Anyone in the world Interesting data. Mean length of PhD in Belgium in Sciences: 58 months
[ Modified: Monday, 16 May 2011, 09:42 AM ]
Anyone in the world
Reform the PhD system or close it down
There are too many doctoral programmes, producing too many PhDs for the job market. Shut some and change the rest, says Mark C. Taylor.
The system of PhD education in the United States and many other countries is broken and unsustainable, and needs to be reconceived. In many fields, it creates only a cruel fantasy of future employment that promotes the self-interest of faculty members at the expense of students. The reality is that there are very few jobs for people who might have spent up to 12 years on their degrees.
Most doctoral-education programmes conform to a model defined in European universities during the Middle Ages, in which education is a process of cloning that trains students to do what their mentors do. The clones now vastly outnumber their mentors. The academic job market collapsed in the 1970s, yet universities have not adjusted their admissions policies, because they need graduate students to work in laboratories and as teaching assistants. But once those students finish their education, there are no academic jobs for them.
“Most doctoral programmes conform to a model defined in the middle ages.”
Universities face growing financial challenges. Most in the United States, for example, have not recovered from losses incurred on investments during the financial fiasco of 2008, and they probably never will. State and federal support is also collapsing, so institutions cannot afford to support as many programmes. There could be an upside to these unfortunate developments: growing competition for dwindling public and private resources might force universities to change their approach to PhD education, even if they do not want to.
There are two responsible courses of action: either radically reform doctoral programmes or shut them down.
The necessary changes are both curricular and institutional. One reason that many doctoral programmes do not adequately serve students is that they are overly specialized, with curricula fragmented and increasingly irrelevant to the world beyond academia. Expertise, of course, is essential to the advancement of knowledge and to society. But in far too many cases, specialization has led to areas of research so narrow that they are of interest only to other people working in the same fields, subfields or sub-subfields. Many researchers struggle to talk to colleagues in the same department, and communication across departments and disciplines can be impossible.
If doctoral education is to remain viable in the twenty-first century, universities must tear down the walls that separate fields, and establish programmes that nourish cross-disciplinary investigation and communication. They must design curricula that focus on solving practical problems, such as providing clean water to a growing population. Unfortunately, significant change is unlikely to come from faculty members, who all too often remain committed to traditional approaches. Students, administrators, trustees and even people from the public and private sectors must create pressure for reform. It is important to realize that problems will never be solved as long as each institution continues to act independently. The difficulties are systemic and must be addressed comprehensively and cooperatively. Prestige is measured both within and beyond institutions by the number and purported strength of a department's doctoral programmes, so, seeking competitive advantage and financial gain from alliances with the private sector, universities continue to create them. As is detailed on page 276, that has led most fields to produce too many PhDs for too long.
The solution is to eliminate programmes that are inadequate or redundant. The difficult decisions should be made by administrators, in consultation with faculty members at their own and other universities, as well as interested, informed and responsible representatives beyond the academic community who have a vested interest in effective doctoral education. To facilitate change, universities should move away from excessive competition fuelled by pernicious rating systems, and develop structures and procedures that foster cooperation. This would enable them to share faculty members, students and resources, and to efficiently increase educational opportunities. Institutions wouldn't need a department in every field, and could outsource some subjects. Teleconferencing and the Internet mean that cooperation is no longer limited by physical proximity.
Consortia could contain a core faculty drawn from the home department, and a rotating group of faculty members from other institutions. This would reduce both the number of graduate programmes and the number of faculty members. Students would have access to more academic staff with more diverse expertise in a wider range of fields and subfields. Faculty members will resist, but financial realities make a reduced number of posts inevitable.
Higher education in the United States has long been the envy of the world, but that is changing. The technologies that have transformed financial markets and the publishing, news and entertainment industries are now disrupting the education system. In the coming years, growing global competition for the multibillion-dollar education market will increase the pressure on US universities, just when public and private funding is decreasing. Although significant change is necessary at every level of higher education, it must start at the top, with total reform of PhD programmes in almost every field. The future of our children, our country and, indeed, the world depends on how well we meet this challenge.
Mark C. Taylor is chair of the department of religion at Columbia University in New York and the author of Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities (Knopf, 2010). e-mail:email@example.com
[ Modified: Friday, 29 April 2011, 10:10 AM ]
Anyone in the world
Education: Rethinking PhDs
Fix it, overhaul it or skip it completely — institutions and individuals are taking innovative approaches to postgraduate science training.
"Most of them are not going to make it." That was the thought that ran through Animesh Ray's mind 15 years ago, as he watched excellent PhD students — including some at his own institution, the University of Rochester in New York — struggle to find faculty positions in academia, the only jobs they had ever been trained for. Some were destined for perpetual postdoctoral fellowships; others would leave science altogether.
Within a few years, the associate professor was in a position to do something about it. A stint in a start-up company in California had convinced him that many PhD graduates were poor at working in teams and managing shifting goals, the type of skills that industrial employers demand. So he started to develop a programme that would give students at Keck Graduate Institute (KGI) in Claremont, California, these skills. "I was determined not to have to keep watching scientists struggle to find the jobs they were trained to do."
“I was determined not to have to keep watching scientists struggle.”
Ray is one of a number of researchers and administrators who are attempting to reshape graduate training. They want to save young scientists from falling into the postdoc holding pattern or taking jobs below their station. Here, Nature presents five approaches to shaking up the hallowed foundations of academia. They range from throwing scientists deep into independent study, to going interdisciplinary, to forgoing the PhD altogether.
1 Jump in at the deep end | 2 Forget academia |3 Trample the boundaries | 4 Get it online | 5 Skip the PhD
1 Jump in at the deep end
For Michael Lenardo, a molecular immunologist at the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, the thought process went like this: When too many scientists are looking for too few academic positions, PhD programmes need to admit the students most likely to succeed, and provide them with all the skills they'll need. And neither the United States nor the United Kingdom seemed to be getting the mix exactly right.
