Graduate School: How Long is Too Long?
By Dora Farkas on November 12th, 2012
How long is *too* long to be in grad school? There’s a 9th year in our department and it scares the life out of me. What do you think?
-Alexa, second-year graduate student
Nine years is definitely a long time, but there are some fields (e.g. humanities and social sciences), where a nine year PhD is approximately average. In the life sciences the average is usually between 4-7 years (depending on the nature of the research). However, there are students who take 8, 9 or 10 years in the life sciences while their group mates graduate in 4-6 years.
If you want to decrease your chances of having a very long PhD, my recommendation is to stay on top of your research on a daily basis. Be proactive about getting projects going (sometimes multiple projects simultaneously). Many experiments or projects will fail but the sooner a bad project fails, the sooner you will learn from it and the sooner you can get started on a new project. Sometimes what sets students back is that they let projects linger for weeks or months, and then they have a tough time catching up. Weeks turn into months and years, and they have little to show for their long hours in the lab. Make every day count, and keep your eyes focused on your goals (i.e. publishing, job search, graduation)
The relationship with your PI will also impact the length of your PhD and the quality of your research. First, be sure to maintain a professional relationship your supervisor (even if he/she has a difficult personality). Second, communicate as frequently as needed to ensure that the two of you are on the same page regarding the requirements for publishing and graduation. Finally, if you get stuck, ask for help either from your PI, group mates or other professors so you can get your project back on track.
Dora Farkas, Ph.D. is the author “The Smart Way to Your Ph.D.:200 Secrets from 100 Graduates,” and the founder of PhDNet, an online community for graduate students and PhDs. You will find links to her book, monthly newsletters, and discussion board on her site. Send your questions to DearDora@benchfly.com and keep an eye out for them in an upcoming issue!
Stay tuned for the next Dear Dora in two weeks! In the meantime, check a few of Dora’s recent posts:
- Is a Parasitic Postdoc Trying to Steal Your Project?
- Is the NIH Minimum Binding for All?
- Backing Out of a Postdoc Offer for a Better One
- Managing Publication Jealousy in the Lab
- Debriefing the Lab After a Scientific Conference
- Music in the Lab: MyTunes, iTunes, or No Tunes?
- Cell Culture Derailing Your Vacation Plans?
- Is a Publication Gap on Our CV a Job Killer?
- How to Leave a Postdoc Quickly with Your Reputation Intact
- How to Establish and Enforce the Chain of Command in Lab
Submit your questions to Dora at DearDora@benchfly.com, or use the comment box below!