value Ronald’s qualities. This supervisor is extremely busy and a little bit curt with people he thinks are ‘time wasters’. Ronald doesn’t think he falls into this category, but he is constantly passed over in favour of Anna, a young woman who started a year after Ronald at the lab. Anna was offered the paid teaching and research work her supervisor didn’t have time to do. In her second year, Anna was the tag-along to the ‘big conference’ in the field with the supervisor, and given the honour of presenting the poster describing the work of the whole lab. Anna didn’t even have to fund this trip. She told Ronald she’d got a bursary for writing the most papers of all the PhD students this year (a bursary he’d never even heard of). Anna seemed to be publishing all the time, often as first author — a privilege that wasn’t accorded to other students, including Ronald.Β At social events Anna was the one everyone wanted to talk to. Anna was acknowledged as the ‘star student’ by everyone. Even the Dean speculated about which famous lab would accept her for a post-doc.

It was hardly surprising that Ronald was resentful of Anna’s success, but he was a nice guy (and politically smart enough) not to be a jerk about it. Outwardly he smiled and made nice with Anna, but inwardly he seethed. So, it seemed, did many of the students in the lab. Over coffee one day he told me the prevailing theory for Anna’s success was that she was sleeping with the big name supervisor. They do spend a lot of time together — she even house sits for him and walks his dog. At this point I felt compelled to point out this theory was blatantly sexist. Sleeping with students carries heavy penalties. Having a relationship with a student is the most certain way I know for academics to get the sack. Although relationships do develop between students and teachers, 99.999% of supervisors are way too smart to endanger their job. If they are going to carry on affairs and/or be unfaithful to partners it’s far more likely to happen with another colleague after too many drinks at the conference dinner, 3000 miles from home.

Even though I’d never met her, I suspected knew some stuff about Anna already. I asked Ronald how many of the statements below were true:

  1. Anna’s presentations are engaging, visual and interesting
  2. Anna can talk about her research well, both on stage and one to one. In her spare time, Anna volunteers for a local community group or has an interest in theatre.
  3. Anna helps publish the school newsletter, or runs the blog for the lab
  4. Anna is prompt and efficient when answering email.
  5. Anna regularly has coffee or lunch with a wide variety of people, even the receptionist.
  6. Anna is on the student-staff consultative committee and/or a participating member of the student union.

Ronald answered “yes” to all of these questions and looked startled. Sometimes people think I have super-natural powers of observation, but it’s not magic I assure you. Our research suggests that PhD students who have better networks are more employable. This behaviour must start during the PhD and you can see it in the ‘star students’. Anna isn’t a star student by who she is, but what she does. Let’s unpack these behaviours one by one:

  1. Your presentations are one of the rare moments where all that invisible work in the lab becomes visible. If they shine, you shine. You still have to do great research work — but the right people have know about it or that work is largely wasted.
  2. Being able to talk about your work is critical, but it’s not all about being on stage, 3MT style. You must be able to engage in professional conversations as both a critical and creative contributor. This is a difficult skill to master. Don’t under-estimate the amount of practice you will need, especially if you are the sort that has hobbies that are solitary, or conducted entirely online (like team based computer gaming). Even sport has more limited opportunities to practice because the interaction is largely structured by pre-set rules. Her work for community groups and theatre hobby means Anna has hours and hours more practice at talking to people about how to get (creative) things done than Ronald.
  3. Anna gets a number of benefits from her participation in the ‘non scholarly’ publication that are perhaps too numerous to list here. The most important, in my opinion, is that her skills at writing to deadline and managing technical aspects of getting words on the web are showcased to those who matter in management and administration. Once you are known to be good at this, other opportunities to engage with the media follow. Many non-academic staff members to know more about what is going on than academics, who rarely open that email newsletter. By helping out, Anna got access to all the valuable intel first.
  4. Email is one of those chores we all have to do. Being prompt and helpful sends an important professional message about your reliability in every single email. Reliability counts much more than you would think in academia. The person who gets chosen to go to the conference as a tag along has to be reliable as well as a good performer. Anna’s behaviour on email and her ability to deliver a great presentation tells her supervisor she is the package – both creative and efficient. Of course he chooses her, not Ronald who he has yet to see produce anything. As a result of this trip, Anna spent more one on one time personal time with her supervisor than any other person in the lab. When the supervisor sprained his ankle in Helsinki, she helped him navigate the healthcare system and carted his luggage about. They developed a high level of trust — hence the house sitting. And the dog walking? Her supervisor lives alone and needed someone to walk the dog while he had his foot up on the couch, recovering. Anna exercises her dog everyday and lives close by. It’s no bother to Anna to pick up Fido on her way past the door at 6am. So he gives her the key to the gate. This regular morning walk turned out to be a habit Fido enjoyed, so the arrangement stayed in place. Anna and her supervisor are now professionally friendly — not exactly friends, but close. It’s hardly surprising that she’s getting first author. Unlike the other students who are too scared of the supervisor to treat him like a normal human, she feels free to ask.
  5. Anna isn’t ‘wasting time’ having coffees and lunch. She’s having important down time from her work, maintaining academic friendships and building new ones. Connections with a wide variety of people at work has been shown to have benefits for creativity. By spreading herself around, Anna builds a stronger network of support, allies and potential collaborators. The reason everyone flocks to Anna at a party is they already know they can talk to her. Success breeds success. If a lot of people seem willing to talk to one person, it makes that person seem more approachable. By contrast, Ronald, despite being a lovely guy, didn’t have much ‘other stuff’ to talk to people about at those gatherings, which made conversations awkward.
  6. Involvement in the student consultative committee allows Anna to ‘peek behind the curtain’ and lear how the place really works. Sometimes people with fancy titles do not have much power and vice versa. Anna is more likely to meet people in high places through this work, never a bad thing. I suspect this is why the Dean thinks she is going places. But it’s not all about kissing up. She’s out to lunch with the receptionist remember? Turns out they met at the committee meeting and realised they had a very similar sense of humour and interests. Anna’s no snob: she understands that friendships should be with people you like, no matter what they do. The side benefit of this friendship is Anna got the early heads-up on the introduction of that paper writing bursary before it even got to the newsletter. With six months longer to prepare than other students, no one had a hope of beating her. If I was Anna’s mentor I would advise her to share that knowledge, not hoard it, but that’s a post for another time.

Ronald was operating under the basic assumption of fairness that is common to many people who have gone straight from undergraduate to PhD and never worked outside of academia. As an undergraduate you are consistently awarded for the quality of your work and achievements. It’s easy to think the only thing that matters is the work, but it’s not. When you get to the PhD stage you start to be rewarded for the way you work, not just the work itself. To be clear, I don’t think Anna was doing any of this ‘networking’ deliberately. The best networkers have an affinity with people and are well trained in the social arts of conversation. The rest of us have to learn the hard way.

I believe, with a few tweaks, Ronald could adjust his behaviour so it was more in line with what Anna was doing, while maintaining his comfort level with respect to social interaction. In my view he needs to do two things:

  1. Work on making his presentations amazing and get over the fear of being ‘scooped’
  2. Get more involved in the volunteer, community work that is available in the department. He could ask the receptionist for some suggestions, she seems nice.

But the biggest shift Ronald needs to make in his head. His lifetime as a ‘good student’ has conditioned him to think that anything but academic achievement is superfuous. I could see it in the way he denigrated others who did care for being “shallow” and worrying about “stuff that isn’t important”. Paying attention to how others perceive you is not shallow, it’s a critical part of the game. I would argue that being a helpful, engaged member of the community is more likely to lead to happiness too – and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

What do you think? What do you do “extra” community work in your department? Would you recommend it? Do you pay enough attention to what others think of you, or do you think the work is the most important thing?

Related posts

How to win (academic) friends and influence people

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52 thoughts on “Why you are not the ‘star student’ (and how to become one)

  1. Wow (!!) — that the go-to explanation for a woman in science excelling is that she is sleeping with the supervisor, is incredibly sad and vastly dumb. I hope “Ronald” wakes up and let’s go of his condescending attitude. The other people who ‘waste time’ presenting their work and forging connections with coworkers are on the right track, while Ronald is the one who’s shallow…

  2. So, I have an observation. The key here is Anna is a good communicator and also, she produces great results. What if the student is not producing great results? What if even after all the hard work and trying multiple strategies, her project is at a standstill and even her supervisor can’t seem to pinpoint the problem. Sure, she’s social, her presentation skills are good but she has nothing to show. Nobody talks about that. I’m just pointing it out. How long…months…years..will she use her presentation skills to cleverly package the reasons for her failure before it gets unbearable?