In the United Kingdom, PhD students are given independence early, and degrees rarely last more than 4 years. But not all institutions require that students publish a first-author paper, which Lenardo sees as a drawback. US science degrees often do require first-author papers, but have ballooned to more than 7 years in duration.
In 2001, Lenardo created a new degree programme, called the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program, that would combine the best elements of each system for a cadre of truly elite students. It admits just 12 of the 250–300 applicants per year. Independence is stressed — students devise and write their own project plan, begin their thesis work immediately, and skip the uniform coursework — but they must meet requirements such as authoring papers.
Students split their time between the United States and the United Kingdom, and have at least two mentors, one in each country (and often in different disciplines). Because no adviser has full control, students learn how to operate independently, says Lenardo. Travelling to another country reinforces that autonomy, and ensures that the students work with the best people in their field, he says.
In the ten years since the programme's inception, more than 60 students have graduated, taking slightly more than 4 years apiece. They published an average of 2.4 first-author papers out of their PhD research. Eighty percent of graduates are still in academia, and half a dozen are already working as principal investigators.
Ambika Bumb, now a postdoc at the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, spent her PhD developing a nanoparticle with magnetic, optical and nuclear properties that might one day aid in imaging tumours and delivering targeted therapies. She finished in just three years, had four advisers in two countries and received training in engineering, immunology, radiochemistry and radiology. She published at least four scientific papers and one review article from her PhD research, and she is now applying for faculty positions.
Developing independence is a crucial step to becoming an investigator, says Richard Hetherington, a postgraduate-skills development coordinator at Newcastle University, UK. "Having that will make them stronger when they get to the end," he says. But a lack of structure and core coursework could leave some students unprepared, says Nathan Vanderford, who manages a grant and manuscript development office at the University of Kentucky in Lexington, and has written about career issues in science. "I don't see that you'd get the depth of the history [of science], and the central core principles, strictly in a lab setting." Some students may struggle.
2 Forget academia
Ray's experiences encouraged him to think more about non-academic training for PhDs. Many institutes, including KGI, had already embraced Professional Science Master's (PSM) programmes as a way to stock the ranks of industry and keep training scientists, but Ray found that these degrees could limit students' opportunities.
He watched as graduates of KGI's Master's of Bioscience often started as an assistant to a consultant, or a mid-level manager, then advanced from there. They did well, but typically remained in the management side of a company, separate from the science. So Ray worked with David Galas, a KGI co-founder, and Sheldon Schuster, the institute's president, to extend the PSM's reach and develop a PhD programme that would provide students with both industry know-how and technical research training.
To complete a PhD in Applied Life Sciences at KGI, students must first complete the master's course there, then spend three to four more years doing original research, with at least one adviser from industry. Eric Tan, the first graduate of the programme, spent his PhD at KGI developing a DNA chip that might have applications in diagnostics or assessing biological threats. He learned not only the scientific method, but also how to write a business plan and present it to venture capitalists, how to carry out market research and the ins and outs of patent legislation.
Courses in marketing and communication are useful for any scientist, even those who stay in academia, says Vanderford. "Regardless of the career path a PhD would take, having those courses would be helpful."
Time will tell if it is working. Ray is inspired by the success of KGI's PSM programme, which has seen nearly all of its 300 graduates find jobs since it started in 2000. Since the PhD programme began in 2006, three students have earned their degrees, and each has found a job earning more than the median starting salary for the PSM students (US$73,000). It is a result that Ray calls "astounding".
Ray says he hopes that the rounded training will give his students the ability to manage scientists and interact with business people. "They can see and appreciate the big picture; at the same time, they are well-versed in the technological depth for which they will be valued."
But well-rounded students may have some dull edges, and Ray acknowledges that KGI cannot provide coursework in specific areas such as physical chemistry or cell biology. It will be an "ongoing process to try to figure out the balance between how much detailed science courses you need versus how much professional development you need", says Vanderford.
3 Trample the boundaries
Marc Jacofsky was working on a PhD in physical anthropology at Arizona State University (ASU) in Tempe when his brother, an orthopaedic surgeon, told him about all the questions he wanted to investigate in movement and artificial joints. Jacofsky remembers interrupting his brother with a few suggestions: "He looked at me and he said, 'I thought you studied monkeys.'"
Jacofsky did study monkeys — but also engineering, mathematics, computer science, kinesiology and neurophysiology. He was enrolled in a new programme developed by ASU faculty members from a wide range of departments, an attempt to go beyond interdisciplinary studies and instead create entirely new disciplines.
Nearly every new PhD programme at ASU is designed to be "transdisciplinary", says Maria Allison, dean of the graduate college. Other examples include Human and Social Dimensions of Science and Technology, Biological Design and Urban Ecology. Some degrees involve more than 80 faculty members, because of the range of topics covered.
The initial funding for Jacofsky's programme, called Neural and Musculoskeletal Adaptations in Form and Function, and some of the other ASU degrees came from a National Science Foundation project known as IGERT, or Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship. IGERT provides US$3-million 5-year grants to US institutions to develop programmes that help students to gain career skills and tackle real-world problems.
Since 1998, the IGERT programme has funded nearly 5,000 graduate students. An independent survey found that IGERT students are better able than their non-IGERT peers to work in multidisciplinary teams and to communicate with non-experts, without sacrificing expertise in their chosen area. There is even some indication that IGERT graduates have an easier time finding a job.
Similar interdisciplinary programmes are starting up elsewhere. The Canadian government has an initiative called the Collaborative Research and Training Experience Program, and a new PhD course in Bangalore, India, trains engineers, chemists, computer scientists and physicists in interdisciplinary life sciences, teaching them to use the tools of physical science to tackle biological problems. Started around five years ago by physicists at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, the Interdisciplinary Biology, or iBIO, programme has graduated eight students. Two are already tenure-track faculty members.
