Brian Sarnacki has pulled together some of the recent discussion of grad school reform that has been taking place.

I don’t have much to contribute, but I wanted to address one of Mills Kelly’s suggested reforms: decreasing the number of years students commit to finishing a Ph.D. As Kelly notes, according to the AHA, the average Ph.D. takes eight years to complete, and small programs tend to do better at producing Ph.D.s more quickly.

Kelly’s reform, in short, looks this:

Year 1-2
12 credits of course work
6 credits of advanced reading
Qualifying exams

Years 3-5
Dissertation research and writing

I think the shorter time frame is a crucial adjustment that graduate programs in history need to consider. One of the keys, as I have argued previously, is for doctoral students to know (generally) what dissertation topic they want to pursue. The M.A. is the time for intellectual exploration; if you are going to study for a Ph.D., then you should enter the program with a clear research agenda. You’ll certainly tweak it as you go through your coursework, but by the time you take your exams, you should be well on your way to researching the dissertation.

Program size, advisor availability, teaching expectations, dissertation topic, family expectations, life in general–all make it difficult to standardize reforms that will satisfy everyone. Nevertheless, I agree with Kelly: graduate programs need to encourage their students to move more quickly toward graduation.

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