Here's what Highly Cited Researchers look for in PhD students

Our Highly Cited Researchers 2020 announcement is fast approaching. In anticipation of this prestigious event, where we celebrate the exceptional performance of some of the most cited researchers on the planet, we reached out to some of the researchers named in previous years. We asked them what qualities they look for most in a PhD student.

Here’s what they said…


“A doctoral student with a desired profile is one who is motivated, proactive and who has more doubts than certainties. I believe that the doctorate is a special moment in the career of a scientist, where the student has a ‘poetic license‘ to learn and make mistakes without constraints. It is also one of the most important moments of the career, when networking opportunities will begin to be established and when the first publications will be produced. Because of this ,  for  the success to be ideal, an ideal doctoral student must be involved and dedicating themselves exclusively to their project and course.”

A. Brunoni, Associate Professor – Medical School, University of São Paulo, Brazil 



“Deep vocation for the chosen area, discipline to learn from mistakes and to study and read. They need a critical spirit and open mind to always learn, as well as patience to understand that the leaps and advances are small and sometimes imperceptible. They should value and admire qualities that [they] don’t have but that other team members of the group possess, as well as simplicity, honesty and humility. They also need an inexhaustible spirit to learn.”

J.  Crossa, Biometrics and Statistics Unit, International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Mexico 



“Perseverance, organization and self-motivation. Being hardworking and intelligent is important but throughout my career so far, I have seen super-intelligent students having a hard time organizing themselves, losing their focus and getting demotivated by problems. A Ph.D. is typically a long and hard commitment.  Those who have persistence can manage the stress, and those who keep motivated tend to be more successful.”

B. Suzek, Assistant Professor – Computer Engineering, Mugla Sitki Kocman University, Turkey



“I generally appreciate people that never give up and never stop trying. I look for PhD students that are passionate about research and hungry for knowledge. Motivation is priceless, and hard work beats talent every time.”

C. Galanakis, Professor – College of Science, King Saud University, Saudi Arabia



“It is very important that a PhD student has a passion for research. Teamwork and collaboration with other researchers are also essential conditions for a PhD student. Moreover, good communication and English skills can also make the student more efficient for doing good research.”

WH  Chen, Faculty – Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, National Cheng Kung University, Taiwan



“High level of basic knowledge, strong motivation in science, self-responsibility, and skills complementary to my scientific expertise.”

E. Blagodatskaya, Researcher – Institute of Physico-Chemical and Biological Problems in Soil Science, Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia



“Curiosity, passion and dedication. Structured thinking combined with intelligence can drive students successfully in research and science. Students and young scientists must be stubborn and perseverant in their work and not afraid of failures. Actually disappointments, along with the continuous assessment in academia by peers, is a very unique path through which all scientists pass again and again. The young researchers need to equip themselves and learn how to get out of these evaluations, failures and disappointments even stronger. Systematic work, focus, ability to be selective in one’s tasks, critical thinking, creativity, ability for problem solving and teamwork are important qualities for success. I also believe that it takes different types of qualities to excel, whatever your background and intended profession. Not everything is about ‘traditional intelligence’.”

D.  Fatta-Kassinos, Associate Professor — Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Cyprus (Cyprus) 



“Hard work is the only thing that will enable young people to achieve success. It involves daily work on yourself, on your professional progress in your education, in your methodological arsenal – in other words, in everything. Sooner or later, the work will reward the researcher with scientific flair, intuition and professionalism, and finally, with the recognition of the professional society.”

S.  Allakhverdiev, Professor — College of Science, King Saud Universtiy, Saudi Arabia



“First of all, a sense of responsibility, professional ethics and commitment. In addition, the important characteristics are:  scientific curiosity, proactivity, the ability to organize ideas (verbal and written) and work in groups.”

M. C. Azeredo, Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuaria (Embrapa) Brazil



“Passion for research and intelligence. Without passion, it is difficult to contribute in research. That’s because you need to devote many hours and be an expert in your field. And I also think that this is about having original ideas and being able to understand many complex things.”

J.  Maria Haro Abad, Visiting professor, Psychology Department, King Saud University, Saudi Arabia



“What matters the most for me is not what a person can accomplish, but whether that person tries their best. Honesty and ethics are other important qualities.”

M. Okyay Kaynak, Adjunct Professor, King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Saudi Arabia



“I hope that a PhD student could be cheerful, curious, hard-working, resilient and work well as a team. Two key things to being a researcher in my opinion are teamwork and management.”

– J. Miguel Rodriguez, Professor – Engineering Faculty, Universidad Andres Bello, Chile



“This is simple, just two things: good background and eyes bright for science.”

Y. Kuzyakov, Agricultural Sciences, King Saud University, Saudi Arabia



“A PhD student should have a good and friendly personality, be eager to learn and super interested in the topic. Chemistry can be taught, personality cannot and we need pleasant and collaborative people to work as a group.”

M. Pumera, Professor – King Saud University, Saudi Arabia



“Motivation, solid background and the will to work very hard.”

P. Artaxo, Professor – Institute of Physics, University of São Paulo, Brazil


Discover more about our Highly Cited Researchers