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Author Topic: The 5 Year PhD  (Read 9761 times)
dr_prephd
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« Reply #15 on: December 05, 2012, 12:06:46 am »

Depends on the field.

Yes.

But the Ph.D. requirements are usually not what slows people down, in my experience. What slows people down is taking a teaching or other job far from Grad Town while writing the dissertation, or losing their motivation to finish - or start - the dissertation.

And life interruptions: pregnancy and mat leaves; a serious illness; caring for ill and dying family members; a major mental health breakdown.  When are we going to stop pretending that none of these things happens during a PhD?  (I never once heard anyone--faculty or student--talk about these as possibilities at any point during my degree.)

We were specifically told, at the beginning, with only slight tongue-in-cheek not to get married or divorced, accept new jobs, change positions, move houses / states, or to have children during the course of our program. 
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baleful_regards
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« Reply #16 on: December 05, 2012, 12:06:56 am »

I did mine in just under six years.

I found that my progress was slowed down by "life" - family, marriage, mental health issues. If I was single, independently wealthy and had zero mental health issues I may have gotten the thing done in three years.

I was also seriously bogged down by an IRB process which, at my former institution, seemed designed to add 6 months to the process of getting into a research site*. Cooling your heels for six months before being allowed to even recruit a site/participants was torture.  

In the end, I had to shut my mouth and just plow through it all. The red tape, overall, at my former institution is unbelievable.

* I am not bad mouthing the IRB process. I believe it is a unnecessary step, particularly when conducting research with children. It is simply a "quirk" of my particular alma mater that the process was so painful.

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dr_prephd
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« Reply #17 on: December 05, 2012, 12:09:09 am »

Depends on the field.

Yes.

But the Ph.D. requirements are usually not what slows people down, in my experience. What slows people down is taking a teaching or other job far from Grad Town while writing the dissertation, or losing their motivation to finish - or start - the dissertation.

And life interruptions: pregnancy and mat leaves; a serious illness; caring for ill and dying family members; a major mental health breakdown.  When are we going to stop pretending that none of these things happens during a PhD?  (I never once heard anyone--faculty or student--talk about these as possibilities at any point during my degree.)

We were specifically told, at the beginning, with only slight tongue-in-cheek not to get married or divorced, accept new jobs, change positions, move houses / states, or to have children during the course of our program. 

And, actually, upon reflection, those of us who did not heed the advice either took longer or did not finish. Imagine that. Life intervenes.
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federale
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« Reply #18 on: December 05, 2012, 12:09:29 am »

I did mine in about 3 years (post masters) on campus, but working fulltime caused the whole dissertation thing to drag on a bit longer on the home stretch.

I think it is most important to think about the quality, clarity, and yes brevity of the thesis, and of course the publication(s) arising from it. If you can do one to several pieces of innovative, publishable work, you will get the greenlight at most institutions. My impression is that the problems occur when one is trying to wow folks with a magnum opus, only to learn late in the game that they are overwhelmed, burned out, and no one is wowed by having to read and reread a corpulent hog of a dissertation.  I know from grim experience.
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larryc
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« Reply #19 on: December 05, 2012, 2:49:32 am »

I crammed an MA into one year. My PhD program involved 3 semesters of readings courses and then comps that were based on those courses and an additional book list that you had when you entered the program. I passed my language exam the same semester I did my comps. By the end of the third year I had my dissertation researched and half written. Then I took a 4/4 job, and the second half of the diss took three more years! Without the job I'd have finished in another six months.

None of my work was ground-shaking, but it was not lame either. I published my diss with very minor revisions with a very good press.

For people who took much longer, what if you subtract out the pregnancies/ill parents/whatever, how long would the process have been?
« Last Edit: December 05, 2012, 2:51:12 am by larryc » Logged

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daniel_von_flanagan
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« Reply #20 on: December 05, 2012, 4:01:15 am »

On edit: Disciplines are different, of course. If the mathematicians and economists can do it in 5, more power to them. Humanities grad students and grad programs should work on being more efficient, but rushing through isn't a recipe for success in the humanities.
I don't buy it.  There's no reason why a PhD in Lit should take any longer - let alone twice as long - as a PhD in Math.  Long PhD times are just a bad habit some fields have fallen into, like nosepicking. - DvF
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bacardiandlime
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« Reply #21 on: December 05, 2012, 4:02:29 am »

But the Ph.D. requirements are usually not what slows people down, in my experience. What slows people down is taking a teaching or other job far from Grad Town while writing the dissertation, or losing their motivation to finish - or start - the dissertation.

