Netherlands Centre for Graduate and Research Schools

Time to Degree and Completion Rates

Siân Lindsay, What works for doctoral students in completing their thesis? Teaching in Higher Education, Volume 20 Issue 2, 2015, pp 183 - 196.

Writing a thesis is one of the most challenging activities that a doctoral student must undertake and can represent a barrier to timely completion. This is relevant in light of current and widespread concerns regarding doctoral completion rates. This study explored thesis writing approaches of students post or near Ph.D. completion through interviews. The study's aim was to highlight factors identified by participants as helpful or hindering thesis writing. The analysis revealed ‘helpful’ factors were related to students' intrinsic behaviours and supervisory support, particularly support that adopted a ‘project-management’ style. Additionally, a subgroup of participants discussed the merits of a continuous-writing approach which is further explored in this paper with reference to the notion of writing to develop knowledge; this is recommended for timely Ph.D. completion.


Pilar Mendoza  , Pedro VillarrealIII   and Alee Gunderson . Within-Year Retention Among Ph.D. Students: The Effect of Debt, Assistantships, and Fellowships. Volume 55, Issue 7, November 2014, 650 - 685

Abstract. This study employs the 2007–2008 National Postsecondary Student Aid Study and the National Research Center’s survey data, “A Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States,” to investigate the (1) the effects of debt in relation to tuition and fees paid and (2) the effects of teaching assistantships, research assistantships, and fellowships on within year retention among Ph.D. students. We created an innovative conceptual model for this study by merging a socioeconomic model for graduate students and a graduate student socialization model. We used propensity score weights for estimating average treatment effects and average treatment effect on the treated as well as a series of control and balancing variables. This study provides timely insights into which of these financial strategies are likely to improve the already low doctoral retention rates nationwide. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study that includes proxies of socialization variables in examining the role of various funding mechanisms in doctoral retention using a national representative dataset.


Birnie, J. , PROBLEMS OF Ph.D. THESIS COMPLETION: THE SITUATION IN PHYSICAL GEOGRAPHY, Journal of geography in higher education, Volume: 8 Issue: 2 (Octobert 1, 1984), pp: p192, 5p

Abstract. The article discusses the problems of thesis completion of Ph.D. in physical geography. It takes three years to obtain a Ph.D. in Great Britain. Research students are funded for three years, by a Research Council grant or by a university scholarship, and their institution makes facilities available for the same period. The completion of a Ph.D. thesis in three years is a problem. The situation is increasingly recognized by both students and supervisors. Students feel they are inadequately prepared to plan, and keep to, a realistic timetable. They also feel that the quality of their research may suffer if time limits are adhered to. Whilst the students do not hold supervisors directly responsible for completion problems, supervisors aid and involvement would improve plans as they are drawn up and executed, ensuring that research quality did not depend on prolonged data collection. At present, those students working in some subject areas seem more likely to encounter completion problems than others, and information to aid planning is particularly urgently required in these areas. Some re-examination of the conventional expectations of a Ph.D. thesis may be necessary.


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Latest update: 5-4-2015