How to finish your PhD and graduate in a timely manner

So you started a Ph.D. Great!

You are doing lots of research, or maybe you are burned out. Either is understandable.

Maybe your advisor loves you and wants you around forever.

Or maybe they hate you and don't want to support you in any way. 

Or maybe they ignore you... a lot. 

Whatever the situation, it is in YOUR best interest to finish your Ph.D. in an (at least somewhat) timely manner.

But how?

picture of me Oindree Banerjee at my graduation ceremony used on blog post how to finish your phd and graduate on blog how to phd
At my graduation!

Staying longer does not equal to getting more done

A Ph.D. that is much longer than 5-6 years is a bad return on investment. 

It does happen, though, for various reasons and if you are in that boat, I am sure there are good reasons. 

It is not uncommon in physics, as an example, for PhDs to take upwards of 7 years.

However, getting too comfortable in graduate school may not be such a good idea for productivity. 

Whether you are joining industry or taking a postdoc, no one wants to see that you took forever to finish.

A good question to ask yourself is:

By staying in your program longer, are you actually getting more done? 

Is your CV going to get a LOT better by staying two more years?

Thinking of grad school as a long time to get things done is a mistake.

Think of it as a very short time to achieve many things.

Five years is really not that long if you are ambitious.

The first two years you are probably in classes and/or teaching. 

You join a research group but you are probably not producing as much until you are a more senior grad student.

It takes time to get the hang of a new field. 

Once you do start getting the hang of it, though, do not act like you have a lot of time to push that paper out.

You have very little time.

So get to it, get it done, and start entering the wrapping up phase of graduate school.

You will actually get more done this way. 

By mentally limiting the time of your Ph.D. and thinking of it as a very finite, short amount of time, you will get more done. 

When you give yourself forever to write all those papers, they don't get written.

So, the first step to finishing your Ph.D. is acting like you have very little time to accomplish a lot and then every day, accomplishing something.

Small things count.

Learn or do something every day. And keep good notes.

I recommend always having LaTeX open and typing up short reports of what you have done each day.

This will make putting your thesis together later so much easier.

Remember, finishing a Ph.D. in a shorter as opposed to a longer period of time does NOT mean that you get to do less work. 

You have to accomplish MORE to graduate faster than that to graduate slower.

If you don't accomplish MORE than others you will not have a good case for graduating. 

You have to demonstrate that you have done enough stuff.

You will know you have done enough only when it is MORE than enough, so do more than enough.

Do the work. But also learn to be your own lawyer and demonstrate that you have made accomplishments. 

FOCUS is your best friend if you want to finish up ASAP. 

Take initiative, be productive, and write papers.

Of course, now the 'problem' is you will become invaluable to the group. Your advisor may not want to let you graduate as you are so darned useful!

It might seem there is always more and more and more that you can do.

Being good at your job is tricky!

Remember, you and only you truly care about your career. So, protect it. 

Learn to say NO.

Disclosure: The above is an Amazon affiliate link. 

Meaning, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

The No! button really is an amazing product, though.

Even if half-jokingly used, the emphatic 'No!' emitted when the button is pressed is really, really helpful. 

It normalizes and acknowledges the great importance of using this underrated word.

When you enter the wrapping up phase of your Ph.D., be sure to actually PRIORITIZE wrapping up over everything else.

Do not answer emails from group members quickly.

Do not volunteer to do things for the group.

When you are trying to wrap up your Ph.D., it is NOT the time to take on new group duties.

Do things that will directly translate to contents in your thesis. And, only those things.

If you have been keeping good notes, putting your thesis together should not take more than a couple of months.

Do not put off writing. 

Block off time to write every day.

Basically, if you are a good graduate student, that's great, but also, it won't be easy.

You will be working really hard till the last minute.

You are fully capable of getting the work done, though. That's WHY you are a good graduate student.

So, what do you need to do to finish? 

The FOUR things you need to accomplish to graduate are:

  • Finish your projects
  • Finish writing your thesis
  • Find/train your replacement graduate student(s)
  • Find a job that your advisor/committee will approve of (postdoc or top industry job)

You might be able to get away with doing only the first two things, but doing all four is the surest way of getting out with your degree. 

Of course, these things are easier said than done.

I have been there. It is rough. 

I tried to combine the first three deliverables as much as possible.

For my last project, I would do work and write it directly into my thesis every day.

This was very time-saving.

Why is it important to train your replacement?

It is important for the work you have been doing to continue on.

But also, if you don't train them, who will?

Your advisor will be much less freaked out about you graduating (leaving) if they are convinced there won't be a giant vacuum when you are gone.

Their group needs to keep running after you leave so make an effort to help with this.

I wrote appendices in my thesis specifically to train new students.

These appendices were like manuals that they could read and directly apply.

This saved a lot of time.

I still met with the new students once a week or so to go over everything but it cut down how much I had to email them.

Writing things over and over by frequently answering emails takes so much more time than writing something well ONCE.

I knew some of the training the new students needed had to be in the form of detailed instructions so why not write that as appendices in my thesis. 

This way the material would always be there for them.

I ended up having four appendices and they are all considered very useful. 

Link to a summary of my thesis as well as the full text is here - check it out!

The last thing in the list - find a job - is a tough one to complete during a Ph.D. 

It's a whole another job by itself.

However, it may prove very critical to actually finishing your Ph.D.

It is important for graduate programs to show that their students get placed into good jobs.

It is important for your advisor to report in their CV, in grant applications, etc, where you ended up after your Ph.D.

You might be like - what do they care if I become a cashier at Costco after grad school? 

(I actually thought about doing this for a while - I'd be making significantly more than in grad school!) 

But getting a job that your department/committee/advisor will approve of IS important. 

They do care about this and you need to factor that in. 

Read this to find out how I got help with my job search. 

If you are having advisor problems, and your advisor won't graduate you... 

Remember you have a committee.

There is also the department.

And, people who are helping to run the program such as maybe the program coordinator.

Even the department chair (although such a person could be hard to get a hold of). 

Instead of wasting time arguing with or getting stressed out by your advisor, get EVERYONE ELSE on the same page first. 

Your biggest ammunition when doing so is your thesis.

This is why it is incredibly important to get your thesis written.

You need to have a good-looking draft of your thesis ready. It should look like a full thesis and have enough bulk to it.

It will greatly help if you also have a job lined up.

Armed with your thesis draft and job offer, you must approach your committee, the administration, whoever it takes, and present your case.

Have faith, if you come this far, you will reach the summit regardless of whether your advisor is supportive or not

Share your story in the comments below!


  1. Great article Oindree! Thank you for sharing :)

  2. I am so excited to see you here!! Thank you!

  3. This is so good, you have pointed out the details, this one is really gonna help me. Great work ma'am!!


How to finish your PhD and graduate in a timely manner

So you started a Ph.D. Great! You are doing lots of research, or maybe you are burned out. Either is understandable. Maybe your a...