Thursday, July 12, 2012

Stanford Student's PhD Memoir Worth Reading

Philip Guo's Ph.D. Memoirs have spread like wildfire, and for good reason.  His well written short book offers a fascinating look into life as a grad student at Stanford while offering some really valuable advice for those of us still in the trenches.

Con-grad-ulations!
Con-grad-ulations! / marceloilers

Guo describes how he started his PhD years grinding on his supervisor's project with little benefit in terms of research outcomes that could contribute to his thesis.  Internships helped him recover from burn-out, gave him some research inspiration, and provided valuable contacts.

In the latter years, he decided to define his own project. Though not his main interest, Guo's supervisor was supportive of the idea.  Guo was also able to find other academics whose interests and obligations aligned with his project, helping ensure success.  He graduated after six years and is now working for Google.

I really enjoyed reading this because it helps to know that even students of this calibre struggle.  One of the key takeaways for me was to make sure I align myself with my professor's needs.  For instance, he needs a student to be part of a particular story-related project for a research network he's part of, so I should try to make my own project fit into that framework.  Another useful tip was to work with the insiders of a particular sub-field to make your chances of getting into top-tier conferences higher; the insiders know what reviewers want and can pitch the research appropriately.

I highly recommend you read this memoir if you are a grad student or thinking of becoming one.  But if you're short on time, look at the twenty most memorable lessons in the epilogue.  I'd love to hear which tips resonate most with you.

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