I took 14 years to finish my Ph.D. Mostly this was due to a health problem (now cured); partly it was because I bit off too large a research problem. It's done now, though, and I'm applying for an academic/research position.

I'm embarrassed to write 2008–2022 in the column next to the line that describes my Ph.D. And I'm wary of mentioning a health problem in a C.V. What's the best way I can frame it? Could I put only the year of completion? Mention only the last 7 years? Small type?

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    PhD award over age 45 is not rare. ncses.nsf.gov/pubs/nsf22300/assets/data-tables/tables/… Sep 5, 2022 at 19:52
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    Mine took ten years and about three weeks. The three weeks were a gift from the dean, who waived the "ten years and out" requirement. I was also teaching full time, and that, of course, is also on my CV.
    – Bob Brown
    Sep 5, 2022 at 21:42
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    Congratulations on finishing your Ph.D. Being able to put a Ph.D. on your CV is a good thing, not something that needs to be apologized for. Sep 6, 2022 at 11:57
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    If you're working full-time while studying, then there's no shame in any amount of time it takes to finish. Tell people you did your PhD on the side while you worked, and not a single employer on Earth would think anything of the long time.
    – Jerome
    Sep 6, 2022 at 19:43

5 Answers 5


As has been mentioned a few times on this site, your CV is for facts about your career. Health, and other things that are not very directly career related, should be left out.

I only list the completion dates of my degrees on my CV. However, listing only a completion date does nothing to hide the duration of the degree; you did something before you started your PhD, and that should have a completion date listed. If you had some other job during your PhD, you might list that.

In academia, your publications count far more than the length of your PhD. Speaking from experience: I completed my PhD faster than 99% of physical science PhDs, and exactly zero academics care about that fact (it was good for my bank account).

If you are asked about the 14 year period, you can simply say "My studies were interrupted for personal reasons which are no longer relevant." You can provide more detail if you like; while your health problem may have been rare, health problems are common and people understand they are not voluntary. I would not want to work for an employer who would choose not to hire me because of my past health problems, both common and rare. Regardless of the wording you use, articulate that the problem you had will not recur.

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    Ah, this sounds very good. For the first 11 years, I was also doing professional work, and that'll be in my C.V., too, so that should fill the gap.
    – Tiger
    Sep 5, 2022 at 22:36
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    @Tiger Don't lie in your CV. If your PhD took 11 years and you say it took 3 years and manage to hide the gaps, your future employer might figure it out (he's not dumb, and he might want to contact your former PhD supervisor). If your future employer figures out that you lied, you won't get a job.
    – Stef
    Sep 6, 2022 at 7:50
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    @Stef Judging by what I get done besides working professionally (which is next to zero) the OP's PhD took effectively 3 yeas and a bit ;-). More seriously, it's possible that the OP realized they need to focus on the PhD in order to get it done in a way that was not possible while working, which is why they didn't work during the past three years. (I agree not to lie, of course. It was just a remark that popped up in my head. Perhaps there is a way to say "finishing the PhD" for the last 3 years or so.) Sep 6, 2022 at 7:52
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    Depending on where you live (or are looking for work), some countries have laws regarding the questions that can be asked about health issues at interview. Sep 6, 2022 at 8:42
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    @Stef I'm not thinking of lying. The idea is to say that I finished my Ph.D. in 2022 (true) and in the experience section to describe intermittent professional work 2008–2019 (also true). Would that be interpreted as a lie?
    – Tiger
    Sep 6, 2022 at 10:16

You can just list the completion year. You will have to account somehow for what you were doing in the interim - perhaps that was a job so you could support yourself.


There's no shame in your PhD taking 14 years.

As someone who reviews CVs on a regular basis for hiring decisions, I'd actually see this as a sign that you're persistent and capable of finishing something massive even in the face of difficulties.

I don't think anyone (reasonable) would see this as a negative thing, even if it wasn't due to health reasons.

At the end of the day, a PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. The actual research doesn't necessarily have to be that hard. What completing it demonstrates is persistence and the ability to gradually churn out a really good piece of work with a consistent abmount of effort over a very long period of time.

