Ted Baker

The Cornell University 6-Year Ph.D. Program

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... In the 1960's, Max Black, a very clever Cornell philosophy professor, made a proposal to the Mellon Foundation saying that humanities Ph.D.'s were taking 9 years to get their degrees, and this could be alleviated by a program which paid all expenses for a six year accelerated Ph.D. I have a feeling that Max knew what was going to happen, but others had to deal with the results. This was so attractive a program that while the program existed, Cornell skimmed the cream of US students who normally pick Harvard, Princeton, Yale, and Stanford as first choice. These were extremely self-motivated and creative people. They proceeded to go in all possible directions, studying whatever they liked and generally livening up the campus. ... I don't think a single one got a Ph.D. in six years. They all lived interesting lives, at Cornell and after. ... (Anil Nerode, Cornell Professor, in his on-line biography at http://www.math.cornell.edu/~anil/laterlife.html)

I was one of a few of these guinea-pig students, known to those involved in the program as "Phuds", who did manage to complete the Ph.D. in six years, but it was not in the humanities as the program originally intended.

On the 25th anniversary of the undergraduate class of 1977 -- the fourth and final cohort of Phuds -- Charlotte Lin (PhD Mathematics, Cornell, 1977) and a few other alumni of the Phud program looked up as many of the alumni as they could. Bob Lewis (PhD Mathematics, Cornell, 1976) put together a web page giving the history of the program, along with the stories of some of its members. If you are interested, you can read this web page at http://www.bway.net/~lewis/phudbio.html.

© T. P. Baker