I've heard about US PhD students going on for seven years, ten years, fourteen years, and so on.
In the UK I had to submit before four years. If I didn't do that I literally just failed the degree.
I worked twenty-hour days for about a month at the end and then submitted with one day to go. Not even exaggerating.
Instead, they just get increasingly insistent about you making "forward progress" and increasingly reluctant to keep your funding going.
They may have made an exception.
[It's also possible to "suspend regulations" -- which is University speak for "something happened which the rules don't deal with sensibly" -- and extend a PhD's length, though this is generally accompanied by weeping and gnashing of teeth by administrators. It's much harder to do than it used to be.]
And what’s more four years is the limit - the intention is three.
So in the UK most people go from zero to PhD in six years total, rather than ten or more in the US. And we still manage to get papers into top tier venues in that time so it doesn’t seem to be too short.
I know someone in Austria who got a great PhD in two years with multiple top-tier papers! That’s pretty extreme though.
That said, I think the biggest risk to PhD research is not just project, but product management. That is, many PhDs will set up meetings, TODOs, and communication channels, but they won't explicate...
* why the project is being done
* an ordered list of desired outcomes
* acceptance criteria
* who they'll communicate with, how, and how often
* some kind of list of risks
Not locking down acceptance criteria with an adviser is, IMO, the biggest thing that keeps people from graduating (and is generally what a dissertation proposal is for).
I’m unsure what a concrete acceptance criteria will look like given that we want to encourage researchers to explore.
There is clearly scope for iteration here. If I was assessing an open ended exploratory project, I'd expect to see that a problem space has been defined and that some sort of question has been posed within it. Yes, it might take some time to find out what the question actually is, and the question might be to some extent retrofitted.
Once the question has been defined then you can imagine research subgoals that involve creating the required tooling / infrastructure, collecting test data, running a trial, analysing the outputs, etc. Actual software dev activities should be traced back to one of these research subgoals, or you'd have to question why they are being conducted at all.
> Acceptance criteria are hard to lock down, especially in new projects
In industry research teams it is essential to lock them down at some point and you may not get paid if you don't complete against them (accepting that a negative result might be a valid research outcome). This ability to focus was the hardest thing I had to learn when I transitioned from academic to industry research. Even in an open-ended exploratory academic context, you still do need to prove, as the GP said, that you have in some sense answered a question.
Better to have an answer that is wrong, than something that isn't an answer at all.
In that case, it seems like...
* acceptance criteria over "explore" activities (e.g. achieving failure, we are running X high risk/ high reward activities per Y period of time; someone signed off on its value before running it)
* acceptance criteria over "exploit" activities (e.g. I need to produce these very clear things of value)
In retrospect, though, I think my research community (in psychology) was very open / interested in learning about dead ends. The weirdest outcome is when an advisor learns something from research, but then feels like its obvious, so the research gave them something, but is perceived as low value.
Source: I didn't achieve a PhD (I bailed early with an M.Phil) because our group project devolved into a poorly structured software development that contained numerous software rabbit holes. Once we'd gone down these, we never converged on a useful research output, as opposed to a massive codebase. That said, with the tools described here, our codebase would have been cleaner.
I disagree with the author. Most modern chat applications like Slack, Microsoft Teams, Skype etc allow separate threads of conversation cleanly.
IMO email is the worst platform for having conversations about a project.
I’m looking for something like a “named thread” which the Twist Chat app has, but is unfortunately not the preferred means of communication in my group.
Should have read more closely.