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The Most Important Trait a Doctoral Student Needs to Have

If you are a doctoral student, you know what a rigorous journey earning your doctorate can be.

Doctoral degree programs are a very different world from undergraduate and master’s degree programs, and require different skills in order to be successful. With each milestone, you are challenged in new ways as you work to create information that informs your discipline while maintaining high levels of academic thought and scholarly writing.

The hard truth is that only about 50 percent of students who enroll in any doctoral program actually finish their degrees. Some get stuck on the comprehensive exam (COMPS); others struggle with identifying a gap in research or filling that gap during the dissertation process. So how do people get through it? When some crash and burn or simply stop swimming, what is it about others that enables them rise above and live to synthesize another day?

To answer these questions, we turned to some of Northcentral University’s best and brightest minds. If you didn’t already know, all of NCU’s faculty members hold doctoral degrees. They’ve been in the doctoral race and they know what it takes to finish. Here’s what some of them had to say:

Honestly, two of the most important characteristics a successful doctoral candidate needs to have are tenacity and flexibility. In a doctoral program, you must select and complete a long-term research agenda. This means you have to learn how to do research and all that entails, including working closely with your chair, communicating results, finding your way around obstacles, dealing with some anxiety, and sometimes navigating academic politics. The hard truth is that a dissertation usually takes a few years to complete and often requires candidates to work through problems that arise, change their plans, and stick with it when things get tough. If you are not tenacious about working on the dissertation and overcoming unexpected challenges and obstacles, or flexible when it comes to making changes that are designed to increase the academic quality of your dissertation, you won’t finish.”      

Dr. Greg Bradley, Dean, The Graduate School

One needs to be driven, relentless, tenacious, and have a passion for research. Research should be viewed as necessary vs. a necessary evil to get a PhD for the sake of getting a PhD. If you don’t like research, then you will not enjoy the journey.”  

Dr. Greg Hickman, Full-Time Dissertation Chair

“I believe the most important trait is humility. Simply put—the ability to accept criticism and then learn and grow from it.”  

Dr. Heather Frederick, Vice President of Academic Affairs

No matter where you are in your doctoral journey, you’ve probably already faced a challenge or two. But remember, if earning a doctorate was easy—everyone would have one! Your level of responsibility and accountability will only continue to increase throughout your career, and the dissertation process is your opportunity to begin that transition to scholarly independence.

In your experience, what trait has been or was the most important for you during your doctoral journey? Share with your fellow candidates, alumni and prospective doctoral students in the comments section! 

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Daphne Phillips #

    Tenacity and family support

    June 16, 2013
  2. Love the words of “Dr. Greg Hickman”. Yes, if you love to research nothing else will be a problem for you.

    July 17, 2013
  3. The ability to gut it out when things are tough and you feel overwhelmed.

    July 26, 2013
  4. right, here half of my friends quit their doctoral education. really hard to finish

    September 2, 2013
  5. Tim #

    Family and friends. Its also important not to put too much pressure on yourself

    March 28, 2014

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