Friday, April 12, 2013

Incentives to have grad students finish

In the home country, the time to finish your PhD is four years. From the start it is clear that you will need to finish within that time, because then the money has run out. I have to add that you can only start a PhD program when you already have a master’s degree, so there’s a lot less course work than in the US. Also, truth be told, most people take longer, but you have to ask your PI to support you longer, or write your thesis on welfare money. Also, departments usually get money (I don’t know how much) when grad students graduate, so that’s an incentive to get grad students to finish too. 

However, in the US it seems that there are very little incentives for grad students (or their PIs) to finish their thesis and defend. For PIs, keeping a grad student around a bit longer seems only beneficial: it’s a trained person who costs relatively little. Or, what I recently see around me quite a bit, is that PIs just seem too busy to read a grad student’s manuscripts and that keeps them around a lot longer than necessary in my opinion. And from the grad student’s point of view I guess sometimes it’s nice to stick around a bit longer to wait for job opportunities (or the lack thereof).

So what am I missing? What are the incentives to finish your PhD in the US, either for the grad student, the PI or the department?


  1. Um yes. For early career folks, if you can get peeps out with their Ph.D. (and pubs!!) before tenure, it bodes well.....

  2. I am independently funded through my own studentship, it runs out after 5 years... after that my PI would have to pay me directly which means a cut of at least 10,000 a year. I'd say that's incentive enough for me! (Canada)

  3. I'm also from Europe and did my M.Sc first and then went into a phd program. It still took another 6 years to complete the phd. In some European countries ph.d students are even cheaper than the one's in the US (almost no tuition fee and anyway much more cheap than post-docs), so the same deal can also happen to far away from the US.

  4. If an institution has an NIH training grant, then average time to degree will be looked at very carefully by reviewers when the grant is submitted for renewal.

    Officially, at least, the NIH takes a dim view of training programs where the average TTD is more than about 5-6 years. I'm not sure how that plays out in practice.