It is good to expose trainees to different fields, but specialization is still important, says Hetherington. The purpose of a PhD is to provide a "deep understanding of a specific area". Even cross-disciplinary research consists of scientists who contribute specific skills from their particular fields, he says.
Broadening the scope of a programme has advantages, however. It teaches students about their options. Jacofsky had entered his degree thinking he would one day teach university-level anthropology. Instead, he is vice-president of research and development at the at the Center for Orthopedic Research and Education, or CORE Institute, in Phoenix, Arizona, co-owned by his brother. Jacofsky studies biomechanics and gait before and after orthopaedic procedures. "If I'd done a traditional anthropology degree, I think there's an incredibly small chance I'd be working in industry."
4 Get it online
Some potential postgraduate students do not have the flexibility to commit to full-time studies, or to travel to a lab. Online training aims to fill this gap and provide more individuals with appropriate training, even at the PhD level.
Rana Khan started teaching an online course initially out of curiosity — she didn't understand how it would work. "I was fascinated by the whole idea," she says. "How do you do it?"
At the time, she was a postdoc at the US Department of Agriculture, investigating how to make soya beans more resistant to pathogens. She wanted teaching experience, and saw a job listing at the University of Maryland University College in Adelphi.
The job was to teach part of an online biotechnology Master's degree. The college had set up an online classroom, where Khan posts weekly lectures, and students are required to complete assignments and participate in discussions throughout the week. At least once a day, Khan checks in, answering students' questions. At the end of the programme, students do an online internship, in which they do group projects for real companies — investigating, for example, potential competitors with a new technology — and submit 100–200 page reports. There is no lab component, but there could be, says Khan, who directs the programme, now a PSM: students could simply work at a nearby lab and submit their data online, she says.
The college's programme has been around since 2001 and now graduates approximately 50 students a year. Roughly 10% live outside the United States. That's a big advantage of online degrees, Khan notes — some of her current students are members of the military, stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
One graduate is Kyle Retterer, who started a PhD in physics. After realizing he didn't want to spend years focusing on a narrow area in semiconductors, he abandoned academia. When he began to miss research, he looked for programmes that tackled cutting-edge problems and let him do what he had always loved — analyse huge amounts of data.
His mother had completed two online degrees in information technology and is now a vice-president at Nasdaq, so he saw the potential in distance learning. He graduated in two years, and two months later had a job at GeneDx, a clinical genetic-testing company in Gaithersburg, Maryland, analysing data from multi-gene tests. He now makes three to four times what he was making as a graduate student. "I feel like I'm in pretty good shape."
Even a PhD is possible from a distance. The Open University, which is headquartered in Milton Keynes, UK, now has about 40 part-time science PhD students. They work locally, conducting research at a local astronomy lab, for example, then are expected to check in every two weeks via Skype — or sometimes in person — with supervisors, usually at the university's main campus. "That can be just as rewarding" as having a supervisor on-site, says James Bruce, who manages the university's science PhD students.
“Online PhDs are a rarity, but that could change.”
Online PhDs are a rarity, but that could change, speculates Hetherington. Science isn't done in isolation, he says, so degrees in which students work alone and simply check in with a mentor won't teach them about managing relationships with mentors and peers. However, future tools could make it easier for students to interact with others remotely, better preparing them for being collaborative researchers, he says. "It will become increasingly more possible to do it."
5 Skip the PhD
Some are choosing to forgo the PhD altogether. Deanna Pickett had always expected to get a PhD, maybe in engineering or environmental chemistry. That changed last year, during her final year as an undergraduate in chemistry at the College of Wooster in Ohio. Paul Edmiston, a chemistry professor, asked her to help him investigate the properties of a new material that absorbed contamination from drinking water. It was real work that had an immediate impact; she loved it.
So when she later visited a potential graduate school, she was unimpressed. The prospect of years of more theoretical work, when she was already doing field research, was unappealing. When Stephen Spoonamore, the chief executive and co-founder (along with Edmiston) of the company ABSMaterials in Wooster, asked her to continue her work after she graduated, she changed her plans. "It is just a little more fulfilling next step of my life than going to do another five years of research on another topic."
Pickett's opportunity is unusual, perhaps more so now than ever before. Academia and industry have such a rich choice of PhD graduates for jobs that those without PhDs need not apply. "There is currently an ample supply of highly skilled people on the market," says David Harwell, assistant director of career management and development at the American Chemical Society in Washington DC. In some fields, such as bioinformatics, simple on-the-job training can sometimes suffice, but even then scientists generally need a PhD to advance. "Anyone can cite examples of non-PhD bioinformaticists who have made really major contributions, but few of these people have taken on the full range of responsibilities typically reserved for PhD investigators," says Maynard Olson, a genomics researcher at the University of Washington in Seattle.
ABSMaterials is one of the few exceptions — mostly because Spoonamore believes that PhDs "have got the wrong training". Spoonamore says that he often pays undergraduates "about the same" as PhDs, and promotes them just as easily. He himself founded 13 technology companies without finishing an undergraduate degree, the first at the age of 18 with funding from his lawn-mowing business. "I will always have a preference for an incredibly smart, top-of-their-class undergraduate student in chemistry. Every time."
In her second day on the job, Pickett gave a presentation to a group of entrepreneurs, and a week later, had to develop a pilot plan to clean up a site in Ohio that had been contaminated with trichloroethylene. She says she probably does many things a PhD graduate would do. "I do feel like I've skipped a step," she says.
But she knows she might not get as many responsibilities if she decided to change companies. For this reason her colleague, Laura Underwood, has decided to pursue a PhD after working with ABSMaterials for 3 years. Underwood, who has a similar background to Pickett, was the company's first employee, with huge responsibilities — running a manufacturing facility, overseeing conference planning and managing a lab. Without a PhD, she fears it might be hard to find the same kinds of opportunities elsewhere. But she's glad she worked for a while before going to grad school. "If you go straight into a PhD, something that sounds great in a lab may be kind of underwhelming when you get into the field."
