Fix the PhD

Journal name:
Nature
Volume:
472,
Pages:
259–260
Date published:
DOI:
doi:10.1038/472259b
Published online

No longer a guaranteed ticket to an academic career, the PhD system needs a serious rethink.

The world has many problems and it will take a lot of bright, educated people to solve them. So, on the face of it, it seems like a good thing that more and more people are earning PhDs in science, technology and engineering. Most countries, convinced that higher education and scientific research are key to economic growth and prosperity, are expanding doctoral education in science. The thought, as one researcher who has studied doctoral-education trends puts it, is that you can “grow PhDs like mushrooms”.

The consequence of that mushrooming depends on where it is taking place, and in which discipline, as our overview of PhD systems around the world shows (see page 276). Clearly, such expansion results in an extraordinary amount of good research (see page 283). And in the rapidly growing tiger economies, for example, most of those with PhDs quickly find good jobs.

But there are reasons for caution. Unlimited growth could dilute the quality of PhDs by pulling less-able individuals into the system. And casual chats with biomedical researchers in the United States or Japan suggest a gloomy picture. Exceptionally bright science PhD holders from elite academic institutions are slogging through five or ten years of poorly paid postdoctoral studies, slowly becoming disillusioned by the ruthless and often fruitless fight for a permanent academic position. That is because increased government research funding from the US National Institutes of Health and Japan's science and education ministry has driven expansion of doctoral and postdoctoral education — without giving enough thought to how the labour market will accommodate those who emerge. The system is driven by the supply of research funding, not the demand of the job market.

“Widening concerns about dismal job prospects are dissuading the brightest candidates from the PhD route.”

The problem is widely discussed, yet many PhD programmes remain firmly in the traditional mould — offering an apprenticeship for academic research, even as numbers of academic positions stagnate or decline. Yes, there are many worthwhile careers outside academia for science PhD holders (Nature would be down to a skeleton staff without them). And most people with science PhDs eventually find satisfying jobs. But they probably feel that spending years performing minipreps was not the most appropriate way to become a banker or a teacher. Widening concerns about dismal job prospects are dissuading some of the brightest candidates from taking the PhD route.

Something needs to change — but what? Ideally, the system would produce high-quality PhD holders well matched to the attractive careers on offer. Yet many academics are reluctant to rock the boat as long as they are rewarded with grants (which pay for cheap PhD students) and publications (produced by their cheap PhD students). So are universities, which often receive government subsidies to fill their PhD spots.

One way in which governments can bring about change is to better match educational supply with occupational demand. They should get smart, independent labour economists to comb through wage and employment data that reveal which types of science-related job are in short supply, and talk to stakeholders on the ground to confirm the findings. Governments should then open the doors to more PhDs only where they are most needed. Such analyses are already under way, and should be encouraged.

A second route is to reform the PhD itself (see page 261), and reset the expectations of those in the system. Imagine bright young things entering a new kind of science PhD, in which both they 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 (see page 381). The students meet supervisors from a range of disciplines; they acquire management, communication, leadership and other transferable skills alongside traditional academic development of critical thinking and analysis; and they spend six months to a year abroad.

Some such efforts have already begun: for example, US institutions vie to win prestigious grants from the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) programme run by the National Science Foundation, which promotes highly interdisciplinary PhDs (see page 280)

The IGERT scheme shows how appropriate reward structures can drive change. Governments and funding agencies should require educational institutions to release figures showing how many of their PhD students complete the course, and how many go on to find employment and where, and should award some proportion of funding accordingly. This would also help prospective students to select a good course, and force worse-performing programmes to shape up or close.

Until any of this becomes commonplace, it is up to prospective graduate students to enter a science PhD with their eyes open to the opportunities — or lack of them — at the end. Not all mushrooms grow best in the dark.

Comments

  1. Report this comment #20266

    Anurag chaurasia said:

    Now a days Ph.D. degree is earned by having good relation with the supervisor rather than by doing good science which have diluted the gravity of the degree itself. Infact a competent science student rarely require Ph.D to excel.Many discoveries have been made by those who have no formal science degree. I myself is scientist with Govt. of India having only M.Sc. degree(left M.Tech degree as it was not making any significant improvement in me) as faculty member tought to Ph.D students, published many papers,executed the projects, editorial board member/reviewer of many intenational journals and deciding the fate of many Ph.D holder senior researchers.
    Anurag chaurasia, ICAR, India, anurag@nbaim.org.in, anurag_vns1@yahoo.co.in, +919452196686(M)

  2. Report this comment #20272

    Arvind Chopra said:

    I think the solution is to place the PhD students into tracks depending on their aptitude rather than interest so that they can go either into teaching, research, industry or an allied field (business, regulatory bodies in government etc.). PhDs should be encouraged to choose teaching as a profession. To make teaching more attractive they should be well paid, get funding to do some research using school students and publish in collaboration with lab heads in the university. This will create more jobs for the PhDs and also improve the school system.

