"A dissertation should be done in 9 months"--realistic advice?

I heard the quote in the title from a professor today when asked about my progress on my own research. This person said that to spend any more time than 9 months is to risk developing bad habits that will prevent one from getting tenure later.

As some of you know, I often come in here to bitch about my doctoral student experience. The 9-month timeline seems quite short; of course it’s possible, but I imagine it would be very difficult, unless one already had some papers in the pipeline that could be turned into a dissertation.

For those who know about such things, is 9-months from start to finish perfectly reasonable for a dissertation?

You should submit that to the Piled Higher and Deeper comic strip. It’s hilarious.

Unless your field of study is very different from mine, that is BOGUS.

If you are an experimentalist, any research worthy of a doctorate will likely take you a long time to set up the experiment, some time to take data, some time to analyze the data and a long time to explain the results… plus a long time to make sure nobody else did it first.

If you are a theoretician, it will take you a long time to find a problem worth solving that nobody has solved before, a long time to solve it and a long time to explain the results.

If you are a historian or literary student, it will take you a long time to read all the source material, a long time to read other viewpoints to make sure your viewpoint is unique and valuable and a long time to write it.

If all the leg work has been done, the actual writing of the document could be shorter than nine months, depending on how well you write and how fastidious your committee is.

(PhD Mechanical Engineering… Former professor who advised PhD students)

What field? The length may vary from one field to another. But that seems very short to me (for the field of electrical engineering at least) unless the professor was speaking about the writing portion only.

Here’s a paper in Nature on the changing length of time for a Ph.D. with some figures:

Also, How Long Does It Take to Get a Ph.D. In Psychology?:

Business statistics. In my program, it’s had more of a pure stats flavor, but then that’s a whole other story. I’m the only person in the program at the moment, and the first American-born student they’ve ever had (a concern because getting out usually meant going back home, whereever that was), and one of two since 1985 that have desired academic positions after graduation. My program falls under an umbrella program that includes two other related, but clearly distinct, areas, so other students in the same department really don’t know what I’m going through.

Everything seems to have been tailored to me. For the most part, I chose all of the classes I wanted to take. I haven’t done much research since there’s only one person in my department that’s really interested in working with me, so in terms of having stuff in the pipeline, I’m not in such good shape.

I wrote my 30 page MA thesis in 9 months. It was just barely doable within that time frame, and a few students in my program took a full year. Our program was rather micro-managing and we had multiple deadlines we had to meet every few weeks. By the end of the 9 months everyone was completely burnt out.

I doubt anyone could write a PhD dissertation in 9 months, unless they were superhuman. Or just didn’t give a shit.

9 months is reasonable, or perhaps a bit long, for the writing itself. For the research that goes into the writing, though, I’d say that 2 years is probably the absolute minimum.

That’s fucking insane. I earned my PhD in a shade over 4 years–faster than anyone ever in my program–and I *still *spent a year and a half on my dissertation. (This was philosophy.) I don’t see how less than a year is possible, unless you are some kind of supergenius.

But that includes initial coursework and teaching load, so is irrelevant to the question at hand.

Count me in the “not possible”-group. Here in Denmark earning a Ph.D. is a job - you get paid (well) and won’t have to work on the side - and even here the standard lenght of study is 3 years (on top of an MA, of course). 9 months?! Highly unlikely.

I switched grad schools after my adviser died on me, and it took me almost exactly 3 years at the second one, with one term off for teaching full time. But that isn’t a fair example because I had almost no course load and had gained a lot of maturity already. My actual dissertation took maybe 5- 6 months, interleaved with finishing the compiler, but I had my wife to type it up (this was long before PCs) and the lure of a good job on the other end. I wouldn’t recommend that pace to anyone. I also write very quickly. I also had done significant documentation of my ideas, much of which I was able to drop in.

Most importantly, I had learned how to manage my adviser,

I’d agree that 9 months should be a reasonable amount of time to write. The professor in question probably meant that taking too long to write instills a habit that slows down later publishing, where time is of the essence in getting publications out before a tenure decision.

Of course, I’m in industry, so the only thing I’d want patents or publications for is that it’d make it easier when applying for the next job and cuts down the amount I’d have to talk with Legal about.

You’re taking classes, but not done much research - does that mean you’re doing a Masters, or in the early stages of a PhD? And are you using the term dissertation to refer to the PhD as a whole, or just the actual writing of a PhD thesis?

