Can the student be done with the PhD program within 3 years?

In theory, yes, a student could complete the Ph.D. program in three years.  This will require the student to be strongly motivated and focused.  Instead of taking the summer months off, the student will need to be engaged in course work.  However, it may be possible for the student to get credit, for example, for teaching in his or her home country during that time or could be enrolled in a research practicum off-campus.  Normally the Preliminary Exam is given after the completion of all required courses in the month of August.  Immediately after that (in the Fall Semester), the student will need to complete and defend a dissertation proposal.  Data would then be collected with the analysis of data to occur and final defense of the finished product in the Spring or Summer Semester.  To date, only one student has been able to finish in three years.  However, almost all of our students have attended the program on a part-time basis.  It would go quicker if students were able to be full-time.
A 3.5 year plan would giving more breathing space than a goal of 3 years and would be a safer bet.  The 3 year plan will require that students “hit the ground running” immediately after the Prelimary Exam and have: 1) already mastered a body of literature on a special problem or research interest, 2) a set of hypotheses/research questions drafted, and 3) a methodology or plan for collection of data so that these can be quickly refined and defended as the first three chapters of the dissertation in the Fall Semester.  Students under tight time pressure may wish to use already existing data sources (secondary data) as opposed to collecting original data.

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