I am pursuing my PhD in Canada in Mechanical engineering and will graduate this November. This brings my PhD time to a total of 5 years 3 months. I already had a master's degree. I have not yet started looking for postdoc positions but I have heard from one of my lab's alumni that they were asked about their extended PhD duration during postdoc and industry position interviews.

I had coursework in first semester, but after that, all my time was invested in my research. So, I don't have the reasoning that my US counterparts have for their PhD extending over 5 years. I was unfocused for a better part of a semester during my 3rd year, so that might have caused this delay. On top of that, I am submitting my research to journals now, so I don't have any proof of productivity for the past 4 years.

I have two questions: 1) does an extended PhD duration really frowned upon in academia and industry (for a research scientist position), if so, any suggestions to counteract a question on that? 2) A vague question: How can I stay motivated and optimistic about completing my thesis and working towards an academic or a research scientist career in the future?

2 Answers 2


I'll say something only about your first concern.

You can't change the past. You are where you are. However, I wouldn't be overly concerned with anecdotal remarks about what is expected or not. You have a history and if asked about it, just recount it honestly. Don't apologize for taking a few extra months or even years.

The funny thing about (real) research is that you can't do it on a schedule. The insights and the background work take time to mature. It isn't like manufacturing a complex artifact like an automobile that can be optimized to the second. Research problems worth the effort are hard and the solutions come when they come. Sometimes spending more hours on them helps. Sometimes taking a break, especially a mental break, helps.

But anyone who says "I will do this significant piece of work and be done in three years" is deluding themselves. I expect other people with research experience to recognize and respect that. If they don't, I expect that they haven't really worked on anything difficult lately and carried it to completion.

You do what you can do with the constraints that you have. Hopefully you learn something valuable and are able to write it up and get your degree. But the path is both winding and difficult.

When I went to grad school it was still possible to get a math PhD in four years out of undergraduate. I took seven. My career wasn't what I expected, due to economic factors beyond my control, but I had a rewarding career in academia. Nowadays seven is closer to the norm, unfortunately.


I finished my MS in three years where normal time is two years, but that did not stop me from getting into a PhD and finish in 5 years. I have numerous examples of people taking up to 8 years finishing up their PhDs. Everybody has different reasons, some took time off, some had a family emergency/planning (had babies), some had failed experiments, some went on internships, or some just goofed around. However, all those people had good job offers of their choice when they graduated. Therefore, do not worry much about if you have taken a little over five years to finish. You will be fine.

About publications, usually students do not publish while they are doing their MS or PhD, unless you are very enthusiastic or your department has a policy to publish before you graduate. Many students publish their MS or PhD work in the next couple of years after graduation. If a potential employer ask you about the publications, you can always say that you are working on them, although this answer is more acceptable in industry than in academia.

About staying motivated, just think about the bigger picture. I know it is hard. I was supposed to finish my MS thesis in 6 months but took 12. It wasn't because I was super busy with anything else, but because I was too distracted going out with friends, watching TV or doing some other non-academic stuff. But I learned a lesson from that and finished my PhD dissertation in time. You can do all the stuff other than writing your thesis/dissertation and have that stress in the back of your head about finishing for one year, or you can finish in 6 months and then do all that stuff without any stress. Good luck!

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