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For a finishing Ph.D. student, is it well common for them to assist other Ph.D. students technically? What other lab activities could the finishing Ph.D. students be involved in aside from lecturing?

Thanks

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    Of course it is. Why hoard knowledge to yourself?
    – Jon Custer
    May 23, 2023 at 19:59
  • but Ph.D. students should focus on their work and do it well enough first, or not?
    – Sam
    May 23, 2023 at 20:44
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    @Sam It sounds like maybe you have an XY problem question. What's the actual specific problem you're trying to solve? For example, if the problem is "I'm a graduate student about to graduate and I'm not going to be able to graduate on time because I'm spending all my time helping a new graduate student with their experiment" that's very different from the question in your title.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 23, 2023 at 20:51
  • Teaching others is a great way to solidify your knowledge. Not working well with others will not be good for your career in most areas. And that attitude of yours will come through quite clearly in interviews and it would be a definitive No Hire for me.
    – Jon Custer
    May 23, 2023 at 21:10

1 Answer 1

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Not only is it allowed, it's extremely common and a great idea. I'm working on a shared project with a group right now, and we have published many papers.

Consider that every paper with multiple authors is a collaboration, and there are many papers with 2 or more PhD students in the author list. Sometimes there is even "shared first authorship" where the researchers make it explicit that each first author gave roughly equal contribution.

Also, consider that often PhD students with more experience will assist those with less in research, lab work, and other PhD tasks similar to how PhD students will assist undergraduates. There's even a term for this: mentorship (see other stack exchange questions like this one), and many universities (including the one I'm at now) have mentorship programs which match earlier students with later ones.

PhD students with more experience are especially able to help earlier PhD students; because they have more knowledge and experience both in their field and academia in general, yet unlike some professors they haven't forgotten their PhD research and experience or it hasn't become obsolete.


Note that there are a few exceptions where assistance is prohibited:

  • In the PhD thesis, most of the work is usually done alone. But even this isn't a full-out exception: collaboration with other students is perfectly acceptable as long as the others' contributions are explicitly stated, and most of the work is still original: see this ,this, and this question.
  • Obviously, any exams, or any coursework where collaboration is explicitly prohibited, since this is cheating.
  • Some research groups guard their work to prevent others from stealing credit, and the advisors may not want their students to collaborate. But this is frowned upon within the larger realm of academia, and I would consider it a big "red flag" that the group may be toxic.

Ultimately, before offering any assistance, you should ask your advisor and make sure they're aware. But I suspect in most cases they will say yes, if they don't actively encourage you to assist others and work on collaborative projects themselves.

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  • but some students made a lot efforts to gain their knowledge, wouldn't be just if every Ph.D. student deserved their position and the Ph.D. title and do the same to gain that knowledge instead of getting it for "free"?
    – Sam
    May 23, 2023 at 20:58
  • It is just, because even with assistance, all PhD students still have to make some sort of individual contribution. The point of a PhD is not to just put in work and effort, but to advance the field. If someone already discovered or invented something, there's not really a point in recreating it vs. learning from the first person. But if someone already discovered or invented something to get their PhD, the next person has to discover or invent something different (ideally, something which builds off the first discovery)
    – tarzh
    May 23, 2023 at 22:10
  • 'But this is frowned upon within the larger realm of academia, and I would consider it a big "red flag" that the group may be toxic.' lol
    – Sam
    May 24, 2023 at 0:39

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