Congratulation. You are accepted to the department of your interest. Every one is with full of hope and aspiration at the entrance. But there are significant hurdles ahead before you clear all tasks. Many of you may start thinking about writing a book about your phd life before you even know your prospective supervisor, so please put your pen aside, for a moment. You do not want to write about how your phd life sucks and most of the time it does.
phd is relatively easy when
1) you already have done MSc in a similar topic,
2) you know the prospective supervisor well,
3) you know the group member,
4) you already know the academic system you are in,
5) you know how to complain when you think professors are wrong — your appeal will likely to fail at the first attempt but in future you will get benefit. See below for detail,
6) you are willing to quit against non-sense; patience and perseverance are keys for success in a phd and you need a bagful of them. But, you do not have to accompany a suicide mission which you see heading to a blackhole; nothing will save you if you wait too long.
6) you have already spent years in school in English — if I knew English as much as I do know, my school life was much simple. The time required to get used to English is over 5 years. For a phd, you may notice your phd defence is much easier than the first seminar you have to make in your department. Knowing English makes life easier but that is not sufficient.
7) you know the subject, skills of trade, mathematics and programming.
8) you know when to quit — some phd does not deserve your time and effort.
9) you know how to ignore the advice of others; you listen then ignore or forget. You never know what’s coming and if others can foretell your future, you may as well quit the predictable future and do something more exciting.
10) you know science and engineering are all about unknowns;
11) you know your supervisor may pass away, go insane or be kicked out from school; they are human and under pressure harder than you think. Also some ones you rely on may leave to seek a better position (a department head of another school, e.g.) because they are competent.
12) I have not discussed about my undergraduate, master and phd in detail. I think my study became progressive easier as I learnt the system and tricks to avoid pit holes and my English skill become more acceptable. This is not surprising because my undergraduate was nothing but a disaster in many ways. Language skill is very important but academic and research skills are more important for a phd. But, a phd depends so much on luck which you have no control.
In the phd program, you are likely to find some thing more interesting things in your life than your phd research. So at the end of the phd, you are likely to focus on something else.
More on 5) Professors are often wrong about your study once you already master your topic. Your research should be specialized, so only handful of people understand it — often your supervisor and committee do not necessarily understand your research. They often see the topic in their own biased view. Ignore profs you do not agree with and replace them from your committee, if necessary. This should be always possible. It is good for you and them. You can just replace one without their consent: it is a matter of conflict of interest. Usually they are happy to be removed since they do not have to waste their time.
All what I said depend on the regulations of the department. Know the rules, including all footnotes and exceptions, and use them for your benefit.
Some miscellaneous information:
1) A phd in European countries may be paid more but in general less opportunity.
2) Some professor call police to kick out his student to settle purely academic disputes at a university in Toronto. The case is still pending, which happened to my friend who almost finished his phd in 2 years and his supervisor offered him a job. Then the dispute over use of quantum mechanics in his thesis lead to the litigation. He might be the first student who proved quantum mechanics can lead to a jail.
3) A Chinese student was dismissed from the school after unsatisfactory rotations and TAs. Then he sued the school for racism. (Boston)
4) A student disrupted another student experiment caught in the security camera (Michigan)
5) A rather senior Japanese fellow with a family came to a master program. Unfortunately he was not successful and his kids could not adjust to new life. So his wife decided to go back home with teenage kids and later divorced. He became alcoholic and violent and left after 4 years without a degree. Canadian universities do not give out degree when a supervisor does not see any value in work.
6) My friend, a fellow at Harvard, got Japanese and Hungarian postdocs. Six months later they were let go. He decided that he would not take any Japanese postdoc unless they have sufficient English skill.
7) I saw many Japanese graduate exchange students from Kyoto U and Tottori U etc. They came for one year but I am not sure how much they gained from such an exchange program: no definite goal, and no definite gain. Well surely they had fun or get bored. I was a normal phd student and had no time. Individual Japanese students who came to North America were more serious; coming without any goal in a pack undermines the one of most important benefit of an exchange program — exploring a new world.
A good book abouta phd.
PhD is not Enough – VanderbiltAstro : A ph.d. is not enough: a guide to survival in science
http://blog.goo.ne.jp/kaneko0212 : An unfortunate example — failed to sustain minimum GPA
Some of my graduate school related blogs:
The great PhD scam: Jordan Ellenberg
Problems that Japan faces today (Hisashi Kobayashi)
At The Helm: A Laboratory Navigator
Confessions of a Tenured Professor — Peter D.G. Brown
Graduate schools in humanity: Just do not go?
MBA: a cash cow
ScienceCareers: Graduate school — Welcome To My Nightmare
A sweat shop for poor souls or a heavenly paradise (Graduate schools in Canada and USA） カナダ＆アメリカ大学院の一面： 天と地
Coming to a university in Canada and USA
Report: Chasing the Same Dream, Climbing Different Ladders