Actual writing up can be very quick if you want it to be and you have good results - know people who’ve done it in 2 months easy in the physical sciences. Obviously will differ according to field of study. The PhD research period as a whole takes several years, (or decades in the humanities), as has been said.

I have heard this trop many times. In science, IF you have finished all your experiments, the thought is that you should take about 9 months to write up the data.

But these days, NO ONE who is smart writes a dissertation this way. Writing should be an ongoing process. You should be writing while you are doing the experiments - methods etc.

For any writing project (paper, thesis etc…) my rule of thumb is to take whatever amount of time you think it will take, triple it and add a month.

On edit - when I was in grad school I took a class with an egotistical asshole (a social scientist) who insisted that for a masters degree you collected data for 6 months and for a PhD you collected data for a year. No amount of discussion about how different fields did work (ecologists, molecular biologists) would change his mind - if it took longer it was because we were bad researchers.

He taught teaching methods. His attitudes toward teaching were similar.

I have no idea if 9 months is realistic or not. I do know that in Chemical Engineering at the well-regarded school I attended and did not get a graduate degree at, some advisors had repuations for having students get PhDs in 4 years (counting class time, TA time, research time and writing time) and others for having students take 6-7 or more years.

Some had “cookbooks” for success, others did not.

I have no idea what happens to any of them ten years down the line.

You may want to ask around and find out what’s typical where you are rather than asking around on a message board with broader experiences.

I took about 8 weeks, and I suck at writing. The boss said it should take less than two weeks. It’s just shy of 200 pages. Keep in mind that I’d already published half of it, and those 200 pages include spectra and references.
Some folks in my lab started months ahead of time, but they were still putting in a full week of work (70 h minimum) and just writing a bit at home each night. I didn’t do much in lab while I was writing, and I took a week off to move.

I’m not really sure how it could take much longer. I felt incredibly slow and stupid while I was writing mine, and the boss was annoyed that I wasn’t doing more in lab.

I’m a chemist. I took 5.25 years from start to submission.

It’s not clear from the OP and the replies whether we’re talking about the time required to write one’s thesis (the dissertation), or the time required to perform the research as well.

I spent two years getting my MS (mech. engineering), then an additional four years getting my Ph.D. The exact beginning of writing is hazy, but I don’t think I took more than four or five months to write my dissertation, and I think that was pretty typical for folks in my department. Mind you, that was about 14 hours a day, seven days a week (not including the occasional beer-laden Friday evening).

Yes, some of the figures and text were already done for my prelim and other publications, but most of it happened during that final five-month period.

It was surprising how much of my time was spent preparing illustrations and plots.

It absolutely is relevant. You can estimate or find out how much coursework is required, some of which may just be “Doctoral Dissertation Research”. In my case:

(999 is “Doctoral Dissertation Research”). 36 credits is, what, two years? But taken in conjunction with research, so maybe count it as one.

You can also estimate what the teaching load is, which I’m sure varies greatly among programs (I taught one class, and that may have been when I was getting my Masters). The OP may already know what this is in his case.

You got some other way of estimating the answer?

I see that there is a bit of confusion on what I mean by finishing in 9 months. I don’t really know what this person meant either, but I know him a little, and I have a feeling he meant: time between finishing quals and writing the last word of the dissertation = 9 months, which includes data collection and analysis. His PhD, by the way, is in management science.

The statement is fairly ridiculous because there are a multitude of factors to be considered. My doctorate in education took six years, and the time from my diss proposal being accepted to turning the sucker in was about a year. Data collection took a lot of my time (it was a qualitative interview study), then analysis. Writing was actually the quickest and easiest part.

I have told students that I wrote a chapter in two days. Granted, I had spent months thinking about what I wanted to write, and memoing. But once I said, “Right, that’s it - this is going to be completed,” it was incredibly fast. Of course I had to make edits and the committee gave comments, etc.

At the same time, there were days where I would literally write one page. Of crap.

Dissertation writing is funny because no two days are the same. Sometimes it pours out of you, other days the well is dry, and you try to stay productive by making sure your margins are correct, laying out tables and figures, and the like.

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t fucking matter what this guy thinks unless he is your chair/advisor or on your committee! Make sure you’re on the same page with him/her.