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Programs PhD Duration and affecting factors

  1. Apr 2, 2012 #1
    I understand that PhDs tend to take several years to complete due to a variety of reasons. It depends on your field and the type of research as well as personal factors I am probably not aware of.

    I was wondering how people complete their degrees in as little as three years. I'm not going to try to foolishly rush through anything, I understand that would probably do some serious damage to the quality of any research I would be able to put out. I'm simply asking how these degrees are even feasible. Most PhDs require a certain amount of coursework and then some form of qualifying exam, at least here in the U.S. and I thought that working through this process usually took about 2 years by itself. Is it possible at some schools to simply pass quals and move on or something? While I don't plan on rushing, I would like to have direction when I start grad school and I am intending to be as productive and time efficient as I can without jeopardizing quality work.

    I am not quite there, but I was wondering what sort of timeline was reasonable for a PhD in HEP Theory. I know that is quite broad, but if someone could link me to some statistics or even share their personal experiences it would be fantastic.

    I believe I saw a site with pdfs of the stats for acceptances, average degree times, etc. for major universities [something like gradschoolshopper?] but I couldn't find what I was looking for again. Maybe I imagined it...
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 3, 2012 #2


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    Are you talking about just the PhD, or the PhD and the masters? You can enroll in a PhD program with a bachelors degree, but the first 2-3 years of the program consist of masters coursework, often with a masters thesis and/or qualifying exam as well. After the masters work and qualifying exam, the PhD will take another 2-6 years after that. How long the PhD takes depends on you, your adviser, your school, your department, your topic, and jobs in your field. Sometimes it makes sense to hang out in the PhD program for an extra year if it means more publications and a better shot at the job you want.
  4. Apr 3, 2012 #3
    Noam Elkies entered and graduated from high school a year earlier; went to Columbia at sixteen, leaving with degrees in Mathematics and Music three years later, for doctoral studies at Harvard. He received his M.A (thought they called it "A.M"?) after a little less than a year, and his doctorate roughly a year after, in 1987. A little before he turned 21. [http://www.math.harvard.edu/~elkies/math_cv08.pdf] [Broken]

    Last edited by a moderator: May 5, 2017
  5. Apr 3, 2012 #4
    For education Ph.D.'s, people can get those in three years, because typically they have a masters going into the program.

    The trouble is that since it's research, "dumb luck" places a large role. It's common to go into a research direction, and then find out after three months, that it was the totally wrong direction.
  6. Apr 3, 2012 #5

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    PhD theses take as long as they take. Physics is typically around 5 or 6 years. Theory seems to have a smaller standard deviation than experiment, probably because one is less at the mercy of external factors. If a component for your fridge is on backorder, you have to wait. Some people finish in 4, some in 14.
  7. Apr 4, 2012 #6
    Yes. Some universities have no particular coursework requirement, only a qualifying exam requirement.

    For example, in the computer science department at CMU many years ago, there was no required coursework, only a requirement to pass their four qualifying exams. If a student was so inclined, he or she could sign up to take all four in their first semester. Realistically the chances of passing all four was essentially zero, but it could be done in theory...
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