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Shortest doctoral dissertation

Apr 4, 2018

  • Capella University

    Advance to the top of your profession with a Ph.D. in educational leadership. Capella University’s online doctoral program is designed for experienced teachers and school faculty members who wish to take on administrative education roles.

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  • Liberty University

    Earn a Ph.D. in educational curriculum and instruction from Liberty University. This accredited, fully online doctoral program is the ideal degree pathway for curriculum specialists and school administrators at all grade levels.

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  • Walden University

    Walden allows students to transfer up to 38 credits into their Ph.D. program. This fully online programs allows you the flexibility to pursue your education at your own speed.

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  • Healthcare

    In the healthcare field, expected completion times for PhD programs range around 6 or 7 years. However, some programs are shorter than others. In pharmaceutical science, PhD programs average around 60 to 70 course credits and take 5 or 6 years to complete. Graduates of the PhD program at Rutgers Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy have a median completion time of just 4.5 years, among the fastest in the field.

    A PhD in immunology typically takes about 60 course credits and 6 years to complete. However, students at some schools regularly complete the program in significantly less time. The microbiology and immunology PhD program at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, for example, reports a median degree completion time of 4 years.

    Business and Finance

    Most PhD programs in business require around 70 credit hours and take a minimum of 4 or 5 years to complete. PhD students take 2 years of coursework followed by a further 2 years of work on a dissertation. Some subjects may follow a different curriculum.

    Many students at the University of Missouri Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business need 4 years to finish a PhD degree in business administration with a specialty in management, finance or marketing. Similarly, PhD students in accounting at the Stanford Graduate School of Business can finish a degree in 4 years.


    Most PhD programs in education require 60 to 90 credit hours and anticipate at least 5 or 6 years to complete. In reality, the National Science Foundation reports an average completion time of over 8 years. PhD students can select from a variety of specializations within the education field, though there is not a significant difference in expected completion times between the various specializations.

    Public Service, Law and Government

    PhD degrees in public policy and public administration typically include 2 years of coursework and 2 years of work on a dissertation. Students at Ohio State University finish the PhD program in public policy and management in 3.5 years on average.

    PhD degrees in public health include 45 to 70 credits and generally require 4 or 5 years to complete. However, if you have a background in a related subject, you may be able to finish faster. Students in the Harvard University health policy and management program report a median time to completion of only 3 years.

    Technology and Computers

    Most PhD programs in computer science and technology subjects require 4 to 6 years, including 45 credit hours of coursework scheduled for the first 2 years of the program. In most cases, program completion length depends on the dissertation. If you can complete your dissertation research and writing in 2 years or less, you will likely finish the program at the low end of the timeline.


    PhD programs in many engineering subjects require 3 to 5 years to complete, including about 45 credit hours of coursework. Some programs in subjects like chemical engineering, materials science and mechanical engineering report median degree completion times of only 3 years. Such programs include the Virginia Tech PhD program in chemical engineering, the University of Central Florida PhD program in materials science and the University of Memphis PhD program in Mechanical Engineering.

    Communication and Arts

    PhD programs in communication generally operate under a 4-year model that includes 2 years to complete 48 to 60 credits of coursework and 2 years to work on a dissertation. Some students are able to complete such a program in less than 4 years.

    Though PhD programs in the arts are usually designed to be completed in 6 years, art students regularly take more time to finish their degrees. According to the National Science Foundation, PhD students in the arts require an average of 9 years to complete a program. For students who stay on schedule, art history, music and film studies degrees can be completed in 5 years.


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    When I started my PhD, I was sent to a general lecture for all new doctoral students about how to construct a thesis. This was at Glasgow University, and they allowed a lot of latitude. Among the points raised was that there was no upper or lower length stipulated, with a maths thesis being mentioned that was only a page or thereabouts of actual thesis (just equations), but sandwiched in a small introduction and bibliography. That sounds similar to the Elkies one mentioned above, but it can't have been the same one as this lecture was delivered in 1978. At the other end of the scale, there are pathology theses running into several volumes.

