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Length of biomedical PhD's increasing 1-month every year?

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Length of biomedical PhD's increasing 1-month every year?

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Jul 15, 2005 10:41 am

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with a fellow who is one of our nation's great advocates for science and engineering training. He's testified before Congress, he's been quoted a zillion times, etc. In short, the fellow is a known expert.

He tells me that the length of an average biomedical PhD program is now at 8.5 years, and that when he had his PhD it was at about four years. It has "increased one month a year" for many years.

This led us to discuss the possibility of Professional Doctorate programs, done in conjunction with industry/academic collaboration. These programs would get the track back on the shorter PhD, with a move directly into industry after the degree is granted.

What are your thoughts about this? What would the reaction of traditional department heads and professors be to a sudden reduction in the number of available "cheap hands?"

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Length of biomedical PhD's increasing 1-month every year?

Postby Drew Parrish » Fri Jul 15, 2005 11:03 am

I don't buy it. Did anyone here spend 8.5 years in graduate school or even know anyone who did? I don't. The longest I know of (and it was a joke in my graduate program) was 7 years. And I'm in neuroscience, which is typically has one of the longer times to degree.

An average of 8.5 years should mean that half of the PhDs we see coming out took that long or much longer. I don't buy it.

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Length of biomedical PhD's increasing 1-month every year?

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Jul 15, 2005 11:13 am

Drew, it sounded long to me as well. But that wasn't the main point. The issue I wanted to hear about is whether or not the idea of Professional Doctorates makes sense,

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Length of biomedical PhD's increasing 1-month every year?

Postby Kevin » Fri Jul 15, 2005 11:18 am

I am at a Top 15 biomedical program and will be finishing my PhD in immunology later this year in just over 3 years total. No one has had a problem with this, committee members, PI, etc. I expected much more resistence from my committe when I asked permission to write my thesis but it never materialized. My PI is happy with my success and is now inundated with students interested in our lab. So maybe it can go both ways since there seems to be no shortage of incoming students all of whom seem to be looking for labs that will speed their time to degree. By the way our average is at about 6 years total, not anywhere near 8.5 years.
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Length of biomedical PhD's increasing 1-month every year?

Postby Emil Chuck » Fri Jul 15, 2005 11:22 am

DJ: did your colleague cite any specific data on this? I seriously doubt that it truly takes over 8 years to be done with a Ph.D. (That means it would take someone 12 years for someone to get an MD/PhD in biomedical sciences, and I am not aware of that happening.) I have to check on the survey of doctoral recipients to be really sure about this, but that doesn't really make any sense. I think we have plateaued when it comes to American production of Ph.D.'s, but if the length of getting a Ph.D. has really grown by that much, I would expect our Masters conferral rates much be growing much faster than Ph.D.'s.

I do know that graduate education is trying to curtail the length of training tremendously. No one wants to gloat over their graduates getting terminal degrees a DECADE from matriculation.

The scary thing is that we are talking close to 10 years of one's life. How much in lost benefits, insurance, and "real life" time if this is the case?
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Length of biomedical PhD's increasing 1-month every year?

Postby Dustin » Fri Jul 15, 2005 12:06 pm

Actually the idea of professional doctorates that are associated with industrial positions is quite intriguing. I know plenty of current PhD students would be interested in such a program. It seems as though it would benefit both the students interested in pursuing inductrial related careers and the industry by streamlining qualified candidates.

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Length of biomedical PhD's increasing 1-month every year?

Postby Kevin Rogers » Fri Jul 15, 2005 12:12 pm

These already exist in the UK - they are called case studentships - more details here if anybody is interested.

http://www.epsrc.ac.uk/PostgraduateTraining/IndustrialCASE/FrequentlyAskedQuestions.htm
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Length of biomedical PhD's increasing 1-month every year?

Postby Matthew » Fri Jul 15, 2005 12:13 pm

Dave,

I realize this is not the response you were looking for, but I have to agree with the other posters. I have heard of only 2 students taking longer than 7 years to finish their PhD.

My program had an average of 5. Everyone I knew personally finished in 4-6 years. If the motivation for the professional doctorate program is a concern that PhDs are requiring an average of 8.5 years to complete, the point may be moot. I just don't believe that PhDs are taking that long.

That said, I would like to hear more details about how the program would work. How would an academic/industry collaboration shorten the time to the degree?
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Length of biomedical PhD's increasing 1-month every year?

Postby brendan » Fri Jul 15, 2005 12:15 pm

I think that sounds high, the average for my program is probably about 7 years. However, I will likely spend about 8.5 years, while some have only taken 3 or 4 years, to obtain a Ph.D.

I think the Professional Doctorate program sounds like an excellent idea. However, I wonder if people would consider it a "real" PhD. I am not sure, but this sounds vaguely like some doctoral program's found in Scandinvaian countries, which I have heard Faculty in my department openly mock as glorified masters programs.
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Length of biomedical PhD's increasing 1-month every year?

Postby Ken » Fri Jul 15, 2005 12:28 pm

8.5 years sounds about right, actually. The data presented in the link below states that in 1991-1992 in the biomedical sciences, the registered time to degree (RTD) was 7.1 years. Add 13 to that (one month per year since then) and there's the 8.5.

I know quite a few 9th year students. My own department (where I graduated in just over 6 years) claims that 5 is the average, though no one remembered anyone ever graduating in under 6.

Anyway, to address the point, I don't think that the increase has much to do with the programs themselves, but the supply and demand. It's a similar vein to the postdoc holding pattern; if there isn't a job to move into above, then they're just going to hold you in a position below. Until there are more jobs for the PhD, the length of RTD will not fall, regardless of what the degree is called.


http://grants.nih.gov/training/career_progress/Chapter_3.pdf
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