This. But most of the other life delays, marriage, children, illness, seem to strike people who are already long-term dissertators, when being a PhD student has become a lifestyle. People aren't going to put off getting hitched or having a kid when they're told to expect a decade-long slog to the PhD (and then of course they end up fulfilling that timeline). If they have the mindset that it'll be over in 2 years, then they might.

But anyone who spends years on a complicated, esoteric project is spending down his/her youth with an uncertain reward.

Yep, but sadly it's encouraged in some fields (including mine and Fiona's).

Long PhD times are just a bad habit some fields have fallen into

THIS. I'm in one of those fields, and I want to punch people who run graduate programs and tell students to expect to be there for a decade, and who encourage these longwinded dissertating processes. They need to be approving projects that CAN BE DONE in less than three years (following coursework) and lighting fires under the students who haven't finished. Stop telling people that finishing in 5 or 6 years is "quick" or "exceptional". It should be NORMAL.
« Last Edit: December 05, 2012, 4:06:16 am by bacardiandlime » Logged

larryc
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« Reply #22 on: December 05, 2012, 4:03:57 am »

On edit: Disciplines are different, of course. If the mathematicians and economists can do it in 5, more power to them. Humanities grad students and grad programs should work on being more efficient, but rushing through isn't a recipe for success in the humanities.
I don't buy it.  There's no reason why a PhD in Lit should take any longer - let alone twice as long - as a PhD in Math.  Long PhD times are just a bad habit some fields have fallen into, like nosepicking. - DvF

Amen. Barring life disasters, a humanities PhD should be 4-5 years.
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merinoblue
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« Reply #23 on: December 05, 2012, 7:33:53 am »

This. But most of the other life delays, marriage, children, illness, seem to strike people who are already long-term dissertators, when being a PhD student has become a lifestyle.

This is both unfair and nonsensical.  Illness, death, and other life disasters (as Larry aptly puts it) don't selectively strike people who are "long-term dissertators" or those treat the PhD as "a lifestyle."  That's really offensive.  They don't discriminate.
« Last Edit: December 05, 2012, 7:34:32 am by merinoblue » Logged

bacardiandlime
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« Reply #24 on: December 05, 2012, 7:54:31 am »

Illness, death, and other life disasters (as Larry aptly puts it) don't selectively strike people who are "long-term dissertators" or those treat the PhD as "a lifestyle."  

If you spend 10 years doing a PhD (or in fact, doing anything), more life events are going to occur in that period than in a 3 year period. And anyone who is taking a decade to finish, is someone for whom doing a PhD has become a long-term lifestyle (I won't say career, because it isn't a career), but it's a way of life. Ten years is a long time, and it makes people more acculturated to that LIFESTYLE than if they only spent <5 years doing it.

This is aside from the actuarial table type facts that the longer someone is in a PhD, the older they are getting, the more likely they are to be struck by illness, have older relatives to care for, etc. This may be unfair, and yes tragedy can strike people at any age, but in terms of averages, I stand by what I wrote.

« Last Edit: December 05, 2012, 7:55:06 am by bacardiandlime » Logged

monsterx
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« Reply #25 on: December 05, 2012, 8:11:28 am »

On edit: Disciplines are different, of course. If the mathematicians and economists can do it in 5, more power to them. Humanities grad students and grad programs should work on being more efficient, but rushing through isn't a recipe for success in the humanities.
I don't buy it.  There's no reason why a PhD in Lit should take any longer - let alone twice as long - as a PhD in Math.  Long PhD times are just a bad habit some fields have fallen into, like nosepicking. - DvF

Are you saying people in some fields pick their noses more than people in others?
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grasshopper
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« Reply #26 on: December 05, 2012, 8:23:30 am »

On edit: Disciplines are different, of course. If the mathematicians and economists can do it in 5, more power to them. Humanities grad students and grad programs should work on being more efficient, but rushing through isn't a recipe for success in the humanities.
I don't buy it.  There's no reason why a PhD in Lit should take any longer - let alone twice as long - as a PhD in Math.  Long PhD times are just a bad habit some fields have fallen into, like nosepicking. - DvF

Amen. Barring life disasters, a humanities PhD should be 4-5 years.

