Nowadays, many graduate programs are taking students upwards of 5 years to complete, with 6-6.5 years being a common timeframe to complete a doctoral program. Gone are the days where a 4 year graduate program is the norm, but with these quick tips, you can put yourself in the best position to finish as quickly as possible, with the hope that you can serve your time in just 4 years! Keep in mind, however, that graduate school is a process to help prepare you for future academia. Don’t rush through if you don’t have enough publications to be an attractive assistant professor candidate, and certainly don’t think there is something wrong with yourself if you cannot finish in less than six years. Bad luck in research hits everyone, so don’t worry!
- Plan ahead! Even as a first year graduate student, figure out what your overall thesis will be and plan out what experiments will contribute to this manuscript. The most common reason PhD’s take so long is because graduate students do experiments without having a clear idea of where they want to go with the results. With every experiment/study that you plan, make sure it has a clear and distinct role to play in your overall thesis. Sketch out a long-term map of your planned experiments and how each will contribute to a figure or piece of your final thesis manuscript.
- Read up! Make sure you are completely up-to-date on the literature surrounding your field, and especially pay attention to the publications pertaining to your thesis and projects. If a similar study is published, don’t fear being scooped! See what these researchers found, and plan ahead to preempt any pitfalls that may come your way. Research is all about collaboration, so make the most of the data that’s already been published!
- Pick an advisor who has a strong history of publications: When deciding between research advisors, try looking for ones who seem to churn out a steady clip of papers and have a strong history of graduating students. If a professor has been in the game for a while and knows how to properly mentor and guide students, you’ll have a much easier time in directing your projects to a quick and efficient completion.
- Go slow in the beginning: Though you may want to hit the ground running, make sure to take your time laying the foundation for your future research. Document EVERYTHING, and ensure your initial results line up with known benchmarks and models. You definitely don’t want to have messed up in the beginning or overlooked something and have to re-do an entire set of experiments.
- Pick the low hanging fruit: There’s no shame in completing experiments that are quick and generate a lot of data. You want to make an impact on your field, of course, but don’t make the mistake of making every project a long and intensive longitudinal study. Every paper needs results, and if you have a surefire way to receive quick results, go for it! Don’t spend all your time on low-yield projects that take forever to complete.