phd + 4 yrs = done?
August 20, 2009 4:27 PM   Subscribe

phd in 4 years -- myth? possibility? did you live the dream?

have you completed a social sciences phd in 4 years in canada? common time-to-completion seems to be about 6 or so years. i would love to hear some 4-yr success stories.

bonus+ points for elaborations on how you made it happen!
bonus+++ points for elaborating on how you maintained loving/sexy relations with your non-student SO while doing so!

tell me everything!
posted by crawfo to Education (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
elaborations on how you made it happen!

The Canadian system is similar enough to the US system that I think my reply will be relevant. I took 5 years myself, but a large percentage (maybe all) of the people I know who only took 4 years, did so because they unexpectedly got a job that was too good to say 'no' to at the end of 4 years. Many of these people weren't even really intending to be on the job market, they just applied to a few choice positions in case, and to see what it was like. I don't think any of them would have actually graduated had they not gotten a job, and most people would not be capable of getting this kind of job in their 4th year. All of these that I can think of were tenure track jobs (I don't know of a case where someone graduated in 4 years to do a postdoc, but my social-sciency field doesn't have a lot of postdocs; it would be crazy to do this in order to start adjuncting or probably even being a visiting assistant professor). So basically you have to be a superstar on the job market.
posted by advil at 6:03 PM on August 20, 2009

Getting What You Came For is a guide to grad school. Worth looking at now to start setting up your expectations.

My experience (in philosophy) was similar to advil's, that it's rare and usually tied to getting a job. I know one hyper-disciplined person who did it in 4 without having a job lined up (though he did then get a good job) - he was already very far along when he entered, though. I don't think he had a master's but had that level of preparation, so that he was able to start prepping his dissertation project from his first semester. He was also immune to external criticism (i.e. did not get bogged down), had full funding throughout, and had an amazing work ethic.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:44 PM on August 20, 2009

I don't have a PhD, but I know a large number of people who have gotten or are still working on their PhDs. The fellow currently sitting next to me got his in 4 years in physics. Granted, the hard sciences are rather different than the social sciences, but 4 years was still considered fairly unusual for his field. I think the main thing to remember is that every experience is going to be different. Your personal work ethic is certainly going to factor into in, but just as important will be the dynamics of the department and your relationship with your advisor.

In my resident PhD's case, I suspect his advisor was seriously gunning for tenure at the time, so that meant lots of work for everybody. Most of his work as a grad student was collaborative, and very little weight was given to his actual thesis. The program's main emphasis was research output (remember, every program and every department is different!), so he didn't have to dedicate a large chunk of time to an individual project. I'm not sure if this was helpful or a hindrance, but he definitely got a lot of papers written. All of this was largely the result of many late nights, a lot of strong coffee, and a blatant disregard for normal working hours.

There are a couple of things that probably helped him a lot during this time. One, he was fully funded, which meant he never had to work or teach. Most people in the program did teach at least a semester or two. Some really enjoyed it, so that might actually be something he missed out on, but it did take off a lot of pressure. Two, he had a super-relaxed girlfriend (me) who would fold his laundry and didn't mind if he came home at 2 in the morning groaning about broken equations and error-riddled drafts. Everybody's relationship is also different, and in our case, we were perfectly okay with using his "academic decompression" time as an excuse to cuddle while playing computer games together. We were/are young, crazy about each other, and extremely low-maintenance, so our relationship didn't suffer much from the wacky hours. So far as I can tell, his postdoc hasn't been significantly different from his last years as a grad student, so I don't really know if graduating early really mattered all that much, but I suppose it's given him a little bit of a head start. He's a very smart and hard-working guy, but I also think luck is as a big part as anything in having a successful grad school career.
posted by Diagonalize at 8:40 PM on August 20, 2009

Well, in Canada, you pretty much always enter a PhD program having already received your MA. So this is in US parlance SIX years to get the PhD (since most US PhD recipients enter and graduate from programs in which they get MA's en route, directly after the BA). So yes, of course, lots of folks get a PhD in 4 years in Canada. What's impressive are those who do it in, say, three. Which would be like getting a US PhD in five.

I had a classmate who got his PhD- and this is PLUS the MA, or the MS as we were given at UW-Madison sociology- in THREE YEARS. This is something that I doubt has ever been equalled- and it would be like getting a PhD in Canada in ONE year.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:58 PM on August 20, 2009

I probably should have noted that my example PhD was in the U.S.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:07 PM on August 20, 2009

Nthing that time spent is a job market issue. If your field is competative, then there is a strong incentive to stay in graduate school for as long as possible, so that you come out ultra prepared.

Philosophical Gourmet:

"For 1995-96, there were 341 PhDs awarded in the United States and Canada, as reported by the Review of Metaphysics. Of these 341, just 17 were offered tenure-track jobs (or the equivalent) in top 50 Ph.D. programs or their foreign equivalents. Of these 17, six were graduates of Princeton, three of Pittsburgh, two of Michigan, and one each of Rutgers, Stanford, Iowa, Minnesota, Notre Dame, and Texas . Of these 341, a mere six were offered jobs at top fifteen programs. Of these six, two each went to Princeton and Michigan, and one each went to Pittsburgh and Rutgers .

A further warning: the vast majority of the Michigan students who had tenure-track offers from top ten departments during the 1990s spent 7-10 years in graduate school. There is a sobering message in this: the kinds of skills needed to land a entry-level post are now the kinds of skills someone thirty years ago would have acquired after three years as a tenure-track assistant professor! The ferocious competition for jobs creates an incentive for students to spend a very long time perfecting their work."

You may find that 4 years is possible, but depending on your field and life-plan it may not be desirable. The statistics on PG are sobering, but its better to go in with your eyes open I think.
posted by munchbunch at 3:11 AM on August 21, 2009

Well, in Canada, you pretty much always enter a PhD program having already received your MA. So this is in US parlance SIX years to get the PhD (since most US PhD recipients enter and graduate from programs in which they get MA's en route, directly after the BA).

Some Canadian thesis-based MA programs are two years long, though.
posted by thisjax at 4:34 AM on August 21, 2009

The statistics on Philosophical Gourmet are only for philosophy PhD programs and are more than ten years old. They are certainly a useful caution about the job market in philosophy, and probably the humanities generally, but I'm not sure how well they transfer over to whatever social science discipline you're entering. You will want to find the recent stats for your field and for the specific place you're going to school, on time-to-degree and job placement success.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:56 AM on August 21, 2009

Keep in mind, too, that many hiring committees are interested in your teaching experience, which saps time from pure research, and increasingly they are looking for candidates in the humanities with publications even before finishing the PhD. The job market is fiercely competitive, so even among applicants with publications they might also consider where you published your work. It's well and good to adapt research that you're doing for the PhD anyway, but articles require a different writing style from dissertation chapters / conference papers. It takes time to polish a stand-alone piece of work and format it to the journal's style guidelines. I did my PhD in the UK and interviewed for fixed term jobs at highly ranked universities, one of which I landed. Now work in the US, and the same principles apply here as well. I would guess that Canada is similar.
posted by woodway at 9:23 AM on August 25, 2009

I finished a post-bachelors Ph.D. in Biology in 4 years in the US. I think the main factor in the speed was a) funding b) having enough data for my mathematical model.
posted by nekton at 1:43 PM on September 18, 2009

« Older Suggested items for a Burning Man midweek care...   |   I thought of a really bad pun on the word "bean,"... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.