Monday, October 12, 2009

The Ph.D. Completion Project

Thanks to Michael Egan for flagging this upcoming conference for me: THE EVOLVING LANDSCAPE OF IRISH GRADUATE EDUCATION (IUA Fourth Level Network Annual Conference 2009). At the conference, Prof. Jon Butler will discuss Yale's participation in the US Council for Graduate Schools 'Ph.D. Completion Project'. More information on the Ph.D. Completion Project is available from "The Ph.D. Completion Project aims to produce the most comprehensive and useful data on attrition from doctoral study and completion of Ph.D. programs yet available." Some publications fom the project are available here.

On the subject of "graduate student attrition", I was recently reading some comments from a keynote address given by Claudia Mitchell-Kernan (Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Dean of Graduate Division, University of California, Los Angeles) to an NSF workshop on graduate student attrition in the United States. Here's an excerpt: "Finally, let me address the cohort that offers the most difficulty for those of us interested in attrition. The students who drift away after being advanced to candidacy are often considered to be the most problematic. When these students leave, they leave at the greatest personal and societal cost." Here is a link to the entire summary of the NSF Workshop on Graduate Attrition.

Finally, related research by Stock, Finegan and Siegfried (AER, 2009) was mentioned on the blog before. It shows that finishing an economics Ph.D. within the designated time is affected by an array of factors, which I won't relay now. The authors conclude that "many considerations unique to individual students and faculty that we cannot measure—such as ambition, motivation, persistence, organizational skills, the creativity of students, and interest in students’ success as well as mentoring and motivational skills among graduate faculty — matter more than the myriad characteristics we were able to measure, which collectively account for less than 15 percent of the variation in completion among students." This suggests that non-cognitive ability plays an important role in Ph.D. completion.


Judith Delaney said...

Its easy to know why there is such high attrition in econ PhD programs. Its to do with the ridiculous and unnecessary amount of problem sets that get throwing in your face every week and the amount of hours required i.e. 12 hours a day even on the weekends! I think its ironic that economics being all about "smoothing" and convex prefernces, that the first year of the PhD is so intense and the last 3 so relaxing, why dont they spread out all that learning! Overall, I feel the structure of the PhD program needs to be best for the sake of my mental health!!! ha!

Martin Ryan said...


Thanks for the observations from the coalface of a U.S. university. I think what you say is fairly much in line with the views of graduate student economists, as expressed in Colander and Kramer's "The Making of an Economist". I'd say you would enjoy reading this, if you haven't done so already. The original came out in 1990, and an update last year, called "The Making of an Economist: Redux":