    I don't think it's possible to have an entire thesis taking up only one page - there are things you have to include like an introduction and the bibliography which are going to get it to a handful of pages at least. I do believe the actual "meat" of a maths (or physics, possibly) thesis might be a single page, if something very elegant had been discovered.


    People who make the choice to study, work hard or do whatever they endeavor is to give it the max on themselves to reach to the top level. And you have the people who get envy and jealous, yet are not willing to put that work in, and they want to get the same praise. Evander Holyfield

    I have compiled a very solid list of the 12 most famous PhD theses (plural of thesis) in history. Do realize that this list includes ‘PhD Theses’ and not books/volumes (so Principia by Newton doesn’t count). 

    This list is based entirely upon my general knowledge, so pardon me if I am limited in my insight. Also, do note that the list is by no means exhaustive or in order. Have a look. You can click titles to read the theses. Enjoy, oh and forgive me for the complexity of the content. I couldn’t help it.

    1. Recherches sur les substances radioactives (1903)

    Marie Curie

     In English, this translates to “Research on Radioactive Substances”. Marie Curie’s thesisis perhaps one of the most famous scientific document of the 20th century. The thesis documents her discovery of radioactivity materials such as radium and polonium, for which she was awarded 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics, and subsequently formed the core of her future research. She also won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911. 

    2. A Symbolic Analysis of Relay and Switching Circuits (1937)

    Claude Shannon

    Claude Shannon’s thesis is said to be the most significant thesis of the 20th century, because it laid down the foundations of everything that has to do with ‘digital technology’. It is in here where Claude Shannon, at the ripe age of 21, proved how Boolean Algebra could become the building block of computers. The concept of using binary properties of electrical switches is at the core of all digital circuit design. Put it simply, Shannon’s thesis showed how a bunch 0s and 1s could do magic!

    3. Non-cooperative games (1950)

    John Nash

    John Nash. You must remember him from the movie A Beautiful Mind starring Russell Crowe. Nash’s thesis, titled “Non Cooperative Games” formed the building block for the Nash equilibrium, and his subsequent Nobel Prize in Economics (1994). His 28 page thesis is online and I’ve linked it in. I challenge you to read a few pages of it without getting dizzy. Nash’s handwriting is too messy. Nash still lives.

    4. Recherches sur la théorie des quanta  (1924)

    De Broglie

    De Broglie. The name is cool, plus he’s got swag (just look at that pose). De Broglie was one of the great theoretical physicists of the 20th century. His 1924 thesis, “On the Theory of Quanta” laid down the revolutionary idea of wave-particle duality, as applied to electrons. This idea is one of the principle ideas of quantum mechanics. De Broglie’s thesis is 70 pages long, which I believe is a short space to describe such an powerful and majestic concept. This thesis was the reason he won the Nobel Prize in Physics a mere five years later.

    5. The Principle of Least Action in Quantum Mechanics (1942)

    Richard Feynman

     Richard Feynman’s 1942 thesis “The Principle of Least Action in Quantum Mechanics” laid down the foundation of path integral technique and the famous Feynman diagrams. Feynman diagrams are used by physicists all over the world to pictorially represent the behavior of subatomic particles with mathematical expressions. Although his thesis wasn’t the reason he won a Nobel Prize for Physics, it is very popular in the physics community. After all it’s the work of Master “Feynman”.

    6. A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions (1906)

    Albert Einstein

    How can a history list be complete without the evergreen Albert Einstein? Einstein’s doctoral thesis “A New Determination of Molecular Dimensions” was instrumental in the sense that Einstein ended up with a very accurate value for the Avogadro’s number. The value was in compliance with what he and Planck had found earlier from black-body radiation. Einstein’s thesis laid down the framework for his next breakthrough work on Brownian Motion. Einstein’s doctoral thesis is his most cited work to date.

