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How to Complete Your PhD in 3 Years

Accelerate your phd journey: how to complete your phd in 3 years.

Dr. Somasundaram R

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Table of contents

1. choose the right research topic, 2. organize your work efficiently, 3. develop a strong proposal early on, 4. seek guidance actively, 5. conduct an efficient literature review, 6. stay focused and avoid distractions:, 7. collaborate and network, 8. regular writing practice, 9. prioritize your health and manage stress, 10. be adaptable.

Completing a PhD in just 3 years may seem like a difficult task, but with proper planning and determination, it can be achieved. In this article, iLovePhD will share practical strategies to help you succeed in your PhD journey and graduate within the desired timeframe.

Discover actionable strategies and expert tips to complete your PhD in just three years. Learn how to stay focused, organize your research , seek guidance, and maintain a healthy work-life balance to achieve your academic goals efficiently. Start your journey towards a successful PhD graduation now!

Selecting a suitable research topic is the foundation of a successful PhD Start by picking a well-defined, feasible topic that aligns with your interests and expertise. This ensures you focus your efforts on a subject that truly excites you and is manageable within the given time frame.

Breaking down your research into smaller tasks and setting achievable deadlines will help you stay on track. Utilize project management tools or apps to keep your progress organized and monitor your accomplishments.

Craft your research proposal as early as possible and seek approval from your advisor or committee. A solid proposal sets the stage for your research and avoids unnecessary delays.

Regularly communicate with your advisor or mentors to discuss your progress, challenges, and potential solutions. Seeking feedback actively ensures you stay on the right path and don’t waste valuable time in the wrong direction.

Conducting a thorough literature review early on will help you identify existing research and gaps in your field. This process guides your research scope and prevents redundant efforts.

Maintaining focus is crucial during your PhD journey. Limit non-essential activities that may consume your time and energy, allowing you to concentrate on your research.

Collaborate with peers and researchers in your field. Networking can lead to valuable insights, shared resources, and potential collaboration opportunities, all of which can accelerate your research progress.

Start writing your thesis early in the process. Regular writing clarifies your ideas and findings, making the final thesis writing process more manageable.

Pursuing a PhD can be mentally and emotionally demanding. Make sure to take care of yourself, manage stress, and maintain a healthy work-life balance to avoid burnout.

Unexpected challenges or setbacks are common during research. Be adaptable and open to adjusting your plans as needed to stay on track.

Aim to Defend Early: Set a goal to defend your PhD thesis early in your third year. This provides ample time to address any revisions or feedback from your committee.

Completing a PhD in three years requires dedication, focus, and efficient planning. While it is an ambitious goal, it’s essential to remember that the quality and impact of your research matter more than the timeframe. By following these steps and staying committed to your goals, you can make significant progress in your PhD journey and set yourself up for success in academia and beyond.

Also Read: Top 50 Possible PhD Viva Questions

  • 3-year Ph.D.
  • academic goals
  • academic planning
  • academic success
  • efficient research
  • focused Ph.D. journey
  • Ph.D. completion
  • research organization
  • time management
  • work-life balance

Dr. Somasundaram R


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  • How Long Does A PhD Take?
  • Doing a PhD

Sometimes, just knowing how long a PhD takes can be enough to sway your decision on whether a research degree is for you. So with that in mind, exactly how long does a PhD take?

In the UK, a full-time PhD takes 3 to 4 years to finish whilst a part-time PhD takes twice as long at 6 to 7 years. Alongside these average durations, there are time limits on how long you can be enrolled on to a PhD programme. To discover these limits, the factors which most influence doctoral degree durations and how the UK durations compare to international PhDs, continue reading on.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Full-time PhD?

In the UK, a full-time PhD will typically take you 3 to 4 years. You will usually spend the first three years on the technical aspects of your doctorate. This includes undertaking independent research, designing your research methodology and collecting and analysing data. You will then spend an additional academic year on writing up your PhD thesis and sitting your viva.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Part-time PhD?

In the UK, a part-time PhD will typically take you 6 to 7 years; twice as long as doing a full-time PhD. The reason for this is that as a part-time PhD student, you would dedicate around 20 hours per week to your PhD as opposed to the typical 40 hours full-time students would put into their subject.

How Long Does a Distance Learning PhD Take?

Similarly, distance learning PhD’s take an average of 6 to 7 years to complete. This is because the vast majority of students who undertake a distance learning PhD do so because they can’t relocate closer to the university. Although these commitments will differ, they often mean the student isn’t able to dedicate 40 hours per week to their studies.

Students in STEM disciplines will often take longer to finish a distance learning doctorate degree than those in non-STEM disciplines. This because the progress of a STEM PhD student will be limited by how often they can access a laboratory for experiment work.

How Does Funding Impact a PhD’s Duration?

In reality, the actual time it will take you to complete your PhD degree will depend on your funding situation.

