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Defining success when you are a graduate student depends on your circumstances, which makes it critical to know what is in front of you and to be able to make early decisions about the path you will take. In Stephen Covey’s famous book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, habit number 2 is to begin with the end in mind. From a graduate student’s perspective, this means defining what success will look like.

For a PhD student who is striving to become an academic in an extremely competitive post-COVID market, this can mean publishing a minimum of three high-impact papers. Students may have to choose between aiming at higher status journals and meeting their program deadlines, while still balancing everything else. It’s the classic tenet of project management also known as the iron triangle or triple constraint that emphasizes the basic need to compromise. Expectations must be tempered to recognize time and effort, as well as factors, such as a pandemic, that are out of one’s control. That is why the thesis is a living document that can change, as can definitions of success.

Academic candidates will want to begin preparing early for a top postdoctoral fellowship. To achieve this, you must become recognized early in your training by publishing a first-authored high-impact paper midway through the thesis, followed by networking at meetings attended by potential postdoctoral mentors. Independent funding will also increase your attractiveness.

For a student who plans to transition to a non-academic position, the definition of success is fuzzier and can introduce more conflict into the supervisor-student relationship. While publishing three papers may still be desired, it may not be as important as experience, such as involvement in patents, policy, internships, spin-off companies, etc. Goals that students set should be supported by the supervisor they choose.

Recognizing that the resource and impact expectations of a thesis are largely fixed (i.e., low and high, respectively), project scope is directly proportional to the time a student commits to the project. Students should estimate how long they will commit to the thesis, and then plan the scope of their project in line with the funding they will likely have available. While supervisors largely think of thesis projects in terms of objectives and sub-objectives, it is important for the student to organize the objectives by time.

A Gantt chart helps map out project timing, thereby giving one a better appreciation of time commitments. I encourage students to develop a Gantt chart along with their thesis proposal and to present it at every committee meeting. The chart should include both thesis and non-thesis activities (coursework, professional development, seminars, meetings, time for writing, etc.) This sets the expectations of a thesis supervisory committee. If a student wants to complete an MSc thesis in two years, then they should declare it by presenting a timeline in their thesis proposal and refreshing their thesis supervisory committee’s memory at every meeting.

If plans must change because of unanticipated risks such as a pandemic, it is important to redefine the scope of the project and the timeline. This is part of the student’s stakeholder management experience. The student must engage their stakeholders (i.e., supervisor and supervisory committee members) about a change in plans.

The supervisory committee and graduate program director can also help to diffuse tension in expectations between the student and the thesis supervisor. A graduate student should cultivate excellent working relationships with stakeholders using both formal and impromptu progress reports and queries.

A labour market survey I recently conducted of 93 non-academic companies indicated project and stakeholder management as the top two missing skills amongst new graduate student employees. By practising these skills during the thesis, graduate students can position themselves as an attractive candidate to potential employers.

The other six habits in Stephen Covey’s book are: 1) Be proactive, 3) Put first things first, 4) Think win-win, 5) Seek first to understand then be understood, 6) Synergize, and 7) Sharpen the saw. Habits 1, 2 and 3 focus on self-mastery and moving from dependence to independence. This is exactly what a student is doing in graduate school. Habits 4, 5 and 6 are focused on teamwork and moving from independence to interdependence. This is postdoctoral training material, although many PhD students may be practising this in their individual training environments. Finally, Habit 7 is about

This column appeared in the November-December print issue of University Affairs magazine.

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While the global pandemic has hit many businesses, publishing - especially, ebooks - has seen a marked rise in sales. Even as hardcover and paperback sales picked up, the lockdown also saw audiobooks and ebooks make significant gains every single month.

And bookworms sure aren’t complaining. Also, which true-blue book lover would not want a free book or two, or even 20 for that matter? We take a look at some of the top ebook sites you can visit that would not make any dent in your budget.

Kindle Owners' Lending Library

You’ll need to be an Amazon Prime member to enter this magic land of hundreds of thousands of free Kindle books. Operating on the lines of a library, it only lets you borrow the book, not keep it. But there’s good news—there is no expiration on borrowed books.


Updated weekly, it’s a haven for fiction and non-fiction lovers. Each page of a particular book, be it paranormal, humour, or travel, gives a full description along with information such as for how long is the book available for a free download. Sometimes a link to the author’s website is also provided.

Project Gutenberg

With more than 57,000 free ebooks and no fee, it’s a book lover’s paradise. While the latest bestsellers may not feature here, there are more than enough classics to keep you company. The best part is that it supports almost all forms—ePu, HTML, Kindle and other simple text formats. And, did we say, we love that name?


This is undoubtedly the fastest way to access millions of ebooks. It has tied up with 30,000 public libraries in over 40 different countries. They also have a healthy collection of free audiobooks. Our grouse with this site? One needs a valid and active public library card or has to be a student to access the treasures.

Library Genesis

If you want ebooks, articles, magazines, and more, then this should be your stop. It indexes close to three million ebooks and 60 million articles. So you can actually spend a lifetime here and still you will probably not be done half with it. Word of advice: Know what you want before you venture into this ocean.

Open Library

It is an open-source project where the library catalogue is editable. It can thus help create a web page for any book published. With over one million free ebooks, the platform tries to keep up to its motto of ‘one web page for every book ever published’. To say that it is Alice’s Wonderland, would be an understatement.

Google eBookstore

If you have an Android device, you are in luck. On the Google eBookstore, all you need to do is go to the ‘Books’ section and select the ‘Free’ option. The huge collection features hundreds of classics, contemporary bestsellers and more. They are accompanied with reader reviews and ratings.


Established in 2004, the books here are mostly classic literature. Self-publishing authors also find a place. In case you don’t want to download a book, just read it online. Books are available in PDF, ePUB, Mobi and similar other formats. They also have an article section with book reviews.


Searching for a particular educational textbook or business book? Look no further. Easy to navigate, the site claims to have over 75 million downloads every year. With low-cost education as their calling card, they work with industry experts to create high-quality reading material

This article was previously published in Newindianexpress.

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