Ah, the most asked question while I have been in grad school. Every single week, someone asks when I will be done with grad school and my program. Each time that it comes up, I roll my eyes and say the same thing, “soon, I hope”. I don’t mean to roll my eyes, it just happens. This is a question that every grad student will get and you just have to come up with a good way to tell the person that it is a long process and you don’t really know when it will be over, if it ever will. So, today, I just want to write about the frustration of this question and how I handle it.
Why people ask it in the first place.
People are curious about what you do in grad school and why you are doing it. Many master’s programs are set time limits and only classwork focused. People pretty much already know when that will be over so they may not ask you. If they do ask when you’ll be done with grad school, you can confidently tell them. In a PhD program, you actually don’t know when you’ll be done, especially when you first start.
People will ask PhD students when they are done because they have really no idea the process that happens. They might actually be curious, but it can be annoying for the student because it is the one question that really get’s brought up all of the time. People want to know when your major milestones are and the question of “when will you be done with grad school” is always an easy one.
Why It is FRUSTRATING
I get asked this a ton. My family wants to know. My neighbors want to know. Heck, just random strangers want to know. I get asked all the time. I usually tell them a year or possibly two. Now that I am at the end, I can safely say that I have 2 months left, which is exciting. But for the longest time, I had to make stuff up. Sometimes I would say that I really didn’t know when I would be finished. This is not an answer that people like to hear. This is also why it is so frustrating.
See, in a PhD program, it’s not like school. You don’t just have to get a certain number of credits then move on. No, you have to contribute to the research field, publish papers, get certain credits, pass a qualifying exam, pass your defense, and everything in between. I know people that finished a PhD in 4 years, and I know people that finished in 7. You aim for like 4.5 to 5 years but it all depends on your work, luck, and if all of the machines you have to use are working…lol.
It is also very frustrating because it adds a sense of urgency. When someone asks me how long I have left, I feel rushed. I feel like people want me to get out of school and stop messing around. A PhD is not school, it is a job/apprenticeship. When I hear people asking how long I have left, it’s the equivalent of asking a full time worker how long they have left working their job. It’s a dumb question. Of course, unless you are familiar with the PhD life, you won’t know what I mean by this. Everyone thinks that it is just school, when it really isn’t. Sorry for the rant.
What to do if someone asks you when you’ll be done?
Be nice. Do not show frustration because people will think you are being rude. If you just started, just say that you just started and it will be a long process. If they want years as an answer, just make a joke and say something like “I think they said 10 to 15 years” I do this as a joke and it always works. People won’t understand that you will never know when you are done. They just won’t. The best thing to do is just try and steer clear of having to answer that question or just be nice when it does come up. It will come up all of the time, I promise.
This is a bit of a shorter blog post. It is mostly a post for those that are frustrated by the question “when are you done with grad school?” It really is a question that grad students hear way too much and have to defend themselves each time. It seems like a harmless question, but it is one that causes a ton of hardship for grad schoolers.
If you are reading this, and know someone in grad school. Instead of asking them “when will you be done with grad school?” ask them, “how are things going in grad school?” or, better yet, “any cool findings in your research?” I think the last one is the best because we tend to find really cool things while doing research but have no one to talk to about it. I know, especially for me, this is a question that i would love to get. Unfortunately, it’s not one I ever do.