  3. Report this comment #20275

    Peter L said:

    "Not all mushrooms grow best in the dark." Yes, indeed. PhD program use to be for science-loving driven people, now you have to consider if you can make a good living with a PhD. How many schools teach you such skill to make such prediction?

  4. Report this comment #20279

    Felix Moser said:

    Why is one solution not to put pressure on Congress to increase federal funding of academic research? If we shifted even a small amount of military spending into competitive research grants for academics and small businesses, we could create many more academic positions and give early stage start-ups greater chances at success. This would make jobs for PhD's, increase research output and innovation (and thereby stimulate the economy on the longterm), help retain trained PhD's in the US, and offset the typically huge faculty:student ratios in university classrooms.

  5. Report this comment #20281

    B. B. Goel said:

    The whole research system, at least in Biology, needs a serious reform. It starts from PhD, but does not end there. The quality of faculties, the way we attract, groom and promote students/faculties – all are facing a serious challenge.
    Many faculties attract students with utter lies, engage them as cheap, sometimes even free labor (which is supported by many universities, by making such free labor "mandatory" for the student, as per course requirements). Majority of faculties have NO intension to do any meaningful research to teach those students and postdocs to solve any real world problem, to develop novel drugs, or new technology or novel plant variety that can resist biotic or abiotic stress and so on. They are just used to generate, mostly, meaningless data- just for publications. Any invention or innovation is a mere coincidence or byproduct.
    After a grueling PhD and postdoc tenure, they are not of much good for most of the jobs, except academic ones (to keep the same cycle rolling). That's why the rate of innovation and invention is becoming rarer in any field of biology. Big companies are cutting down its R&D units simply because THERE ARE NOT MANY USEFUL CANDIDATES TO INNOVATE OR INVENT REAL DRUGS OR TECHNOLOGIES OR PLANT VARIETIES AFTER "SUCCESSFULLY" COMPLETING THE ASSEMBLY LINE OF SO-CALLED ACADEMIC RESEARCH. The actual talented people are meticulously weeded out by this ruthless majority of mediocrity, promoted by the universities, government regulatory agencies and also by funding agencies.

  6. Report this comment #20283

    B. B. Goel said:

    We need to remember that there is no government in the world (mainly in the developed countries that basically drive the engine of innovation and invention), mainly after the recent financial crisis, to doll out public money as before to sustain majority of the meaningless "research" projects for sake of publications and number of PhDs (without much "quality"). Selection of new faculties/scientists MUST be on the basis of his/her ability to innovate/invent (and selection committee's ability to judge that), rather than attracting grants from other agencies, for sustainable and successful future. that will force universities to commit to a meaningful research and also ability for the researchers to concentrate on its core (and many times THE only) duty of doing RESEARCH and grooming future researchers in its true sense.

  7. Report this comment #20284

    B. B. Goel said:

    We need to remember that there is no government in the world (mainly in the developed countries that basically drive the engine of innovation and invention), mainly after the recent financial crisis, to doll out public money as before to sustain majority of the meaningless "research" projects for sake of publications and number of PhDs (without much "quality"). Selection of new faculties/scientists MUST be on the basis of his/her ability to innovate/invent (and selection committee's ability to judge that), rather than attracting grants from other agencies, for sustainable and successful future. that will force universities to commit to a meaningful research and also ability for the researchers to concentrate on its core (and many times THE only) duty of doing RESEARCH and grooming future researchers in its true sense.

  8. Report this comment #20286

    Samuel Strom said:

    Is the demand for qualified researchers low with a high supply? Or is the demand for academic positions high and the supply low?

    As a recent PhD graduate (UCLA Human Genetics 2010; current age 29), I feel strongly that in the US the later is far more apt. While President Obama has made strong efforts to improve funding for scientific research, the overall level of grant approval does not meet the demand. Established investigators have a difficult time maintaining their funding and new investigators must already have a stable of top tier publications to be considered.

    This should be a very familiar problem to the scientific community: type I versus type II error. When a new PhD embarks on a job search, a type I (false positive) error occurs when he or she obtains a tenure-track position for which they are under-qualified. Similarly, type II errors occur when a qualified PhD fails to acquire a desired position. The question becomes, as always: how does one find the right balance of type I versus II error?

