The Average Length of Dissertations across Fields

How long is a doctoral dissertation? Too long—but some more than others.

Marcus W. Beck, a doctoral student in conservation biology at the University of Minnesota, decided to find out. No, he didn’t write a dissertation on the subject.* But he did a lot of number crunching using dissertations at his college library.

On average, the longest dissertations are in history at roughly 300 pages. The shortest are in biostatistics at about 100 pages. You can see a larger version of the chart here.

-via Marginal Revolution

*Though this would be an interesting topic for anyone pursuing a doctorate in library science.**

**Getting a doctorate in library science right now would probably be a bad idea.


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I've seen ~3 categories of physics dissertations. The theorists joke about just stapling together 3-4 papers to get a thesis that lacks a smooth connection between the parts, but it isn't too far from the truth for some subfields. Those can be quite short, as each part has been condensed down, and a lot of the trial-and-error math work is left out. Experimental dissertations that have done their own completely separate project or were involved in the start up of a new larger scale experiment can be quite long 200-300+ pages, because they spend a lot of time describing just the details of construction and a lot of initial, basic data. Later dissertations on those experiments can be much shorter, around 100 pages, as they can reference the earlier work that describes a large chunk of the experiment, then go straight into the new, typically more specific work. I ended up in the last category, with a lot of stuff just summing up solutions to problems instead of analyzing all of the lower quality data taken while trying to improve things.
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