1 Comment

Comments by leading scientist and science communicator Lord Robert Winston that he deliberately discriminates against job applicants with first class degrees have drawn some criticism in the British media.

Talking to students at Clapton Girls Academy, Lord Winston is quoted as saying “I know scientists who are amazingly stupid.” He then went on to describe how “in my laboratory I have appointed scientists on the whole who didn’t get first-class degrees, deliberately, quite specifically, because, actually, I would rather have young people around me who developed other interests at university and didn’t just focus entirely on getting that first.”

This seems rather an extraordinary quote to come from a scientist (maybe it was taken out of context?) as it is laden with assumptions which make no sense.

First is the assumption that in order to get a first class degree someone needs to focus exclusively on their work. I know a number of scientists who achieved first class degrees while also maintaining interests in other areas including music, sports, raising a family and of course, working to put themselves through university.

Second is the assumption that getting a 2:1 (an upper second class degree) means that the person must have had other interests. For some students even focus and diligence may not result in a first class degree.

I’m not sure how things currently stand in New Zealand, but when I went through University around 20 years ago, a first class honours degree was usually quite important in allowing students to access PhD funding in terms of scholarships and grants. A 2:1 provided more challenges to finding funding for PhD studies.

Is this still the same? Is this fair? And once a PhD is completed do potential employers pay any attention to a scientists honours or masters grade?