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Any possibilities to shorten years of schooling for getting Ph.D-?

  1. Feb 3, 2012 #1

    My questions may seem trivial but the answers I found in the internet are contradictory,so I decided to ask them here since this forum is a trustworthy source for me.

    First,I wanna say that personally I'm interested in Ph.D programs in Electriclal&Electroincs Engineering and Applied Physics,so please assume that my questions are related to these fields.

    As I read,nowadays the duration of studying on Ph.D programs is about 6 years or even more.Are there any realistic possibilities to shorten the time of getting Ph.D?Because I've read that this period(6 years or more) is needed to the university because of profit reasons(I mean,to extract from graduate students as much use as possible).So,is it realistic
    to get a Ph.D after,say,3 years in case of hard-working,of course?
    You might say that the one pursuing Ph.D is supposed to be enjoyed with a research in general.Yes,I agree with you but the reason why I'm asking this is totally pragmatic.

    First,many write the amount of a typical scholarship is not that big(btw,how much is it nowadays?I found different numbers).

    Second,the less the duration of Ph.D program is the earlier you're able to move to the next step of your desired career.It's obvious.

    Btw,could you tell me,please if all Ph.D programs(at least for EE and Physics) are free of charge and provide a scholarship or not?

  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 3, 2012 #2


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    Er.. first of all, get rid of that silly notion that schools are keeping students for 6 years for "profit". That's ridiculous, especially in science/engineering since most of the graduate students receive some form of assistantships anyway!

    Secondly, when you do research, especially experimental, you are depending on Mother Nature! You need to do experiments and get results, and get GOOD results to publish in journals. This all takes TIME! Depending on how fast you finish your required classes and pass your qualifier, you may only have 2-3 years left of 100% research work. It isn't much!

    You just can't "work hard" to speed up your graduation if your ability to do experiments is not available. Just ask the students who were waiting for the LHC to come online awhile back! One can do only so many Monte Carlo simulation before one needs actual data!

  4. Feb 3, 2012 #3


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    The average amount of time spent in graduate school for someone in the physical sciences is 6.7 years, according to the Survey of Earned Doctorates.


    That's less than any other field. The first 2-3 years of that are working on the masters coursework, and often a masters thesis and/or qualifying exam before you can proceed to the PhD work. You can't skip the masters work. How long the PhD takes you after that depends on many factors that usually can't be predicted ahead of time - the topic you pick, your adviser, your department, and your own motivation and capability are big parts of it. And then of course you might be able to graduate in less time, but staying an extra year means more publications and a better job offer in many cases, so it might be worth it.
  5. Feb 3, 2012 #4


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    This applies to Ph.D. students in the USA. If the OP is in a country where Ph.D. and master's programs are separated, and he's already finished his master's degree, this doesn't apply.

    Different countries have different academic systems. That's probably why the OP has found contradictory answers.
  6. Feb 3, 2012 #5

    Doesn't make any sense. As long as they have a pool of qualified applicants, they really have no reason to keep you in the university. If you go, they they'll just put someone else in your place.


    One thing about the Ph.D. is it's done when it's done. You have a dissertation. No one has any clue how long the dissertation will talk. It's original research, and there is a very large element of unpredictability.

    Most science/engineering Ph.D. will have you work as a teaching or research assistant.

    Actually. No. The odds are that there is no next step.
  7. Feb 3, 2012 #6
    Of course hard work can possibly shorten the duration of your PhD, but come on, 6 years to 3? Think more like, MAYBE if I work hard I can do 5 instead of 6.
  8. Feb 3, 2012 #7
    Thanks for the answers to everybody.

    Ok,gentlemen,then tell me,please,why it takes so long particularly in the US(>6 years)?For instance,in my country (and in some other European,as well,e.g. I found 3-years Ph.D programs in UK) getting Ph.D takes about 3 years only for a person with a higher education.
    And another thing I'd like to clarify for yourself.I didn't get exactly from eri's and jtbell answers ,if,say,I approve my Master degree as a 'Master degree' in the US it won't make the process shorter or it will?
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2012
  9. Feb 3, 2012 #8

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    As explained, in the US, a PhD is typically bachelors + 6 or 7, and in Europe, it is masters + 3 or 4, which works out to much the same thing. Masters degrees tend not to shorten the time to completion very much in the US.
  10. Feb 3, 2012 #9
    That's right. Not only must you write your dissertation but you must also teach it how to speak! :smile:

    Sorry....I just found this really funny.
  11. Feb 3, 2012 #10


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    In other words, in the US, a student takes advanced physics coursework during the first 2 years of a Ph.D. program, and then starts doing research towards his dissertation (usually another 3-4 years). In many other countries, students take this advanced coursework as part of a M.S. program, and start research towards the dissertation immediately after entering a Ph.D. program.

