To be a successful researcher requires an enormous amount of self-motivation. We recommend Ph.D. students read “What makes a good PhD student?” article on the Nature website for further information.
A working definition to critical thinking in our group is 'giving scientifically defensible reasons for whatever you choose to do and not to do and why it is this and not that in your research'. Developing critical thinking skill is the major focus of one’s PhD training if he/she hasn’t had it when starting. A satisfactory postdoc is supposed to have possessed the critical thinking skill upon completion of his/her PhD. With the critical thinking capability, one is able to comfortably defense every details of his/her research from all possible angles and address challenges from his/her critics with confidence.
Our group's philosophy in critical thinking skill development: our group members are very tough and we assume that you are wrong until you convince us otherwise. In the group, we encourage the group members to challenge each other at scientific level during regular meetings and daily interactions. We challenge ourselves and each other ‘why’, ‘why not’ and ‘how’ in every statement we make, every sentence we read in the literature, every seemingly trivial procedure we take, every result we present, every conclusion we draw in our research. Challenges continue on until we have made ourselves clearly understood. By pushing ourselves and each other very hard to a corner, we ‘force’ ourselves and each other to think the research through and critical thinking skill gradually evolves out of this process.
Are you ready to publish? I am sometimes puzzled by the situation where some students ask to write a manuscript to publish their research findings when they are still at an early stage of understanding basic concepts of the field. They fail to realize the seriousness of getting their results in the public domain and being judged by the experts in the world. Here is what I have in my mind regarding when one is ready to publish: (1) when you fully understand the field (however small it might be); (2) when you have original and good results; (3) when you can confidently and comfortably defend things related to the research project scientifically; (4) as the first or co-first authors, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure the accuracy of every sentence on the manuscript you write. Scientific accuracy is the life to a successful research, so if you have difficulty in defending your research and thus in assuring its accuracy, you are not ready to publish. Go back and work on your critical thinking skill patiently. Only when you start taking this responsibility on your shoulder, you make a stride in becoming an independent researcher and critical thinker, which is what the society expects from you when you walk out of your PhD program.
We encourage the group members to interact with each other often. We believe one is more inspired while working around the group at our workplace. Intellectual, physical, and spiritual isolation is always a big enemy of a great research. Cultivate your team spirit by sharing with other group members your knowledge, ideas, know-how, constructive criticisms, and even your problems, concerns, worries and this is how we work as a team.