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I'm close to finishing my PhD and I'd like to evaluate the quality of my PhD. I'm doing my PhD in the field of software engineering at a Central European university. My PhD thesis consists of published conference papers and a synopsis. I first-authored two papers in the top conference of my field and I also had a few other papers.

The problem now is that I'm unsure how good of a PhD this actually is. My PhD thesis gets graded, but I noticed that every PhD student gets something between the very best and the second best grade, independent of the quality of his/her work.

If I can't rely on the grade, and if I can't compare the number of publications to other PhDs, how can I best and honestly assess the quality of my own PhD?

  • In my field, we do not grade the thesis. The number and quality of publications implicitly reflects how good your thesis is. To your "how can I best and honestly assess the quality of my own PhD?", I would say time will tell. – The Guy Apr 14 '16 at 16:51
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    "first-authored two papers in the top conference of my field + a few other papers" seems just about right for rightfully deserving a (good) PhD in CS. Now you have to follow through with equally good publications in the next year(s). There are CS people with better publication records than you during their PHD. There are also many people with worse. How does that information help you? – Alexandros Apr 14 '16 at 16:55
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    I have a feeling this question is really asking "How do I convey my excellence in a culture of everyone getting a top mark. What other metrics are there?" – Wetlab Walter Apr 15 '16 at 11:06
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You can't.

Probably this is a bit strong, but I think that in general you can not grade or judge your own thesis or assess its quality in any way. You are hopefully very critical with yourself and this is good. Your advisor and others referees for your thesis can and will grade your thesis and should provide a report which you may be able to read (depending on the local regulations) . If you need a more detailed feedback, ask these people some time after your defense (not directly after your defense - after passing it's time to party...).

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    But as a first approximation: Ask your advisor. (Prerequisite: Have an honest and well-informed advisor.) – JeffE Apr 14 '16 at 22:48
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It is correct to a large extent that you cannot objectively judge the quality of your thesis. There are some soft indicators like, do you get invited to talk at other universities, do you get queries regarding your papers, etc. But these are often dependent on extraneous things like whether your adviser is "marketing" your work in his/her peer-group, whether you happen to be working on the "hot" problem in your area, etc.

When I was worried about a similar question during my PhD, a senior researcher told me that a good thesis not only solves a problem that a few people care about, but also levels the "neighbourhood" of the problem to make further progress possible. This requires making connections with other problems that are somewhat outside the scope of, but related to, your immediate results. It may also entail demonstrating "meta-properties" of your results. This helps interesting results gather traction, and is also independently a sign of research well conducted.

Finally, if you think that after your PhD you are unlikely to remain in a position to market your results (e.g. you don't plan a Postdoc, and no one else in your lab is going to carry your work forward, and your results are not already the talk of the town), then it's quite likely that your thesis and papers will not be cited a lot. Don't let that influence what you think about the quality of your work.

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