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Big Intellect, Little Discipline, Little Achievement

By Thomas J. Stanley on Sep 3rd, 2013 in Mentor's Corner

Here is a short piece about an interesting article published in The Chronicle of Higher Education, i.e. “Ph.D. Attrition: How Much is Too Much?”.  The subtitle of this article is indeed telling: A disturbing 50 percent of doctoral students leave graduate school without finishing.  How can this be possible?  The large majority of doctoral students were excellent undergraduate students and scored high to extremely high on qualifying aptitude tests such as the GRE.  As I mentioned repeatedly in The Millionaire Mind, GRE scores are highly correlated with analytic intellect. 


From my experience as a professor for over 20 years and mentoring many a PhD student, I have my own views about why students bail out of Ph.D. programs.  There are several reasons but I believe the most important is “lack of self discipline.”  As undergraduate these students were told specifically what to do, what to study, what tests they would take.  It was all programmed on the syllabus.  Later, in graduate school, these same students did well in terms of classroom assignments.  But when it came to proposing and completing a dissertation, many of these students were unable and possibly unwilling to do it on their own.  


Completing a dissertation is akin to being self employed.  In both instances, it is the individual who must allocate time and energy in the most productive way.  There is no job description or curriculum given by the employer.  Most of the millionaire next door types whom I have interviewed would not qualify for entrance into the typical PhD program.  They did not have A averages as undergraduates nor did they score big on standardized tests.  


Yet they had a great deal of self discipline which along with integrity are the most important ingredients in becoming economically successful. 

3 responses to “Big Intellect, Little Discipline, Little Achievement”

  1. Rich says:

    Great article Dr. Stanley. This is very true. I have had great success and I think self discipline has been a huge contributing factor.

  2. Ed Mills says:

    Great post. At best, I was an average undergraduate student who graduated a semester early despite my 2.0 g.p.a. Later I talked my way into grad school and earned 3 graduate degrees, but I didn’t think I was motivated enough to go for a PhD. My degrees have helped my teaching career and my self discipline and financial focus have helped my bottom line. I’m not the smartest or wealthiest guy around, but I’m very happy with my lot in life.

  3. Odai says:

    I’ve always been someone of above-average intelligence, the guy in school who didn’t have to study to get great grades. The problem is, this trained me to believe that I simply didn’t have to try as hard as others in life – but as we all know, school is not an accurate model of how the real world works.

    I struggled after graduating high school. I managed to immediately get a well-paying office job (what I thought I had wanted), and spent most of the money I was making.

    It’s been hard, but through much reading and personal reflection, I’ve slowly realized my mistakes and I’m teaching myself self-discipline. Wish me luck – I need it!

    (Note: I don’t want to sound like I’m blaming school for my mistakes. Everything I did wrong was 100% my choice, and my responsibility.)

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