Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Importance of Proactivity for Success in PhD Programs, Entrepreneurship, and in Life

Today, I've decided to discuss proactivity and why it is important for success. I've created a YouTube video blog entry on that subject that you can watch while reading this blog.

Here's the take away: Having passion is necessary for success, but it is insufficient to guarantee success. Passion is what drives you, and proactivity gets the job done.

As a PhD student, there are many situations that require you to be proactive:
  • Your research project: Your advisor may give you a project, but he won't do it for you.
  • Qualifier exams: The department sets the requirements, but you need to prepare and practice.
  • Your thesis proposal: You must figure out what research you will do to finish your PhD
  • Your thesis: You need to write it yourself.
Of course, you can talk to your PhD advisor about all these things and more, and he/she will gladly give you advice. However, you need to keep notes, make a schedule, do the required studying / research, and follow up with your advisor. If your research involved building hardware, you might need to speak with hardware vendors every now and then. Email is a good start, but you might need to call and speak with an actual engineer because sometimes the part you need is not standard and may take considerable effort for the vendor to deliver.

I also explain that proactivity applies to starting your own business (i.e., entrepreneurship). In a previous post, I explained that being an engineering PhD student is like being an entrepreneur. If you intend on staying in academia and becoming a professor after graduating, I feel that it is important for you to know how to be an entrepreneur. Engineering professors must fund their own students by writing successful grant proposals and develop a network of connections at various granting agencies. It is much like an entrepreneur who develops connections that turn into sales leads: Your connections in granting agencies can help you get your grant proposals approved. In addition, some professors start their own businesses and need to propose their business plans to venture capitalists and angel investors. You must be proactive and a go getter in order to succeed in these situations. Being passive and hoping things will come your way just won't work. You've got to push and follow up.

I hope that this advice helps you. I wish you good health and success in everything that you do.


Jonathan Becker
ECE PhD Candidate
Carnegie Mellon University