This has always kind of intrigued me. I have seen many students who are good in academics (the scale I am using for this is GPA, like around 3.8–4.0) and average in PhD research. I mean, they do research, but it's just the kind you would expect from an average PhD—publish dissertation, write to one or two top journals, and then graduate.

I have also seen a few students who barely maintain their GPAs (they usually hang around 3.3–3.5) but are so good and focused in research that they do groundbreaking stuff, and some even have filed and received patents on their dissertation.

My question is: how much of a PhD is about taking courses and excelling them, and how much of a PhD is about excelling in research, and how well are they interconnected? From what I have seen, there seems to be no precise correlation between GPA and quality of research. Is it because PhD research concentrates only on a precise problem? Or is it because of individual motivational factors?

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    IMHO, GPAs are mostly related with memorizing and publications are mostly related with opportunism. Thus I'm not surprised they are not correlated, I'm actually surprised about the question. – Trylks Jan 5 '14 at 18:03
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    @Trylks how are publications related with opportunism? Take an example- i am working in industry and want to do research so i will bring an proposal from there and work full time on my PHD and do ground breaking stuff. This is all planned . So how does opportunism come into picture? I mean they might be mediocre research projects but still they will be ways to do them in a much better way and invent something new. And there will be hifi projects which can get screwed up and you just put a smokescreen version out there. – Boncek35 Jan 5 '14 at 18:09
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    it's all opportunism, the most clear example are special issues, but the most relevant factor to get a paper accepted is sending it to the right venue at the right time, about the right topic (bonus points: with the right approach). It's not about breaking any ground, but speaking about the ground (and perspective) on which reviewers are interested. A prime example are position papers, they are interesting because they tell the ground on which the community should focus, the one that should gain momentum, funding, papers, etc. (the opportunities) but they don't break any ground. – Trylks Jan 5 '14 at 18:20
  • If you are lucky enough to make a PhD on a hot topic, then you are more likely to get more publications accepted, work less on them, get more citations, etc. If you choose a topic that is going through the trough of disillusionment then you are going to have a hard time, no matter how good your research is, it will face strong skepticism. Related question: Should PhD students be goal or opportunity driven?. Therefore it's not only about the papers, but the whole PhD. – Trylks Jan 5 '14 at 18:25

What i wanted to ask how much of PHD is about creativity and how much is about perserverance and how much is it about academics

The snarky answer is: Yes.

A slightly more unpacked version of this in no particular order would be:

Academics (aka things you learn in courses) is important because we don't create in a vacuum. We invent new things, but also combine old things in clever ways, or modify others' ideas creatively for new purposes. Think of it as one component of the fuel for your creativity: why ignore it ?

Creativity is of course the key to doing something new, which is the most basic requirement for completing a Ph.D.

Perseverance is incredibly important, because most ideas don't come into your head fully formed and perfect. It may be that your first 10, or 100, or 200 ideas aren't quite right, but by studying them closely, and seeing what works and what doesn't, you're able to produce a genuinely interesting new piece of work. Slogging through the bucket of non-working ideas takes perseverance, and can't be replaced by anything else.

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    You forgot Luck. – JeffE Jan 5 '14 at 23:52
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    @JeffE yeah but most univs and advisors automatically seem to think good GPAs mean good Phd candidates. Whereas i have seen people with Good GPAs are very good at following instructions but people with average GPAs seem to be the most creative and motivated with regard to narrow areas of a field ,which i believe is what an PhD requires. – Boncek35 Jan 6 '14 at 0:26
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    univs and advisors automatically seem to think good GPAs mean good Phd candidates — Fortunately, most of my colleagues seem to know better than this. – JeffE Jan 6 '14 at 0:36
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    but people with average GPAs seem to be the most creative and motivated — [citation needed] Confirmation bias cuts both ways! – JeffE Jan 6 '14 at 0:36
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    @JeffE the OP didn't ask about luck – Suresh Jan 6 '14 at 4:13

A PhD typically consists of a smaller portion of courses (0-50%, probably averaging 24% of time) and the rest being research (including writing and publishing). In terms of excelling on courses, I would argue it has much less value than as an undergraduate. In my system, all PhD courses are pass/fail, the idea being you should learn only what you need so you can take part of a course if you need. In the end it will be the quality of your thesis and the particularly papers you publish that determines your degree of success, not the coursework. Doing well at courses involve being able to read up on material, organizing knowledge and remembering what you read. These are of course important skills to have. Research, however, includes many additional aspects that requires additional skills so whereas good grades, in terms of reflecting some of your skills, might help, it is not the full story of a PhD.

You mention motivation. Motivation is important. Another aspect is perseverance. Research can be tedious bordering of being dull in order to reach the goal. I have seen many who have had a rosy picture of research but who have not been able to cope with the work. Clearly motivation and fascination about your topic will help you endure the many hours you end up spending on the topic. I doubt many researchers do research without these aspects spurring them on.

  • I have seen two kinds of people doing PHD. The first do it because they cannot find an job , althought they never admit it.But once in program , they try to do their best. – Boncek35 Jan 5 '14 at 17:27
  • I am sure they do and they might finish well as well but I argue that having a curiosity for the topic helps and i would recommend anyone to do a PhD instead of doing a job to think it through. It is not easy and requires a lot of work, usually more than "just a job". – Peter Jansson Jan 5 '14 at 17:31
  • i am sorry but i think i was not very clear. What i wanted to ask how much of PHD is about creativity and how much is about perserverance and how much is it about academics. – Boncek35 Jan 5 '14 at 17:41
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    Creativity is good but perseverance is a necessity to keep focussed for the period of your PhD project. Courses (Academics are the persons in academia) are there to provide your basis for your research. You simply need to learn whatever is required. – Peter Jansson Jan 5 '14 at 23:58

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