    • It’s an excellent question and indeed, a problem that dare not speak its name in science. Until I did some work in machine learning with computer scientists I had never faced the prospect that an experiment might fail and produce no results. There’s a lot of talk in science that a negative result is still a result, but I hear anecdotally that people with negative results do not ‘have a thesis’. I wonder if any science colleagues want to comment on that? Happy to publish some posts dealing with it, if there is constructive advice to offer…

      • Technically yes, negative result is still result, but people are definitely less inclined to publish the work as they will get rejected anyway. Especially if you are aiming for more prestigious journals.

      • To add to Em’s comment – in my field, if you don’t do your thesis “by publication” (i.e. if it’s not composed of published research, or research that has at least been submitted to journals), you have little to no chance of getting a postdoc. And, as Em mentioned, it’s very difficult to get a negative result published. Add to this a string of failed experiments and the time pressure to get your PhD done “on time”, and you have a very stressed out graduate student.

      • Indeed so Em It’s a real problem as I understand it – because people don’t publish, then others don’t know what NOT to try. A good example of the academic prestige system getting in the way of good outcomes. There’s got to be some cultural shift here for that to change. And culture eats strategy for breakfast. It’s very hard to change…

      • I feel I’m a like the Anna who isn’t producing great results. My PhD has taken an extra year because I keep taking time out to communicate my work, write blogs, teach, lecture,mentor and do science outreach. I co-ordinate open days, science days etc. I talk to schools. And I love it and volunteer for all of it. But it does take a hit to research.

        The problem is that I have learned to love all this research+ stuff without the love of the research. I would love to lecture undergraduate students for a ‘real job’ and not just half a course I’m doing for maternity cover, but ‘real ‘lecturers are hired based on publications. If I do a postdoc then I’ll have even less scope to do outreach than I do now with PhD.

        I find that’s it’s the Ronald’s who publish a lot rather than the Anna’s who don’t publish, that are better placed for post docs.

        I would love to be a full-time Anna without the publication stress. Maybe I need to look outside academia…

  3. Wow, that sexist assumption breaks my heart – and horrifies me. I see a lot of women get pulled under by this assumption, so I’m so glad you smacked it down hard.
    I also think this is basic growing up stuff: we all learn these skills in our first professional environment, no matter where it is. The key, I think, is to talk about this transition more openly (so thank you thank you thank you for this post!) and to acknowledge from the outset that a PhD is much more like a professional post, and much less like being a student.

  4. This article is AMAZING. I think it perfectly encapsulates the small efforts the best students make and how valuable these are. Being a good academic is about so much more than just data analysis and writing. Thanks TW!

  5. While that sexist comment was completely out of line, I can see how (and sympathise with) people who feel disheartened when they find out what modern-day academia is really like. It’s yet another field where extroverts have the upper hand.

    • Yeah… I’m not so sure about this. I have many friends who strongly identify as ‘introvert’ and yet are highly successful networkers and communicators. I don’t think it’s a simple binary there, but I will acknowledge that some people have different comfort levels and it is important to find ways you can achieve these ends while remaining true to your own style. Maybe someone wants to write a post?

      • My main point was that introverts probably have to push themselves more when it comes to networking and communicating with others, not that it’s impossible for them to do so. In that sense, it’s easy to see how someone who is more extroverted might have the upper hand – those are things they’re already going to be doing, and probably more comfortably at that.

      • Love this article. Very, very familiar in a lot of ways.
        Strong introvert here… who runs tutorials, organises a weekly lunchtime discussion group, recently started mentoring, enters 3MT every year and is getting the publishing thing happening.
        Can I have a go at writing the post?

  6. Thanks, this post has inspired me to follow up on a meeting to talk about my research experience that I wasn’t sure I had time for. I felt a bit guilty about taking time away from ‘real work’ to network, but you make some excellent points! I’m now also reconsidering taking on a student union position.

  7. Most of your “comments” seem to be coming from Phd candidates or researchers with experience in academia. While I stopped at the Masters Level and did not study science, we became very good friends with the researchers at UW. We got a glimpse. Forgive me if I’m a klutz but are you the lead character? From outside of the academic world and the scientific community, I felt from your article, that there is alot of chaos in Ronald’s life. I think he needs to take a small break lest he breaks when he bends. Thanks for your contribution. http://writerscafe.blog

  8. Whilst I appreciate that Ronald needs to learn a bit from Anna’s approach, what you miss here are the students who are like Anna, who volunteer, speak at conferences and respond to emails in a timely fashion etc, who still get passed over for opportunity because they are not the favorite. This is my experience and it is heart breaking to do all the right things but know it doesn’t matter and you get passed over for extra opportunities simply because you are not the star. I can barely get my supervisor’s attention and all the conferences etc I attend/networks made are of my own doing. It’s hard to deal with when you see someone else constantly offered everything without a thought for others.

