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Study pinpoints secrets to a successful PhD


Doctoral students found to be more productive when they have mid-career female supervisors

A study has found that PhD students are more productive when they have a relatively inexperienced but productive mid-career female supervisor.

Meanwhile, students with supervisors with long mentoring experience or those in their early or late careers were not as scientifically productive, on average.

That is according to the study, published in the Research Policy journal, which analysed the entire PhD student population in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in France graduating between 2000 and 2014—more than 77,000 students.

The findings came amid “fierce competition for job positions available after the PhD”, driven by a huge rise in graduate student numbers in developed nations, but a slower rise in the number of high-skilled roles available to those students.

“The hyper-competition in the job market requires PhD students to focus on the outcomes with high value for recruiters, who select candidates showing a solid publication profile and a rich scientific network,” write the authors, led by Alberto Corsini from the Université Côte d’Azur in France.

They say that previous studies have often overlooked supervisors’ mentorship experience and fundraising ability, as well as the influence of peers’ characteristics during the student’s training period.

Their other findings on what makes for a successful PhD—defined as publication quantity, quality and co-authorship network size—include:

  • the supervisor’s fundraising ability at national and European level
  • having a small number of peers
  • having freshman peers who are highly cited.