One Professor In economic said: If a student works with concentration only 40 hours per week (8 hours for 5 days) on his PhD project, he should be able to finish his PhD during only one year. What do you think about that? Then, what is the minimum period of time needed for a PhD project to be completed?

  • 8
    It is obvious that the PhDs awarded in his department probably are not worth the paper that are printed on.
    – Alexandros
    Feb 2, 2016 at 15:02
  • but he is a professor in a well ranked university in Canada !
    – aliu
    Feb 2, 2016 at 15:14
  • 11
    It's hard to say what this means without knowing the context. If it means "an average student who works 40 hours a week can expect to receive a doctorate within one year of entering graduate school", then it's ridiculous. If it means "you should feel bad if it takes you more than a year to complete your dissertation research", then it's wrong. If it means "after mostly completing your research, you should be able to write your thesis within one year, even while teaching and applying for jobs", then it's a reasonable timeframe under normal circumstances, but not all circumstances are normal. Feb 2, 2016 at 15:49
  • 3
    At the pace your professor describes, you can expect to have a good economics PhD in 4 years, at least in systems which include coursework as well (knock off one year for programs w/o coursework). The shortest PhDs including coursework by exceptionally brilliant and hard-working students in such systems I've heard of took 3 years; both cases are now world-famous researchers. The statement is non-helpful garbage. Feb 2, 2016 at 16:48
  • 4
    A samurai climbs to the top of a mountain to visit a legendary sword master. "Sensei, how long will it take me to master the sword?" The old man looks carefully at the samurai and answers "Ten years." The samurai responds "But Sensei, if you take me as your disciple, I will do nothing but practice the sword. I will follow your every direction. I swear on my like that I will eat, drink, breathe, and dream only the sword until I am a master." The old master carefully looks the samurai up and down, strokes his beard, and says "In that case, twenty years."
    – JeffE
    Feb 3, 2016 at 1:57

2 Answers 2


A PhD says you know how to do research. If you know what you are doing, you can finish it in minimum time; at my university, this is 2 years. To all those naysayers above, assuming you have a PhD, if you were to do another PhD in your current area, how long will it take to finish? I bet it's not going to be 3+ years.

I have had students who took two years to finish for the above reason; e.g., a very bright student without a PhD who has worked in the industry as a researcher for many years. At the other end of the spectrum, there are those that took 5+ years and still don't finish.

  • Thank you prof. I really appreciate your answer. This is exactly what I want to say, If you are aware enough about your project, you can finish it in minimum duration.
    – aliu
    Feb 2, 2016 at 23:35
  • @aliu all the best. Feb 2, 2016 at 23:37
  • 3
    Right, but the point of a PhD is to learn what you're doing, and in most academic fields it is between ridiculously inefficient and impossible to learn what you're doing without enrolling in a PhD program. I am interested to learn of academic fields in which industrial experience can decrease the time needed to get a PhD (mine is not such a field). What field are you in, and what country are you in? Feb 2, 2016 at 23:50
  • 2
    I second what Pete Clark said. Also, I can't even imagine what it would mean to "do another PhD in [my] current area". By the very nature of the PhD, this doesn't really make any sense.
    – Jeff
    Feb 3, 2016 at 0:43
  • I was merely highlighting the fact that someone who knows what he/she is doing will finish faster. Let's say a particular research field requires tool-X to solve a problem. A student is already proficient with tool-x. All he/she needs now is to grasp the problem and start solving. The other example is writing. If one is good in English, then it's not hard to learn academic writing. Feb 3, 2016 at 7:45

It varies wildly by country, institution, department, and subject matter. There is no "minimum period of time" to complete a PhD. In Europe, the average is around 3.5 years (+/- 2 years depending on institution, subject, etc.). In Canada, the average is 6 years (+/- 2 years depending on institution, subject, etc. In the USA, the average is 4.5 years (+/- 2 years...) [UPDATE: My estimate for the USA might be a bit low, probably because I'm including joint Master's/PhD programs. See these statistics for more accurate data provided by @PeteL.Clark in comments.

At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what that professor says at all. It depends entirely on your PhD supervisor & committee and the nature of your research (different methods bring with them different time scales) along with the publication standards in your field (how long does it take to get a peer-reviewed publication? Do you need to publish before you graduate? Etc.)

I'd encourage you to not think about these things and just focus on your work. You'll be done when you're done. Spending energy on this sort of comment by professors will just stress & depress you. Not worth it.

Good luck! :)

  • 6
    Your average of 4.5 years for time to completion of a PhD in the US is wildly low. Please see nsf.gov/statistics/infbrief/nsf06312 for some extensive data. The 4.5 - 2 is really risible: if you can name a US institution and 10 students at that institution in the last 10 years each of whom got their PhD in less than three full years, I'll buy you a free dinner. Feb 2, 2016 at 16:49
  • 1
    By the way, many PhD programs do have a "minimal period of time" spent in residence in the PhD program, e.g. 1.5 - 2 years. I have never seen a student come up against such a minimum, and in principle it could be waived in a truly exceptional case. Feb 2, 2016 at 16:53
  • 1
    @Pete: You are obviously right about PhDs in 3 years or less, but this data set does not represent current times to complete a PhD in economics, at least not at top 10 (20?) schools these days. People tend to finish in 4-6 years, and pressure to graduate starts building around year 5. Things have changed a lot from the period covered by this data (I'm only familiar with the situation at higher rates schools, so yes, maybe this isn't universal). Feb 2, 2016 at 17:08
  • 1
    I've seen a brilliant math PhD student finish in 2 years. One other guy wrote 12 papers during his PhD, but still took 4 months net time to write up. No, I do not buy OP's statement for a quality dissertation - except if he prof is outstandingly brilliant and thinks the average student is as good as himself. Somewhere, here, reality is lost in translation - there is a gap between reality and this statement. "Good, Fast, PhD. Pick any two." [variation of a well-known saying] Feb 2, 2016 at 17:20
  • 2
    @Captain Emacs: Sure, I didn't say never. But I'm curious: do you know what happened to that student? Among people who could get a math PhD in two years, most of that tiny group would be better served by taking more time and writing an amazing thesis rather than an excellent one. In all of American academic mathematics, I personally know of exactly one exception to this. Feb 2, 2016 at 17:25

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