Find the Fast Lane to Your PhD

Do you really want a doctoral degree? Are you hoping to contribute to your field? Or are you looking for something to build your prestige? Can you withstand (literally) years of uncertainty? Can you live with not knowing if you will finish your program?

A Few Thoughts…

Here are my thoughts about earning a PhD. First of all, it all depends on you. Second, it will test your patience and ability to move forward in spite of obstacles, seen and unseen. Third, you’ve got to really want it.

Reality Check

Now for a reality check:

  • Success rate: In North American, 57% of students never finish their doctoral degree programs. Completion rates are low across all disciplines, including engineering  with 65% failure rate.
  • Number of PhD graduates in 2014: US: 67,449. Germany: 28,147. UK: 25,020. India: 24,300.
  • Funding: Most schools don’t offer a complete financial aid package that covers the time needed to earn a PhD.
  • Average time to earn a PhD: North America: five to seven years (plus any postdoc training). Europe: seven year. Australia: four years.
  • Time to completion: It all depends. The humanities and social sciences are open-ended with no clear time frame to completion. The STEM disciplines hover around eight years.
  • Tenured jobs in academia: Between 2005 and 2009, there were over 100,000 doctoral graduates and only 16,000 new tenured jobs in the US.
  • Less than 25% of faculty jobs are tenured: In 2014, part-time/adjunct/contingent faculty was 40.93%. Full time non-tenured faculty was 16.73%. Full time tenure track faculty was 8.05%. Graduate student workers was 12.83%.
  • Bottom line: Only around 21.46% of faculty were tenured in 2014.

The Fast Lane

I found a  blog that offered some tips to move your PhD process into the fast lane. Once again, a lot of this depends on you and your ability to plan ahead.

Here are suggestions for institutions to consider to help streamline the PhD process:

  1. Require a dissertation proposal as part of the application process. A proposal will help students begin their program with a topic of interest. A proposal can help students find out if their topic is a good fit for their department and if there are any advisers also interested in the topic.
  2. Offer full financial support for at least seven years. Students would be incentivized to finish on time  (seven years) to avoid paying out-of-pocket in year eight. The pool of students would be smaller and faculty would have more time to work with fewer students. And students could focus on their work rather than take on part-time jobs.
  3. Create a project timeline and detailed outline before the dissertation process. Students and advisers would have due dates for projects. They would be accountable to each other and learn to work as a team. Problems could be identified early and students could then stay on track to finish their degree.
  4. Department accountability. Departments should revise any practices that delay students from graduating. Goals should focus on pratices that help students move ahead in their programs. Bureaucratic inefficiencies are common. But creative solutions can minimize obstacles that delay students from finishing the program.
  5. Transparency in numbers. Universities should be transparent about their PhD completion rates by department and by year. Transparency can identify problems, scope, and encourage solutions that prevent students from graduating.

Dr. Patti and I averaged about six years to earn a doctorate.  Universities need to think more strategically about getting students out the door as soon as possible. Clearly academic bureaucracy is in need of change.

I hope this information was helpful.

Sources: 5 ways to a faster PhD

Decline of Tenure for Higher Education Faculty

12 reasons not to get a PhD

World Economic Forum: These countries have the most doctoral graduates



Dr. Bessie

If you think education is expensive — try ignorance.
~~~ Ann Landers ~~~


Author: Dr. Bessie DiDomenica

Food Policy Researcher • Resilient Agriculture Advocate • Public Speaker • Public Policy Wonk • Writer • Teacher • Social Entrepreneur • Associate Editor

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