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After finishing my M.A.Sc. in Canada, I had been interviewed with my current supervision team in my current Swiss university to start a Ph.D. In that time, it was fairly obvious that the project I was supposed to work on would not prolong for whole four years. In the course of those interviews, particularly, my co-supervisor (whose financial resources supports my studies) had asked my what I would do if the project finishes sooner than what my Ph.D. deserves. I had answered that I would find a broader problem statement to generalize the solution to the (theoretical) aspects of the project. He had said nothing when he had heard it.

I just started my Ph.D. on Oct. 31st, 2018, and I defended my proposal in the Oct. 2019 becoming a Ph.D. candidate. In that proposal, whose content were fully known to both of them, I had noted the main problem statement of the project, as well as another as an extension (to work on one the main project is done). Before the candidacy exam, I was pretty productive not only in terms of the progression of the project but also in view of my publications (3 proceedings and 2 journal papers, 4 other journal papers are also under review now).

Today, I just received an email from my supervisor stating that he and the co-supervisor has discussed my case, and they think that I better finish my Ph.D. by the end of this year. He said I may later consider the extension problem statement, only if I can find some money to support myself in a potential post-doc period. He has fixed a zoom call for the Monday to discuss that with me in the presence of my co-supervisor. He also sent me a line of the law associated with the doctoral school of my university to support the validity of their standpoint:

Ordinance on the doctorate at XXX, art. 9, pt 2. As a general rule, the subject must allow for the thesis to be completed within a four-year period from the candidate's official enrolment date (October 31st, 2018 in your case), with a minimum required period prior to the oral examination (Art. 15) of two years.

In return, I shortly responded to his email by stating that the idea of finishing my Ph.D. just within two years is not a sound plan for me, because I later want to try to apply for some post-doc and finally tenure-track positions in North America. A two-year Ph.D. is way lower than their standards, and it shall seriously diminish my chances on that side. I also reminded them about the fact that they should have been honest and should have frankly told me that I am supposed to be dumped once the project in done regardless of how much time is passed from the start of my Ph.D. (I said all in a very professional tune without any aggression). I also noted that even if they don't like the extension problem statement, I am open to discuss about what they may alternatively prefer to be done. In the end, I reiterated again that finishing my Ph.D. in two years is not a thing I could imagine.

Now, I am thinking about the optimal way I should approach this issue. Finishing in just two years is literally like wasting two years of my life as I do know that almost every search committee would raise eyebrow when they see a two-year Ph.D. in my CV. I fill this whole story is totally unfair and hideously disappointing. I am heading toward a very important meeting with them that I have no idea how I should react if they just throw a THAT'S IT to me and simply make me end my Ph.D. How should I manage such a potential worst-case scenario?

PS. 1 I am in an STEM field, if does matter.

PS. 2 My university assigns each Ph.D. candidate to a mentor to whom she can bring any issue which could not be resolved in the circle of herself and her supervisors. Because of the pandemic, I can't meet mine, and he has not answered my email regarding my consultation request.

  • It's unclear to me why the rule "thesis to be completed within a four-year period from the candidate's official enrolment date (October 31st, 2018 in your case)" would "support the validity of their standpoint". That rule seems to say you should finish by October 31st, 2022, not "by the end of this year". Two years is stated as the minimum, not the maximum. Am I missing something? – nanoman Jun 10 at 4:05
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    The OP's supervisor is justifying 2 years, trying to establish that its not something unfair, I guess – Jihadi Jun 10 at 5:40
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Your advisors telling you that you've done enough to finish your PhD in two years is a good thing. The fact that you have extensions to do on it in future work is also a good thing.

I've also never heard of a department that would think finishing a PhD in two years is a problem. I suspect it's most likely a neutral thing, but if not it's almost certainly a positive, since it shows you can get things done and perform research in a timely fashion.

The optimal approach I would suggest is to graduate and go on the job market, then continue working on your research. Congratulations on your impending graduation!

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    They haven't cared about my Ph.D. nor its quality. They have never passed me any comment on my papers or any particular hint during my Ph.D. up to know. They literally only care about their pocket to get rid of me once their project is done regardless of its impacts on me. Regarding your assertion about the sole positivity of the finishing after just two years, I have personally talked to some senior North-American faculty members who had noted that a less-than-three-year Ph.D. (as the worst case in UK) is fairly suspicious. Unless by the "job market", you mean the industry (...) – Roboticist Jun 9 at 19:58
  • (...) which is obviously not my option because I would not leave Canada to come here if I wanted to finally end up with an industrial job. – Roboticist Jun 9 at 19:59
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    I'm sorry to hear about the lack of input from your advisors, but with that being the case I think it's even more important to get out of there with your degree quickly. Two more years with unhelpful advisors will not help you, and graduating with a PhD in two years will not hurt you. Obviously do the best you can with the quality of your own work right now, then focus on the important extensions from your next position. I don't know about the North American faculty you spoke with, but I maintain that finishing quickly is not at all something you will be judged on. – Jeff Jun 9 at 20:23
  • This answer captures how I would respond to this. I don't see how staying longer would provide much benefit. – kjacks21 Jun 9 at 20:28
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    I would agree with this, provided the supervisor reviews were glowing and they also did personal outreach to help you secure a post-doc. – Dawn Jun 9 at 21:05
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I agree with the other answer that from a reputation/career angle, there seems nothing wrong with doing a Ph.D. in 2 years, especially if your recommendations and publication record is strong. I don't see why your degree should be perceived negatively as a result. (Perhaps there is something specific to your field - I am also in STEM and would definitely not be the case in areas I know something about, but perhaps there is something special in some other (sub)fields?)

However, it does sound like it might be logistically challenging for your to finish in an accelerated timeframe AND also expend the necessary efforts for a good job-hunt elsewhere, especially with COVID-related restrictions on travel and perhaps hiring. And one does need to consider the hypothesis that pushing you through quickly might be influenced by your institution's/adviser's budget...

However, your tone (perhaps with cause, I can't tell) sounds quite confrontational to me. At least pro tempore, I would hold the firepower and use the upcoming meeting to understand what's in their mind, and what's the range of support they are prepared to offer to you. Accordingly, I'd try something like this:

  1. You appreciate their vote of confidence in your research progress

  2. That you are a bit concerned about the volume of work which needs to be done prior to formal completion. You think that what you still need to do is ..., ..., ... and ... Do they feel comfortable that can be done by date X, and how can they help you do that?

  3. You are also concerned about the job hunt environment at this time, esp given ... and ... What kind of extension/other support could they offer you as a bridge, especially if you now would need to dedicate all possible effort to Ph.D. completion?

Then you can amp up the firepower, insist on talking with your mentor, etc etc if the answers you're getting are not satisfactory. But give this a chance to develop well, with an early Ph.D., stop-gap extension job, and great references (rather than an adverserial ending).

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