    7. The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature (1841)

    Karl Marx

    Karl Marx’s 1841 thesis titled “The Difference Between the Democritean and Epicurean Philosophy of Nature” is a landmark work. In his thesis, Marx argues the differences between two schools of thought that originated from Ancient Greek polymaths namely Democritus and Epicurus. It is in here where Marx debates between “freedom and determinism”. For the philosopher in you, do check the link to his original thesis I’ve added on top.

    8. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905)

    Max Weber

    Max Weber is considered to be one of the founders of sociology. Weber is known for his 1905 thesis titled “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” in which he combines economic sociology  and the sociology of religion. Weber’s thesis discusses key issues about market-driven capitalism, cultural influences on religion and key concepts of social stratification (when groups are segmented based on their social conditions).

    9. Sketchpad: A man-machine graphical communication system (1963)

    Ivan Sutherland

    Ivan Sutherland’s 1963 PhD thesis is a landmark paper in computer science and human computer interaction. As part of his thesis, Sutherland created Sketchpad, the world’s first graphical user interface or GUI program. GUI is at the core of digital computing today and how we interact with computers has become more intuitive, because of Ivan’s genius work. His thesis was not only a pioneering work in HCI (Human Computer Interaction) but it also gave birth to OOP (Object Oriented Programming), a new paradigm to creating better software.

    10. Molecular Machinery and Manufacturing with Applications to Computation (1991)

    Kim Eric Drexler

    Kim Drexler’s 1991 thesis on Molecular Nanotechnology is a pioneering work for a PhD student. Well, he essentially invented the field of molecular nanotechnology with his thesis, which is a really big deal. Kim Drexler’s thesis is so influential that it gave birth to an entirely new concept of mechano-synthesis. It is in here that the idea of “nano-factories” was first proposed. Kim’s thesis has changed the way we look at nanotechnology and perhaps altered the course of how it should be used. Imagine nano robots being manufactured in your body to defeat cancer cells. Marvelous!

    11. Logical-Philosophical Treatise (1921)

    Ludwig Wittgenstein

    Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractus Logico-Philosophicus (Logical-Philosophical Treatise) 1921 Cambridge thesis is perhaps his more foremost work. The examiners at Cambridge said, “This is far more superior of a work than that is expected by a PhD candidate”. Bertrand Rusell called him “a true genius that he has never seen before”. Ludwig Wittgenstein was one of 20th century’s greatest philosophers and logicians. His masterpiece 78-page thesis “Tractus”, now published as a book was his only published piece ever. “Tractus” discusses all kinds of things that might seem odd at first, but they are thought provoking – for example, things like the limits of science, the relationship between language and reality. I’ve linked in his thesis and you should read it. It is fun because it is in the order of declarative statements (such as 1, 1.1, 1.1.x and so on) instead of arguments.

    12. On the Hypotheses which lie at the basis of Geometry (1868)

    Bernhard Riemann

    Bernhard Riemann’s 1868 thesis gave birth to Riemannian geometry. His work was well received and turned into a landmark work in geometry just two years after he died. Riemann was a student of Gauss, the great Swiss mathematician. Riemannian geometry is of critical importance, as it was used by Albert Einstein to explain the concept of relativity. This is because Riemannian geometry introcued geometrical objects called tensors which describe how much bent or curved is a point in space. A century and half later, Riemannian geometry was used by Grigori Perelman to solve one of the hardest problems in mathematics, the Poncaire Conjecture.

    I hope you’ve enjoyed my list. Share and comment.

    About Ali Gajani

    Hi. I am Ali Gajani. I started Mr. Geek in early 2012 as a result of my growing enthusiasm and passion for technology. I love sharing my knowledge and helping out the community by creating useful, engaging and compelling content. If you want to write for Mr. Geek, just PM me on my Facebook profile.

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