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I am in my 4th year of PhD. Few months ago I presented my thesis proposal which already included some of the results (that are actually published). I proposed to add another chapter (call it Chapter x).

One of the committee members told me that the results presented are sufficient for a thesis. He said that chapter x is not necessary, or it can be replaced by a literature survey (instead of presenting original work - as I proposed during the thesis proposal). He said that original work can be done during a post-doc instead. My thesis supervisor agreed.

Right now, I am in the middle of of the Chapter x [and some other stuff] (and I think I have original results that are not complete - they would be complete, if everything goes fine [which is never the case in research]).

My question is: should I write my thesis without novel results in Chapter x and then do a postdoc based on Chapter x ? Or: should I continue working on Chapter x even if this will result in a longer PhD ?

The source of my confusion: Wouldn't adding novel results in Chapter x improve my research CV ? but at the same time, will the long period of PhD negatively affect the research CV ? Plus, will I find the chance to work on this topic as a postdoc !

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    What field are you in? In my field (computer science), it's rare for anyone but the committee to read the thesis itself. – JeffE May 2 '13 at 14:27
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    He said that original work can be done during a post-doc instead. My thesis supervisor agreed. — If I ever heard a professor say this to a PhD student, I'd be seriously tempted to slap them. (The professor, not the student.) – JeffE May 2 '13 at 14:29
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    @JeffE: I am in Computer Science as well. When I said that I will include a new chapter in my thesis that contains original work, I meant that this original work solves a problem related to my thesis and this work will be published at least in a conference. My thesis already contains results [I have 3 long chapters other than Chapter X, each of which have original results published in at least one conference or journal, this is why they thought it is sufficient - I believe this is the source of your confusion, though I'd have loved someone slapping some supervisors in my school :)]. – AJed May 2 '13 at 18:51
  • @JeffE maybe that's the case for Chapter X, I consider that is likely if it's the 10th chapter, which is about time to write a bit about related work and future lines. I'm not sure about the meaning of "X" here. – Trylks Feb 4 '14 at 16:35
  • @JeffE A member of my committee told me to tie things up and sort out the lingering strands left during my postdoc, and it was some of the best advice I've ever been given. – Fomite Feb 4 '14 at 18:41
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As Irwin suggests, prolonging the PhD to improve your research track record is a standard strategy, especially for students who are interested in pursuing an academic career.

The minimal requirements to get a PhD are fundamentally weaker than the minimal requirements to get an academic job. Despite all high-falutin' talk to the contrary, the only real requirement for completing a PhD is convincing your thesis committee to sign the requisite paperwork. Most faculty have an image in their heads of the necessary work; for example, in computer science, a minimal PhD thesis is roughly equivalent to two solid conference papers.

On the other hand, the academic job market is a true competition. Only people with truly outstanding research records (and strong recommendation letters) get invited to interview for faculty positions, or accepted for research postdoc positions. It doesn't matter whether you're "good enough"; lots of people are "good enough". What matters is how you compare against other people on the market. So it's actually quite rational to delay completing the PhD past the point where you have a viable thesis, in order to improve your research record.

That said, phrasing the delay in terms of "making your thesis stronger" is totally missing the point. Your PhD thesis is an administrative hurdle. At least in computer science, if you're lucky, three people will ever read your thesis, including you and your advisor. (The standard joke ends "...and your mom.") Your colleagues will see and judge your track record through your peer-reviewed publications in conferences and journals.

So, the short answer is: Do more original publishable research, and then publish it. And then I guess you could show off to your committee by including those results in your thesis, but whatever.

Also, please slap your advisor for me.

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    Even your mom won't read your thesis. Even your mom... – Irwin May 3 '13 at 19:55
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    "if you're lucky, three people will ever read your thesis, including you and your advisor" …And if you're unlucky, your faculty hiring committee/potential postdoc advisors will look at it during the application process. So at very least, take some time to write a nice introduction. – Dnuorg Spu Dec 19 '13 at 15:04
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    @Amatya I really don't understand your objection. Of course PhD candidates should show off their research accomplishments to their committee. Of course PhD students should try to prove a point with their advisors, and that point is "I deserve a PhD". I do not mean that they should exaggerate the importance of their contributions, but that they should cast them in the best possible light. A PhD defense is no place for unnecessary modesty. – JeffE Dec 19 '13 at 15:38
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    @Amatya Also, I think your elitist defense of mediocrity is completely inappropriate. I have seen truly excellent research produced by PhD students at rank-100 schools. I've also seen truly mediocre research produced by PhD students at MIT and Harvard. – JeffE Dec 19 '13 at 15:40
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    @Amatya "Many people fail, so you should never try." - Questionable advice, unless you have a way of knowing whether a given person in particular will fail or succeed. – Superbest Jan 29 '14 at 4:18
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As a grad student myself, I can't be entirely sure, but I would look at it like this: based on the information you've given, it sounds like the only significant difference between the two options is whether this new research is part of your PhD thesis or not. In the long term, I don't think it will matter. The project will show up on your research CV either way, whether you do it as a PhD student or as a postdoc.

