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Need another reason to finish that dissertation and graduate? Here it is: Social science and humanities students who complete their doctorates earlier than others are more likely to land tenure-track jobs.

That's according to a new national study from the University of Washington's Center for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education. In a survey of 3,000 early career social science doctorate holders, investigators found that those who held tenured or tenure-track positions had taken about a year less to get their degree than did those in non-tenure-track positions.

The study included only data on doctorates in anthropology, communications, geography, history, political science and sociology, but study author and sociologist Elizabeth Rudd, PhD, says the findings likely hold true for psychology as well. She also says the results may be due to a belief—founded or not—that a shorter time-to-degree indicates a higher quality candidate.

"All other things being equal, if someone completes their PhD more quickly, they're seen as more desirable," she says.

The authors also found that the doctorates who rated their programs and mentoring experiences highly were also most likely to report shorter PhD completion times.

The take-home message for students: Find out before going into a department what the average time-to-degree is, says Rudd. And when looking for a dissertation chair, ask how quickly his or her students get through the process.

Rudd also advises grad students to reach out to advisers, fellow students and other faculty for ongoing guidance, support and mentoring. Too often, students don't ask for help figuring out program requirements or analyzing data, particularly in the social sciences and humanities, which many view as "lone scholar" pursuits, says clinical psychologist Alison Miller, PhD, author of "Finish Your Dissertation Once and For All: How to Overcome Psychological Barriers, Get Results, and Move On With Your Life" (APA, 2008). She also recommends that students talk to graduates who have gone faster to find out what they did to complete their program more quickly, and to talk to students who took longer to get a sense of pitfalls to avoid.

"Students need to stop thinking they have to figure things out by themselves," Miller says.

—A. Novotney