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My speciality is statistics. I'm contemplating a PhD.

If I do a Masters first, that might take a different amount of time to reach the completion of my PhD from now, than if I just got a bachelors and then progress to the doctorate.

What factors would affect that?

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  • Is this too topic-specific ?
    – Suresh
    Aug 29 '12 at 22:57
  • Going to give a general answer - I'd suggest rewording the question to not be quite as subject specific.
    – Fomite
    Aug 30 '12 at 0:35
  • 2
    It will take as long as it takes.
    – StrongBad
    Aug 30 '12 at 9:00
  • I thought the initial question was more focused and answerable (see my answer, and thanks for the edits). It specifically addresses the question of whether having a masters reduces PhD completion time in statistics department. The general form, "what factors affect completion time", feels very broad and depends on too many things.
    – Legendre
    Sep 15 '12 at 15:15
  • @Jed Since you have some responses below that seem to answer your question, please consider marking one of them as ‘Accepted’ by clicking on the tickmark below their vote count. This shows which answer helped you most, and it assigns reputation points to the author of the answer (and to you!). Sep 24 '12 at 15:14
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The answer, as oft seems true on this site, is that it depends. I'll lay out a couple things that might change how long a PhD might take, and where coming in with a Masters or Bachelors might change that.

  • Is there a large course sequence? And will your department accept previous coursework? If there's many classes to take at the graduate level and your PhD university accepts the classes from your Masters, having obtained an MS would likely trim the time from enrollment to PhD compared to a student with a bachelors degree starting at the same time. However, if the department doesn't accept those courses (and many good programs might not) then you're not necessarily all that far ahread.
  • Is it easier to get funding? If your department treats students who have not yet gotten their MS (in a sequence where the path from bachelors to PhD also involves getting an MS midstream) as transient and less likely to be funded, you might find yourself distracted and pulled in the direction of "rent needs to get paid" more than a better funded student.
  • Your Dissertation. Want to know what makes a PhD take X amount of time? By and large, its how fast your dissertation gets done. How quickly that happens has, in my experience, far more to do with how long a program takes then what letters you have after your name coming in.
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It depends on whether you are in the UK or the USA (or another country). The system is different in the UK in several ways.

1) You might get a "discount" on your PhD length if you have a masters in the same department.

I am not sure about other universities but for Oxford and Cambridge, many of their masters (or "MPhil"s) are meant to be the first year (or first two years) of the PhD program. A PhD usually takes 3-4 years in the UK, but if you continued directly from such a masters, it can be reduced to two years.

2) Your masters dissertation might count as your PhD project.

It depends on the department but at least for mathematics, there are people who use their master's dissertation in place of the first year of the PhD. Once again, I am unfamiliar with universities outside of Oxbridge. But at Oxbridge, the first year is usually spent putting together an in-depth research proposal outlining research goals, literature, and methodology. Then, students go through a "transfer of status" where their proposal is evaluated and green lighted as PhD dissertation. I suppose this is similar to qualifying exams in the USA, minus the coursework.

But if you have done all these during your master's, and the department thinks your master's dissertation is of sufficient quality, then it can count as your transfer and save you a year.

3) The research experience saves you time.

This applies to both the US and UK. It can take some time to pick up various research skills. Master's programs with a significant research component that allows you to pick up these skills can help save time. Sometimes, A LOT of time.

For the USA:

In the USA, based on what I have read (so far) on the websites of various mathematics departments, all PhD students have to go through coursework and obtain an M.S., regardless of whether they have a masters degree. This policy need not be universal. I suppose the best thing to do is to email the departments that you are interested in and ask about their policy.

P.S. I recently completed a master's degree in the UK and am applying to USA departments for PhD.

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