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Programs How long does it take to finish a phd

  1. May 18, 2007 #1
    Just out of curiosity, how long does it take to finish a phd?

    One of my prof's finished his phd in math in 3 years, and their is an engineering student at my school who is now in his 5-6th year of his phd.

    Their is also this math student at my school who is now like 10 years into her phd.

    But generally, what is the average time to a phd in math?
  2. jcsd
  3. May 18, 2007 #2
    It takes two years to complete a physics PhD, after which you are appointed as a tenure-track professor...and then I wake up. :rofl:

    Seriously though, the figure I've heard Is 5-6 years. One of my fellow graduate students in the astrophysics department is a fourth year, and he's set to graduate next year. Seems like that's the average amount of time it takes, assuming that you take 10-12 credits a semester for your first two years, make sufficient progress in your research, pass your quals and orals, and so on. But I've heard of people who take time off to get a job, start a family, or do various other things, and then return to complete their dissertation. Maybe that's why your friend has taken ten years to get it done.
  4. May 18, 2007 #3
    Are we talking from start (freshmen yr) to finish?:confused: . . . or three years from a BS? Seems a rather short period of time.
  5. May 18, 2007 #4


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    Three years from entering grad school I'd imagine. I can't see how one could obtain a bachelors degree and a PhD in 3 years! Incidentally, PhD's in the UK are normally completed in 3-3.5 years.
  6. May 19, 2007 #5
    I think there is likely to be some difference in this figure between Europe and US. In the US the PhD takes two to four years, plus two more for a masters along the way. Thus we get the usual 4-6 year number. I believe in Europe their starting physics degree is closer to the US masters, so they take a bit less time to finish their PhD.

    Please correct me if I'm wrong.
  7. May 19, 2007 #6

    I meant starting from the masters, how long to completion of the phd.

    and my prof, yeah, he did his bachelors somewhere in south America (Brazil i think) and his phd somewhere in the uk in 3 years. (this is in mathematics)

    I guess it all depends on many factors.

    But my guess is 2 years for a masters and 2-4 years for a phd.
  8. May 19, 2007 #7


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    I entered my last stint as a math grad student with a masters in hand, and finished the PhD in 3 more years, which was all I was allowed.

    At my current school, PhD's often take (in math) 6 years, for students entering without masters. But we take a lot of students who need some undergraduate work first.

    It all depens on the preparation and speed of the student. I understand that at Princeton students traditionally finish more quickly, as they are expected to do. I.e. 2-3 years after the BA.
  9. May 19, 2007 #8
    You sure about this? I just started a PhD (no MS, straight out of college), and even though I don't need to catch up on any undergraduate coursework, it's still going to take me 5 or so years. From what I understand, it would take the same amount of time even if I didn't get a master's along the way, since the PhD requirements include all the requirements for an MS.

    I suppose I could fill out the paperwork and get an MS along the way, but I'm pretty sure that wouldn't lengthen the time it takes me to finish.
  10. May 19, 2007 #9


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    the point is whether you know the material for a masters going in or not.
  11. May 20, 2007 #10
    Big difference between Australia and the US as well actually.

    4 years to get Bachelor of Science (with Honours). Then, assuming you got high enough marks in 4th year, straight to PhD which generally only takes 3-3.5 years.
  12. May 20, 2007 #11
    No, that's why I asked for a correction ;). . . But I have heard it from many different people. Since my point was comparing US and Europe, and you didn't mention where you are, I don't even know which part of my post you think might be wrong!
  13. May 22, 2007 #12
    Hey arunma where are you going to gradschool at if your don't mind me asking.
  14. May 22, 2007 #13


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    as i was thinking today, a phd is a degree without a well defined exit point. i.e. it is not a standardized thing, like an SAT test. The phd is over when the fat guy says it is.

    so it all depends on your Uni and their ideas and your prof. some unis will say we want more phds so we can get listed higher on the scale by these stupid publications that measure phd profgrams by productivity.

    so they will lower the criteria for beginning and encourage advisors to shoo the grads out the door without a lot of foundational training. sometimes this backfires when they get on their own.

    the criterion is often something nebulous like " a non trivial original piece of research". but even this can in practice mean reproving some theorem someone else already proved.

    so be sure to find out the ground rules and averages at yor uni.
  15. May 22, 2007 #14

    I like that one.
  16. May 22, 2007 #15
    Oh, sorry for not being specific. What I meant to ask is: are you sure that it takes more time to get an MS on your way to a PhD, as opposed to getting a PhD without the MS? I was under the impression that all the MS coursework is part of the PhD program, meaning that for a PhD student can get an MS by simply filling out the paperwork after his first two years.

    Iowa State University.
  17. May 22, 2007 #16
    LOL :rofl:That is the best line I have ever heard!!

    Thanks for your thoughts and input :smile:

    It's not over until the fat lady sings
  18. May 23, 2007 #17
    At the same university, this is probably true. If you get your MS one place and start your PhD another, you can almost certainly expect to do a bit more. If you are willing to make the switch, it may not be a big deal.
  19. May 23, 2007 #18

    Dr Transport

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    It took me 6 years to get my PhD after my Masters, but I changed advisors during that 6 years and lost funding twice so I had to go out and find a job.
  20. May 24, 2007 #19


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    For me, 3 years, 3 months, 12 days from start to corrections.

    I know of one person who has had a desk for 12+ years tho'

    There is no limit, if you have the money -- and the uni doesn't mind explaining to the funding agency why you still haven't graduated.
  21. May 25, 2007 #20
    Here in the netherlands it's a bit different than in the US.
    The bachelor degree takes three years. After that you'll do a two year masters degree which consists of one full year of lectures and a one year research project. Everyone who has obtained a bachelor's degree can do a masters degree, because a bachelors degree is worth nothing here in the Netherlands. No way you can get a job with that.
    Afther the masters degree you can do your "promotie", which is a sort of PhD i guess. The minimum number of years it takes is 4, but most people take about 5 years to complete it...
  22. May 25, 2007 #21
    the PhD seems painfully long, it's like college minus the easier cirriculum, parties, hanging out all night, the fun stuff haha
  23. May 25, 2007 #22
    If you don't think the subject you are studying *is* the fun stuff, then a Ph.D. is definitely not for you.
  24. May 25, 2007 #23
    I see, thanks. I guess for me it would only be a matter of paperwork. I'm already in my school's PhD program, so basically, as I understand it anyway, I just fill out a few dozen forms and they give me an MS along the way. As it so happens I almost went to a school in which I'd gotten admitted to their MS program (they didn't have a PhD program). It was quite tempting, since they had a great faculty and even offered me a fellowship. But knowing that it would take extra time to get a PhD, it probably wouldn't have been the best idea.

    Well, not exactly. PhD students hang out all night and study for tests in the TA offices, do homework over beer, and spend time on interesting research projects. So right there you have "parties," hanging out, and doing fun stuff...with the caveat that your time is primarily focused on your work. As for the easy curriculum, you typically do the PhD in a field in which you got your BS degree, so if it doesn't come easy to you, then you're probably not in the right field.

    As TMFKAN64 said, if you don't consider your subject area to be fun, then you shouldn't be doing a PhD.
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