If you’re receiving  funding , it will usually only cover you for 3.5 years if you’re studying full-time or for 7 years at half the stipend if you’re studying part-time. Although this could vary slightly, most PhD funding providers, e.g. Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), follow this timescale as indicated on their ‘ length of PhD studentships’ page. Because of this, most students who obtain scholarships try to complete their PhD within the timeframe of their funding so they don’t incur additional fees which they need to cover themselves.

It’s also worth noting that some funded PhD positions have additional conditions attached to them as part of their eligibility requirements. For example, they may require teaching undergraduate students, hosting laboratory sessions or attend presentations and conferences. This will be especially true if you’re on a Graduate Teaching Assistantship (GTA). Although these shouldn’t add considerable time to the length of a PhD programme, they have the potential to do so if they aren’t managed properly.

As self-funded students cover their own annual tuition fees and other associated costs, how long they’ll spend to complete their PhD project will largely depend on their own personal financial situation. Because of this, most self-funded PhD students find it best to complete their PhD study in the shortest time-frame they can manage.

Are There Deadlines?

Yes – unfortunately, all good things must come to an end! Within the UK, the deadline for your PhD is defined as the last date which you must submit your final thesis by. This date is set by your university’s overall regulations and varies depending on the arrangements of your PhD, e.g. whether it’s full or part time. In the vast majority of cases, the adopted deadlines are four years for full-time PhDs and seven years for part-time PhDs from the date you were officially registered onto your programme, as shown below from the University of Leicester’s registration guidance page .

Registration for Length of a PhD_ How long does it take to get a PhD

This time-frame may vary from university to university. For example, the University of Sheffield adopts an additional year for part-time PhDs as shown below.

Programme time for PhDs - How long is a PhD

Can I Complete It Faster?

Although it’s possible to complete a full-time PhD in under 3 years, it’s a significant feat that’s rarely heard of. When these feats occur, they’re usually where the doctoral student already has extensive knowledge and experience in their field before undertaking their PhD.

Whilst it’s possible to complete a part-time PhD in under 6 years, it largely depends on your commitments outside your studies. For example, if you have a part-time career alongside your PhD, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to commit the additional hours required to complete your doctorate a year faster.

However, if instead of a steady part-time job you take on occasional work as a freelancer, you’ll be able to set aside many more hours towards your doctoral degree.

Will Having only A Bachelor’s Degree or Being an International Student Limit My Rate of Progression?

Not at all. While there are benefits to having a Master’s degree such as an additional year of learning and greater research experience due to your fourth-year dissertation project, this doesn’t mean not having one would limit you. A PhD is very different to both Bachelor and Master degrees due to being heavily research-based, therefore, both types of students will have just as much to learn on their way to completing their doctorate.

Similarly, whether you’re an international student will bear no influence on the duration of your PhD.

Finding a PhD has never been this easy – search for a PhD by keyword, location or academic area of interest.

How Does This Compare to the Duration of EU and US PhDs?

PhD hosted by universities within the EU, such as those in France, Norway and Spain, have the same programme structure as those within the UK. As a result, there are no noticeable differences in the time to complete a doctorate between UK and EU institutions.

However, this is not the case in the US. Compared to PhDs conducted within the UK or EU, PhDs conducted within the US take considerably longer to obtain. According to a  2017 study conducted by the National Science Foundation, a US government agency which supports research and higher education, the average time to get a PhD within the US is 5.8 years. Besides this, the average completion time can further increase depending on the disciplines. For example, they found doctorates within the humanities and arts to take an average of 7.1 years to achieve.

The primary reason for this difference is the way PhD degrees are structured within the United States. As mentioned previously, PhDs conducted within UK and EU universities are essentially broken into two sections – one covering the analytical aspects and the other covering the writing up aspects. However, within the US, doctorate programmes comprise additional sections. PhD students are first required to undertake 2 to 3 years of courses, which cover a broad range of topics related to their schools’ discipline. This is then followed by coursework and several examinations, which only once passed can the PhD candidate then start working on their research project and dissertation.

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Planning your PhD research: A 3-year PhD timeline example

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Planning out a PhD trajectory can be overwhelming. Example PhD timelines can make the task easier and inspire. The following PhD timeline example describes the process and milestones of completing a PhD within 3 years.

Elements to include in a 3-year PhD timeline

The example scenario: completing a phd in 3 years, example: planning year 1 of a 3-year phd, example: planning year 2 of a 3-year phd, example: planning year 3 of a 3-year phd, example of a 3 year phd gantt chart timeline, final reflection.

Every successful PhD project begins with a proper plan. Even if there is a high chance that not everything will work out as planned. Having a well-established timeline will keep your work on track.

What to include in a 3-year PhD timeline depends on the unique characteristics of a PhD project, specific university requirements, agreements with the supervisor/s and the PhD student’s career ambitions.

For instance, some PhD students write a monograph while others complete a PhD based on several journal publications. Both monographs and cumulative dissertations have advantages and disadvantages , and not all universities allow both formats. The thesis type influences the PhD timeline.

