Thinking what not to do may help to avoid doing the wrong things. So our research group recently brainstormed on how to fail a PhD. Ideas on how to fail were as follows: ………….

  • Depend entirely on your supervisor, so then everything that goes wrong is their fault;
  • Avoid discussing your work with others, especially experts in the field and potential collaborators who may steal your brilliant ideas;
  • Do not bother arranging meetings with your supervisor, they are telepathic and will contact you when the time is right;
  • When discussing your work with your supervisor, other experts and at seminars do not take notes, if good ideas emerge you will remember them;
  • Play computer games in the office where the internet is fast and free;
  • Invest your energy in new emotional love affairs and related drama, university is primarily the place to meet the love of your life after all;
  • Delete all old files on your computer;
  • Let your computer worry about where and how to store your data files, rely on its artificial intelligence;
  • Trust your computer to label and back all your files up in an organised way forever;
  • Do not get excited about your work, it may be infectious;
  • If things do not go easily then give up or procrastinate;
  • Relax, you’ve lots of time, somebody will give you a deadline someday, organisation and self-discipline is only for nerds and sports stars.
  • Do not read anything, it may be distracting from the computer games.

I particularly liked the article “How to fail a PhD” by Rob J Hyndman, with the headings:

1. Wait for your supervisor to tell you what to do
2. Wait for inspiration
3. Aim for perfection
4. Aim too high
5. Aim too low
6. Follow every side issue
7. Leave all the writing to the end

And ‘The importance of stupidity in scientific research’; important lessons for every researcher (thanks to Thomas Morris for alerting us to this article)

Remember, you do not get a PhD for the number of hours spent in the laboratory, field, reading, or doing data analysis. You do get a PhD based on the thesis submitted; so start writing!

Other reading
How (not) to fail in your Ph.D. studies by Elisabeth Pain
10 easy ways to fail a Ph.D. by Matt Might
5 ways to fail your PhD and videos

Twenty things I wish I’d known when I started my PhD by Lucy Taylor

Some advice to early-career scientists: Personal perspectives on surviving in a complex world by John Smol

Some Modest Advice for Graduate Students by Stephen Stearns

Disrupt and demystify the unwritten rules of graduate school  by Jennifer Pensky , Christina Richardson, Araceli Serrano, Galen Gorski, Adam N. Price  and Margaret Zimmer


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