I am an international student, studying for a PhD in Electrical Engineering at UNC and just finished my first year. My employer gave me a full scholarship to the US. So, I have a 6k monthly salary while they cover all tuition fees and medical.

I would like to take my time to finish it in 6 years. No rush as I am enjoying staying in the US and very fortunate to have my children study here.

However, my advisor is pushing me to work harder, he plans to graduate me in four years. How can I tell him my opinion? I am afraid it will give him bad indication that I am not serious while I am interested to do good but during a longer period of time.

  • 1
    Is there any sort of connection between your employer and professor?
    – kosmos
    Aug 22, 2020 at 10:29
  • 3
    A solid majority of US PhD students take more than 6 years to finish. Aug 22, 2020 at 10:30
  • 1
    There is a term for this, Perpetual student - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perpetual_student - If you actually need your PhD then future employers are going to ask why it took so long. You may lose credibility. Also, how long will the employers be willing to keep paying for this? Aug 22, 2020 at 10:31
  • 2
    @chasly - reinstate Monica: In a survey of 2017 Ph.D. graduates in the U.S., the median time was 5.8 years, which incidentally is essentially the same median time I recall seeing on more than one occasion several years before 2017 (in The Chronicle of Higher Education). So "A solid majority of ... 6 years ..." should probably be "A solid majority of ... 5 years ...". Aug 22, 2020 at 16:38
  • 3
    The length of a PhD is highly dependent on the program, overall averages are completely irrelevant.
    – eps
    Aug 23, 2020 at 18:54

3 Answers 3


I suggest, fairly strongly that you go along with the professor and make four years your target. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, you want your advisor happy with you and with the opinion that you are making progress toward a common goal. They may actually need your results as part of a larger picture.

Second, there is no guarantee that any doctoral student meets their time target. Things happen in research that can't be predicted. Some of these lead to additional time. You have a cushion that you can fall back on in this case.

Third, if you do finish in four years, there may be additional opportunities that arise are not visible now and that might make sense at that time. Perhaps you can find a way to just stay on with additional research if your funders are happy. And you may find that you can find something suitable elsewhere, but still in a place you want to live.

Things happen over six years that aren't predictable. Who would have guessed six years ago that the US and the world would be in the current state it is? We hope that in six years it will be better.

“If we knew what it was we were doing, it would not be called research, would it?” ~~Albert Einstein


This is a grey area. On the one hand, your employer is paying for the PhD, which from the perspective of the professor would be as if you were self-funded, so you're not using any of the professor's grant money.

From a financial perspective, you have no reason to adhere to the timeline of your supervisor. However, your supervisor is giving up his/her time and expertise, for you to pursue research.

It is reasonable to assume that your research goals are also of interest to your supervisor, and potentially impactful on his/her work. While they are supervising you it is also a collaboration in pursuit of research goals and thus the effort you invest - reflected in the time to complete the PhD - is partly your supervisor's decision.

My recommendation is to find out why the supervisor wants you to graduate in four years, and how the supervisor ascertains that it is possible. If he/she has given you a problem for example that he/she would have worked on to further his/her own research, it is probably that.

Once you understand the motivations of your supervisor, you are in a better position to gauge whether it would be appropriate to discuss extending the timeline.


Congrats on being a very lucky PhD student :)

It's important to discuss this with your advisor in order to understand their request and try to find a compromise. Don't be afraid to explain your point of view to them, but try to have an open mind about their perspective as well. For example is it related to some of the institution rules? or to their general research plan? does the duration of their students' PhD affects their evaluation? As you can see it's crucial to communicate in order to understand the problem and find the appropriate solution.

A simple suggestion in case it helps: as far as I know most institutions allow some form of part-time PhD. This is often used for people who have another job or a serious health issue for instance. Naturally the normal PhD duration is extended proportionally for these students, so this could be an option worth exploring.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .