I’m doing my PhD in computer science in Germany and next year would be my 4th (last) year. I can wrap it up until then, but I really like to have an extension to the 5th year. There are still 2–3 ideas that I have investigated but couldn’t finish because of the time frame, so I would like to do a bit more.

I have two publications so far and hopefully can have one more during the coming year, but I would like to have more publications, especially in better conferences. Also I think that I do not have yet enough expertise on the topic I’m working on.

Anyway, my supervisor prefers that I finish my PhD in four years, although I haven’t talked to him seriously about it yet. Also the funding would be available outside of his grant budget so he won’t be worried about it.

I’ve heard of many other students who finished in five or even six years, but I’m not sure in practice how important it could be especially if I can have good publications by extending my PhD.

  • 2
    I am not sure I agree completely. The last year is, in most cases, the most productive even if at the same time you are awaiting for bureaucratic stuff like these you mention. One does not exclude the other.
    – PsySp
    Apr 20, 2017 at 12:20
  • 26
    I felt sheepish about taking 7.5 years to earn my MS/PhD when my husband only took 5, until we went to register for our marriage license. I asked the clerk what to put for "last grade completed" for a PhD; she said to just list the number of years of education, which gave me a higher total than my husband. If you stats about women more educated than their husbands, that includes me. :-) Apr 20, 2017 at 15:21
  • 91
    Short answer: Nobody cares.
    – Superbest
    Apr 20, 2017 at 16:18
  • 2
    Honestly, as a fellow German academic, I don't have the slightest idea how long any one of my colleagues took. IMHO, @Superbest is right. At worst expect a question during your first PostDoc interview, but I would say even that is unlikely. 4 to 5 years isn't terribly long (in fact, the usual 3 year funding period is rather short; from my experience only a minority actually hands in their thesis within three years).
    – Fred S
    Apr 20, 2017 at 22:58
  • 5
    Be aware: For sure there will be more than 2-3 unfinished ideas after the extension!
    – Dirk
    Apr 21, 2017 at 15:40

8 Answers 8


The quality of your thesis overshadows the length/duration of your PhD.

Having said that, it depends on your goals. If you clearly think (and your adviser as well) that another year would make a big impact on the quality of your thesis and, consequently, on your CV, and is not too risky to pursue extra work (i.e., the questions you want to tackle are not too ambitious and you have a good possibility of enhancing your CV) then go for it. Otherwise, I am not sure you would want to stay at PhD while you could be looking for your next (PostDoc or industry) jobs.

  • 1
    i like the answer however i'm still in the dilemma of choosing between starting post-doc ASAP or completing PhD with better outcomes!
    – Bob
    Apr 20, 2017 at 14:11
  • 1
    @Bob As I said, it really depends. If you think your current status can secure a good post-doc then go for it!
    – PsySp
    Apr 20, 2017 at 15:06
  • It also depends on your funding. If your advisor is not behind the idea of extending the timeframe, he might not be behind continuing to fund you either. I have heard of cases (in computer science in Germany), where advisors offered the student to keep the office, server use and whatever material they use on a day to day basis, but no TV-L salary. So a stipend or nothing it was.
    – skymningen
    Apr 21, 2017 at 13:40
  • @skymningen true, but I took it as a given, from the OP's question, that funding is not a problem.
    – PsySp
    Apr 21, 2017 at 13:45

Finishing your PhD doesn't stop you from continuing in your field and creating additional publications. It is more likely people will look at your individual publications that at the contents of your thesis - but they will see that it took you five years.

If your department has funding to keep you after your defense, get the thesis wrapped up and keep publishing. It will look better.

  • 5
    +1 for mentioning the value of continuing to publish, although I disagree that people care how many years it took you to finish. Apr 20, 2017 at 16:21
  • 1
    @EllenSpertus I didn't actually say that people cared. I said that they will see it... Some people may care - not everyone will. If you finish in four years, that is a non-issue; and it doesn't need to affect your over all academic output that you finish "on time".
    – Floris
    Apr 20, 2017 at 16:34
  • Unfortunately, My supervisor doesn't have that funding for my post-doc position so i have to go somewhere else and it'd a far chance that i can directly continue my PhD topic.
    – Bob
    Apr 20, 2017 at 17:09
  • 1
    @Bob You mean fortunately. Staying for PostDoc at the same place where you finished your PhD is not highly advisable.
    – PsySp
    Apr 20, 2017 at 21:38

There are two separate questions that could be asked here:

  1. Is it better or worse (or the same) to do a PhD in 5 years instead of 4?
  2. How does it look to others viewing the CV of a person who does a PhD in 5 years instead of 4?

The first question is a perfectly reasonable question, and we can all imagine the cost/benefit factors that might go into answering it (it depends on a lot of factors).

But since the actual question being asked is #2, I'll ignore all of that cost/benefit analysis and say: basically, they look almost identical to others. In my experience, when people are being evaluated for the purposes of hiring (or promotion or awards), almost always the chronological datum that is used is "years since completion of the PhD". In that case, the number of years it takes to complete a PhD is (axiomatically) irrelevant.