      • Thank you. Sadly favoritism appears to be endemic in academia. I know plenty who have walked away. At least at the end of the day I can walk with my head high.

  9. Very interesting post – I have always thought of myself as bad at ‘networking’ but reading this I think I am actually good at being ‘professionally friendly’ so maybe not as bad as I think I am! Good to hear also that creativity outside of research is a positive in this scenario, as too often we hear how we should be sacrificing all extra-curricular activities and let our PhD take over our lives. Bad, and potentially harmful, advice I feel.

  10. I think you’ve hit this on the head, Inger. I’d add the rider that there are no guarantees of exactly the career rewards you hope for, when you hope for them. But I’d agree that generous collegiality is still the only sane choice for the doctoral candidate. Over the long term you do reap what you sow in any workplace.
    As for the “she must be sleeping with her boss” slur cast by the underperforming peer – show me a high performing woman about whom this has NOT been said. And once thrown, this cowardly mud sticks too.
    It’s 2017 not 1940. The assertion that sexual impropriety and manipulation are the only rational explanation for a woman’s career success says a lot more about the speaker than the woman concerned. The star HDR student has no interest in cheating of any description. She’s doing it on her own – rising early, working late while juggling – and nailing – all the unpaid and unheralded family responsibilities she has too. Kudos to all the Annas out there.

  11. I am more or less the Anna of the lab. Maintaining a cell culture with 30+ people in it, keeping it organised and wellstocked while doing my phD part-time besides this. I have strong cooperations to other universities (and a lot of office people) and enjoy working on interdisciplinary research borders. Now, in my third year of my phD, I have 4-5 publications lined up, 2 ready for submitting, the other 2-3 I write up in my 2nd maternity leave, which starts soon. My boss told me, I would be perfect junior group leader material – if I were 10 years younger ;). Unluckily I took a detour and worked for 10 years in biotech (and got a kid), which made me who I am today but closed doors to academia forever. So our Roland will get the academic job offer, because he is younger, has high impact publications (and is male, but thats another topic..) ;).

    • If you were younger?! I don’t understand the youth obsession in science, but I’m sorry to hear that you feel the door is closed (definitely a post for another time hey?). I do hope you have a potential fabulous other career lined up because with attitudes like that your discipline doesn’t deserve you.

      • Well, I will survive, hopefully ;). The problem with basic research is that it is chronically underfunded. Therefore, the fight for jobs changed to a cut-throath mentality, if you are not young enough, had a star supervisor yourself and high impact publications, you’re out of the game fast. No idea how its handled in other countries, at least here in Austria you only get a chance to be junior group leader if somebody else is literally dead or moving to another country. New group leader positions are rarely created (we don’t have the strong private funding mentality that seems to be lived in the US), there are no fixed positions for staff scientists and even technicians are rarely on fixed positions. Everybody else is employed via governmental/company funding, which is hard to get – and if you get it we have the tiny problem that our government implemented a “contract chaining” rule (technically for job safety) which basically says that if you are working longer than 6-8 years for the same university on temporary contracts they HAVE TO offer you a fixed position because they clearly need you (or you can sue them into one). The rule resets only when you work for one year somewhere else – then you have another 6-8 years of temporary contracts “free” at your university. It was a nice idea but means in reality that even if you aquire your own funding it can happen that you can’t work at your university because you already spent too much time there. So yeah, if you don’t get a fixed position – its your end in academia here πŸ˜‰

  12. I find this really interesting. As an academic most of what you write stands for junior academics as well. It’s taken my boss 5 years and lots of angst to twig that while I may not have the publications yet, I have the networks and trust of the local community. I also have the respect of many of my colleagues and the admin staff. This has lead to me getting opportunities that I would not normally get because other people think of me to be involved. I am the Anna, but in a different way,

  13. Sheesh, take out the PhD. references and replace them with “master’s” and you’ve got me. I’d always heard that networking was important, but teachers had always left it at that. It wasn’t until much later that I realized I’d never learned how exactly we were supposed to network and make contacts (which makes my sub-handle “recovering recluse” all the more real). I never learned because I thought “hey, I’m a good student, isn’t that what I was supposed to do?” How does one ask questions when one doesn’t know they need asking to begin with. I started too late and handicapped myself. I still struggle in being public, I’m friendly but have no friends (except for my sister-by-choice). It’s different when you’re a little kid, but as an adult, I am lost, and have been for quite some time. I’m actually re-reading “how to win friends and influence people” this week–hopefully, I’ll learn…and retain it. Sounds like me and Ron need a refresher.

