length of grad. student careers

Megan megan at ucla.edu
Thu Aug 1 16:58:14 EST 1996

At 08:51 AM 8/1/96 -0700, S L Forsburg wrote:
>Sarah Boomer wrote:
>> So - here are some specific questions for the group:
<snip, snip>
>> What is the average time - particularly in a field like molecular/virology
>> and are other dept's dealing with these kind of problems?
>ENORMOUSLY variable depending upon the type of dept.  When I was a grad
>student at MIT, it ranged from 5 to 10 (yes, count them) years with the
>average probably around 6-7.   Private schools are more likely to let people
>drag on than public schools (UC, for example, requires people get out within
>6 max, preferably 5).  As long as the PI pays the student, many depts don't
>care---and the PI gets an incredibly skilled worker for cheap, which is 
>part of the problem.   In big postdoc labs, often the few students get
>lost and it takes them 7-8 years to finish because they are mostly on
>their own--those are often the hotshot labs.  Everyone knows this.  So
>it isnt a stain on your character to take a long time!
In my experience at 2 different UCs (one big and one small), the smaller one
requires more teaching of their students (mainly due to less funding) and so
they take a bit longer - 8 years is not unheard of, and 6-7 is average.  But
even at the larger one with better funding, 5.5-6 years is average, and I
know of several people who have been here for 7 years (one woman has been
here 9) before finishing.  The professors never tell the entering students
this tho, they tell them the time they would like the average to be as tho
it was the average, 4.5-5 years. (so there is no hard limit imposed by UC on
how long you can take.)
  The few people I have seen who have finished in less than 5 have either
been extremely lucky (got a great project that worked well and quickly) or
dedicated to the point of working 16 hours most days (and thus missing out
on a lot of life, IMHO - but hey, they are out, so who am I to talk! 8-), or
a combination of the two. 

>> How do other dept's perceive issues like weeding the garden (masters
>> doorprizes), equalizing committees?

This was a problem here recently.  They started a new admission program and
ended up admitting more students than they were prepared to handle (they
wanted 40 and got 70).  They let the students rotate, and there was a mad
scramble at the end of the year when the "good labs" were full, the "ok
labs" were full and it was only the 3rd or 4th tier labs that were available
- this was great for smaller labs & labs in obscure departments who dont
generally get much exposure.  Then whoever was left without a lab was asked
to leave.  While I can understand that this had to be done, it was not
handled well.  One friend of mine was told, "its like you are an athlete in
a race, and you are not going to finish, so why bother starting?"  These
students did not, i believe, get even a Masters without a bit of a fight.
To top it off, the next year another 70 students were admitted, and this
time the problem was even worse, because many labs were full from having
taken more students the previous year than they would have normally.

>I know it gets very frustrating as the years tick by (been there, after all).
>It's hard  to see the progress you have made because it is so incremental.  
>But if you could compare you at the beginning to you now, you'd see an 
>enormous amount of growth and experience and polished talent.  
>Susan L Forsburg PhD
>MBVL, The Salk Institute
>forsburg at salk.edu

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