    In still other words, a Ph.D. program in the US is the equivalent of M.S. and Ph.D. programs combined, in many other countries.

    I don't know how U.S. universities typically deal with Ph.D. applicants from abroad who have already had M.S. level coursework. I have no direct experience with this, because when I was a grad student at U of Michigan 30-35 years ago, very few of my fellow students came from abroad.
  12. Feb 3, 2012 #11


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    Please read Part VII of my So You Want To Be A Physicist essay.

  13. Feb 3, 2012 #12
    What schools have 2-3 years of coursework?

    Most schools I know of are one year or coursework and then some additional courses as a side to research. Is that not the norm?
  14. Feb 3, 2012 #13


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    I attended two graduate programs (started at one and transferred to another), and friends of mine attended other programs. From what I've seen, 2 years of coursework leading up to a qualifying exam is pretty standard. Many of us continued taking courses while working on our PhDs as well.

    I had a few friends who did a masters abroad (Germany, Argentina, India) and then came to the US for the PhD. Most of them were made to retake almost all the masters coursework. Even after transferring from another good school in the US I had to retake half the classes. It's very common for schools not to accept all of your classes, or make you redo some of the masters before starting the PhD. At the very least, you'd have to pass their qualifying exam.

    Friends who stayed in the UK and Germany for a PhD were usually given 3 years to complete it after the diploma thesis, but most ended up taking 4-5 years to finish it. The difference was, in the US, those extra years are funded. In Europe, they were not.
  15. Feb 3, 2012 #14


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    The difference might be in whether you're a teaching or research assistant in addition to studying. When I was a grad student, I was a half-time TA (teaching assistant) and I took two courses per semester during my first two years, alongside teaching four introductory labs per week. Most of the grad students in my class had the same setup, and we took about two years to finish our required coursework (nine courses IIRC).
    Last edited: Feb 3, 2012
  16. Feb 3, 2012 #15
    Once upon a time when dinosaurs walked the earth, I knew *one* older student who was getting his CS Ph.D. on IBM's dime and managed to finish in 3 years.

    Given his work and personal situation, he was *extremely* motivated to finish as quickly as humanly possible. So while I wouldn't say 3 years was flat out impossible, it is *extremely* unlikely.
  17. Feb 4, 2012 #16
    I am so reminded of this :biggrin::

  18. Feb 4, 2012 #17
    Also, the fact that US mix masters and Ph.D. programs in one package is something that is a characteristic of science/engineering programs. In education, it's very common for people to have separate masters/Ph.D. programs since people often will take a masters, go to work, and get back to do a Ph.D. If you do an education Ph.D. full time it will take you about 2-3 years. However, many people do a Ph.D. part-time while working (since the programs are not funded), and those can take a decade.
  19. Feb 4, 2012 #18
    The other thing is that Piled Higher and Deeper comics is required reading for anyone considering graduate school. It's so true.
  20. Feb 5, 2012 #19
    Richard Feynman earned his bachelor's in 1939 and then his Ph.D in 1942. 3 years! That guy never ceases to amaze.
  21. Feb 5, 2012 #20
    Read about Robert Woodward, that guy is pretty impressive too.
  22. Feb 6, 2012 #21
    Then again maybe not. It's not clear to me that Ph.D.(1942) requires the same level of work as Ph.D.(2012). We could have an example of grade deflation.

    Part of the reason a Ph.D. takes longer is that you end up spending a few extra years going over stuff that they didn't know in 1942.
  23. Feb 6, 2012 #22
    That's one thing but then you have people who did their PhD degrees in the 60s in <5 years. Spivak for one had his PhD by 24. I remember seeing a few other well known mathematicians and physicists who finished their schooling in such a short amount of time. The information may be wrong, seeing as my main source is often Wikipedia and not necessarily the personal webpages of the scientists.

    Anyway, what I've observed is people who managed to pull that off usually did their PhDs in older times (see: twofish's post about catching up on research) and more often than not, they had graduated with a bachelor's degree in 3 years and not the usual 4. Now, I have to ask, for how many years now have BA/BS degrees in the States been 4 years long?

    Finance and Economics PhD programs seem much shorter as well, usually lasting less than 6 years, from what I understand.
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