    • I can sympathise with this feeling – I was not a natural networker at all, but I did manage to make the switch at around 16-17 when I started paid employment and watching how others behaved. It took me another 15 years to work out that I needed these skills to make my way in the academic workplace as much as I needed ‘smarts’. For a long time I thought academic achievement was enough. For some of us these skills need to be conciously cultivated, which is very hard work and there is not much guidance available.

  14. Hi, just letting you know that the link on your site to the stylish academic no longer works.

    I just found this site. It’s been enjoyable to read through the articles. I believe the advice in this article can be applied to high school and undergraduate students as well. Thank you for an interesting article!

  15. I often go for walks around my department talking to folk and engaging with them. Interestingly I was told another PhD student by doing so I was lazy and not working on my thesis.

  16. Excellent, and all true from my experience too.
    Except in my experience, all of the items in the list of “how to become a star student” are necessary …but not sufficient. To become a star for your supervisor you need to shine, and that’s a quality in the eye of the beholder. You can’t manufacture chemistry between people. So, pursuing star-status is probably not a great idea. Either you’ll get it, or you won’t, but some of that is outside of your control.

    Having said that, being proactive, learning to deliver better presentations and being responsive and social are all good ideas anyway. They are probably even more important if you don’t have star-child status, because you will need to use a broader network to progress.

  17. Oh man. First off all, even repeating gossip of the “she must be sleeping with someone variety” is not okay, never okay, full stop.

    Also, not publishing for fear of being scooped? Having work so brilliant that most people don’t understand? That’s a problem, and it’s perhaps the sort of problem one should work out with a therapist, because there could be some unhealthy thoughts underlying those behaviors. Or maybe not — I’ve never met this person.

    That being said, there are parts of this that I’m sympathetic with. Not having enough money for conferences, for example — if you can’t afford a conference (or otherwise can’t attend, such as due to childcare responsibilities or health-related reasons), you can’t afford a conference, and that just sucks.

    I can also recognize the signs of someone being overwhelmed — not taking breaks, not being able to stay on top of email, not having extracurricular interests. The answer to being this overwhelmed is usually not to add on extra work-related responsibilities, as that can become just another way to procrastinate from whatever the underlying issues are. (Been there, done that, and have seen that in both my peers and my students.) What the answer *is* will depend on Ronald’s situation, and it may involve a therapist, a lightening of his workload, some time off from the PhD, just buckling down and finishing the damn degree, etc.

    One should also be strategic when taking on “extra community work.” Sometimes it’s a great way to network, but sometimes it’s a great way to be taken advantage of. This is horribly gendered as well — the difference in “departmental service” done by female academics and done by male academics is stunning, especially when it’s research, rather than quality of service, that counts come promotion time. (This is also true for people of color and other minorities!)

    Denigrating others is terrible. Learning to network in a way that works for you is a great skill. But as other commenters have pointed out as well, I’m not sure that all of this advice applies universally.

  18. Thank you for an interesting article! Everybody else is employed via governmental/company funding, which is hard to get – and if you get it we have the tiny problem that our government implemented a “contract chaining” rule (technically for job safety) which basically says that if you are working longer than 6-8 years for the same university on temporary contracts they HAVE TO offer you a fixed position because they clearly need you (or you can sue them into one).

  19. I’m a bit late to this discussion, but if anyone is still reading…

    About Ronald’s e-mails: in my experience returning to grad school after several years in the work world, I have found that my e-mail load is now quite manageable in comparison to what I had before. I am always astounded when my peers complain that they didn’t know about this free lunch event or that scholarship deadline, when all students were reminded about it twice by e-mail. What did they expect the student society / university administration to do, visit every student personally and/or post a big sign on their office door?

    OK, maybe I’m being a little bit mean to Ronald – after all, it’s no big deal if he missed out on the year-end barbecue (all the more burgers for the rest of us). But if he missed the e-mail about the new dissertation requirements, he might miss the window for graduation. By the time the university administration “chases him down”, it will be too late.

