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Duration of a PhD - Question repost

PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2004 12:43 pm
by keith
Hi Everyone!

This has got to be one of the most interactive career forums around rendering invaluable assistance to those with career related problems. Wish it all the best for a long innings.

I find an interesting situation regarding the duration of a PHD.Since I am not one presently[but sure will be one in the future].In an earlier post it was mentioned that a normal phd in the US takes 5-7 years,isnt that an awfuly long time to be 'studying' while there are people who do it in just over 3 years .I have a few questions in this regard.

1)What governs the duration of a phd and what is the average time taken to get the doctorate.
2)Can one juggle a doctorate with a industry oriented job?,I find it hard to believe but I do keep hearing about someone or the other who did exactly that.
3)What is the average stipend for a phd in the life sciences/Pharmaceutical sciences?
This might seem trivial but I have always instinctively trusted this forum on all career related issues especially for a beginner like me.
And thanks again for all the good work being done by all the forum members.

Duration of a PhD - Question repost

PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2004 1:28 pm
by John Fetzer
The duration varies and is most dependent on the attitudes of the research advisor. Some think students are cheap labor or must do a certain amount of published work. Others focus on the level of capabilities. Mine was the latter. He was a very established and well known scientist, I was his senenty-somethingth PhD and many of the other are well known today. He pushed people, often telling them that their research support would end at such a time so they would finish their research and write their dissertations. Mine was 3 years and 9 months, which was average for the group - but some were several months quicker.


Duration of a PhD - Question repost

PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2004 3:45 pm
by Ken
3 years 9 months is NOT the average though. I've never heard of someone doing a biology/biomedical PhD that quickly. I was slightly under six years, and I was the second in my class to graduate. There was a ninth year student in my lab.

It depends on discipline (chemistry is generally faster than biology), and unfortunately, your advisors. It also depends on you. If you are the type to just sit back and let your committee decide, it may take longer. If you push them, they will generally expedite.

Duration of a PhD - Question repost

PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2004 4:13 pm
by Matt
I agree, 3 years 9 months is ridiculously quick. I think 6 years is average, and naturally there are the variables that have been mentioned, but I think a big one that hasn?t been mentioned is teaching load, some schools you have to teach every semester for support, some you don?t have to teach at all, and this can make a big difference in the amount of time you have to do the research that is necessary to graduate.


Duration of a PhD - Question repost

PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2004 4:26 pm
by Jim Gardner
1. I agree with the other two respondents--it varies. When searching for a grad program and an advisor it is worth considering the track record for that program/advisor on the time it takes for their students to get the PhD. I picked a school and an advisor with a decent track record for getting students through in about 5 years (and occasionally less). It still took me nearly 8 years to get through.

2. In all the programs I looked at (in Neuroscience)--being a PhD candidate was more (way more!) than a full time job. There was no way you could hold down an industry job at the same time.

3. Back in the late 1980's when I was looking to get into grad school, the differences in stipends between schools were quite dramatic. One of my potential targets (prestigious private school in expensive-to-live area) offered three times the stipend of another target school (a state university in a place with a relatively low cost of living). I'm sure (or at least very hopeful) that stipends are much higher now than they were in the 80's (but you'll still be below the poverty line). You'll generally get enough for food, room&board, and perhaps a little extra. Don't worry--over time you'll develop a taste for store-brand macaroni & cheese and a "sixth sense" for finding events where free food is being offered.

Note that in the PhD program I finished, all the "studying" was essentially complete after the year 2. All students had to take (and pass) general and specialized examinations at that time. It is the research part that was unpredictable. My first PhD project completely failed and I had to start all over again with another project.

If I had to do it all over again I would have focused on finding a more technically "doable" dissertation project and just escaping grad school as early as possible with my PhD. I was way too ambitious and tried to get both the PhD and the Nobel prize at the same time. (I hope that this doesn't sound like a complaint--I've had plenty of good fortune and I'm very happy with the way things have turned out in my career.)

Good luck!


Duration of a PhD - Question repost

PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2004 4:57 pm
by John Fetzer
Yes, I was on the very low end and in chemistry, where 4 to 5 years is probably the average. I did well enough on the GRE and entrance exams once there that I only taught one semester and was on research support for the last three years. That is another factor. If the professor has research grants that support students, then you save a year or two because your research is continuous and concentrated.


Duration of a PhD - Question repost

PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2004 5:37 pm
by Kim
It is the information from UCSD (2002-2003), one of the most competitive schools for bio/life science research in the US.

Median Elapsed Time to Degree for Ph.D Recipients:
Molecular Pathology: 5.25 years
Chemistry and Biochemistry: 5.55 years
Biological Sciences: 5.88 years
Neurosciences: 6.00 years
Biomedical Sciences: 6.25 years

Duration of a PhD - Question repost

PostPosted: Mon Nov 29, 2004 5:58 pm
by Kenny
Glad that Kim found some real stat's . . . In the lab I am in, the PI reports that it is averaging 6-7 years for a Biochem PhD.

By the way, a note to Jim Gardner . . . Thank you sir for all your fine comments. Whenever I see a "Gardner post" I always read it first. You have been a real help to me in my career -- from the previous forum to this one, which I must admit I'm hooked on, as it is far better than the old forum.

Thanks all!

Duration of a PhD

PostPosted: Tue Nov 30, 2004 1:00 pm
by Anil
I finished my PhD last year in Neuroscience and Neuropharmacology and it took exactly 4 yrs. But even in my lab the average duration is somewhere close to 5 years. In my opinion even 5 years is a tremendously long time and 7 years would just be too much. However, a lot depends on your productivity, your (and your mentor's) goals and ofcourse on how well the project works out.