Alison McCook is a freelance writer in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
[ Modified: Friday, 29 April 2011, 10:10 AM ]
Anyone in the world
Education: The PhD factory
(See attached pdf for original)
Scientists who attain a PhD are rightly proud — they have gained entry to an academic elite. But it is not as elite as it once was. The number of science doctorates earned each year grew by nearly 40% between 1998 and 2008, to some 34,000, in countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). The growth shows no sign of slowing: most countries are building up their higher-education systems because they see educated workers as a key to economic growth (see 'The rise of doctorates'). But in much of the world, science PhD graduates may never get a chance to take full advantage of their qualifications.
In some countries, including the United States and Japan, people who have trained at great length and expense to be researchers confront a dwindling number of academic jobs, and an industrial sector unable to take up the slack. Supply has outstripped demand and, although few PhD holders end up unemployed, it is not clear that spending years securing this high-level qualification is worth it for a job as, for example, a high-school teacher. In other countries, such as China and India, the economies are developing fast enough to use all the PhDs they can crank out, and more — but the quality of the graduates is not consistent. Only a few nations, including Germany, are successfully tackling the problem by redefining the PhD as training for high-level positions in careers outside academia. Here, Nature examines graduate-education systems in various states of health.
Japan: A system in crisis
Of all the countries in which to graduate with a science PhD, Japan is arguably one of the worst. In the 1990s, the government set a policy to triple the number of postdocs to 10,000, and stepped up PhD recruitment to meet that goal. The policy was meant to bring Japan's science capacity up to match that of the West — but is now much criticized because, although it quickly succeeded, it gave little thought to where all those postdocs were going to end up.
Academia doesn't want them: the number of 18-year-olds entering higher education has been dropping, so universities don't need the staff. Neither does Japanese industry, which has traditionally preferred young, fresh bachelor's graduates who can be trained on the job. The science and education ministry couldn't even sell them off when, in 2009, it started offering companies around ¥4 million (US$47,000) each to take on some of the country's 18,000 unemployed postdoctoral students (one of several initiatives that have been introduced to improve the situation). "It's just hard to find a match" between postdoc and company, says Koichi Kitazawa, the head of the Japan Science and Technology Agency.
This means there are few jobs for the current crop of PhDs. Of the 1,350 people awarded doctorates in natural sciences in 2010, just over half (746) had full-time posts lined up by the time they graduated. But only 162 were in the academic sciences or technological services,; of the rest, 250 took industry positions, 256 went into education and 38 got government jobs.
With such dismal prospects, the number entering PhD programmes has dropped off (see 'Patterns of PhD production'). "Everyone tends to look at the future of the PhD labour market very pessimistically," says Kobayashi Shinichi, a specialist in science and technology workforce issues at the Research Center for University Studies at Tsukuba University.
China: Quantity outweighs quality?
The number of PhD holders in China is going through the roof, with some 50,000 people graduating with doctorates across all disciplines in 2009 — and by some counts it now surpasses all other countries. The main problem is the low quality of many graduates.
Yongdi Zhou, a cognitive neuroscientist at the East China Normal University in Shanghai, identifies four contributing factors. The length of PhD training, at three years, is too short, many PhD supervisors are not well qualified, the system lacks quality control and there is no clear mechanism for weeding out poor students.
Even so, most Chinese PhD holders can find a job at home: China's booming economy and capacity building has absorbed them into the workforce. "Relatively speaking, it is a lot easier to find a position in academia in China compared with the United States," says Yigong Shi, a structural biologist at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and the same is true in industry. But PhD graduates can run into problems if they want to enter internationally competitive academia. To get a coveted post at a top university or research institution requires training, such as a postdoctoral position, in another country. Many researchers do not return to China, draining away the cream of the country's crop.
The quality issue should be helped by China's efforts to recruit more scholars from abroad. Shi says that more institutions are now starting to introduce thesis committees and rotations, which will make students less dependent on a single supervisor in a hierarchical system. "Major initiatives are being implemented in various graduate programmes throughout China," he says. "China is constantly going through transformations."
Singapore: Growth in all directions
The picture is much rosier in Singapore. Here, the past few years have seen major investment and expansion in the university system and in science and technology infrastructure, including the foundation of two new publicly funded universities. This has attracted students from at home and abroad. Enrolment of Singaporean nationals in PhD programmes has grown by 60% over the past five years, to 789 in all disciplines — and the country has actively recruited foreign graduate students from China, India, Iran, Turkey, eastern Europe and farther afield.
“Everyone tends to look at the future of the PhD labour market very pessimistically.”
Because the university system in Singapore has been underdeveloped until now, most PhD holders go to work outside academia, but continued expansion of the universities could create more opportunities. "Not all end up earning a living from what they have been trained in," says Peter Ng, who studies biodiversity at the National University of Singapore. "Some have very different jobs — from teachers to bankers. But they all get a good job." A PhD can be lucrative, says Ng, with a graduate earning at least S$4,000 (US$3,174) a month, compared with the S$3,000 a month earned by a student with a good undergraduate degree.
"I see a PhD not just as the mastery of a discipline, but also training of the mind," says Ng. "If they later practise what they have mastered — excellent — otherwise, they can take their skill sets into a new domain and add value to it."
United States: Supply versus demand
To Paula Stephan, an economist at Georgia State University in Atlanta who studies PhD trends, it is "scandalous" that US politicians continue to speak of a PhD shortage. The United States is second only to China in awarding science doctorates — it produced an estimated 19,733 in the life sciences and physical sciences in 2009 — and production is going up. But Stephan says that no one should applaud this trend, "unless Congress wants to put money into creating jobs for these people rather than just creating supply".
