Suppose two candidates are applying for the same position with more or less similar research backgrounds and topics.

One has a 3-year Ph.D. degree (say, from Swansea University, Wales, UK); the other has a 4-years Ph.D. degree (say, from UW, Warsaw, Poland).

For the sake of argument, if all other factors (e.g., number of publications, the reputation of the P.I., etc.) are ignored, is there any difference between a 3-years and a 4-years Ph.D. in the case of a research career? I.e., does the person with a 4-years Ph.D. hold more weight as a candidate?

  • 4
    Does a three year offer mean you have a maximum of three years of support? Or does it mean you must complete the degree in three years no matter what is going on with financial support? In general, more money is a good thing. Of course I turned down four years of guaranteed support to take an offer with only one year guaranteed. There are so many other factors to consider. Jul 18 at 23:26
  • 10
    a) can you stop writing coz? b) all other factors are the same are not epxlicitly given, so we cannot know. Which department are the two positions? what are the teaching duties? what are the salaries? what are the travel funds available?
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 19 at 8:48
  • 6
    @user366312 - I will second eliminating ’coz’ - if you want a PhD it is time to start communicating professionally.
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 19 at 12:54
  • One argument against finishing the PhD too quickly: gravityandlevity.wordpress.com/2019/03/25/…
    – Anyon
    Jul 23 at 19:31
  • @Anyon from your link "what I did wrong: I didn’t prioritize my career over my wife’s career". Cringe. So many lines describing how "making it to tenure does not mean other paths are wrong" and then such a blow full of (silly) regret. Academia brings out the worst from people.
    – EarlGrey
    Jul 26 at 22:09

5 Answers 5


The name recognition of the program and the strength of the thesis are more important than the time they take to complete in two very different university systems. Even in Europe, education is sufficiently different among countries (and sometimes among the states of the country) that comparisons are not easy. If the four year degree means more in actual skills, than the program recognition would be higher, assuming that the program is well known. (If the Liechtenstein Ph.D. were seven years and only given for outstanding achievement, this doctorate would not be well enough known to make a difference.) For hiring, you can assume that the thesis and the publications will be scrutinized. If the hiring is for a commercial settings, they often have their own testing procedures, so that the doctorate title only gets an applicant into the pool of applicants.


Given just what you say, there is no difference, because a full analysis of each candidate will depend on many things as well as these.

But, a 3 and 4 year degree might start with different preconditions, leading to a shorter or longer time for completion. Too many variables. And there is even more reason for skepticism if the programs are in different countries. The education systems can vary widely between countries with some topics deemed essential taught earlier and others later in different countries. In particular, a program might require more than research as is true in the US (qualifying exams, for example).

And, the quality of the research is more important than the counts.

"All other factors the same" is pretty much impossible. We aren't machines. Institutional "fit" is even something considered by evaluators.

Trying to reduce faculty evaluation to an algorithm is probably a losing proposition. People contribute in different ways, some of them incapable of such comparison.

Twelve quality publications is pretty impressive, and may be unattainable early on in some fields.

However, beware of any program that puts a maximum time to completion with no options for extension. Research can take longer than anyone predicts at its start. Maximum time to completion is different from a fixed number of years of funding, however.

  • 3
    Evaluate the programs on other criteria than the length. A six year doctorate in US is fine, though it will start with a bachelors. But beware of any program that forces a maximum time to completion. Research can take longer than anyone estimates.
    – Buffy
    Jul 18 at 22:50
  • I've no quibble with the bulk of this answer, except for the "beware of any program that puts a maximum time to completion". All programs in the UK, and as far as I'm aware, all programs in most European countries enforce a maximum time to completion, with few extensions except in genuinely exceptional circumstances. Like, so exceptional, that I've only seen 2 or 3 extensions beyond 4 years in my department in my entire career. Jul 27 at 23:13
  • @IanSudbery, I actually know about the limitation, and it worries me. Does it imply that some significant number of students leave with no degree? Does it restrict the sort of research that a student "dares" to undertake? Asking questions about the unknown (i.e. research) is difficult to time-box. How do you/they make it work?
    – Buffy
    Jul 27 at 23:25
  • No, almost all students graduate (at least in the UK, I don't know about other European countries). It does limit the research questions a student can address (but then most research grants are 3 years as well, so getting used to what can be done in a limited time is good training), but its worth noting that theses are examined with the knowledge of how much time has been available. At least in the UK, research in a thesis doesn't need to be absolutely complete, or entirely positive findings. Its also worth noting there is little or no coursework in European PhDs. Jul 28 at 9:12
  • In fact, in the UK, if a departments on-time completion rate (% students graduate within 4 years) falls below 80%, then the department will no long receive funding to have PhD students. Jul 28 at 9:13

As long as you finish "on time" (which depends on country and discipline), no one cares how long you spent in a program. What matters is your publication record, your letters, and your research program. And in some cases, your teaching experience. So the factors you have excluded are exactly the ones that matter. The only possible exception I can think of might be the case of an unusually young candidate, who might be considered to be more hireable when they're a year older.

  • If you're asking me about duration, exactly what I said above. If you're asking me about which background is more employable in protein analysis, I don't have the expertise to answer. Jul 27 at 0:50

If all other factors are the same, then 4 years is better than 3 years, because you can always be quicker than the planned time, so you have safety about knowing you will have money and support for 4 years, but you can be quick and finish the PhD in 3 years.

Because if 3 and 4 years have the same factors, it means that the same PhD can be done in 3 or in 4 years.

I hope your PhD is not in logic or any related topic, though.


Silly question.

Is a four year PhD with 20 publications more valuable than a 4 year PhD with only one publication? If the publication of the latter is groundbreaking and the publications of the former are so and so. Guess who will have the better offers ...

You must log in to answer this question.

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