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« This Week's Acquisitions | Main | In which we track citations to their lair (or don't) »

November 18, 2011


Kerry NZ

##Doctoral education in the humanities now takes nearly twice as long as it did in the 1960s—and it takes considerably longer than degrees in law or business;##

But nowhere in his article does he explain clearly why this is. He alludes to a lack of consistency in course offerings - but is this really why? The timings seem quite long in comparison to what the expectations are in New Zealand - here it is BA (3 yr) + MA (1 yr coursework + 1 yr thesis) + PhD (3-4 yr thesis only) = 8-9 yrs from starting as an undergrad.

Laura Vivanco
The timings seem quite long in comparison to what the expectations are in New Zealand - here it is BA (3 yr) + MA (1 yr coursework + 1 yr thesis) + PhD (3-4 yr thesis only)

In England it's even less: BA/BSc (3 yrs) and PhD (3 yrs). Some people do a one year post-graduate degree before a PhD, and Scotland has four-year undergraduate degrees but a student who starts at an English university at 18 could finish their PhD aged 24. There isn't an expectation that PhD students will have done much teaching.


In the US system, we do four years for a BA, then 1-2 years for an MA (depending on the program--in a straight-to-Ph.D. program, you may get the MA at the end of your first year), and then things get really slow. 1 1/2 - 2 yrs more coursework + thesis for the Ph.D., with the thesis taking goodness knows how long, + most graduate students are teaching. He doesn't address people deliberately delaying time to degree, however (because there's no job, so why graduate and lose what little health insurance you have?).

US theses may also be longer than many of their European counterparts, albeit certainly not longer than a Habilitationsschrift.

(By which I mean that Ph.Ds in English wind up in other careers on a frequent basis, but there were probably much less time-consuming and, quite frankly, much less emotionally/psychologically painful paths to get there; I don't think a four-year Ph.D. changes that.)

I think it does change the core issue: the students in question will, at the very least, expend less in opportunity costs (they'll be stuck in grad school for four years, not ten) and will be able to start their "real" career sooner.

Plus, there's one other real issue: does one really need five to ten years of training to teach undergrads literature? The answer appears to be "no," based on the fact that a lot of grad students with zero to four years of training are doing exactly that, which Louis Menand points out in The Marketplace of Ideas. The book is definitely worth reading if you're interested in these issues (apologies if you already have and I'm bringing old news).


Some science departments in the U.S. (e.g., chemistry at UCBerkeley but not physics at UCBerkeley) already have a 4-year Ph.D., but I get the impression that chemists from Berkeley tend to go work in industry after graduation.

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