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How does one obtain a Physics PhD in 3 years?

  1. Nov 3, 2015 #1
    I was looking a Leonard Susskinds background, and I noticed he obtained his Phd in 3 years from Cornell. Is this unheard of in theoretical physics these day. Was he just that special?
     
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  3. Nov 3, 2015 #2
    Im pretty sure it usually takes 4 years from when you start graduate studies, so it doesn't seem entirely unreasonable. I may be wrong though
     
  4. Nov 4, 2015 #3

    jtbell

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    The median number of years taken for a physics Ph.D. in the US has consistently been 6 to 7 years, at least from 1981 through 2011.

    https://www.aip.org/statistics/physics-trends/time-physics-astronomy-phd

    I took 7 years, in experimental HEP. First year was purely coursework and teaching, with some research in the summer. Second year I finished my main coursework and started doing research. The following years were mostly research, with a few courses sprinkled in.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2015
  5. Nov 4, 2015 #4

    e.bar.goum

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    Do it in the UK or Australia? The standard PhD scholarship is for 3 years. Though realistically, at least in Australian physics, most take the 0.5 year extension to round it out to 3.5 years.
     
  6. Nov 4, 2015 #5

    Vanadium 50

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    a) He's really smart.
    b) It was more than 50 years ago.
     
  7. Nov 4, 2015 #6
    Simple. Do it in the UK.
     
  8. Nov 4, 2015 #7

    ZapperZ

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    You need to be careful when comparing the length of time for completing a Ph.D. In the US, this length of time is often measured based on the typical admission of PhD candidates, which is at the B.Sc. level. On the other hands, for most parts of the world, PhD admission is based on a M.Sc degree or equivalent.

    If you total the length of time spent after the first baccalaureate degree, I don't believe there is a significant difference between various different educational systems.

    Now, having said that, the length of time one completes a physics Ph.D, at least here in the US, depends very much on the area of study and also whether one is doing theoretical or experimental work. The latter tends to be less predictable, and often takes longer based on what I have observed. This is only natural since trying to get Mother Nature to spill her secrets can often be tedious, unpredictable, and often quite a challenge that can be beyond one's control.

    Zz.
     
  9. Nov 4, 2015 #8

    e.bar.goum

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    In Australia, there is no M.Sc requirement, and entry to a PhD is typically after a 4 year Bachelors degree (doing sufficiently well in the final "honours" year is regarded as a MSc equivalent). You are correct though, that this isn't true for most places.
     
  10. Nov 4, 2015 #9

    HallsofIvy

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    If a person already has a master's degree then it three years would be perfectly reasonable.
     
  11. Nov 6, 2015 #10
    In the US it might be difficult to get the institution t transfer in credit if the masters was done at a different university. I think my current PhD program only allows 6 credits of transfer out of a total of 54. You would have to do a bunch of courses over again or make up credits.
     
  12. Nov 6, 2015 #11

    Vanadium 50

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    Let me say this again - it was fifty years ago. Modern experience is really not relevant.
     
  13. Nov 11, 2015 #12

    nrqed

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    Other people mention that in the UK, a three years PhD is the standard. I cannot talk about the UK but here, in Canada, that's indeed the standard. But there is a huge caveat: a three years PhD here is done after a Master degree which is typically two years long whereas at Cornell, the usual PhD begins right after the Bachelor degree. So a three years PhD in Canada would really translate into a 5 years PhD at Cornell :-)

    But to answer your question, it is not frequent to have someone at Cornell graduate in three years but it is not extremely rare either. I got my PhD there in four years (and of that I spent almost six months back home because my mom was terminally ill and then she passed away). And I am not particularly bright. When I was there, there was someone in almost every cohort that ended up graduating in 3 to 4 years (but only in theoretical physics...it is basically impossible in experimental physics!). It is in great part a question of chance: if you happen to get as your first project something good that you are lucky enough to figure out, you can manage to be done quickly (although I am sure that Susskind did not need any luck, he is a very smart man!). I was also lucky in the fact that I had had many more advanced physics courses in my undergraduate program (done in Canada) than most of my classmates, which allowed me to skip many of the usually required graduate courses at Cornell. On the other hand, I had to make sure I knew that stuff well to pass my qualifying exams, my committee was out for blood :-) )
     
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