My advisor offered me an unexpected choice this week: stay another year as a PhD student.  To clarify, I’m already planning to graduate in a year or so; he means stay another year after that.  “Don’t worry about funding,” he said.  “And don’t worry about whether your committee thinks you ought to graduate by some arbitrary deadline.”

He made the offer because, in following an offshoot branch away from my main thesis topic, we’ve discovered something really cool.  Cool enough to generate interest from local press, and cool enough to keep me motivated through the hard times.  There’s more we could do here, but it would take more than one year.

I am torn.  On the one hand, this is a wonderfully kind offer.  I have always appreciated that my advisor—my current advisor, not the awful one with whom I started out—has never put pressure on me to go faster, and has always seemed genuinely excited by the science I could do.  In his offer, I heard, “You are doing good work and I’d like you to keep doing it.”

And the science is really very cool indeed.  Significantly more interesting, frankly, than the analysis remaining on my primary dissertation topic.  I care about it, and letting it go seems a terrible shame.


But I’m ready to be finished with the PhD.  With a bit over a year to go and some writing progress being made, I can see the end.  Putting my completion date off another year feels a bit like pushing it out of reach.  The farther away that date gets, the harder it is to believe I can actually get there.

And despite my advisor’s reassurances, another year would make me a very slow finisher.  This is my Nth year as a PhD student, where N is a number between 5 and 10 and is also the typical time it takes for students to finish.  I am on track now to finish in N+1 years, which is not uncommon.  Half the students who started at the same time as me are staying for that (N+1)th year.  Another year would mean N+2.  Not unprecedented, but rare.  I’m not sure my ego can take that.

There are also many personal matters at play.  My closest friends are already starting to graduate and depart.  My husband is not terribly enthused about staying in this town for additional years, although he supports my choices either way.   The house we rent may not be available to us for that long, and I very much don’t want to move and then move again shortly after.

Finally, there’s the question of a second kid.  I can’t let the idea go—and I know that the best time for us would be shortly after finishing my PhD.  We’d like Little Boy and his hypothetical sibling to be no more than about 3 years apart, though; another year after next would be too long.  It’s not impossible that I could take a few-month hiatus from research to give birth and then come back for another year, but that would mean paying for two small children in daycare, and that’s not really affordable on my grad student salary.

I know which way the decision is going on this—no—but not without a little bit of heartache.

6 thoughts on “Choices

  1. Which ever you choose, you can be proud of yourself. So choose because you want to do it that way, not because you don’t want to do it the other way. Does that makes sense?


  2. I don’t know your school. I don’t know your funding situation. I don’t know your advisor. I don’t know your topic. All I know is that I was given the same offer, and specifically told, “don’t worry about funding.” I accepted this offer in October, moved everything around, and then, without warning, the following March my funding was pulled. I had no notice, no warning, no chance to prepare. It wasn’t based on anything I did (I didn’t flunk anything, or piss off the wrong person), but rather the fact that my advisor was the department chair, then announced that she was stepping down. Her successor had a different agenda, and my topic was not what he wanted to fund. I was super lucky to land a full time gig teaching at a community college, this paid for life and for the credits so I could stay enrolled while I finished, but it meant that it took me two more years to finish, beyond what I had planned for. My advice is always to finish. Always finish. If there is a publisher interested, keep them interested, but plan on publishing at your new location, which counts toward tenure, publications before hand generally don’t.


    • What a frustrating situation for you! Not honoring commitments to students is a terrible move to pull.

      I’m fortunate in that I can trust my advisor on this; my department also always has TA positions available if funding runs out. I’m also almost certainly leaving academia when I finish the PhD, so I won’t be taking the cool data with me to a postdoc.


  3. FYI, in the US you lose eligibility for many postdoc fellowships 1 year after being awarded a PhD. And they’re not transferable usually- you have to apply with your postdoc advisor. You may already know this! It may be irrelevant! Dr S got hit by it because he didn’t want to leave me behind while I finished. Also I have a bad story about how reliable advisor pulling finding due to a third party’s budgeting problems, but.


    • It’s not as extreme in my field: you maintain eligibility for the major postdoc fellowships for 3 years. And not hugely relevant for me, since I’m planning to leave the field. But for anyone else who may be reading this – yes, this is an important point to keep in mind when making these kinds of decisions.


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