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PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 12:15 pm
by MrKite
I was talking to one of my professors yesterday, and he said that the attrition rate in my current school's physics PhD program is about 50%. I was surprised, I didnt think it was that high. What do you guys think?

Re: PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 12:16 pm
by coreycwgriffin
Well, from what I heard, grad school can be a lot different from undergrad, and people usually don't know what they're getting into before they actually go. That's probably the most important thing I learned during my REU last summer; Just how graduate school actually works.

Re: PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 12:41 pm
by evilclaw2321
coreycwgriffin wrote:Just how graduate school actually works.


please elaborate, what do you mean how grad school works?

Re: PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 12:56 pm
by coreycwgriffin
evilclaw2321 wrote:
coreycwgriffin wrote:Just how graduate school actually works.


please elaborate, what do you mean how grad school works?


Well, the impression that I got is that grad classes can be ridiculously hard compared to undergrad classes, but ultimately beneficial. I've heard from multiple sources that they're more like hazing, especially Jackson's E&M. I know it'll be a big shock for me going from a private liberal arts college where I've had one physics class (and associated lab time) per semester to taking multiple physics classes at once. And then once you've finished the standard courses and reached candidacy, you basically make your own schedule, which can be difficult for some. I know when I didn't have a strict schedule during my REU I got incredibly lazy. I'd like to say it was partly due to me being almost completely uninterested in my project. But it can be hard when your whole life up to that point you've had someone tell you, "This is due by this day," and then all of a sudden the amount of progress you make in a time period is largely your own decision. Of course you have to give your advisor progress reports and they attempt to steer you in the right direction, but it still seems very loose compared to undergraduate studies. I can easily see how some people, hopefully not myself, don't fit in well with the lifestyle and decide not to stick around.

Re: PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 12:59 pm
by grae313
This is something that can vary widely from school to school, so I would ask when you visit or do a little hunting yourself. For example, I know Cornell's average incoming class size is about 30 (plus or minus 5), I know from their website that we have 165 grad students, I know from gradschoolshopper that the average phd time is 5.6 years, lets call it 6. 165 students/6 years is 27.5 students per year. That's a very low attrition rate.

Re: PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 1:09 pm
by slugger
I actually found that graduate coursework was not substantially more difficult than undergrad coursework--although i should preface this by saying that I did my masters at a relatively weak institution. I found that there was a lot of grade inflation in the graduate classes I took--no one in my research group had less than a 4.0 gpa in their classes--but i agree that keeping your own schedule for research is very difficult.

I might attribute some of the attrition to people leaving Ph.D. programs with only a masters. My professors always complained that people would come as Ph.D. students but only planned on finishing an MS because maters students are not eligible for the funding that Ph.D. students are.

Re: PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 1:34 pm
by twistor
That's a very low attrition rate.


Does that include the number of students leaving due to bridge related suicide?

Re: PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 1:53 pm
by trani
twistor wrote:
That's a very low attrition rate.


Does that include the number of students leaving due to bridge related suicide?


Apparently, going that route is starting to become more and more of a hustle:
http://articles.latimes.com/2008/oct/11/local/me-goldengate11

Re: PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 2:00 pm
by Helio
trani wrote:
twistor wrote:
That's a very low attrition rate.


Does that include the number of students leaving due to bridge related suicide?


Apparently, going that route is starting to become more and more of a hustle:
http://articles.latimes.com/2008/oct/11/local/me-goldengate11


the bridge is too far away from stanford for anybody to use it... BART/Amtrak FTW. In berkeley you can just jump down from LBNL.

Re: PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 6:14 pm
by cato88
slugger wrote:I actually found that graduate coursework was not substantially more difficult than undergrad coursework--although i should preface this by saying that I did my masters at a relatively weak institution. I found that there was a lot of grade inflation in the graduate classes I took--no one in my research group had less than a 4.0 gpa in their classes--but i agree that keeping your own schedule for research is very difficult.

I might attribute some of the attrition to people leaving Ph.D. programs with only a masters. My professors always complained that people would come as Ph.D. students but only planned on finishing an MS because maters students are not eligible for the funding that Ph.D. students are.

I think it depends on school to school depending on how mathematically rigorous your undergrad is. Alot of the undergrads I know who were taking undergrad and graduate classes at the same time told me undergrad classes were less mathematically rigorous compared to grad classes but had more weight on exams so undergrad classes were more work intensive but these were people with backgrounds in mathematical rigor so that never added a significant amount of difficulty. I think the change affects those who went to undergrad were they were only taking 1-2 math/science courses a term never took more than 2 math classes after calculus and have had a really high GPA. Its the shell shock of the jump and the fact that youre GPA is not pristine although I also hear grad classes are grade-inflated.

Re: PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 6:25 pm
by dsperka
I think grad classes will be easier in the sense that the classes are smaller (at least for me coming from a big university). So its less of a big deal to give 5 A's and 3 B's, for example, than to give 20 A's and 10 B's. In the second case (the undergraduate class) there would be pressure from the university to give a bigger spread in grades.

Re: PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 7:09 pm
by grae313
The class size doesn't matter for the grade spread in grad classes. The top half of the class gets A's, the bottom half get's B's, and if you are way below the rest of the pack, you get a C. Getting a C in a grad class is like getting an F. Getting a B or B+ means you are below average. Everyone in the department knows this. You need a 3.0 average to be in good standing in the university, but grad schools don't need to weed people out with grades anymore unless you really just suck and aren't trying. You've already showed them how capable you are. You motivate yourself now, nobody cares about your grades unless you are trying to be a theorist in a competitive group.

The difficulty of grad classes can also vary widely. As an example, a student in my class here at Cornell did his undergrad at a University whose graduated physics program is ranked top 15 but not top 10. He told us he went from taking grad classes there as an undergrad and dominating in them, being one of the best in the class, to coming here and being below average (getting B's). Everyone here is working their asses off to try and understand this material. It's challenging!

Re: PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Sat Feb 14, 2009 8:57 pm
by coreycwgriffin
dsperka wrote:I think grad classes will be easier in the sense that the classes are smaller


Haha...not for me. Taking Quantum in a class of two right now, hah.

Re: PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Sun Feb 15, 2009 4:32 am
by amit
coreycwgriffin wrote:grad classes can be ... like hazing

Hahahaha, This explains a lot about my undergrad QM class. The professor had never taught an undergrad class before, and he assigned us weekly 12-16 hour assignments, and then acted like we were pussies when we complained about the difficulty. It was a hellish experience, but boy did I learn perturbation theory well. I guess I've got more of that coming my way soon. :cry:

Re: PhD program attrition rates

Posted: Mon Oct 19, 2015 11:47 pm
by Catria
Sorry if I post this late but Minnesota has a ~80% graduation rate averaged over the past five years, with an average time to graduation of ~5.7-6.0 years; perhaps I am wrong but this is a top-10 nationwide graduation rate...

Rumor has it that UCs operate their PhD programs as TA-level Ponzi schemes, where PhD students are admitted essentially to serve as TAs more than for any real development of scientific talent, just like some bottom-level PhD programs whose faculty is underfunded but whose TA budget is still decent (like TCU, SMU, Tulane, Dartmouth to a lesser extent) that I usually associate with such schemes. And then either courses are ridiculously hard-grading or quals are ridiculously hard.