The proportion of people with science PhDs who get tenured academic positions in the sciences has been dropping steadily and industry has not fully absorbed the slack. The problem is most acute in the life sciences, in which the pace of PhD growth is biggest, yet pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have been drastically downsizing in recent years. In 1973, 55% of US doctorates in the biological sciences secured tenure-track positions within six years of completing their PhDs, and only 2% were in a postdoc or other untenured academic position. By 2006, only 15% were in tenured positions six years after graduating, with 18% untenured (see 'What shall we do about all the PhDs?'). Figures suggest that more doctorates are taking jobs that do not require a PhD. "It's a waste of resources," says Stephan. "We're spending a lot of money training these students and then they go out and get jobs that they're not well matched for."
The poor job market has discouraged some potential students from embarking on science PhDs, says Hal Salzman, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Nevertheless, production of US doctorates continues apace, fuelled by an influx of foreign students. Academic research was still the top career choice in a 2010 survey of 30,000 science and engineering PhD students and postdocs, says Henry Sauermann, who studies strategic management at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Many PhD courses train students specifically for that goal. Half of all science and engineering PhD recipients graduating in 2007 had spent over seven years working on their degrees, and more than one-third of candidates never finish at all.
Some universities are now experimenting with PhD programmes that better prepare graduate students for careers outside academia (see page 280). Anne Carpenter, a cellular biologist at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is trying to create jobs for existing PhD holders, while discouraging new ones. When she set up her lab four years ago, Carpenter hired experienced staff scientists on permanent contracts instead of the usual mix of temporary postdocs and graduate students. "The whole pyramid scheme of science made little sense to me," says Carpenter. "I couldn't in good conscience churn out a hundred graduate students and postdocs in my career."
But Carpenter has struggled to justify the cost of her staff to grant-review panels. "How do I compete with laboratories that hire postdocs for $40,000 instead of a scientist for $80,000?" she asks. Although she remains committed to her ideals, she says that she will be more open to hiring postdocs in the future.
Germany: The progressive PhD
Germany is Europe's biggest producer of doctoral graduates, turning out some 7,000 science PhDs in 2005. After a major redesign of its doctoral education programmes over the past 20 years, the country is also well on its way to solving the oversupply problem.
Traditionally, supervisors recruited PhD students informally and trained them to follow in their academic footsteps, with little oversight from the university or research institution. But as in the rest of Europe, the number of academic positions available to graduates in Germany has remained stable or fallen. So these days, a PhD in Germany is often marketed as advanced training not only for academia — a career path pursued by the best of the best — but also for the wider workforce.
“The relatively low income of german academic staff makes leaving the university after the PhD a good option.”
Universities now play a more formal role in student recruitment and development, and many students follow structured courses outside the lab, including classes in presenting, report writing and other transferable skills. Just under 6% of PhD graduates in science eventually go into full-time academic positions, and most will find research jobs in industry, says Thorsten Wilhelmy, who studies doctoral education for the German Council of Science and Humanities in Cologne. "The long way to professorship in Germany and the relatively low income of German academic staff makes leaving the university after the PhD a good option," he says.
Thomas Jørgensen, who heads a programme to support and develop doctoral education for the European University Association, based in Brussels, is concerned that German institutions could push reforms too far, leaving students spending so long in classes that they lack time to do research for their thesis and develop critical-thinking skills. The number of German doctorates has stagnated over the past two decades, and Jørgensen worries about this at a time when PhD production is growing in China, India and other increasingly powerful economies.
Poland: Expansion at a cost
Growth in PhD numbers among Europe's old guard might be waning, but some of the former Eastern bloc countries, such as Poland, have seen dramatic increases. In 1990–91, Polish institutions enrolled 2,695 PhD students. This figure rose to more than 32,000 in 2008–09 as the Polish government, trying to expand the higher-education system after the fall of Communism, introduced policies to reward institutions for enrolling doctoral candidates.
Despite the growth, there are problems. A dearth of funding for doctoral studies causes high drop-out rates, says Andrzej Kraśniewski, a researcher at Warsaw University of Technology and secretary-general of the Polish Rectors Conference, an association representing Polish universities. In engineering, more than half of students will not complete their PhDs, he says. The country's economic growth has not kept pace with that of its PhD numbers, so people with doctorates can end up taking jobs below their level of expertise. And Poland needs to collect data showing that PhDs from its institutions across the country are of consistent quality, and are comparable with the rest of Europe, says Kraśniewski.
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Still, in Poland as in most countries, unemployment for PhD holders is below 3%. "Employment prospects for holders of doctorates remain better than for other higher-education graduates," says Laudeline Auriol, author of an OECD report on doctorate holders between 1990 and 2006, who is now analysing doctoral-student data up to 2010. Still, a survey of scientists by Nature last year showed that PhD holders were not always more satisfied with their jobs than those without the degree, nor were they earning substantially more (see 'What's a PhD worth?').
Egypt: Struggle to survive
Egypt is the Middle East's powerhouse for doctoral studies. In 2009, the country had about 35,000 students enrolled in doctoral programmes, up from 17,663 in 1998. But funding has not kept up with demand. The majority comes through university budgets, which are already strained by the large enrolment of students in undergraduate programmes and postgraduate studies other than PhDs. Universities have started turning to international funding and collaborations with the private sector, but this source of funding remains very limited.
The deficit translates into shortages in equipment and materials, a lack of qualified teaching staff and poor compensation for researchers. It also means that more of the funding burden is falling on the students. The squeeze takes a toll on the quality of research, and creates tension between students and supervisors. "The PhD student here in Egypt faces numerous problems," says Mounir Hana, a food scientist and PhD supervisor at Minia University, who says that he tries to help solve them. "Unfortunately, many supervisors do not bother, and end up adding one more hurdle in the student's way."
