In the Department of Biostatistics we have a plaque inscribed with the names of exceptional students from past years. Early on in the academic program clearing the qualifying examinations and becoming a Ph.D. candidate is a relief and getting the award for the top scores in the examination means that one’s name is etched on the plaque. For a master’s student the equivalent is to be the best first year master’s student and/or a GSI with the best reviews. I did not make it in any of the categories!
I would assume that graduating either with a Master’s or Ph.D. degree from the topmost department in the nation would be considered successful, but success is an elusive term and often triggers various kinds of emotions and responses when posed to people.
After achieving Ph.D. candidacy there seems to be a unanimous sigh of admiration for those completing their thesis in under two years with several first authored journal articles. Recognition for one’s work through awards at conferences or espousal in peer reviewed journals is an acceptable measure of success. Students revel in the applause for clinching an award for the best paper and/or a travel grant to present it at popular statistical conferences – ENAR or JSM.
Some other intangible ways of measuring success include making lasting relationships with faculty or friends, networking with members in other departments and/or other universities. Personally the satisfaction of doing applied research that is useful and applied in common practice is highly fulfilling. My current thesis topic involves developing an adaptive method for determining the right dose to be administered for treatment of cancer. A doctor designing and conducting an actual clinical trial, to arrive at the right dosage, by incorporating my method would by far be the epitome of success in my field for me.