Furthermore, PhD students ideally engage in several different activities throughout a PhD trajectory, which link to their career objectives. Regardless of whether they want to pursue a career within or outside of academia. PhD students should create an all-round profile to increase their future chances in the labour market. Think, for example, of activities such as organising a seminar, engaging in public outreach or showcasing leadership in a small grant application.

The most common elements included in a 3-year PhD timeline are the following:

  • Data collection (fieldwork, experiments, etc.)
  • Data analysis
  • Writing of different chapters, or a plan for journal publication
  • Conferences
  • Additional activities

The whole process is described in more detail in my post on how to develop an awesome PhD timeline step-by-step .

Many (starting) PhD students look for examples of how to plan a PhD in 3 years. Therefore, let’s look at an example scenario of a fictional PhD student. Let’s call her Maria.

Maria is doing a PhD in Social Sciences at a university where it is customary to write a cumulative dissertation, meaning a PhD thesis based on journal publications. Maria’s university regulations require her to write four articles as part of her PhD. In order to graduate, one article has to be published in an international peer-reviewed journal. The other three have to be submitted.

Furthermore, Maria’s cumulative dissertation needs an introduction and conclusion chapter which frame the four individual journal articles, which form the thesis chapters.

In order to complete her PhD programme, Maria also needs to complete coursework and earn 15 credits, or ECTS in her case.

Maria likes the idea of doing a postdoc after her graduation. However, she is aware that the academic job market is tough and therefore wants to keep her options open. She could, for instance, imagine to work for a community or non-profit organisation. Therefore, she wants to place emphasis on collaborating with a community organisation during her PhD.

You may also like: Creating awesome Gantt charts for your PhD timeline

Most PhD students start their first year with a rough idea, but not a well-worked out plan and timeline. Therefore, they usually begin with working on a more elaborate research proposal in the first months of their PhD. This is also the case for our example PhD student Maria.

  • Months 1-4: Maria works on a detailed research proposal, defines her research methodology and breaks down her thesis into concrete tasks.
  • Month 5 : Maria follows a short intensive course in academic writing to improve her writing skills.
  • Months 5-10: Maria works on her first journal paper, which is based on an extensive literature review of her research topic. At the end of Month 10, she submits the manuscript. At the same time, she follows a course connected to her research topic.
  • Months 11-12: Maria does her data collection.

how to do phd in 3 years

Maria completed her first round of data collection according to plan, and starts the second year of her PhD with a lot of material. In her second year, she will focus on turning this data into two journal articles.

  • Months 1-2: Maria works on her data analysis.
  • Months 3-7: Maria works on her second journal paper.
  • Month 7: Maria attends her first conference, and presents the results of her literature-review paper.
  • Month 8: Maria received ‘major revisions’ on her first manuscript submission, and implements the changes in Month 8 before resubmitting her first journal paper for publication.
  • Month 9: Maria follows a course on research valorisation to learn strategies to increase the societal impact of her thesis.
  • Months 9-12: Maria works on her third journal paper. She uses the same data that she collected for the previous paper, which is why she is able to complete the third manuscript a bit faster than the previous one.

how to do phd in 3 years

Time flies, and Maria finds herself in the last year of her PhD. There is still a lot of work to be done, but she sticks to the plan and does her best to complete her PhD.

  • Month 1: Maria starts a second round of data collection, this time in collaboration with a community organisation. Together, they develop and host several focus groups with Maria’s target audience.
  • Month 2: Maria starts to analyse the material of the focus group and develops the argumentation for her fourth journal paper.
  • Month 3: Maria presents the results of her second journal paper at an international conference. Furthermore, she helps out her supervisor with a grant application. They apply for funding to run a small project that is thematically connected to her PhD.
  • Months 4-9: Maria writes her fourth and final journal article that is required for her PhD.
  • Month 10: Maria writes her thesis introduction .
  • Month 11: Maria works on her thesis conclusion.
  • Month 12 : Maria works on the final edits and proof-reading of her thesis before submitting it.

how to do phd in 3 years

Combining the 3-year planning for our example PhD student Maria, it results in the following PhD timeline:

how to do phd in 3 years

Creating these PhD timelines, also called Gantt charts, is easy. You can find instructions and templates here.

Completing a PhD in 3 years is not an easy task. The example of our fictional PhD student Maria shows how packed her timeline is, and how little time there is for things to go wrong.

In fact, in real life, many PhD students spend four years full-time to complete a PhD based on four papers, instead of three. Some extend their studies even longer.

Furthermore, plan in some time for thesis editing, which is a legitimate practice and can bring your writing to the next level. Finding a reputable thesis editor can be challenging, but I can highly recommend the professional thesis and dissertation editing service by  Editage . (You can receive a 30% discount on their services if you sign up via Master Academia .)

Finishing a PhD in 3 years is not impossible, but it surely is not easy. So be kind to yourself if things don’t work out entirely as planned, and make use of all the help you can get.

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