    In the editorial ?Fix the PhD?, the author (unlisted) suggests: "Governments should then open the doors to more PhDs only where they are most needed... [this] should be encouraged." They are in essence arguing that the solution to reducing the type II error in hiring new faculty is to reduce the applicant pool. This logic is a classic example of cutting down the trees to save the forest. In the current environment, it is a certainty the scientific community is forced to accept more type II error than ideal. In a vacuum, the best solution is to make more faculty-level positions available. Of course we do not live in a vacuum; nevertheless, the possibility of increasing the amount of opportunities for young researchers should not be dismissed out of hand.

    The discussion of ?type I errors? is similarly flawed in this article. I particularly object to the tired argument that the inclusion of "less-able individuals" ? which feels to me like coded language for ?unintelligent person with a bachelor?s degree" - is dragging the scientific system down somehow. Exactly how terrible would the world be if anyone could run his or her own lab? Give open access to an online encyclopedia and you get Wikipedia. Sure, checks and balances are needed, but limiting access to scientific training and education is not the solution to any of our problems. Frankly I fail to see any serious negative effects of giving too many people a chance to pursue science.

    I found this article to be a disappointing and borderline insulting approach to an issue at or near the top of many young scientists? minds. Some of the suggestions – including encouraging inter-disciplinary studies ? have merit, but the overall logic leaves much to be desired. I agree ignoring the current environment will not help, but understanding it and finding ways to contribute despite the difficult odds is a path to success. I believe today?s young PhDs can, should, and will fight for their right to pursue careers science, whether it is in academia or elsewhere. But maybe that?s because I am one of them.

    Samuel P. Strom, Ph.D.
    Post-doctoral Fellow
    Jules Stein Eye Institute, UCLA
    California, USA

    Electronically signed, April 20th 2011

  9. Report this comment #20289

    Xianfa Xie said:

    Echoing BB Goel's comments, the mass production of PhDs, particularly in life sciences over the last few decades, has not only increased competition but created a bad competing environment and academic culture: It favors quick and dirty publications with erroneous or unfounded claims over publications with comprehensive analysis, solid arguments, and correct conclusions, creating an academic environment selecting the mediocre, which can produce something seemingly scientific, but against the outstanding scientists that are really creative, knowledgeable, and solid in research.

    Such an academic environment has generated and is continuing to generate tons of trash publications polluting science and requiring even more efforts to clean them up. However, lies repeated a thousand times might be accepted as truth, sometimes unfounded scientific ideas could go on to dominate a field for a long time, seriously inhibiting real scientific progress.

    Trash research has also damaged the reputation of science and scientists as a whole, incurring a lot of ridiculing of scientists and backslash of the public on scientific research in recent years.

  10. Report this comment #20290

    B. B. Goel said:

    Dear Felix Moser. The target for having PhD or academic research programs probably is not to solve unemployment problem. There are many, more effective ways to do that with the same amount of money. If you study the history of so-called science superpowers over the time, you will understand that NO country have ever been prospered by first developing its academic research, on the contrary centers of academic research shifted depending on the country's to attain economic and political strength first. But those days are gone when a country can invest in such academic research projects without having tangible benefits to those who practically fund those projects, i.e general tax payers and the bigger society. Our current model of academic research and its funding is failing in that respect. And that's why it is not sustainable in the long run.
    It may seem a bit rosy for those countries with rapidly growing economy (e.g BRICS countries) and whose quality of traditional research used to be very poor. But that optimism is and will remain short lived. Eventually those countries also need to bite the innovation-invention bullet soon, once it reach an equilibrium of routine outsourcing research and accessibility of concurrent technology is more readily available.

  11. Report this comment #20292

    Rex Williams said:

    In response to Felix Moser: Simply increasing funding is definitely the opposite of the solution, so much so that it is likely a part of the problem. There's a line of thinking that suggests that building an extra highway or expanding lanes does little to nothing to fix problems with traffic congestion; I believe this is directly analogous. The problem is rooted in institutional failures caused by misaligned incentives and insufficient opportunities for meaningful failure. Simply put, it is more cost-effective to continue to string some poor soul along for as long as they are willing to keep their head down than to get rid of them and risk losing the hands in the lab. If you build your postdoc/grad student army large enough, then it is probable that some of them will stumble onto something useful by pure chance, even if they are mediocre. As long as Uncle Sam continues to write the checks there's incentive for PIs and Universities to change what they are doing.

    In response to the article as a whole: Nothing will change until the supply/demand inequality and incentive structures are changed. Admission to programs needs to be severely constrained. Grad students and Postdocs need to be excused when they fail to meet strict milestones, which cuts the cost to the research budgets and helps smart and talented young people develop meaningful careers at the same time. Tenure needs to be eliminated so that existing faculty are made to have to compete with up-and-coming scientists, preventing them from getting complacent. Additionally, I would advocate for for actual penalties to be placed on PIs that consistently fail to turn out good people that contribute meaningfully to science and technology; whether that is in academia, government, or industry is not important. Perhaps when a PI is made to realize that the consequences for being a poor advisor and using people up are an inability to continue to win funding, they will be much more selective and cautious of the people that they invite into their lab and how they develop them.

