Habits of Successful Higher Ed Doctoral Students

I recently moved to a new apartment and as I was unpacking I came across my notes from last year’s NASPA Doctoral Seminar in Chicago. One page of notes is from a panel discussion where faculty discussed habits and traits of successful doctoral students. Carney Strange moderated the session but I don’t remember or have written down the names of all of the faculty on the panel. I know Deborah Liddell was on the panel because I specifically noted a quote from here. I think George Kuh was also on the panel and I only remember that because he was a faculty member at my institution and the director of the research center at which I worked.

The most successful Higher Education doctoral students…

  • Read
  • Write
  • Read others’ dissertations
  • Keep a writing journal or log
  • Treat their education like a job, including scheduling reading and writing (this tip was aimed particularly at part-time students)
  • Know their motivation(s)
  • Do the damn thing e.g. don’t read about writing a dissertation, just sit down and write it
  • Know that doctoral studies is not about their capabilities; everyone admitted to a doctoral program is capable of completing it
  • Remembers that “it’s just a place to develop habits”
  • Asks questions
  • Knows that “it’s about how you lean into life” and life still goes on outside and beyond their studies
  • Are willing to stick their feet in the water without knowing what will happen e.g. take risks, display trust
  • Know that their dissertation is not their life’s work
  • “Wrestle [their] perfection to the ground” – Deborah Liddel, University of Iowa
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