Today, I read Philip Guo’s e-book The Ph.D. GrindIt’s completely free (just visit the link and download) and it’s fairly easy reading, so one should be able to finish in about an hour or two. After reading it, I was both enlightened and impressed. The book seemed to accomplish its goals: provide a clear — but not overly detailed — account of a computer science graduate student’s journey to obtain a Ph.D. (Philip Guo was a Ph.D. student at Stanford University.) One of the reasons why I like it is that the author included many examples of how he struggled during his first three years of his Ph.D. program, and more importantly, why those struggles occurred. By the end of the book, I was pondering to myself: can I avoid the pitfalls he encountered, and intelligently grind away at a publishable project? As you can tell, some amount of “grinding” is necessary; otherwise, you’ll never make any progress. But if you go entirely on the wrong track — that is, if you’re working hours and hours by yourself on a famous professor’s project without any direction — that’s not a good idea.

Possibly more than anything else, The Ph.D. Grind taught me the value of (at least initially) working with assistant professors and postdoctoral researchers. The reason is quite simple.

They are the ones under the most pressure to publish.

The assistant professor needs to publish for tenure; the postdoc needs to publish to get an assistant professorship. Now, that’s not to say a Ph.D. student should never pick a tenured professor to be an advisor … it’s just that the student might want to be part of a research group that’s composed of at least one non-tenured faculty.

Some of my quick thoughts after reading this book include:

  1. I absolutely, positively want to get a graduate fellowship.
  2. I should talk with all assistant professors at whatever university I’m at (for graduate school) and offer my services.
  3. I cannot, unless circumstances are extremely unexceptional, work all day on a project
  4. Aim for top-tier conference publications earlier; it makes the process of actually writing the thesis a formality.

To wrap things up, I recommend The Ph.D. Grind especially to undergraduates who are considering pursuing a Ph.D. in computer science. Again, it’s free and easy to read.