Graduates face a tough slog. As elsewhere, there are many more PhD holders in Egypt than the universities can employ as researchers and academics. The doctorate is frequently a means of climbing the civil-service hierarchy, but those in the private sector often complain that graduates are untrained in the practical skills they need, such as proposal writing and project management. Egyptian PhD holders also struggle to secure international research positions. Hana calls the overall quality of their research papers "mediocre" and says that pursuing a PhD is "worthless" except for those already working in a university. But the political upheaval in the region this year could bring about change: many academics who had left Egypt are returning, hoping to help rebuild and overhaul education and research.
Few PhDs are trained elsewhere in the Middle East — less than 50 a year in Lebanon, for example. But several world-class universities established in the oil-rich Gulf States in recent years have increased demand for PhD holders. So far, most of the researchers have been 'imported' after receiving their degrees from Western universities, but Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular have been building up their infrastructure to start offering more PhD programmes themselves. The effect will be felt throughout the region, says Fatma Hammad, an endocrinologist and PhD supervisor at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. "Many graduates are now turning to doctoral studies because there is a large demand in the Gulf States. For them, it is a way to land jobs there and increase their income," she says.
India: PhDs wanted
In 2004, India produced around 5,900 science, technology and engineering PhDs, a figure that has now grown to some 8,900 a year. This is still a fraction of the number from China and the United States, and the country wants many more, to match the explosive growth of its economy and population. The government is making major investments in research and higher education — including a one-third increase in the higher-education budget in 2011–12 — and is trying to attract investment from foreign universities. The hope is that up to 20,000 PhDs will graduate each year by 2020, says Thirumalachari Ramasami, the Indian government's head of science and technology.
Those targets ought to be easy to reach: India's population is young, and undergraduate education is booming (see Nature 472, 24–26; 2011). But there is little incentive to continue into a lengthy PhD programme, and only around 1% of undergraduates currently do so. Most are intent on securing jobs in industry, which require only an undergraduate degree and are much more lucrative than the public-sector academic and research jobs that need postgraduate education. Students "don't think of PhDs now, not even master's — a bachelor's is good enough to get a job", says Amit Patra, an engineer at the Indian Institute of Technology in Kharagpur.
Even after a PhD, there are few academic opportunities in India, and better-paid industry jobs are the major draw. "There is a shortage of PhDs and we have to compete with industry for that resource — the universities have very little chance of winning that game," says Patra. For many young people intent on postgraduate education, the goal is frequently to go to the United States or Europe. That was the course chosen by Manu Prakash, who went to MIT for his PhD and now runs his own experimental biophysics lab at Stanford University in California. "When I went through the system in India, the platform for doing long-term research I didn't feel was well-supported," he says.
Join the discussion on the future of the PhD
[ Modified: Friday, 29 April 2011, 10:11 AM ]
Anyone in the world
Once More, With Feeling: National Research Council Unveils Revised Doctoral Rankings
By David Glenn
The National Research Council released on Thursday a revised edition of its 2010 rankings of American doctoral programs that corrects four types of errors discovered in the original report, which was issued last September. But the new rankings do not deal with certain other concerns that scholars have raised about the project.
In the revised edition, almost all programs' positions on the council's "ranges of rankings" have changed at least slightly, but in most cases the changes are not substantial. In a few academic fields, however, the numbers have changed significantly for at least 20 percent of the programs. Those include geography, linguistics, and operations research.
A spreadsheet of the new rankings is available for download at the council's Web site. The council has also released a separate, much smaller spreadsheet that summarizes the changes in programs' "R" and "S" rankings. (R rankings reflect how similar a program is to the programs in its field with the strongest reputations. S rankings more directly reflect a program's performance on variables that scholars in the field say are most important, such as faculty research productivity or student diversity.)
The new edition makes four kinds of corrections. The original report in many cases undercounted faculty members' honors and awards, the proportion of new graduates who find academic jobs, and the proportion of first-year students who are given full financial support. In nonhumanities fields, the report also used faulty data for faculty members' 2002 publications, which in turn caused errors in calculations of citation counts.
Big Changes for One Program
One program that fares significantly better in the revised report is Cornell University's doctoral program in French language and literature. In the original report, that program had an R-ranking range from 12 to 30 (meaning that there is a 95-percent probability that the program is between the 12th-best and the 30th-best of the country's 43 doctoral programs in French). Its S-ranking range was between 16th-best and 30th-best in the country. In the new report, Cornell's R-ranking range is from 7 to 21, and its S-ranking range is from 11 to 26.
What changed? The number of awards and honors per faculty member has been revised upward from 0.52 to 1.11. And the percentage of new graduates with academic jobs has been revised upward from 62.5 percent to 100 percent.
Those two changes were enough to propel the estimated rankings of Cornell's French program up substantially. That illustrates how sensitive the council's model is to relatively modest variations, especially in fields, like French, where the overall number of programs is small. That kind of sensitivity is why Stephen M. Stigler, a professor of statistics at the University of Chicago, has criticized the project. He believes that the ranges of R- and S-rankings do not carry much meaning if tiny changes in a single variable or two can cause large swings in the rankings.
Other programs with significant upward movement in the revised edition include the applied-mechanics program at the California Institute of Technology, the biomedical-engineering program at the City University of New York, the molecular-genetics program at the University of Chicago, and the linguistics and philosophy programs at the University of California at Los Angeles.
One program that The Chronicle highlighted last fall for its unexpectedly strong rankings—the physics department at the University of Hawaii-Manoa—still scores well in the revised edition. In fact, its R- and S-rankings have improved slightly in the new version.
Intensity of Interest
Will graduate-program directors greet the revisions with the same intensity of interest that the original report drew last fall? Lou McClelland, director of institutional analysis at the University of Colorado at Boulder, believes not. She said in an interview on Thursday that she had notified program directors at her campus on Wednesday about the coming revisions, but no one replied to her message.
The new revisions do not address some of the most widespread concerns aired last fall about the council's report, including complaints about incorrect lists of faculty members and the NRC's decision not to count book-length publications in the social sciences.
