Friday, December 07, 2012

Length of Time to PhD: It should be Three Years Maximum

I understand that Stanford is now offering a five year PhD as a reduced time to finish. This is ridiculous. In the UK the standard time to complete a PhD is three years. I did mine in two. If you take seven years to complete a PhD you are either twice as lazy or twice as stupid as somebody who does it in three years. Even five years is an awful long time to write a single book without any other obligations all the while receiving extensive advice on how to write that book from trained professionals. Honestly, where I got my PhD (SOAS) the dissertation is limited at 100,000 words. So if you write 200 words a day you can finish the first draft in no more than 500 days or less than a year and a half. That gives you a year and a half to edit and polish a short book manuscript. It can of course be done even faster. If I were not the laziest man on earth I probably could have finished writing my dissertation a lot quicker than the two years it did take me. Five years is not a short time to write a PhD thesis. It is an extraordinarily long time by the standards of most of the Commonwealth. Anybody who spends seven, eight, or more years writing a PhD dissertation is not making good use of their time.

Update: In response to the comment below I am clarifying that I am only talking about PhDs written in the field of history. It does not apply to any other field since I have no first hand knowledge about what those fields entail. But, writing up a short monograph on an historical topic should not take over a half a decade if that is your main focus during that time.

7 comments:

Farhad said...

Have you considered that PhD might involve something other than writing the thesis up? Or even maybe different subject fields require different lentgths? I'll finish mine in 3 years. A friend of mine will take longer. I know one thing for sure and have suefficient proof that he is not "twice as lazy" or "twice as stupid" as me.

J. Otto Pohl said...

Farhad: I was talking about history. But, you are correct I did not make it as clear as it should have been. I am going to put an update to reflect this.

J. Otto Pohl said...


Farhad, how come you only comment on posts that are purely common room bull opinion and never on any of my scholarly posts?

Farhad said...

Dr. Pohl, because I cannot at all form an informed opinion about your scholarship. It isn't my field and I know very little about what you write, so I just read them. I do, however, have disagreements with you on your logic in locating yourself in the political spectrum.

Also, I don't consider this post "common room bull opinion". It made an extraordinary claim, which you then kindly corrected.

Walt Richmond said...

Is Stanford talking about just the dissertation or the entire PhD program? The coursework after the MA before you can qualify to write the dissertation is two years. That would mean one year to write the dissertation.

In the US, the average dissertation length is maybe 50,000 words, so it's not even a monograph, more of an extended research paper.

I started my dissertation in January 1993 and submitted it in December 1994. I know a couple other people who did that. But other people chose topics that were unwieldy and used research methods their advisers challenged every step of the way (this is the field of literary studies). Some people, though, just took their time.

I'm not sure why so many people procrastinate on the dissertation. I think it's partially fear of going out to look for a job that isn't there, partially the inability to work independently, partially the realization that they chose the wrong career!

J. Otto Pohl said...

Walt: I believe Stanford is reducing the coursework. But, I don't understand the concept of course work in a PhD. You do a one year MA and read a book a day including everything written in English on your subject at the time first in the UK. A 50,000 dissertation in history is something that can be done in a year realistically.

Walt Richmond said...

In the field of literary studies the coursework is supposed to prepare you to teach any aspect of Russian literature. This is how the USC program went:

MA program: Two years of studying every major work of Russian literature. Finished with the Master's exam.

PhD program:

--Two years of courses in Russian intellectual history, political history, literary theory and specialized courses on Russian avant garde art.

--Qualifying exam on everything studied through both the MA and PhD programs.

--Work on dissertation.