Sunday, October 07, 2007

Three Years It Is, Then

Seriously, this is the average length of time it takes to get a Ph.D?!:

We even have a name for this sometimes pitied species — the A.B.D. — All But Dissertation. But in academia these days, that person is less a subject of ridicule than of soul-searching about what can done to shorten the time, sometimes much of a lifetime, it takes for so many graduate students to, well, graduate. The Council of Graduate Schools, representing 480 universities in the United States and Canada, is halfway through a seven-year project to explore ways of speeding up the ordeal.

For those who attempt it, the doctoral dissertation can loom on the horizon like Everest, gleaming invitingly as a challenge but often turning into a masochistic exercise once the ascent is begun. The average student takes 8.2 years to get a Ph.D.; in education, that figure surpasses 13 years. Fifty percent of students drop out along the way, with dissertations the major stumbling block. At commencement, the typical doctoral holder is 33, an age when peers are well along in their professions, and 12 percent of graduates are saddled with more than $50,000 in debt.


These statistics, compiled by the National Science Foundation and other government agencies by studying the 43,354 doctoral recipients of 2005, were even worse a few years ago. Now, universities are setting stricter timelines and demanding that faculty advisers meet regularly with protégés. Most science programs allow students to submit three research papers rather than a single grand work. More universities find ways to ease financial burdens, providing better paid teaching assistantships as well as tuition waivers. And more universities are setting up writing groups so that students feel less alone cobbling together a thesis.

Fighting these trends, and stretching out the process, is the increased competition for jobs and research grants; in fields like English where faculty vacancies are scarce, students realize they must come up with original, significant topics. Nevertheless, education researchers like Barbara E. Lovitts, who has written a new book urging professors to clarify what they expect in dissertations; for example, to point out that professors “view the dissertation as a training exercise” and that students should stop trying for “a degree of perfection that’s unnecessary and unobtainable.”


Dude, and people wonder why I didn't get a Ph.D. I know what I want to write on--so I'm writing on it! I do need some time and advising--but I'm in a high-ranked law school with four scholars in my field just at my home institution (not to mention the nationwide network of eyes, thanks to the blog and the conference circuits). It is true that a Ph.D makes law teaching candidates more competitive now that the perspective is more interdiscipinary. But that doesn't mean that you can't be decently trained in other disciplines without going through a formal Ph.D program. I'm basically taking a field in organizations and sociology (of law)--without going through comprehensives and qualifying exams. all told, I'll have three degrees (J.D., LL.M, S.J.D.) and at least 2-3 shorter published works before my main monograph by the time I go on the market, and in less time it takes to do just one Ph.D program. For once, I don't feel like I'm going to be in school forever. I guess it could be worse.

Sometimes I feel like Liberal College Law's three-year limitation is a bit old fashioned--there's course work requirements to boot--and this is a time when youre' basically ABD?! ABD means no classes to most other departments. Law schools don't know how to operate like grad schools. I have no committee formally, so I have my excellent advisor and a few other eyes on my work at school and abroad. If I were writing an old fashioned doctrinal piece, then yes, three years is a perfectly reasonable amount of time. But, since I'm having to wait for IRB approval before I can begin targeting subjects (which, to find, will be a project) and then send out surveys (which, to create, will be a project) and then analyze the data (again, ditto) before I can write my own analysis (that's the actual dissertation part)---I'm hitting the ground running. The literature review is underway (like a social science lit review, not the law review way of shoving everything in the footnotes), and the research methods courses are helping me write my surveys. Still, it will be a tight, fast-paced three years. One extra year would be more comfortable for this qualitative (though not likely quantitative, unless something changes) study.

But, I guess it's better to finish on time (and by some accounts, early) than drag out the process. You can't stay in grad school forever.

And that's probably a good thing.

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