Andrew Bernat, executive director of the Computing Research Association, said in an interview on Thursday that the revisions did little to satisfy his organization's discomfort with the rankings. He believes that the council used faulty calculations when it tallied computer scientists' presentations at conferences, which are the most prestigious form of scholarly communication in his field.
"I have the utmost respect for the National Academies," Mr. Bernat said. "But this report was done very poorly. They took on a very difficult, perhaps an impossible, problem, by trying to compute rankings in a concrete way across all of these fields at once. But that doesn't absolve them of the problems in their data collection."
The Chronicle will soon update and correct its own presentations of the NRC data. The Chronicle's interactive data tool will be updated by Friday afternoon, and its summary tables for each academic discipline will be updated next week.
[ Modified: Friday, 29 April 2011, 10:08 AM ]
Anyone in the world
April 20, 2011, 10:16 am
By Marybeth Gasman
It’s that time of year. Students are scrambling to defend their dissertations so that they can graduate on time. Some students are almost done, printing their dissertations on 100% rag cotton paper. Others, unfortunately, are desperately writing their last chapter, hoping to get it to their committee with enough time for a thorough read. I work with both types of students and everyone in between. Since I became a faculty member in 2000, I have chaired over 35 dissertations. I have learned a lot about what gets a student to completion and what doesn’t.
As someone who cherishes my relationships with students, I often write about how to succeed in graduate school. Today, however, I would like to point out the things students do to block their own success. I should start by saying that I think that we as professors can also block students success, and that just because I’m looking at what students do, doesn’t let us off the hook.
Over the years, I have noticed that some students are their own worst enemies when it comes to success. All too often, students don’t believe in their own intellectual abilities. Perhaps faculty members have failed to communicate a belief in these students. However, more often than not, I find that students are held back by past experiences and messages given to them about their intellect. When I encounter such students, I spend time convincing them that they know more than they think and indeed have become experts on their topic.
Some students look for ways to give up—weekly, even daily. I’m not sure why this happens. Perhaps they are afraid of their own success. I’ve had students write to me week after week telling me that they can’t complete the dissertation. I write back telling them to keep working, keep writing, and that I have absolutely no intention of giving up on them.
Other students tell me they have writers block and they’ll never be able to finish. I tell these students to do other things when they have writers block—such as editing, putting together the reference list, reading more literature, and writing acknowledgments. Sometimes taking a break from academic writing and doing something mundane is a good idea.
Some students are perfectionists and become immobilized when they get fixated on a particular issue. Sometimes that “issue” is having the most up-to-date literature review (can’t stop reading) or obsessing over an interview question or making a paragraph perfect. I tell these students that a dissertation is just that—a dissertation—it’s not a Pulitzer Prize-winning book. It’s never going to be perfect because nothing is perfect. I also work to get these students focused by simplifying the process as much as possible. Sometimes I do this with a quick outline, but I have also asked students to write a paragraph while sitting in front of me. Having to write in front of me, free of distractions, gets them focused, plus they also receive feedback immediately, which can be motivating.
Still other students tell me that they don’t have time to finish—that “life” is getting in the way. I remind these students about how much they wanted to learn and explore their topic of choice and how deserving they are of the time to do this. I try to bring them back to their reasons for earning a doctoral degree in the first place. I also show them ways to better manage their time by helping them better manage the research and writing process.
Lastly, I have students who worry that because they took so long to finish they have disappointed people, including me and their committee members. I tell these students that not finishing is the only disappointment. I have found that people finish at their own pace even with prodding from me.
Although I’d prefer that all of my students finish their doctoral degrees in 4-6 years, some do not and the best thing I can do is be in constant contact with them to ensure they succeed. A little straight talk, tough love, and support goes a long way toward student success.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged doctoral, doctorate, Ed.D, graduate students, Marybeth Gasman, PH.D., roadblocks, success. Bookmark the permalink.
[ Modified: Friday, 29 April 2011, 10:12 AM ]
Anyone in the world
En 2007, plus de 137 000 chercheurs (en personnes physiques) ont une activité de R&D en entreprise, ils étaient 81 000 en 1997, et deviennent pratiquement aussi nombreux que leurs homologues opérant dans les administrations.
Les deux tiers d’entre eux sont regroupés dans six secteurs économiques : composants électroniques, services informatiques, automobile, aéronautique, instruments de mesure et pharmacie.
La forte augmentation du nombre de chercheurs en entreprise au cours de ces dix dernières années profite en premier lieu aux services informatiques. Cette population est jeune et fortement masculine. En 2007, leur moyenne d’âge est inférieure à 40 ans. Ces chercheurs sont formés en école d’ingénieurs, pour plus de la moitié d’entre eux. Les femmes sont en moyenne plus jeunes et plus diplômées que les hommes.
Pour accéder à la note
Anyone in the world
Defining the characteristics of the UK doctoral degree
The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education
Based on discussions and researches that have taken place to date, QAA intends to publish a document defining the characteristics of doctoral study in the UK. (This will complement the Masters degree characteristics document already published.) The new publication will give guidance to higher education professionals who set and assess standards for postgraduates wishing to do a doctorate (PhD, DPhil or other level 8 award). A companion document, the Rough Guide to the UK Doctorate, will provide information for students interested in doing a doctorate.
Both documents are already at draft stage. We now seek feedback from those with an interest in postgraduate education. The Doctoral degree characteristics document (PDF) defines what is expected of doctoral candidates and describes different types of doctorate, their purpose, their structure and how they are assessed.
The Rough guide to the UK doctorate, supplies relevant information for current and prospective doctoral candidates. It is intended to help them make decisions about their study and know what to expect - and what will be expected of them.
