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Programs How long does it takes do get a PhD?

  1. Jan 30, 2009 #1
    I already did a Bachelor course (of 5 years) in electrical engineering and right now I'm doing a Master course (in telecomm.). I don't know exactly how things work in the USA, but I'd like to do a PhD there, so I found this on the internet:

    "Depending on the specific field of study, completion of a Ph.D. program usually takes four to eight years of study after the Bachelor's Degree; those students who begin a Ph.D. program with a master's degree may complete their Ph.D. degree a year or two sooner."

    Maybe some here have already done something similar, so I just would like to have some idea of how long it usually takes to finish a PhD in engineering, 'cause doing a PhD of more than 4 or 5 years it would be quite too much for me. =/

    PS1: Of course I know it also depends on the student itself
    PS2: By the way, just for curiousity, how long does it take for a bachelor and for a master in engineering in the USA? Where I come from it is usually 5 and 2 years respectively, but where I am right know is just 3,5 and 1,5 years!!

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 30, 2009 #2


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    I think the coursework will generally take about two and a half to three years. If you already have a masters in the field this can be cut by about a year. It then is a matter of how long to:
    1.) get a thesis/dissertation committee together,
    2.) get your topic approved,
    3.) research and write your thesis/dissertation, and
    4.) defend it.
    The time-frame depends on the student, the school, and the nature of the research.
    One year bare minimum.

    However note that usually one is working with an ABD (All but dissertation) credential for much of this time.
  4. Jan 30, 2009 #3


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    I've always found this 'credential' to be a little confusing, especially to someone outside the US. Surely, better terminology would be 'all but original research,' since 'all but dissertation' sounds like the student has conducted his/her research, and is just writing it up, whereas in actual fact it means that most of the work for his/her PhD has not yet been started!
  5. Jan 30, 2009 #4


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    Yes but it is the approval (defense) of the dissertation which is the objective landmark between ABD and PhD. Think of "the Dissertation" as referring to both the research and the write-up (and the defense).
  6. Jan 30, 2009 #5


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    In the US, when a college hires an ABD for a faculty position, usually he's finished most of his actual research work and is expected to complete the Ph.D. by defending his dissertation within a year or so.
  7. Jan 30, 2009 #6


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    Most schools that I'm aware of agree to support the Ph.D. student for four years. It can take longer to finish, but it's amazing how much motivation you gain when you notice that your funding is about to run out.

    Also I wasn't aware that "all but dissertation" was an actual designation. I assumed it was an informal term for describing someone who was expected to defend shortly (usually when candidates are applying for post-doctoral positions that will start after the defence).
  8. Jan 30, 2009 #7
    The AIP has tons of statistics that might be of interest to you (they looked in depth at foreign students also). The link to that information is here: http://www.aip.org/statistics/

    From their data, it looks like for a PhD (using the data from the PhD classes of 2003-2004) that the mean time taken to obtain a PhD was 5 years and the median was 4 years.

    For me, it took 5 years.

    EDIT: The information I gave you was for physics, sorry forgot you were talking about engineering.
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2009
  9. Jan 30, 2009 #8
    I think he's asking about doing a PhD AFTER you have finished an MS degree. I don't think it's going to take him 5 years because he's already done a lot of the coursework. I'm actually interested in hearing the answers to this as well, because I am going for my PhD (at a different school, it's not an MS/PhD program) after I complete my MS this spring.

    I'm not looking for any statistics; I'd like to hear from people that have actually gone through this. Especially people that completed an MS, went to work for a few years, and returned to get their PhD.
  10. Jan 30, 2009 #9
    That is only if the course work is recognized by the institution he goes to. And it assumes the the required classes for his Masters match up exactly with his PhD program. His masters may only be viewed as equivalent to a Bachelors in the states depending on where he is going to go to school in the US and where he got his Masters.

    In the US undergrad degrees are typically 4 years. I believe a Masters is an average of 2, but I don't have any experience with Masters programs.
  11. Jan 30, 2009 #10
    You're right -- I should have mentioned that I am specifically talking about earning an MS in the US and going for a PhD in the US, which is my situation.
  12. Feb 1, 2009 #11
    Ok, thanks a lot for all the answers.
    I studied my bachelor in Brazil and I'm doing the master in Germany.
    I'm gonna try to find out whether my masters coursework would be of any help to a PhD.

    In Brazil the system is pretty much the same as in the USA, but here it is very different.
    It's quite tempting to do the PhD here, because it's possible to finish it within 3 years (and it's also possible to earn a good money), but I still think that the methodology in the USA would be better for me.

    Just to let you guys know, if someone is interesting to know how a PhD here is (from Wikipedia):
    "Since there are usually no formal classes, and the doctoral candidate mainly conducts independent research under the tutelage of a single professor, a good deal of doctoral candidates work as teaching or research assistants, and are paid a reasonably competitive salary. This is a considerable difference from the situation in many other countries (such as the U. S.) where doctoral candidates are often referred to as Ph.D. "students"; whereas with German candidates, this rather inaccurate term should be avoided."
  13. Feb 1, 2009 #12
    This is sort of buried in the above comments so lets make it explicit:

    In the US, PhDs do take 5-6 years on average. This seems high to Europeans because they wrongly think that people are entering these programs already having masters degrees. In science fields in the US it is NOT the norm to get a masters before entering a PhD program. So the 5-6 year figure for a PhD in the states should be compared to the amount of time it takes to get a masters and a PhD in Europe added together.

    However, this does not imply that a foreign student with a masters would necessarily be able to enter a US university and complete the degree much more quickly than their American counterparts. It is likely that this will be highly dependent on the particular university and department.

    In my own department, the foreign students with masters degrees do not on average finish any faster than the Americans without masters degrees.
  14. Feb 1, 2009 #13


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    However the fact that undergrad degrees are, at least in the UK, a year shorter than the US should also be factored in.
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