  • And how is a decade-plus PhD viewed for academic hiring? Sep 6, 2022 at 18:25
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    @ElizabethHenning - Nobody cares, your thesis and published research should speak for itself Sep 6, 2022 at 21:55
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    a PhD is a marathon, not a sprint. Well, perhaps, but finishing a marathon in 14 hours is not quite the same as finishing it in 3, is it? If you mean to suggest that the number of years that one takes to finish a PhD is a completely irrelevant number, the marathon isn’t a very good analogy to reach for.
    – Dan Romik
    Sep 7, 2022 at 3:25
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    @DanRomik - It depends really... Most people don't run marathons for the sake of actually getting the fastest time, they run them to demonstrate that they can. It might not be a perfect anology but it holds true in that nobody cares how long it takes you to finish it, it's still impressive that you did Sep 7, 2022 at 9:56
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    @ScottishTapWater yes, it’s impressive that you run a marathon. But it’s clearly less impressive if you took an extremely long time to do it, and it’s disingenuous to claim otherwise.
    – Dan Romik
    Sep 7, 2022 at 14:21

Add a section on research experience and then describe the kind projects you have done during those 13 years, like

  • 2008-2011 We carried out research on ...
  • 2012-2015 We worked on some problem... etc...

Likewise you can add different sections like teaching experience where you can describe the same years again that you taught (as a TA maybe).

You can also break your 13 years into two or more segments and say that first five years you worked as a project assistant or research assistant, etc..

But make sure to add as much rigor as possible for those 13 years so that it doesn't look like you have or have been wasted.


Definitely don't mention a health problem in your CV. As a general rule, health issues count against your application. It's not that universities or research institutes are full of monsters who trash every application from someone with health problems; rather, it's simply that they receive the maximum benefit from hiring the most productive person they can. This is the way the incentives are laid out. If you have two equivalently credentialed candidates applying for a job, and one has health issues, the sick one will be perceived as having less potential for productivity. Even if you assert that you are fully cured, your evaluators might wonder if you could really put a yearslong affliction behind you so easily.

As for the length of your PhD, I am less concerned about the 14 years and more concerned about the embarassed attitude you seem to have. This attutide will surely hurt you more than the mere length of your PhD. In my experience, if you make something out to be a big deal yourself, people tend to respond by treating it as a big deal. If you come off as going out of your way to conceal the length of your PhD, that looks terrible. If you come out of the gate on the defense trying to explain away the 14 years in terms of circumstances beyond your control, you will probably remain on the defense for the whole application process. These are the things you seem to be trying to do.

However, if your appliation materials make you seem like someone who wanted a faculty/reasearch job so badly that you put in the time to earn a competitive body of work, you will look like a dedicated professional. If you sound like someone who didn't want to move on until you felt mature enough to be a leader, you will sound wise and prudent. Just make sure that you carefully finesse this narrative in your application and interviews (because if you are too overt you still sound like you are making a big deal out of your PhD length).

Bear in mind that a 14-year PhD also says that your PI liked you enough to continue funding you for so long instead of pushing you out the door.

  • This is some good advice! Indeed my experience has given me many strengths to bring to my next job. My advisor is actually well known for interesting dissertations that people actually read as well as many-year Ph.D.s. I especially appreciate your remark about going "on defense". I'll be putting the positives front and center.
    – Tiger
    Sep 8, 2022 at 17:31
  • Perceiving someone with any disability--including a long-term or chronic medical condition--as having less potential for productivity is in fact ableist and illegal. Antidiscrimination laws exists especially to protect people from "rational" discrimination. Sep 8, 2022 at 21:18
  • @ElizabethHenning: I seem to have been using "ableism" incorrectly, so I edited my response. Legal protections for the sick/disabled vary dramatically across countries, and even where these laws exist, they barely matter for academic/research job applications. Evaluators can conjure up countless excuses for rejecting an unhealthy applicant without mentioning illness.
    – ultracold
    Sep 9, 2022 at 5:12
  • @ElizabethHenning: Incidentally, I am an academic with a disability, so I am wary of conveying that my field is brimming with acceptance when I have learned the hard way that is not the case. In my experience, academia's veneer of inclusion has done little more than make people keep their prejudices about the sick and disabled to themselves. In practice, the burden often falls on the sick/disabled to prove they are equivalent to able-bodied candidates.
    – ultracold
    Sep 9, 2022 at 5:13

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