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  • Writer's picturePepe Bonet

Top Spanish Scientist on the 8 Rules for a PhD

You know, I am lucky to have such a significant figure in my life as my dad. When I wrote the last blog on the 8 Rules for a Ph.D., he said he would come back with some comments based on his experience. He did, and I would love to share the experience of one of the best mathematicians in Spain and the most important person in my life during the last years. Here he goes:

"As I said, I liked your post a lot, and I am sure that it could help young people starting their thesis with members of our research group. Your eight rules are down-to-earth, reasonable, and could make for a more fruitful and pleasant Ph.D. journey.

It is crucial to understand that the Ph.D. is a long-distance race. The Ph.D. period is not only about completing your thesis as best as possible, but wisely using the time to learn as much as possible, get to know interesting people, and analyze what you like to prepare yourself as best as you can for the future. Never in the academic or professional life, after the dissertation, one has as much freedom, time, and opportunities as during it. The worst mistake a Ph.D. student can make is not working hard enough, not learning about related topics, and not taking advantage of all that the group, the department, the institute, or the university had to offer. On the contrary, if they do that, they have the chance to get more complete education, and in the future, give better lectures, have better job opportunities or be a better person.

You already know my passion for the famous sentence of Epicuro: "Of all the things which wisdom provides to make life entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship." To use the time of such an intellectual and personal adventure to make friends is a gift. Those friends, if you are lucky, will last for the rest of your life, and they will positively change your journey.

To do scientific research is compelling to love what you do. First, because you spend a lot of time on it, effort and suffering, the result is not always the desired, and it does not come when you want. Therefore, it is necessary to enjoy the small achievements. One should assess them properly, and one cannot see everything as trivial as it may lead to demotivation. And motivation is essential to keep working, even when things are not working out. Also, the support from family and friends can be fundamental.

Of all the things which wisdom provides to make life entirely happy, much the greatest is the possession of friendship

It is also true that one should not compare against other people. There will always be people better than you. There is no need to admire them or envy them. Being yourself and your continuous progress is what matters. Nevertheless, one should compare against him or herself. What do I mean? It is indispensable to feel that one is improving daily, weekly, or monthly. Enjoy the journey more than the accomplishments and, of course, be patient because there are always delays, mistakes, collaborators or bosses that do not have time, or reviewers that do not do their work.

When I did my Ph.D. thesis, everything was different. Research in pure mathematics is fundamentally an individual activity. Thus, the Ph.D. was supposed to be done alone and with barely any contact with your supervisor. I completed a good thesis, learned and studied several related things on my own, and made several friends that I helped all I could with their Ph.Ds. All the hard work paid off for later research and collaborations with many people across different countries.

Perhaps your eight rules could have been helpful to me at the time, but I was lucky. I was privileged between 1977 and 1980. I read my thesis on the 6th of June in 1980, when I was 24 years old. I had an excellent thesis supervisor. I was part of an elite Spanish group in mathematics that allowed me to meet top international researchers and work with them later. Those three years helped me understand positive and negative things, which were essential when building my research group, learning how to supervise Ph.D. students, and the path to building intelligent students.

The essential thing of the journey is to improve every day and be happy with yourself.

Back to your rules: The journey made me aware of my passions and scientific interests, I learned a lot, and I took advantage of what the group offered. I became an independent researcher, celebrated my progress and successes, and understood that I had to be ambitious, publish more and better, and work with complicated and original topics. I pushed myself and never competed against my supervisor or friends, had patience (despite the difficulties at times), and things worked out. I contacted one of the international researchers I met, which became one of my dearest friends, and with whom I published some interesting articles. I got a permanent position in the Universitat Politècnica de València at 28 years old and became a full professor at 31. Time flies. I did my entry speech to the Royal Academy of Sciences 13 years ago. I have been lucky in my professional life. A few things that I would like to work out did not. For some others, it was a blessing that they failed. It does not matter. As you and I know: This is like football, you cannot always win. The essential thing is to improve every day and be happy with yourself.

A hug! Dad!"

I have not much more to add. I think that this could be useful to anybody going through any challenging process, and of course, especially on the way to achieving a Ph.D. In my humble opinion, as mentioned, the goal is to enjoy the journey and be happy with what you do. It will undoubtedly make a difference.

On a different note, I achieved my 2021 resolution of reading 30 books. I will post another blog about reading soon, but for now here are the top 5 books of the last 2 months of the year:

Top 5 books of November-December

  1. The Usefulness of the Useless. Nuccio Ordine

  2. Chaos Monkeys. Antonio García Martínez

  3. Atomic Habits. James Clear

  4. The hard thing of hard things. Ben Horowitz

  5. Rework. Jason Fried & Heinemeier Hansson

Thank you for reading the blogs, and feel free to follow me on Twitter if you want to know more about me.

From a friend,


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