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I started a PhD program few years ago. My first PhD supervisor decided he wants to quit university and stopped supervising PhDs (he was 70 years old). I lost about a year trying to convince this supervisor to continue, and another year trying to find another supervisor when he quit (he pretty much left all his PhD students in the air).

I transferred to another university, but nobody counts the missing years and I should finish in few months. The condition put by my new supervisor in order to be allowed to present my thesis was to come up with at least 2 new contributions in addition to my previous contributions (I have published some papers with some contributions, but many of them were group research and this supervisor said that only 2 or 3 of them really count as mine).

Now the problem is that during the last year I have worked a lot both at the university and at the PhD, but only during last weeks I started to have some ideas about what these new potential contributions could be. Considering the lack of time, there is a high chance that I won't finish on time (due to the regulations from this country you have to finish in 5 years, nobody takes into account the fact that you lost several years with other problems like replacing your PhD supervisor).

I'm not a lazy person, but first time I really had no luck, and with the second supervisor it took me a lot of time to play in the league he wanted ... Basically all articles discussed with him about Machine Learning were from MIT, Carnegie-Mellon, etc. Essentially I had to spend about a year and a half to get my knowledge to the level where I can design new algorithms or create new things that would get accepted to top journals reviewed by people from these institutions.

Of course, I can register again for the PhD, take the exams again, and present my contributions in a new thesis. The problem is when I will add all these years it will result a large interval for Europe: 7-8 years, instead of 4-5 years. My question is this: how will a potential future employer from both Academia or Private Company look at this time interval? Is it ok to try 2-3 times to finish your PhD? Will the fact that it took to long finish the PhD affect my career?

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Voting to close as too localized. This is a lengthy description of a very specific situation, asking for personal advice. –  Ben Crowell May 4 at 19:39

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

The fundamental issue here is that your first advisor left academia altogether—by retiring before his students were done. This is an awful thing to do to the people one is supervising—leaving them completely in the lurch in such a manner is unacceptable behavior. The advisor should not have taken on new students if he was planning on retiring.

As a result of this, it is obvious that some allowances for this will need to be made. The way to signal this is through your CV: list both advisors, including the dates for which you worked with them. If your first advisor is well-known enough, then this will automatically clue in others about what happened.

Overall, though, so long as the time required isn't too unreasonable for your discipline, an extended stay in graduate school isn't problematic. However, if you have mitigating circumstances such as these, it makes such problems a lot easier to overlook.

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From only one side of the story, it's hard for me to describe the advisor's actions as completely unacceptable. The advisor may not have planned on retiring when he took the students on, but a lot can change in 3-5 years. There could be health, personal, or financial issues that we don't know about. I agree the situation is unfortunate but at this point I'm not prepared to blame the advisor. –  Nate Eldredge May 4 at 18:17
    
If, as the OP indicates, this is a European university, there would likely have been retirement regulations to be followed. –  aeismail May 4 at 19:07
    
@Nate fair point - but either way, the point is what happened is an undue hardship for the OP. –  Pekka 웃 May 4 at 19:25
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@aeismail That is correct: it is a European university, and yes, regulations for retirement appeared in that year (essentially people older than 65 years can't accept new PhD students). However he had the option to finish with his current students, but denied. –  paxRoman May 4 at 19:38

What country are you in? I'm also from Europe (France) and with a letter of motivation, special circumstances, and proof that you will be funded, it's possible to do more years, although I'm not sure what the limit is (may depend on the institution).

I'm in Japan right now, and here it's possible to present your thesis at a later time, even though officially you may be on leave from the University (this allows you to skip paying tuition for many more years, which can be helpful, as tuition is several times more expensive than in Europe).

It may depend not only on the country but also on the specific University you are enrolled at. I don't recommend asking the administration yourself, as they may or may not be very receptive to your specific case. I suggest your advisor inquires for you, and if that's not possible, you can try asking for an appointment with the head of your department or doctoral school.

[edit] To answer the OP's final question, I think you can list both advisors on your resume, with the word "retired" next to the first one. I know quite a few people with successful careers in academia who took 5+ years to complete their PhD, and being 30+ years old upon graduation is not unheard of, even in the hard sciences. The race starts after you complete your degree.

PS/ saying that your first advisor unexpectedly retired in the middle of your degree would be enough to get the message through, even during an interview. You could even try throwing in some positive comments, something like, sure it took you longer but how it was actually an opportunity to gain high-level working knowledge of algorithms. :)

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Romania. The length is typically 3-5 years. –  paxRoman May 4 at 18:41
    
Thanks! Unfortunately I don't know about the system in Romania, but I edited my answer with some suggestions for later job interviews. Good luck with your thesis :) –  biohazard May 4 at 18:48
    
Thanks @biohazard! –  paxRoman May 4 at 18:53

At least twice is absolutely for sure normal, but probably also more is normal, even if there are no any obvious reasons. And in your case the reasons are.

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I am from Europe. Here 5-7 years for finishing a PhD is quite normal if you are working under a full-time work contract with your professor. I don't think it's a problem.

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