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What makes a good PhD student?

from Nature 441, 252

Doing a PhD should be fun and rewarding, because you can spend all your working time discovering things and pursuing ideas — and getting paid for it, without any administrative responsibilities. Those who stick with a career in science do so because, despite the relatively poor pay, long hours and lack of security, it is all we want to do.

Unfortunately most new PhD students are ill-prepared, and as a consequence very few will fulfil their aspirations to be independent scientists. The main reasons for this are the 'grade creep' inherent at most universities, making it difficult to identify the really talented first-class graduates from the rest, and the pressure on universities to graduate as many PhD students as possible. The consequence is that we enrol far too many of them without telling them clearly what doing a doctorate should entail. We therefore set ourselves, and the students, on a path of frustration and disappointment.

So what should we be telling prospective PhD students?