Regular readers will know that I have previously written about that only a fraction of science Ph.D. graduates go on to work within academia long-term and related thoughts.

Nature has published an editorial and a collection of articles (all open-access) looking at possible ways governments or institutions might alter the Ph.D. to perhaps reflect this:

  • Fix the PhD (editorial) leads the way with an overview, suggesting that either Ph.D. programs need to be better tailored to demand or that the Ph.D. programs themselves should be altered, citing the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) programme run by the US National Science Foundation as a possible example.
  • Education: The PhD factory (David Cyranoski , Natasha Gilbert , Heidi Ledford , Anjali Nayar & Mohammed Yahia) look at the prospects for students in several different countries around the world
  • What is a PhD really worth? (Peter Fiske) focuses on law, but there are some general observations that can be applied elsewhere
  • Reform the PhD system or close it down (Mark Taylor) is very US-focused and to my reading a little wholly, but nevertheless is worth reading.
  • Education: Rethinking PhDs (Alison McCook) – this well-written piece offers several alternative scenarios with case examples of individuals who have pursued them

These articles focus on changing the Ph.D. itself. My earlier articles didn’t touch on this aspect, but focused on actively encouraging students to be made aware that only a fraction go on to work in academia, of a wider range of employment opportunities, among other associated issues.

So how might the Ph.D. itself be altered to better meet a market where the majority of Ph.D. graduates do not end up working in the academic arena they trained in?

(I’d be interested in reader’s thoughts.)

All these articles discuss elements of this. In particular, Alison McCook’s article offers a few possibilities.*

I haven’t time to offer all my thoughts on all of these articles unfortunately–there are too many and I’ve coding to do–but I’d like to leave you with a quote from the editorial which echoes some of the themes of my earlier thoughts on this general issue:

[…] a new kind of science PhD, in which both they [the students] and their supervisors embrace from the start the idea that graduates will go on to an array of demanding careers – government, business, non-profit and education – and work towards that goal.


* Most of her suggestions are interesting, but I have to admit I can’t see on-line Ph.D.’s taking off, except perhaps for those with limited ability to attend in person or particular studies that it might be suited to. Ph.D. studentships are supposed to be an apprenticeship of sorts, and that needs plenty of direct interaction with the person you’re learning from, at least in the sciences. Having said this some of my Ph.D. student friends in others disciplines only saw their supervisors a few times a year. An extreme example were those whose Ph.D. studentships involved extensive on-site field work overseas, such as a friend who studied anthropology and other looking a wildlife conservation efforts.

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