Yup. I took just over 8 years, plus 2 years for an MA.

Two and a half of the PhD years were coursework and comps. Subtracting procrastination and "life events", I worked on the diss for maybe about three years. Which means that I spent about three years fussing around and wasting time.

I think that fussing around and wasting time can be important, too. But maybe not three years' worth.
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merinoblue
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« Reply #27 on: December 05, 2012, 8:25:56 am »

Illness, death, and other life disasters (as Larry aptly puts it) don't selectively strike people who are "long-term dissertators" or those treat the PhD as "a lifestyle."  

If you spend 10 years doing a PhD (or in fact, doing anything), more life events are going to occur in that period than in a 3 year period. And anyone who is taking a decade to finish, is someone for whom doing a PhD has become a long-term lifestyle (I won't say career, because it isn't a career), but it's a way of life. Ten years is a long time, and it makes people more acculturated to that LIFESTYLE than if they only spent <5 years doing it.

This is aside from the actuarial table type facts that the longer someone is in a PhD, the older they are getting, the more likely they are to be struck by illness, have older relatives to care for, etc. This may be unfair, and yes tragedy can strike people at any age, but in terms of averages, I stand by what I wrote.

You're forgetting about the inverse relationship: where life takes a series of swings at someone at the outset of their PhD, which delays them well past their intended finish date.  Misfortune doesn't discriminate in terms of timing.  You can be clobbered anywhere along the way. 
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lenniel
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« Reply #28 on: December 05, 2012, 8:30:46 am »

This is an interesting topic, and I'm curious to learn more about other experiences.

It took me 5 years to finish my PhD, and that felt long to my adviser.  I already had a masters, but my PhD was in a very different area.

During the first year, I was the sole caretaker of mother after she had major surgery.  This included round the clock care for at least 4 months.  In addition to my coursework, I taught and TA'd, learned a new language (fortunately I already had three others), worked, and traveled abroad for further study. I'm also in the humanities, though was fortunate in that my adviser and committee wanted me to finish and pushed me not to linger.  It is doable, and I even have a pretty esoteric specialty.
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marigolds
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« Reply #29 on: December 05, 2012, 8:34:30 am »

Depends on the field. If a Ph.D. actually requires 11 years of work (and that's the average amount of time to get an English Ph.D.), seems to me the student should be encouraged to do something smaller or shorter.

The dissertation isn't the life's work. It's a union card to get into a profession where you can then pursue your life's work.

Most Ph.D.s don't require a huge amount of work in languages or in archives, and I don't think they should. I did both, but somewhat superficially. Later I developed my dissertation into several much more complex books--after i had tenure-track and tenured jobs.

It's heartbreaking to see students spend 8 or 10 years on a research project, then get the Ph. D. and not get a job. Subjects that require so much research often are small things with a small audience, too, making it harder to create a book that'll get published. If we were all leisured hobbyists, that would be fine. But anyone who spends years on a complicated, esoteric project is spending down his/her youth with an uncertain reward.

The Fiona

I'm in my 8th year, and I did get married (during coursework) and have a baby (after comps) which delayed me some.  I'm also in a high-teaching program (2/1 independently designed and run preps most years.) I have three (of four) bad chapters written; one more is mostly researched and I still have an intro/conclusion to go.

I think reducing time to degree is great IF the hiring departments get the memo not to expect earthshattering work and tons of pubs from people who've graduated in 5 years in the humanities.  Otherwise people will stay in that long.

Hasn't anybody else noticed that it's the fields with the worst placement rates that have the longest time-to-degree?
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