A Rough Guide to the UK doctorate
Doctoral degree characteristics
[ Modified: Friday, 29 April 2011, 10:12 AM ]
Anyone in the world
Colloque de la CPU 2010 - Doctorat, doctorants et Docteurs
Les colloques annuels de la CPU ont pour vocation d’élaborer des points de vue stratégiques sur des grands sujets de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche.
Celui de 2010 était consacré au troisième niveau du LMD, le doctorat. Les actes de ce colloque sont maintenant disponibles sur notre site Internet. Vous pourrez y retrouver les débats et analyses, sur des questions au cœur de la vie de nos établissements, et qui nous ont permis de formuler des propositions qui devraient contribuer à la poursuite de la modernisation de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche de notre pays
[ Modified: Wednesday, 16 February 2011, 02:48 PM ]
Anyone in the world
By Leonard Cassuto
When I wrote last month about the need for professional-development seminars for graduate students, my only intention was to offer some straightforward advice to the profession. Instead, I tapped a vein—no, an artery—and released a lot of pent-up emotion in readers that went way beyond the subject at hand.
Foremost among those emotions was anger. In the comments section of my column, one reader lashed out at tenured professors who have "seemingly no clue about the realities of the current higher-ed job market." Another complained that "the system wouldn't be in such a bad state as it is if faculty didn't blatantly mislead students, whether through their own ignorance or lying intentionally, about the actual value of a graduate degree."
I will venture to say, backed by common sense if not not by quantitative data, that such comments represent the views of many current and former graduate students nowadays. Unemployed, or fearful of becoming so, they are feeling more than a little enraged at their advisers and their institutions for failing to hold up our end of the deal. Have we?
No doubt it varies from professor to professor, and from campus to campus. But collectively, at the very least, we have failed to help graduate students in the ways that they have expected us to. There is a yawning gap between what we've been doing and what many of our graduate students believe we can and should do. That gap points to a failure of understanding. How many of us sit down with our graduate students and ask them what they want from us? The default assumption is that they want to be like us—but some do not, and most will not. One of the fundamental problems in graduate teaching right now is a failure of communication, and the results are hot to the touch.
That failure rests absolutely on us. We're the teachers, and the initiative is ours. The communication gap between graduate teachers and graduate students is an intramural version of the crisis facing academe writ large: Professors are only lately waking up to the need to take their assigned part in the continuing and necessary discussion of the role of the university in society today.
We need likewise to rethink our role in the education of our graduate students. Professional-development seminars, which I discussed last month, help stake out common understanding between professors and graduate students, but communication only starts there. Advisers need to advance it. We shouldn't wait for students to ask what's out there careerwise. It's part of our job to tell them. To mend the gap, we must mind the gap—or else corrosive anger will widen it.
Last month's column provoked more than anger. I also got a hatful of personal e-mails from graduate students asking me for guidance: "Here's my situation," one wrote. "Should I get a Ph.D.?" Or: "I have a Ph.D., and now what? What should I do?"
Their questions made me wonder what I should do. They also provoked some survivor's guilt—as well as the recollection that the job market was a lot better for my own teachers than it was for me. Ultimately, I resolved to advise the people asking me for help as a teacher would.
Such advice is unavoidably personal. In last month's column I told the story of a frustrated Ph.D. named Jack who imagined himself as a tenure-track professor but never reached his goal. This month I'll speak of a different Ph.D.: myself. Everyone comes from somewhere, and my background and goals contrast with Jack's in some important ways.
I went to graduate school for its own sake, not necessarily to get a tenure-track job. Academe certainly looked attractive to me when I enrolled in the early 1980s, but the job market wasn't very good then, either. Moreover, I wasn't sure that I would be willing to relocate to wherever a job was, so I concluded before I began that I might well wind up taking my degree, whether M.A. or Ph.D., in search of nonacademic employment.
I had spent a year working as a computer programmer before entering graduate school, and was confident that I could find interesting work someplace, somehow, eventually. That confidence later helped to sustain me. But before all that, I thought that graduate study might be fun.
Every year that I was in graduate school I asked myself, "Is this still what I want to be doing?" And it was. I loved teaching, and I found a dissertation topic that I enjoyed working on (or perhaps I should say that it found me). After a few years it became clear to me that I would certainly finish the Ph.D.
Like so many graduate students, I didn't start thinking carefully about the job market until it was upon me. When I got a good job, it felt less like an achievement than an improbable success in the lottery. (I recall my father saying soon afterward that if he had known how horrendous the academic job market was, he would have tried harder than he did to talk me out of going to graduate school.) My professional life lacks the arc of a heroic narrative but it does offer an example of thinking outside the library carrel.
One of the readers of last month's column refused to blame professors or the academic workplace for the diminished employment prospects of graduate students. It's "absurd," that reader wrote, "to expect our advisors—who are already overworked and underpaid—to continue to baby-sit us." Their job, the reader continued, is "not getting us a job. That is up to us to figure out."
I'm not sure I'd let the teachers off the hook so easily, but we should pay attention to the reader's larger point, namely: Graduate students, as well as their professors, have responsibility for the choices they make.
School is a place where teachers tell students what to do. At the same time, school is supposed to prepare students to make choices for themselves. In between those two realities lie a lot of teaching and learning—and professional development. Both professors and students have to adapt to the rapidly changing conditions before us: We both must learn how to work together so that our students can leave us with every possible advantage. We all need to keep our eyes open.
A Ph.D. may not prepare a student explicitly for any one profession, but it remains a credential that people respect, and it frees its holder to live creatively outside as well as inside the university walls. There is good counsel to be had about how to do that, but all graduate students—like all lawyers and business executives—must enter the world on their own terms, whether inside or outside the usual workplace that corresponds to their training. It's a personal journey. Store some patience for the trip, and watch the view change with every step you take.
Leonard Cassuto, a professor of English at Fordham University, writes regularly about graduate education in this space. He welcomes comments and suggestions from readers to firstname.lastname@example.org.
[ Modified: Friday, 29 April 2011, 10:12 AM ]