You already know a Doctor of Philosophy is a significant time investment, but just how long does it take to get a PhD?
Here, we look at the possibilities and average timeframes to help you prepare for the exciting journey ahead. We’ve checked in with our Higher Degree by Research team to get the official answers to how long a PhD takes to complete.
How long does a PhD take in Australia?
You should plan for your PhD to take at least 3 years and 3 months to complete when studying full time if you follow an ideal schedule. However, on average, we find people take 3 years and 9 months to complete a full-time PhD at UQ – and 4 years isn’t uncommon, either.
Remember: The world doesn’t pause while you’re doing your PhD. Life happens, which is why many people interrupt or postpone their PhD for a period before returning to the program later. No two candidates have the same journey – and that’s okay.
Keep in mind that these averages are only indicative of how long a PhD takes in Australia. While the timeframe may be similar in some countries, including most of Europe, you may find yourself studying for longer if you take on your PhD elsewhere. For example, 5-7 years (depending on discipline) is common for candidates completing their PhD in the US.
Can you complete a PhD in 2 years?
Occasionally, a candidate and their supervisory team might request special permission to complete a PhD earlier, and these are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. But the volume of work required to create substantial new knowledge in your field means it’s quite impractical to complete your PhD in only 2 years. After all, you’re striving to become the true expert of your chosen topic – this takes time and dedication without any shortcuts.
If you’re looking to undertake a similar program in just 2 years, consider the Master of Philosophy instead. It’s possible to articulate from an MPhil to a PhD – and sometimes completing an MPhil is the ideal way to extend your research skills before committing to a PhD.
How long is a PhD thesis?
Time isn’t the only logistical consideration you need to make when starting a higher degree by research. You may also be wondering how long your PhD dissertation will need to be (in Australia, this is more commonly called your thesis).
A standard PhD thesis at UQ is up to 80,000 words.
The extensive research and writing required to complete a PhD further demonstrates why 3 years is the minimum timeframe for a PhD.
How can you stay motivated during your PhD program?
We know 3-4 years is a long time to dedicate to a single topic, and up to 80,000 words of academic writing isn’t a small undertaking. While the rewards of completing your PhD are well worth the time and effort, knowing this may not always be enough to keep you feeling inspired.
So, we asked some of our PhD alumni and candidates for their tips on staying motivated and avoiding burnout. Here’s what they had to say:
“I maintained motivation by setting micro goals. I broke up my days into 500-word challenges – I committed to writing a minimum of 500 words every day, no matter what. I also made sure to have regular breaks scheduled every year. This makes sure that I am well rested and have all my planned work completed before I go.” – Angie Knaggs, who completed a PhD about popular culture representations of masculinity in crisis
“Try to write something every day. It doesn’t matter if it’s good or bad, a big chunk or just something small, on topic or irrelevant. Just get into the habit of writing every day. Also, do some exercise, stay in contact with friends and family, and maintain a life outside of your PhD – don’t let it be all-consuming.” – Ren Perkins, who is currently completing a PhD about keeping Indigenous teachers in the profession
“I remember working a lot of nights and weekends on my thesis! But, overall, I found the experience a fulfilling one. I had a great primary supervisor who was very good at keeping their students motivated.” – Brigid Lynch, who completed a PhD about population health