Why completing a PhD program is more about grit than anything else

A couple of years ago, I was asked to do a literature review on grit. I was to examine grit in relation to doctoral students’ persistence through challenging academic environments.

At the time, I was not familiar with Angela Duckworth’s research or the notion that something more than talent/innate ability or IQ could predict achievement.

What is grit?

Duckworth defines grit as perseverance and passion for long-term goals. That is, goals where the rewards are not immediate. Working toward an advanced degree, like the PhD, is an example of a goal where those who successfully attain the degree might have had to rely on grit.

While resilience may play a role in this trait, grit is about having passion and stamina to persist toward a very long-term goal, despite obstacles and the absence of immediate rewards.

The power of grit in working toward long-term goals

From talking to current students and recent graduates, I realize that getting a PhD is much more about grit than anything else. Those who hope to withstand the twists and turns of their doctoral experiences have to be resilient and self-efficacious.

Besides, if one loses passion for attaining their goal, working towards the goal becomes difficult to do. Without choosing to engage in the process, the goal will always seem further away the closer you get.

I’ve face some challenges in my first year of writing on this site. When I initially started learning about blogs, I realized very quickly that I did not know much about HTML, CSS, SEO, or traffic generation, topics that many successful bloggers understand.

The learning curve has been steep and, at times, daunting. While I am still learning a lot in these areas, the obstacles and little wins on the path to achieving a successful blog have motivated me to press on.

More on Grit

In her book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Duckworth explains that a gritty person is resilient, can consider their long-term goals, and possesses the drive to keep pushing despite setbacks.

Duckworth also suggests that to be gritty, you must cultivate a “growth mindset,” a concept coined by Stanford Psychologist, Carol Dweck, to describe people’s underlying beliefs about learning, talents, abilities, and intelligence. I write more about growth and fixed mindsets here.


My knowledge of the concepts of grit and growth mindset have given me a valuable perspective for working toward very long-term goals. Choosing to try again after setbacks is what I believe will allow me to revel in the small wins on my journey to accomplishing any goal.

With sustained passion, perseverance, and the belief that learning anything takes sustained effort, I’ll be able to set and achieve my long-term goals.

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