Being criticised and criticise is a part and parcel of a scientist/ researcher life.

When I was starting my PhD studies I was warned by my Friend that I would be criticised very often. He said also very important thing – “remember that they criticise your work, ideas, papers, research etc., not you as a person. And treat this criticism as good advices of more experienced people, you can agree with that or not, but there is no need to treat it as a personal criticism.”

And this advice was crucial for my profession development – I am able to take criticism and think about it as a way to improve my work. We don’t know many things, we want to learn, and we can learn from all more experienced people. So if they criticise us it is a chance to learn from them. I believe that people can learn a lot from each other, so we should ask others to share with us their knowledge and experience. We need to expose our work and ideas for criticism if we want to do things better. In the beginning it can be difficult, we can be afraid of criticism, but after years we look forward to advices, remarks, comments. 

All we know – people criticise in different ways. It depends on personality, but also on cultural background. I know that I am not the best “critic” – I have some special “teacher mode” when I stop to be this nice, and smiling person, I am ruthless and I point out all imperfections 😛 I always try to give constructive criticism, and not only point out mistakes or shortcomings, but also to propose some possible solutions. My students from Bremen said me once that I should try to be nicer and more polite criticising them (I was very stiff and formal making my coments) and also try to notice strengths of their work/ papers (I was focused on weakness). Now I try to apply this advice when I criticise someone. 

As PhD students we should know that people can criticises us in a very rude way also, or some just criticise to criticise, without any proposition how to improve our work, some people just want to show that they are smarter, so they can try to show that we, as PhD students, know nothing. We should train our resistance to this kind of people  😉 

Based on my experience, I think that following rules are important when we criticise someone’s work:

  • Criticise a work not a person!
  • Be constructive – don’t say that something is bad if you cannot propose how to improve it, or where to look for information how to improve it
  • Be specific – don’t say “this idea/work is bad”, point out concrete elements of the idea/work which should be improved
  • Distinguish critique of the idea from critique of a form – sometimes after meeting with my supervisor I had this mixed feelings that I didn’t know if my PhD project proposal (as an idea) is hopeless or just a way how I wrote and present it (as a form) is unclear
  • Try to also find something positive in the work and point out its strengths (this part is the hardest for me when I am in the “teacher mode”)

If you want to read more about giving constructive criticism I’ve found this interesting post How to Give Constructive Criticism: 6 Helpful Tips by Celestine Chua


Useful links: – Personal Excellence blog by Celestine Chua