Why does it take so long to get a Ph.D.? - PhDData

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Why does it take so long to get a Ph.D.?

October 2022

Higher education aims to equip the most capable members of society to advance human knowledge; a Ph.D. program is intended to do just that. The books we read are not self-written. These people will be the ones who write them. The point is not to use a method to address an issue that has already been addressed. Ph.D. dissertations are distinguished by their unique nature, and specific departments and advisers are notoriously picky about the level of innovation they accept.

Ph.D. candidates are expected to immerse themselves in their chosen topic to the point that they become more knowledgeable than their advisors, who had typically spent years, if not decades, in the field (starting to count when they already had a Ph.D. degree). This is not something you can learn in a blink of an eye; instead, it is a tremendous accomplishment that takes time and effort. Developing the expertise needed to get a doctorate is a lengthy process.

For the most part, this is because the journey has much more significance than the destination. At first, you are just a student; hopefully, a good one who has done all of their coursework, earned excellent marks, written a thesis that their advisor and maybe a committee have accepted, and successfully defended their idea in front of an audience. You have studied a few books and probably a ton of articles in your field of study, with your focus mainly on the classic study books and sources that your MSc advisor advised. In addition, you probably have a few hobbies, which are specialized areas that piqued your interest, which you learned more about, and to which you dedicated some of your spare time and energy.

After you defend your dissertation for your doctorate:

You are a proficient writer. This is a skill that can only be learned with much practice. This isn’t about “selling your results” as in the marketing sense; instead, it’s about how you present your findings to the reader. It’s challenging and nontrivial to realize that even solid research findings won’t sway readers on their own if you don’t present them correctly.

You’ve had presentation practice. Presenting well is an independent ability, and it’s not as rare as you think, even among elementary school pupils. Nonetheless, repositioning your contributions and re-narrating your story to appeal to a specific audience is a more nuanced skill that can be honed by attending a variety of conferences, some of which are more formal and others more industry-oriented, some of which seek out specific topics in anything you do, and others that seek to build bridges between disciplines. It takes time to develop the ability to respond appropriately to inquiries from the audience and provide logical and concise responses.

You understand what should be expected of a valid scientific finding. As a Ph.D. student, you and your advisor have presumably read many publications and evaluated some of them. You are adept at identifying problems and writing a solid “threats to validity” section for any article you have read, whether it was written by you or someone else. The conference’s acronym where the paper was delivered might help you differentiate between different presentation settings and give you an idea of the work’s overall quality. You can objectively evaluate your progress and determine whether or not there is sufficient “flesh” to accept it.

You have mastered the art of research organization. Reality check for doctorate students: you’re on your own after you graduate. Although it may seem obvious, it’s only after putting in a lot of hard work over several years that you realize that no, you don’t need daily or weekly supervision to know what to do. There are rare cases when BSc/MSc research projects run so swimmingly that the supervisor’s presence is hardly noticeable. However, you can expect to feel hopelessly trapped and need assistance from others on several occasions throughout your Ph.D. studies. Ultimately, you’ll realize you have what it takes to make it yourself.

Your suggestions are sound. Some students indeed have a seemingly endless supply of brilliant insights. There are several excellent suggestions here that may serve as long-term study foci. There is a distinction, however, between a great concept and an excellent publishable idea. The latter may be argued appropriately to be correct and relevant, to be able to answer someone’s issue, and so on. Different persons working on the same concept might produce vastly different trials and publications; finding your way around it does not simply happen one day.

You have a lot of life under your belt. Some of the above are included in this item, but it’s essential to mention them separately. You are well-versed in your subject, and even if you have a terrible memory, you know roughly where to search if you need a paper on this or that. The ability to work with people, manage time effectively, think ahead, and solve problems creatively are practical skills you’ll pick up throughout a Ph.D. program, mainly if your research subject includes any construction or application. Spending a long time getting a Ph.D. sets you up for success in the future. By the way, one of the possible outcomes is deciding that a career in academics isn’t for you and that you need another path (more teaching, more practice, less stress, etc.).

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