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True Grit: the PhD experience as a way of moving forward


It is an understatement to say that it takes persistence and endurance to get through grad school in the quest for a PhD. Years of research work will finally culminate into a doctoral thesis, the real evidence that you made it. Succeeding stems from hard work and stubbornness and not motivation or talent (even if they can play some part to). Basically, it takes grit and passion to move forward in this multi-year commitment with science. This perseverance and passion for long-term goals has namely been shown to be a significant predictor of academic success.

This is especially important today when science in many ways is under question and even under attack from populist politicians and certain parts of the public (anti-vaxxers, climate deniers etc.)

As put by the award-winning science journalist and author Laurie Garrett, it is important not to let your guard down. In the case of public health, hard-won victories over diseases like measles are increasingly tenuous as rising populism undermines trust in government and thus, public health, she argues. And here the PhD stubbornness can play a big role, since this quest for science is constantly on-going and never finished. Today, we move in an ever-evolving landscape where facts are being outed as fake, but the bright-side is the counter forces defending science. The March for Science movement and the Never Again movement are just two examples.

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago in our editorial blog post on recommended books to read this summer, we have seen a in my home country the unbelievable Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg who in less than a year has gone from being an anonymous 15 year old going on school strike to fight climate change to be a global phenomenon and deemed as one of the next generation leaders by Times Magazine and inspired the movement Fridays for Future. After meetings with thePope, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Barack Obama addressing the U.N. Climate Summit, the World Economic Forum, the British and the French Parliament. This month she will sail across the Atlantic (since flying is out of the question) to attend the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York in September. This straightforward message to adults to get their act together and take the necessary steps to handle the climate crisis she has also got a lot of push back from mainly right-wing populist politicians and media. But instead of letting this get under her skin, she has swiftly responded her critics. As ECRs, we can all take inspiration from this. The individuals and movements that work towards great societal challenges like climate change, gun control or academic freedom demands a long and serious commitment and grit not unlike the role of the researcher and the need to leave the ivory tower and stand up for science.


Laurie Garret summarizes it well in the case of public health:

“It’s a few steps up and then somebody knocks you down the stairs, and you start all over again, climbing.”


Featured image: obtained from Pixabay under Pixabay license, i.e. free for commercial use and no attribution required



Amanda Meade. (August 1, 2019). Greta Thunberg hits back at Andrew Bolt for ‘deeply disturbing’ column.The Guardian.

 Andreas Vilhelmsson. (October 15, 2018).Escape from the ivory tower: why sharing your knowledge with the surrounding society is more than a mission, it’s a necessity.PLOS Blogs: PLoS ECR Community.

Andreas Vilhelmsson & Meredith Wright Whitaker. (July 9, 2019). PLOS ECR Editorial Summer reading list. PLOS Blogs: PLoS ECR Community.

Andrew Bolt. (August 1, 2019). The disturbing secret to the cult of Greta Thunberg.Herald Sun.

Angela Duckworth et al. (2007). Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92(6), 1087-1101.

CBS/AP. (May 28, 2019). Teen climate activist Greta Thunberg meets with world leaders and “starstruck” Schwarzenegger.CBS News.

Charlotte Alter. (March 22, 2018). The School Shooting Generation Has Had Enough. Time.

Chris Mooney. (April 22, 2017). Historians say the March for Science is ‘pretty unprecedented’. Washington Post.

David Crouch. (September 1, 2018). The Swedish 15-year-old who’s cutting class to fight the climate crisis.The Guardian.

Emily Dixon. (April 24, 2019). Greta Thunberg meets the Pope after scolding EU leaders on climate change. CNN.

Ewan Palmer. (April 23, 2019). Barack Obama praises Greta Thunberg: I want to celebrate the courageous young leaders stepping up to save the one planet we’ve got. Newsweek.

France 24. (July 23, 2019). Young ecologist Greta Thunbergaddresses French parliament.FRANCE 24 with AFP.

Ivana Kottasova and Eliza Mackintosh. (January 25, 2019). Teen activist tells Davos elite they’re to blame for climate crisis. CNN.

John Sutter and Lawrence Davidson. (December 17, 2018). Teen tells climate negotiators they aren’t mature enough.CNN.

Judith Reichel. (August 31, 2018). Want to succeed in research? Passion is key!PLOS Blogs: PLoS ECR Community.

Lisa Freidman. (July 29, 2019). Greta Thunberg to Attend New York Climate Talks. She’ll Take a Sailboat.The New York Times.

Masha Gessen. (October 2, 2018). The Fifteen-Year-Old Climate Activist Who Is Demanding a New Kind of Politics.The New Yorker

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