Idealized Timeline:

The goal of our doctoral training program is to provide outstanding training in as short a time as possible.  While all students require certain basic training (e.g. statistics), training needs beyond these basics will vary from student to student.  Given this, it is not possible to give a specific number of years for degree completion that can apply to all students.

Nonetheless, there are a few principles that are worth noting.  

I.  Courses, Prelims and Dissertator status:  

There are 3 issues to take into consideration regarding courses and Preliminary Exams.

  1. Graduate school is a unique opportunity to take the coursework needed for a solid foundation for your future career.  That said, you will need to balance the value of a course in your training vs. the time that course will take away from your time available for conducting research.
  2. Preliminary exams serve a critical purpose for both the students and faculty in determining whether a candidate is truly suitable for our doctorate program.  It is better to get this feedback earlier in one’s training than later.  With prelims behind you, you can then focus on your dissertation research.
  3. You achieve dissertator status once you have passed your preliminary exams and submitted the appropriate paper work.  One cannot take courses after reaching dissertator status. 

Given these considerations, it is in a student’s best interest to take preliminary exams as early as possible, but only after all coursework required for their training is completed. 

Note: It is possible to take your preliminary exams and delay submission of the relevant paperwork if you: 1) want to take your prelims as shortly as possible after completing required coursework; but 2) want to take an additional course or two that will better prepare for your research.

II.  Research and Dissertation Defense

The time required to complete a dissertation project is dependent on multiple variables, many of which are beyond your control.  However, there are things a student can do to ensure as timely as possible a completion of their doctoral research.

  1. Meet frequently with your mentor(s) and advisory committee.  Getting critical feedback as early as possible is essential.  Although the department requires you meet with your committee once a year, feel free to call on the expertise of individual members of your committee as frequently as you might need.
  2. Create a dissertation proposal as quickly as possible.  This is not a contract that cannot be changed.  It should be a ‘best guess’ of what projects make the most sense based on some preliminary body of data you have collected.  If you collect data that indicate a proposed study is no longer feasible, it is easy to meet with your mentor and advisory committee and propose a change of plans.
  3. Stay up with your writing.  You can be writing methods sections, introductions, long before you have completed all of your data analyses.  The more papers you have written, the easier it is to compile them into a dissertation.