Quora Greatest Hits - What are common stages that PhD student researchers go through with their thesis project?

I have been posting on Quora since April of 2014, earning top writer status in 2017 and 2018 and running up, as of this writing, 5.6 million views by Quora readers.

While many of my posts are of limited interest, I'm inordinately proud of some of them.  With this post I will begin retrieving some of my particular favorites from Quora and reposting them here on my blog.

There is some fun history behind this particular post.  Back when I was a grad student at CMU back in the 1980s I was friendly with Jeff Schrager, a fellow grad student at the time, and he posted a hilarious item in, as I recall, rec.humor.funny, an early netnews group.  The item was titled "How Many AI People Does It Take To Change A Lightbulb" and I admired it so much that I tracked it down and put it up on this blog some years ago (https://nygeek-blog.blogspot.com/2010/05/how-many-ai-people-does-it-take-to.html).

Several years ago someone posted the question, "What are common stages that PhD student researchers go through with their thesis project?

In a fey mood I dashed off a silly tongue-in-cheek answer built around the classic five stages of grief augmented with two PhD-specific additions.  To my surprise and delight, it became my most popular post, attracting, as of this writing, 145K views and over 800 upvotes.  If I had realized how popular it would become I would have put more care into the writing.  In this blog post you can see the post as I should have written it.  If you want to see what I actually posted, take a look at the original on Quora.

What are common stages that PhD student researchers go through with their thesis project?

[1] Enthusiasm,

“This is the greatest thesis topic ever. My thesis advisor is brilliant, and I’m even more brilliant. I will receive a Nobel Prize for this work soon after I defend my thesis.”

[2] Disillusion,

“This problem is impossible. Worse yet, it’s uninteresting and unimportant. My advisor is a moron. I’m a complete fraud. I wonder when they’ll take me to the guillotine.”

[3] Denial,

“What do you know about anything? Your criticism of my thesis proposal is completely wrong.”

[4] Anger,

“How dare you criticize my research plan! What are you even doing at this university?”

[5] Bargaining,

“Look, can we revise my thesis proposal so that I don’t actually have to show any results?”

[6] Depression, and

“My head hurts. I’m so tired all the time. Don’t look at me that way.”

[7] Acceptance.

“I am making steady progress. I have a few preliminary results that I like, and I have submitted a working paper to a conference where I hope that I will be able to get some advice from some of the leaders in the field. I expect to finish my thesis within five or ten more years.”


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