  20. Yep, 100% agree. I did a lot of this during my PhD, but actually really ramped it up after I finished and couldn’t get a postdoc, so instead I did lots of basically your suggestions 3,5,and 6 in my discipline (and got a job outside academia to build different skills). I then found when I started applying for academic jobs again I was so much more competitive, even compared to some people who had had the post docs I missed out on.

  21. Also a bit late in the conversation, but some comments on this post have been on and off in my mind since last week so I thought I’d better write my thoughts down…

    This is my initial reaction to the post: I understand the point being made in this post and I find it interesting and probably true in an ideal world where everyone is professionnal. However, in real academia, I feel that whatever you do, and even striving to follow all the advice you ever got (which is pretty much inhumane), there is absolutely no garantee of success. It is actually quite the contrary with the decreasing level of funding: you are almost sure to fail (in pursuing a career in academia – not in getting a phd and pursuing a rewarding career elsewhere, which make this post relevant for everyone).

    And now I’m going a bit off-topic, but what also struck me were the reactions about sexism. Although on the principle I totally agree that Ronald’s comment is lame, to me it is also representative of what happens when people feel disillusioned, when favoritism is blatant, and when your hard work is not acknowledged.

    Besides, has anyone thought this might actually be true (I mean, that Anna might be in a relationship with her supervisor)? Does it only happen in my country or in my field? Are every academic in Autralia super professional and saints? I was wondering if anyone had also witnessed such situations, and if it could make it a topic for a post: how to manage at work when you are also involved in other ways, or working with people who are, and how to cope when you are confronted to sexist attitudes from supervisors and colleagues.

  22. I actually found this post to be very disheartening. What I see is an increased burden on the student to “do it all.” House sitting? Writing for the student newspaper? Getting lunch with the receptionist? All while submitting all these great pubs and presenting at international conferences! No sweat, right? I understand the main point of this article – networking is important – but I think hidden within are a million more ways for students to feel overburdened and overcommitted. There are a lot of things wrong with Ronald’s approach but I take issue with assuming that Anna is the “star” because she networks well – when actually, to me, she looks like the workaholic.

    • Yes, I am so glad someone has finally made this point.

      What I wish would be acknowledged in this post is that no one can be the “star” student all of the time, because just simply, no one is perfect.

      Ronald actually sounds like a more realistic character / human being. Anna is portrayed as perfect. I guess that’s the point of the post, but I would find it comforting if she had some flaws too.

  23. I’ve read this post and it looks very nice and dandy in the theory but in my personal experience at my college I’ve seen a dark side that is not shown here.
    In real life you have to dedicate time both to research and to network and socialize. Many times you have to prioritize one over the other. If a supervisor favors the social factor more than good work bad things will end up happening.
    Said supervisor, very famous in his field, lets call him Doug, is obese and enjoys a good meal. Also he is very sociable and enjoys to mingle with colleages and students, so eventually all of his PhD students started to make him favors and gifts. I guess it all started inocently but spiralled down soon; cookies, buns, anything sweet, even wedding size cakes! Of course other favors too; like doing the groceries for him, picking her daugther up from school, the list goes on and on.
    The result is disastrous, as he enjoyed all the attention and favors, no quality work was being done at the lab, students lagged and slacked on their obligations because kissing up the supervisor works better than quality work! And the result is having a corrupted system imposed by human nature and the lowest of instincts.
    Good luck I watched all that revolting show during my career and kept myself far away from it.

  24. Things can change quickly if you will go on to the right directions and if anyone would like to be a star performer then he/she should need to work had to achieve many milestones in their life.

  25. I really enjoyed this post and made a couple of notes for myself to improve my PhD journey. I agree that there is more to it than just doing “the job”. I engaged in an engineering program as a volunteer and it helped me to meet lots of people within my field both students, academics and professionals, which is really helpful as I haven’t done my undergrad at the same uni. After reading this blog I realized that I also improved my networking skills through this volunteering. Unfortunately, in my group there most of the students think it is a waste of time. They do not take part in the student meetings, coffees even seminars! But I feel like I have been offered more opportunities from my supervisors (I haven’t even finished my first year and already been on two workshops in different cities!) so I kind of identify myself with Anna, and you know what? I love it! πŸ™‚
    Ps. Still doing my best job in the lab of course!

  26. What I wish would be acknowledged in this post is that no one can be the “star” student all of the time, because just simply, no one is perfect. I engaged in an engineering program as a volunteer and it helped me to meet lots of people within my field both students, academics and professionals, which is really helpful as I haven’t done my undergrad at the same uni.

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