I am a fourth year theoretical biology PhD student in a German university. My original funding source has now run out, but my supervisor (who has been quite supportive so far) is willing to fund me for longer, from a separate source. We both agree that if I spend some time there's a good chance that it would result in better quality publications/thesis.

My question is this: if I spend say, five/six years to finish PhD, what are the practical implications I should be aware of regarding staying in academia? E.g. would I face issues applying for postdoctoral positions/grants in EU or US (for eligibility or evaluation)? Is there any major reason to rush and wrap up quickly? Is there some problem I should be aware of and prepare for?

  • In the US, 4-6 years is pretty typical for a PhD. My department (math, at a University of California) guaranteed funding for PhD students for 5 years, and was nearly always able to find funding for a 6th. Probably around 1/3 of students stuck around for that 6th year (and one or two every year came back for a 7th). COVID changed things (I'm told), but 6 years isn't really a big deal in math. My father's PhD (cultural anthropology) took nearly 10 years (though he did take some time off to complete a JD); other people in his department took 7-8 years. Aug 2 at 2:54
  • Ultimately, 5-6 year degrees are not unusual in the US (though, of course, there is a lot of variability from one department to another, and one institution to another; my impression is that lab sciences go faster, for example), and I can't believe that anyone is going to care all that much how long it took you to get a degree. It certainly isn't something I am going to care about when I am on a hiring committee. Aug 2 at 2:57
  • Thanks for your comments @XanderHenderson . Other posts on SE suggest the same. But other people's CVs in my field suggest they typically finish in four years or so in Germany (although I'd agree that this is anecdotal, and not a proper survey) - which leads me to wonder where exactly do people face issues if they spend longer. I'd also appreciate it if someone shared a survey that I may have missed. Here's the only one I could find but it doesn't talk about implications later in an academic career. Aug 3 at 13:17
  • Would your supervisor be willing to fund you as a post-doc instead ? Also: I would assume your supervisor knows, but it pays to double check the academic regulations at your university to see if there is an upper limit for the length of a PhD. Aug 3 at 16:43
  • Assume that I don't have a problem with being a PhD student for next year or possibly a sixth year, not in terms of regulations or funding. My question is more about what problems would I face in academia if I spend that long (even if indirectly) Aug 3 at 20:33


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