I came across this in Ria' weblog : http://ria.weblogs.us
. She is a Phd Student in Engineering ( i think). Interesting article.
Attrition from PhD programs..
Ran into this article on the chronicle of higher education about PhD attrition rates at Mentor Cana's blog. It was quite surprising to read that as many as 40-50% of the people who join PhD programs dropout before completion! The numbers are even more skewed for some humanities-based programs where apparently only one out of every three people who enrol, graduate.
Although I have never really seen this as a problem in the past, seeing the state of affairs around me lately, the statistics in the article does make sense. In the past, there were not many instances of attrition among my cohorts. But in the last couple of years, there have been a three probable cases which are still hanging in the undecided zone. And these are people who have been in their respective programmes for longer than three/four years.
What causes attrition? I would perfectly understand dropping out after the first couple of years. But these people spent substantial amount of time and energy in working towards a goal that is probably going to elude them once they quit. Was it a case of bad decisions? Situations? Uncompatibility? I'd definitely have to say that its probably a mix of all of these factors.
I thought the article summarized the situation very well in this one quote. "It's like a bad dating situation," says Ms. Golde. "No one is taking responsibility for the match. Instead everyone needs to take responsibility for the match."
From my observations, the reasons that leads up to attrition are a combination of one or more of the following (not necessarily in the order of importance)/weightage:
1. Unsure of goals. Was not clear of career goals when starting the program.
2. Specially in the engineering disciplines, I found that some candidates that dropped out were excellent engineers (application of knowledge), but struggled with creativity. Good grades and excellent undergraduate transcripts has nothing to do with success at a PhD program. Infact, data provided in the same article (cited earlier) shows that drop-outs had higher GPAs and higher test scores compared to the pool that completed their degree. Although this was a limited survey at a particular school, it reflects an important fact that needs to be taken into consideration by every aspiring PhD.
3. Ability to sustain continued stress for an extended period of time. By saying this I am in no way minimizing the stress levels at work situations or masters programs. But having worked for a few years in the industry, I must say that stress here is another ball game altogether.
4. Ability to motivate yourself. You are often going to work without any deadlines and without having someone breathing down your neck. Most often no one will actually care if you do your work! It darn hard to drag yourself out there everyday and accomplish something tangible. This is probably a primary reason why many people take muich longer to complete their dissertation than what they would if there were hard deadlines involved.
5. Funds!! This doesnt seem to be a huge issue for 2-year Masters program candidate (most can even shell out the costs from their pocket through loans/savings). But when you are working on a PhD for five-six years, it's almost impossible to drag yourself through the program without sustained funding. It may be specially hard for someone if you get a job offer sometime in the middle of it all. I've seen this happeneing may a time - specially when the economy was better. At that point it is important to keep your ultimate goals in mind and resist temptations!
6. Differences with one's advisor. Although not very common, this does happen. It is important to build a relationship with your advisor early in the process. Both professional and personal. Keep in mind that you're going to be working one-on-one with this person for a very long time and it should be open enough for you to talk about even personal issues (more often than not personal issues affect all our work lives. A PhD is like a 24-7-365 job and it is even more difficult to separate out the two in that scenario).
At this point this is all that comes to mind.
Posted by Ria