As a PhD student in my third year, I am constantly challenged with inane questions that I really don't have time to answer on top of figuring out why numbers do crazy things and what does my adviser mean by that comment on my fourth draft. With the help of some fellow grad school friends, I compiled a Q&A for those not in grad school.
How long is your program? With a grain of salt, a master's degrees takes two years, and a PhD takes an additional three years. With that said, a degree typically culminates in this thing called a dissertation, which does not have a set timeline. It's like asking, "How long do you think my child will live?" five minutes after it has emerged from the womb. The answer: Indefinitely. Except, in the case of the PhD, you want that critter to die ASAP.
When do you graduate? Similar to the above question, there is no neat, hand-wrapped answer to give you. From my observational pilot study, a grad student knows when they're about to graduate about two months before they're about to graduate. Maybe less. Depends what mood their committee is in.
Did you graduate? If procrastination is a degree, then I certainly did. Alas, I know you think I've been in school forever - and forever is honestly too small a span of time - but I actually have an eternity ahead of me. Probably as many more times as you will ask me that is how many years I have left.
Aren't you getting your master's? Everyone thinks, "First comes grad school, then comes a master's, then comes a PhD in a Zoloft carriage." Except, just like you don't need love for marriage, a lot of programs allow one to "skip" their master's. It makes sense. A dissertation is, like, three master's theses bound together. Why write a prologue? Who wants to read that? (No one wants to read your dissertation while we're on it.) So no, I am not getting a master's, and please stop making me feel awkward correcting you.
When do you graduate college? . . . I'm going to pretend you didn't ask that unless you're my grandma. Then I'll remind you: About three years ago.
What are you doing this summer? . . . Working? Duh? Grad school summers are not the undergrad fantasy land of part-time jobs and road trips with the besties. We are trying to get out of this program in under a decade, which means there is not a second to lose. Even if we wanted to take a break, our adviser is breathing down our neck for a publication and/or we have an assistantship. Personally, I get 20 days off a year. Stop asking where am I located between May and August; I am in my damn office, where else? (Well, maybe Starbucks on the corner.)
What is your dissertation on? Sometimes people don't even ask this; they just say, "What are you researching?" The simplest, and probably easiest, response is the name of your degree, e.g. counseling, mathematics, how to avoid the real world, etc. But people want to hear a bit more. The first issue is, if you're getting an advanced degree, then what you're studying probably necessitates that to understand the topic the listener have taken at least one introductory course in the field - which most likely the person across the table from you has not taken that introductory course. They then stare at you wide-eyed as you explain propensity scores in relation to survey weights to combat confounding in complex sampling designs. The second issue is when even you don't know what you're studying: "Well, I'm hoping to prove that spaghetti is a carb, but currently I'm looking at some things under a microscope, and we just don't know what's going on. Hopefully, no one else does either, because then I can publish it and get the hell out of Dodge, I mean, my program."
Can you hang out tonight? Do you have Wifi I can use to draft the first chapter of my dissertation? Also, do you mind watching me rehearse this presentation? If the answer is no to either of those, I'm free at the beginning of next semester. Oh, but you have wine? What about vodka? I might be able to free up a space next week then.
You must like math! I get this every time I explain what I'm getting my PhD in (statistics). That is like saying, "You must like childbirth," to every person who has a kid. Just because math/childbirth is magical, that does not mean it's enjoyable.
What do you want to do when you get out? I don't want to do anything that has to do with my degree, because my degree has taken away my life and given me nightmares. I'm considering waiting tables. Or joining the circus. But animal rights . . . .
What do you mean you're poor? You're gonna make so much money when you get out! There are so many assumptions in that statement, like a.) I get out and b.) I find a job. For right now, I will stick to pregaming the bars even though I haven't been in college in three years. And Mom and Dad, it's okay to visit me frequently and pay for groceries, but don't you dare claim me as a dependent on taxes because I need that cash back.