Student-Supervisor Knowledge Levels

So last week I went to a talk on preparing for your defense (even though I’m not quite there yet). I figure it wouldn’t hurt to get some extra advice in advance, and to start mentally preparing myself for the defense. The actual talk was mostly useless. It was very high level, and a lot of repeated information that is easily gained by looking on the university website (as in, these are the possible outcomes of a defense, this is the timeline, this must be done before your defense begins, etc).

But, there were two pieces of “information” that I actually found kind of useful. Useful in a what are you smoking kind of way. But it’s always interesting to learn about other people’s perspective.

The first, was this idea of a students level of expertise compared to their supervisor, over time, in a Master program vs a PhD. I’ve re-drawn the graph (see below) that was presented. Essentially, what it says is that by the time a Master student finishes around year two, their knowledge should be just under their supervisors. However, PhD students should be overtaking their supervisors level of knowledge around year two! It was the PhD one that I was more surprised about. I don’t disagree that a PhD student should surpass their supervisor (they are the one spending more time doing the actual research and digging into all the details on the narrow topic). But I’m not so sure it happens around year two.

Student – Supervisor knowledge comparison

The second piece of information was a statement made about how long your PhD should take. I wasn’t surprised when they made the normal “claim” that a PhD is 4 years. What bothered me, was that this person perpetuated the myth that if you did your Master first, a PhD should be a three year program. Unless your PhD is on the exact same topic as your Master, and your Master was done within the larger picture of your PhD research, I have no idea how you can possibly complete it in three years. A PhD (regardless of having done a Master degree first) still requires you to a) take courses, b) learn all the background knowledge needed for your research topic and c) do the research. Three years is very little time to put together and run experiments, especially if they may involve human participants. I feel like statements like this give false hope to Master students that “hey, doing a PhD won’t be so bad, and it really won’t add much time.”

So, in your experience, do either of these two “facts” ring true?

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