8

I am PhD student working in computer science. I am worried about the perception that my research career is going to be almost the same as that of former students in my group. I am not satisfied with this because:

  • I came from very good university as compared to my colleagues.
  • While I don’t think I am a genius, surely I am a very hard worker with discipline. To me it appears that I can do much better than other if I work hard for long period of time in academia.
  • I could have gone to a slightly better university for my PhD, but here I get to work with a professor who works in the research area I am interested in.

Please note, I am not saying these former students are not in a good place – they now have post-docs in good universities. I also know that I should focus on my research and should not compare myself with others, but this is difficult in practice.

Question: How can I break this perception that my research trajectory will be almost the same as that of the former students in my group?

  • 5
    If they're in good universities doing well why is that a problem for you? Maybe the product of your research is as good as your colleagues. Honestly I don't understand this question. You can do whatever you want of your life despite the people expectations. – The Doctor Mar 25 '18 at 7:35
  • 11
    Whose perception? Your own? Your advisor's? Your labmates? And what problems does this perception cause you? – nengel Mar 25 '18 at 8:13
  • 8
    Your labmates won't change your career, and random people on the internet even less. Stop worrying about it. – nengel Mar 25 '18 at 8:26
  • 2
    So, find something « new / ground breaking » that will make your trajectory different... – Solar Mike Mar 25 '18 at 8:29
  • 4
    Coming across as arrogant could change perceptions of your career trajectory, but not in the way that you hope. – John Coleman Mar 25 '18 at 13:16
27

I hate to break it to you, but after a (very) short time in grad school, once you start making a name for yourself, people will predict your trajectory based on how they perceive you are doing right now in grad school, not based on your previous school and certainly not based on a self-assessment of your work ethics. If you have been there for a non-trivial amount of time, and nobody thinks that you will do exceptionally better than everybody before you, consider that this assessment may be more realistic than your rather rosy outlook.

How to break this perception that my research trajectory will be almost same as my research senior's.

Easy. Achieve substantially more impressive results than your peers in the same career phase. If you can't do this easily, what makes you think you will certainly do much better than them in latter career phases? If you think you have truly impressive results but everybody else in your institution does not agree, your problem is much deeper. Then you are either surrounded by people who can't see your potential and vision, or you are yourself blinded by arrogance and can't see when you are wrong. Both of these options are pretty bad.

| improve this answer | |
  • 6
    You should take a look at the edit revision to OP's question. It's instructive. – user9646 Mar 25 '18 at 9:35
  • 3
    I hate to break this to you, but this is equally true outside of academia and even outside of the workplace generally... – eggyal Mar 25 '18 at 13:13
9

This answer is in addition to xLeitex's answer, which deals well with OP's situation. I would like to add some general points, however.

  • You have come out of undergrad or master's and are starting your PhD. This is a very different environment that requires different skills and caries its own challenges. Working among (hopefully!) intelligent, motivated and more mature people, you will find that standards are higher and attitudes are different - a bit like the transition from school to university. This transition often causes people a shock and results in imposter syndrome and similar issues. Almost all PhD students will feel insecurity and inadequacy at some point during their PhDs (but don't expect them to show it!). Be prepared for this, when it happens!
  • Generally, people are unlikely to judge a student's capability by their group. In fact, very often the best groups/supervisors do not produce the best students; the reason for this is that it's often easy for students in such groups to coast along on the backs of their supervisors and colleagues. When I think about groups I have worked in/with, they've all contained a huge range of students; some excellent, some barely passable. If you want to stand out, work hard, work independently and produce results. Be active in engaging in collaborations with other students/academics.
  • Be careful about judging other student's work - that not for you to do. Be aware that differences in output are often caused by differences in aspirations and motivation that do not necessarily make a student "better" or "worse". For instance, a student that has decided they wish to leave academia for industry after graduation will have far less impetus to push out high-quality, high-impact publications than one that wants to stay in academia. This doesn't reflect their capability nor their quality as a student.
| improve this answer | |
  • 3
    It is rather outrageous to claim that if someone didn't feel insecure during their PhD, they are a sociopath or even probably a sociopath. Sure, most people feel insecure at some point (pretty much everyone I know, including myself). Claiming that the others are sociopaths... What the hell? – user9646 Mar 25 '18 at 11:39
  • Forgive me, I being slightly flippant and hyperbolic, but also think I've misused the term sociopath. The OED defines it as someone antisocial, the internet as someone without morals. Neither quite reflects my intended meaning (which was really just meant to emphasise that it's quite normal to feel this way). I'll remove the parenthetical remark from the answer, unless I can think of better phrasing. From my experience in the Russell group, it is entirely true that a large majority of students feel this way. – Wandering Chemist Mar 25 '18 at 12:05
  • (Besides, the rate of occurrence of actual sociopaths is likely low enough that, even given someone not feeling that way during their PhD, their likelihood of being a sociopath is probably pretty low. :) ) – Wandering Chemist Mar 25 '18 at 12:07
  • 2
    @WanderingChemist This might be a cultural difference. In the US a sociopath is someone who demonstrates a fundamental lack of regard for the safety and well-being of other people and a lack of what would traditionally be identified as a conscious. The word is somewhat synonymous with “psychopath” but while psychopaths are commonly portrayed as “just crazy” a sociopath is deliberate about their actions and conscious of their effect on other people, but fundamentally doesn’t care. – Stella Biderman Mar 25 '18 at 16:53
  • 1
    That certainly wasn't my intended meaning! My OED defines it as "being extremely antisocial" but, in my experience, colloquial usage here is much milder (think Cumberbatch's incarnation of Sherlock). Regardless, I've removed it from the answer. – Wandering Chemist Mar 25 '18 at 18:44