Even if there is some tiny difference for the very first round of hiring, the quality of the letters of recommendation is far more important than the historical data on the CV.

  • 2
    This is true up to a point. There's a joke that goes: How many graduate students does it take to change a light bulb? One, but it takes him nine years. (I did know someone who took nine years, without any interruptions or particular mishaps. He was just plain slooow.) But I do agree there's no functional difference (setting aside funding considerations) between average length of PhD and average + 1. Apr 21, 2017 at 0:07
  • 5
    I'm going to agree but disagree. I agree that the datum which is used is almost always "years since completion of Ph. D." Therefore, if you are going to produce the same amount of research in the optional year either way, you should remain in grad school longer, so you will be viewed as a person with that much research k years after Ph. D rather than the same amount k+1 years after Ph. D. Apr 21, 2017 at 20:22

Q: What do you call someone who finished their Ph.D. after five years instead of four?

A: A Ph.D.

Enough said.


It depends on your next goal.

If you want to stay in academia

If you want to stay in academia, do it. The quality of your papers and your dissertation are very important, and an additional year with good results might certainly be worth it.

If you want to get a job in the industry

If you want to get a job in the industry, don't do it. The additional year is going to hurt your CV and delay the moment until you get a proper income even more.

  • 3
    Your claim that 5 rather than 4 years of PhD time hurts your CV is, in my experience and that of people I know, quite unfounded.
    – einpoklum
    Apr 21, 2017 at 20:52
  • 4
    @einpoklum: the point is for purposes of working in industry, your CV after 4 years PhD and 1 year working will be much better than your CV after 5 years and 0 years working.
    – Tom Church
    Apr 22, 2017 at 4:22
  • 1
    @TomChurch: Well, your CV after a 3-year PhD and 2 years in industry would be even better... more seriously, though, if the answer said "for working in industry, additional publications in an extra year of a PhD are not nearly as useful on a CV than a year of work experience", that would be something else altogether (Although for getting that 1-year position you still have to make do with the PhD-only CV, so it's not really a fair comparison).
    – einpoklum
    Apr 22, 2017 at 10:03
  • @einpoklum The student will be one year older with no 'real' work experience. Being a year younger and not having to explain why he needed an extra year for his phd at the interview is a bonus, while people most likely won't care about the 'great papers' done in the additional year.
    – Wilbert
    Apr 25, 2017 at 11:09
  • @Wilbert: (1) You're making the wrong comparison. We're talking about a PhD with no industry experience in both cases; the difference is 4 or 5 years to finish. (2) You're assuming what you're trying to demonstrate, which is that a 5-year PhD is something problematic which needs explanation. Again, from my experience and that of more than a few freinds and acquaintance of mine - it does not.
    – einpoklum
    Apr 25, 2017 at 17:13

Perhaps this might look a way "special" for some people and they can end up with some (probably wrong) assumptions about you if your education/research years happen to deviate from what is considered the common norm.

But I'd recommend to just opt-out of being a part of the world of stereotypes, prejudice and "magical thinking" kind of judgement and take (if offered) as much time as you need to make the research you want with adequate quality and with a fair amount of joy.

I believe that whoever whose opinion is going to be relevant to your further career will probably bother finding out the reason of the deviation (if interested at all) and respect the decision to take somewhat more time for a better job over choosing mediocrity just to fit in the common time frame (if the reason for the delay is something other than above-average quality (or a serious sickness or something like that) though, I'd recommend to invest some effort and make it at least somewhat above-average however).

Under "quality" I mean all the things that evaluate a research paper: how interesting, important, unexplored and hard-to-explore the subject is, how comprehensive your research is, how well-defined, well-verified and easily-applicable your result are, how well-written the actual paper is etc.


If you're planning to continue your life in academia (become a professor or a senior scientist), then it doesn't matter, because you'll seek a postdoc job next, which will only be different by contract type and the money you get (I assume you get 50%, or at best 75%, of a position now? that's the average to best in Germany... I've been there).

If you're planning to go to industry and leave academia, then I don't know how much to emphasize that you should finish as soon as possible. A company mostly doesn't give a damn about your PhD thesis or publications as much as that you have a PhD title from a university. All that a company cares about is your skills and age. Other than your skills, primarily, nothing matters! It's very unlikely that you'll gain new production relevant skills by staying another year (you may become a better researcher though). So I would recommend that you get out and start your serious career (again, in case you don't want to continue in academia).


I finished my PhD in five years instead of four. I knew I would leave academics afterwards and my fifth year was combined with my first year in industry. It was tough but did not impact the slightest my future career (in the sense that it was 5y and not 4). A fellow of mine did the same thing.

I then hired over the years a few PhD in the company I was working in and I never checked how long it took them to get the grade. The fact that they had it was rather an indication of character/orientation than ability/fitness for work.

Finally, you mention that your PhD is in Germany. I do not know if you intend to stay there afterwards but a PhD is immensely positive (prestigious) and, by all means, get it (even if it not of that much use afterwards - like in my case).

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