In our last article I wondered how long it takes for students at our faculty to finally get their PhD after having submitted their thesis. Surveys among alumni (n=32) showed that this final step takes about five months. 70% of the former PhD students were not satisfied with how long it took from handing in their thesis until their defense could take place.
This time I have good news for you! And they are about things going well.
First of all, as the data of our survey shows, there are students for whom the process went quickly and who defended soon after handing in within official deadlines. Second, there are other universities and faculties where long waiting times until the final graduation are not an issue and where students graduate within 6-8 weeks after handing in their thesis. From these examples, we can learn what can be done to improve the current situation at our faculty and identify strategies on how this issue can be solved.
What are the secrets to pass the graduation process within an acceptable amount of time?
I interviewed alumni from our faculty who defended their thesis in less than three months after submission. The feedback was that it is about being proactive but also states that as soon as the thesis is handed in, one cannot influence the whole process that much anymore. Nevertheless, these alumni had two recommendations how to speed up the process: First, stay in close contact with the people involved in the process (reviewers, their secretaries, and the graduation office). One critical step is to make reviewers stick to their submission deadlines. You should ask regularly how things are going and call reviewers and the graduation office by phone. Since there is no automatic reminder, it is important that you remind them of the deadlines yourself. Second, arrange a date for the defense with your committee right after submitting the thesis. This makes reviewers stick to their deadlines and pushes the process.
How is the final graduation process organized at Universities where the graduation process runs quickly and smoothly?
I have picked out two examples, (Göttingen, Germany and Stockholm/Lund, Sweden) and surveyed graduates from these places (n=7). These graduates were happy about their graduation process and waited less than three months for their defense (55% less than two months, 45% two to three months). The graduates concordantly reported that the graduation process was very standardized at their institute and that a special committee automatically tracked deadlines.
Indeed, an external committee that supervises and strictly handles deadlines was pointed out as the most critical factor for a smooth evaluation. In addition, some alumni believe that clearly pointing out and explaining implications for the graduates’ careers and financial situation could help to speed up the process as well as discussing about that issue to create general awareness.
Altogether, I believe that on the long-run the final graduation process at our faculty has to be optimized and streamlined. Graduates need to be able to plan ahead, have certainty about the duration of the process, and should not be confronted with direct and indirect career disadvantages. For those who are soon facing the process I collected three useful tips:
• Be active: keep calling and e-mailing the graduation office and your supervisors (often things are “lying around” for weeks or months and no one is realizing that)
• Get support from your supervisor or another tutor to make sure that the committee members keep on track
• Already ask your PhD committee for possible dates for your PhD defense when handing in your thesis
Intense discussions with former graduates and graduates from other institutes and universities revealed that the following four strategies need to be implemented to guarantee an efficient process in future:
Essential long-term requirements
• Automatic and strict supervision of deadlines
• Sufficient number of staff to coordinate the high number of PhD theses and enable the graduation office to track the process
• Determination of the defense date right after handing in as part of the official procedure
• Set incentives for referees to stick to the deadlines (e.g. deadline-dependent compensations, internal publishing of numbers, ect.)
Bonn University has achieved a lot over the past 200 years. I am sure that our faculty cares for its future scientists and, after awareness is created, will be successful in building up a streamlined graduation process to serve its PhD students’ needs.
The GOOD news is: It’s all in your hands to communicate the issues and push change!
First, you can accelerate the process by trying to get support, communicate a date YOU expect to finish and coordinate a date for this timeline. Do not be shy or afraid of contacting the people involved in your graduation process!
Second, it’s about you to CHANGE things. Start discussing the issues and point out why something has to be done. It will help to explain the issues former PhD students had to face in the past. Try to achieve that supervisors care about that and primarily that the process is tracked and handed by an external team with sufficient manpower to closely supervise the process.