Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Fall Ahead

There are certain positions and awards that are time-sensitive based on the date of Ph.D. or the start date of the first tenure-track position. In the former case (date of Ph.D.), doctoral students who are considering graduating in December might want to consider whether it is better to have an earlier date (December's year) or a later date (January's year) on the Ph.D.

When I was finishing my Ph.D., I was really annoyed with one low-energy committee member who dragged his feet about reading the thesis and signing the forms. I could have been done in December, but because of this slow professor, the official date on my Ph.D. was the next year.

At the time, I was disgruntled, though mostly for irrational and personal reasons; e.g. I had set myself the goal of getting my Ph.D. in a particular year and at a particular age, but, since my birthday is in late December and this committee member was so slow, I missed my random personal goal and it looks like my degree took me one year longer than it really did.

In the long run, the slacker professor did me a huge favor. Years later I got an award based on years-from-PhD that I would have been ineligible for if I'd had the earlier date on my Ph.D. For that reason alone, the later date was well worth it.

A December date might be important in some cases -- e.g. you need a particular degree by a particular date for employment reasons -- but if you have no such requirement and if the 'extra' year doesn't make you seem like your graduate program took unusually long (e.g. forever), you might want to consider delaying the defense or the paperwork to get the next year's date on your degree.

Although you seemingly 'lose' a year in terms of how long you apparently spent in graduate school, you ultimately gain that year back in terms of the official start date of the rest of your academic career.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I also had this exact same experience, for similar reasons. I too was determined to finish by a particular birthday, with the added feeling of being too old for my subject area. I had no idea that it would be useful to have a slightly later date on my PhD. I suspect that as PhD students many of us were so focused on the goal of finishing we did not lift our heads high enough to see the future. It would be great if supervisors perhaps took the time to explain this one to their students. . .

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this blog. I had a similar situation (December defense, May graduation date) and have been annoyed at my degree granting university for their stupid policies that prevented my degree date from matching my defense date (also mainly for personal reasons). Now I am a year in at my tenure-track position and your blog opened my eyes to how this may be an advantage. Thanks.

Lynne said...

Well, for some people, defending by the end of December means a degree that technically has the following year on it (i.e. January or February degree list for the school). If you were at one of those schools, defending in the fall or winter would always mean having the following year's date attached to your degree.

That doesn't make slow committee members who make you reschedule everything any less frustrating!

Anonymous said...

I agree FSP! I just defended my dissertation but am going to wait to graduate in May. I figure that this will give me time to finish up a few publications, find a good post-doc, and, well, have a baby....It will make me look like I took a long time in my Ph.D. program (which I feel kind of sheepish about), but I will be able to move on with my entire dissertation already published.

Fia said...

Thanks for this great post! I am actually right now annoyed about a delay in my plans, and it was also caused by a committee member (2 month!!). It is good to read that defending in this year isn't the world's most important thing to do :-)

sciencetron said...

This is great to know- I've had several friends graduate from the lab I'm in and they were, at the time, upset about delays in their dissertation filing. I'll pass this along!

I also wanted to let you know that I'm a reader who's started a new blog and I've put a link to your site on it- I have no idea what the etiquette is, but it felt like I should let you know. Please, if you don't want me to link to you, let me know and I'd be happy to take it down. Thanks!

Kea said...

Sheeeesh. I submitted in January, defended in June and finally graduated in December. Not that the year matters at all.

neurowoman said...

In particular, NIH designation of "Early Investigator" is 10 years from date of PhD; K99's are 5 years from PhD.