But if you choose to do it as a postdoc, then you will be partway through a postdoc in, say, two years, whereas if you choose to do your research as part of the PhD, you will not yet be a postdoc in two years. All other things being equal - and I think they are in this case - I would think it is better to advance through the stages of your career (PhD, postdoc, professorship) more quickly. By this logic, you should go with your committee's recommendation and omit this project from your thesis.

I have also read things which suggest that completing a PhD more quickly is correlated with greater academic success later in life, although I can't remember a link to give you. I'm not even sure it matters, though, since there isn't necessarily a causal relationship.

  • interesting ! +1 for the last paragraph .. I will make my own research about this point. – AJed May 2 '13 at 3:44
  • "I would think it is better to advance through the stages of your career" What's the rush? Unless money, lifestyle, etc., are a major concern, I can think of no compelling reason to finish in four years instead of five. Five years is not a long PhD in any discipline that I know of. Likewise, finishing in four years might help convince someone that you are a promising, hardworking academic—but not nearly as much as another publication or two. I say correlation, not causation. – Dnuorg Spu Dec 19 '13 at 15:47
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There are a lot of details left unmentioned in your psot:

  • How many papers have you already published? Is it only the three chapters of the thesis?
  • How long would you extend your PhD program to add the additional work?
  • How many publications or conference papers would you get out of this work?

If you already have four or five major publications after four years, then prolonging your stay for, as an example, two years for one paper might not be worth the time. However, if you only had to extend a year to get two or more publications, and you know that they will be accepted into top conferences or journals, then it would well behoove you to take the extra time.

However, there might be other reasons behind the sudden change in attitude. Do you know how the remaining time would be financed? Is it clear that your advisor would be able or willing to support you for the remaining time you'd want to spend?

  • your answer consider all details. I think prolonging would be the best decision. It's only few months though (one term maximum). – AJed May 3 '13 at 2:32
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    One semester doesn't really make much of a difference. The only obstacle to check with then is financial—if you have support for the extra semester, then you should go for it. – aeismail May 3 '13 at 8:44
  • @aeismail One semester doesn't really make a difference…unless the postdocs in your field run on a specific calendar cycle. – Fomite Feb 4 '14 at 18:42
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I'm a bit late adding this, but another reasonable option is: let the market decide for you.

Apply for postdocs this year, based on the research you have already finished. If you get offered something good, then write up your current results and defend. If you don't, then spend another year in grad school improving your research, and hopefully you'll be in a better position to reapply then.

Of course, you'll want to have your advisor on board with this plan, and make sure you have funding available for the extra year.

3

I've known of a few cases of people prolonging their Ph.Ds to improve their CVs.

I have spoken with professors and students who "felt their students had not published enough" and held them longer to ensure that their CVs would be strong enough so that someone would hire them for a postdoc or a faculty position - the reasoning being that if someone zips through their Ph.D in a few years but doesn't have enough work on their CV, then that student is going to be damned as far as an academic career goes.

Thus, one thing to ask yourself is if that work you're doing for your dissertation will eventually become a paper that might have some impact. In other words, if you write about this in your dissertation, will you eventually publish it?

Also, as part of your academic "development" so to speak, you should have a good idea of how much is "enough" as well, and that is to know what is "important" and what is not. In your stated case, maybe X isn't that important of a research gap if both of them think that you can investigate it with related work instead of doing research work to that end.

Another possible reason that it's mentioned as not being necessary is because they both feel that it will take much, much longer (in other words, the investment isn't worth the reward). Or, if the results merely incremental, they may not be enough of an improvement to warrant a new publication.

I realize that this isn't an answer and it's more of "things to consider" but I hope it helps you eventually come to a decision.

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Just do what your advisors told you. They are going to grade you anyway and give you letters of recommendation. Why would you want to do something different after already asking for what you are proposing? Would you want to annoy them just to get more material in your dissertation. Do you think it actually advances your career opportunities?

0

Let the market decide. If your results are ready when the job market comes along then your adviser can feature them prominently in his/her letter, whether or not it's a part of your thesis. You can complete the high quality work as a post-doc as well. If your adviser can see that your chapter-x has potential then so can the professors in schools trying to hire you.

Staying in school a year longer only makes sense if it will significantly impact how you are valued by the market and if it enables you to significantly improve your portfolio of working papers. Your committee member's comment that "original work can be done in post-doc.." makes me think that he/she was being euphemistic and was perhaps worried that you maybe be trying to delay facing some harsh job market truths in the guise of doing "original" "chapter-x" stuff .. if everything goes fine "which is never the case in research".

The point of a thesis is to get a job to enable you to contribute in research. If your current thesis gets you a job then move on and don't look back.

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