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







2 responses to “Habits of Successful Higher Ed Doctoral Students”

  1. Dr. Mark Taormino Avatar
    Dr. Mark Taormino

    I could not agree more with these statements. Each one offers tremendous insight. The one item that resonates with me is to treat the dissertation like a job. The dissertation process requires discipline and consistency. Keep plugging away. Every step in the process has value, even though at the time it might seem to make little sense. Also importantly, the dissertation is an academic process, not your life work, but will well prepare you for future pursuits. I am going to bookmark these points for future reference by doctoral students. These items are some of the most pointed, succinct, and meaningful recommendations I have come across that could benefit any doctoral student. I commend the practicality and wisdom!

  2. Kevin R. Guidry Avatar

    Thanks Mark! I must have thought it all good advice, too, because it’s relatively rare that I take detailed notes. There were some really smart, experienced faculty on that panel so I must have had high expectations. And it looks like they met those expectations. I’m happy this will be useful to others and I’m sure the faculty involved would be happy, too!

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