Philip Guo (Phil Guo, Philip J. Guo, Philip Jia Guo, pgbovine)

The Ph.D. Grind

A Ph.D. Student Memoir
The Ph.D. Grind, a 115-page e-book, is the first known detailed account of an entire Ph.D. experience.

This book is free, but you can support it via Patreon, PayPal, or credit/debit card.


This book chronicles my six years of working towards a Ph.D. in Computer Science at Stanford University from 2006 to 2012. A diverse variety of people can benefit from reading it, including:

  • undergraduates who might be interested in pursuing a Ph.D.,

  • current Ph.D. students who are seeking guidance or inspiration,

  • professors who want to better understand Ph.D. students,

  • employers who hire and manage people with Ph.D. degrees,

  • professionals working in any creative or competitive field where self-driven initiative is crucial,

  • and educated adults (or precocious kids) who are curious about how academic research is produced.

The Ph.D. Grind differs from existing Ph.D.-related writings due to its unique format, timeliness, and tone:

  • FormatThe Ph.D. Grind is a memoir for a general educated audience, not a “how-to guide” for current Ph.D. students. Although Ph.D. students can glean lessons from my experiences, my goal is not to explicitly provide advice. There are plenty of how-to guides and advice columns for Ph.D. students, and I am not interested in contributing to the fray. These articles are filled with generalities such as “be persistent” and “make some progress every day,” but an advantage of the memoir format is that I can be concrete and detailed when telling my own story.

  • Timeliness – I wrote The Ph.D. Grind immediately after finishing my Ph.D., which is the ideal time for such a memoir. In contrast, current Ph.D. students cannot reflect on the entirety of their experiences like I can, and senior researchers who attempt to reflect back on their Ph.D. years might suffer from selective hindsight.

  • Tone – Although it's impossible to be unbiased, I try to maintain a balanced tone throughout The Ph.D. Grind. In contrast, many people who write Ph.D.-related articles, books, or comics are either:

    • successful professors or research scientists who pontificate stately advice, adopting the tone of “grad school is tough, but it's a delectable intellectual journey that you should enjoy and make the most of ... because I sure did!

    • or bitter Ph.D. graduates/dropouts who have been traumatized by their experiences, adopting a melodramatic, disillusioned, self-loathing tone of “ahhh my world was a living hell, what did I do with my life?!?

    Stately advice can motivate some students, and bitter whining might help distressed students to commiserate, but a general audience will probably not be receptive to either extreme.

Finally, before I begin my story, I want to emphasize that there is a great deal of diversity in Ph.D. student experiences depending on one's school, department, field of study, and funding situation. I feel very fortunate that I have been granted so much freedom and autonomy throughout my Ph.D. years; I know students who have experienced far more restrictions. My story is only a single data point, so what I present might not generalize. However, I will try my best to avoid being overly specific. Happy reading!

Philip Guo
June 2012

The best way to read this book is by downloading the 115-page PDF and then printing it out or reading it on an electronic device.

If you have a Kindle (or similar device), you can download the MOBI e-book version. If you have a Nook, iBooks reader, or another EPUB reader, you can download the EPUB version. However, neither of these formats look as polished as the PDF.

Alternatively, you can also read it in your web browser by following these chapter links:

Finally, if you want a 10–20 minute summary of the book, read The Ph.D. Grind: tl;dr Edition.

Here are some notable comments from readers. (Note that “CS” stands for Computer Science.)

“You've done a good job of explaining just what this thing called PhD actually is, and that is a service to the world, both to people contemplating entering a PhD program, and for those who have to deal with the products of a program ...”
- Director of Research, Google

“Phil Guo's short online book, The PhD Grind, is the best description of the modern PhD experience in CS that I know of. People working on, or thinking about working on, a PhD in CS should read it.”
- Associate Professor of Computer Science, University of Utah (read his complete blog post)

“I think this is the first full, detailed, and honest account of an entire PhD that I have ever read. Worth reading for first/second year students: sometimes the anecdotal can make a longer-lasting impression than the usual parade of rarefied generic advice one usually finds.”
- Ph.D. student in Control and Dynamical Systems, Caltech

“I sent it to my grandmother, and she is really enjoying it. I am the first person in my family to get a PhD, so she had a lot of questions about the process, many of which your memoir was able to answer so that I did not have to. :)”
- Ph.D. student in Computer Science, UC Santa Cruz

“From a prospective CS grad student,
I was already up programming much later than I wanted to be tonight, and just happened upon your PHD memoir on the internet. I read the entire thing without stopping. It's now 5AM and I have to be awake in a few hours, but I don't regret it at all. Thank you for writing The PHD Grind.”
- Undergraduate student, University of New South Wales

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Created: 2012-06-29
Last modified: 2012-07-16