When is a student ready to finish his/her PhD?

29 05 2013

I’ve made it a hobby for myself to ask this question to professors that I meet at conferences in my field. The answers that I have collected in these conversations are manifestations of an astonishing variety of underlying research philosophies and ideologies. Here’s a list of answers I have received so far, the labels in brackets are mine, they might be misleading, deceptive or misrepresent the original intent of the answer given.

  • When he is offered a position in industry or academia that assumes a PhD (the american view)
  • When he has convinced his corresponding research (sub-)community that the work he has been doing is worthy of a PhD (the sociologist’s / psychologist’s view)
  • When he has expanded the state of knowledge by a significant amount / When he added new knowledge to the existing body of knowledge about the world (the epistemological view)
  • When he has built something truly new, interesting, elegant and/or complex (the engineer’s view)
  • When he has reached his personal intellectual maximum i.e. the maximum intellectual capacity that he is capable of acquiring (the subjective view)
  • When he is able to explain the results of his work in one sentence (the communication view)
  • When he has published n papers (the bureaucrat’s view)

I am amazed that there is little repetition in the answers that I get. What is your answer? Add it to the comments.

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5 responses

30 05 2013
Jorge Aranda

Another complementary answer: “When she is fed up with grad school and decides to write up what she’s found to date”.

That’s what… the motivation view?

30 05 2013
Nicolas Neubauer

Someone once told me “when a crucial resource is running out, whether it’s time, money, or a spouse’s patience”. What’s that, the economist’s view?

30 05 2013
Markus Strohmaier

great answers, thanks!
@Jorge: ah! This makes me realize that there might be a factual and a normative aspect to this question. factual: when does he/she actually start to write things up. normative: when does an adviser think the student should start to write things up.
@Nicolas: that’s rather interesting. Also I have not been given “grant money” (or the lack thereof) as an answer yet.

30 05 2013
Markus Strohmaier

one more answer via facebook from Martin Gaedke:

– When the PhD student knows that he/she is ready (the Zen view)

20 06 2013
Markus Strohmaier

one more answer:
When the PhD student has completed what he has proposed in his/her PhD proposal.

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