    While other professionals have the potential to create jobs, scientists and engineers have the potential to create entire industries, an economic impact that absolutely justifies the spending of government money on research. A PhD is supposed to be the pinnacle of scholarly achievement and should be near unattainable by anyone but the very brightest and most talented, thereby the most likely to deliver a substantial public benefit. The current system provides little chance to fulfill either and American taxpayers are paying dearly for this. I doubt it will be able to continue much longer.

  12. Report this comment #20294

    Nayoung Kim said:

    I happened to agree with X.Xie. Even worse, I have seen some frauds and misconducts by scientists who are desperate to survive and whistle-blowing is far too risky to keep jobs in many places.

  13. Report this comment #20295

    kai miller said:

    The big problem that I see with the argument for more rigorous selection criteria is that (in the United States, at least) selection criteria are usually highly stereotyped for specific types of individuals. For example, selection by standardized tests selects for people that are good at memorizing, and executing stereotyped analysis/decision pathways. These people make wonderful teachers, or administrators, etc, but those that can think of creative solutions to open-ended problems in the laboratory or novel combinations of solutions from disparate sub-disciplines bomb these exams in many cases.
    The current system favors selection after individuals have acquired a set of skills and demonstrated their ability to "do science" and produce manuscripts which are either novel or not novel and careful or not careful – upon which they are able to compete for a set of academic jobs. I would argue that selection to hire/fund individuals after they have done something scientifically relevant (e.g. on the basis of their thesis / publications / experimental output) is much more appropriate than weeding out PhD candidates early. Otherwise, you will breed a generation of the "scientific elite" that, intellectually, are boot-licking automatons who cannot think on their feet (that is what I believe has happened to many of the current generation of medical professionals, where anti-intellectualism is the rule in most US disciplines). Time lost by PhD candidates is a risk that they knowingly take.
    If the current system is broken in the sense that people have a protracted pre-professor career where they are in limbo indefinitely, then enforce a hiring system in public institutions where a set percentage of new tenure-track faculty must have earned their PhD within the last 3 years prior to hiring. Furthermore, enforce a set percentage of national research funding that is only available to pre-tenure professors (30-40%, for an estimated 25-35% of the high-productivity portion of the professorial career that pre-tenure represents). Furthermore, put younger scientists on grant review committees. It will hurt some, but it will allow for a clear career timeline, and arrest the painful carrot-on-a-stick trend that is the bane of my generation of scientists-in-training.

  14. Report this comment #20296

    C J said:

    Certainly the editorial and some of the commentors here have good points, and there is much room for improvement in the way graduate education and academic research is carried out. I have seen first-hand examples of abuse of the system from both students and PIs. However, we don't need to cut off our noses to spite our faces. First, until recent decades, the pursuit of scientific inquiry has been almost entirely motivated out of intellectual curiosity rather than "innovation" and "societal contribution" yet most of the advanced work today depends on that base of knowledge. Meaningful milestones are the opposite of innovation – if the path to new ideas could be plotted and benchmarked then how could it be innovative? Tangible benefits are often not seen from research for decades after the pioneering work (which could have been considered esoteric at the time) was performed, and plenty of examples exist of benefits not even envisioned when the work was carried out. Where would we be if Fourier had not decided that decomposing arbitrary functions into sums of sine waves wasn't of benefit to society or his supporters? Certainly he didn't envision crystallography, telecommunications, etc. Not all experiments work, not all hypotheses are correct, and we need to strike a balance between goal-based problem solving research and exploratory, high-risk research, and realize that we don't have the clairvoyance to decide what is and is not worth doing. The editorial's concerns about the "quality" of the pool of Ph.D.s is silly. As with most things, the cream tends to rise to the top, and anyone who has gone through graduate school knows that people understand who stands out. Science is not a business and graduate researchers aren't filling "openings" - attempts to force it into this mold will inevitably lead to less of the poorly defined innovation being discussed here.

  15. Report this comment #20297

    Manpreet Singh Bhatti said:

    Fix the PhD: I feel universities should make like minded groups (4-6 faculty members) for selection of PhD topic. This will improve the research goals and leads to constructive criticism. PhD students should be chosen very carefully with the right aptitude. Regarding mentorship, it can be decided on rotation but publications include the name of all team members having each member contributing not less than 10% in manuscript. Also, this will make degree more relevant to the society rather than close door research.

    M S Bhatti
    Assistant Prof. in Env Eng.,
    Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, India

  16. Report this comment #20298

    Mandar Kulkarni said:

    I believe there are two problems that need radical fixing.

    Firstly there are huge funding problems. Another article in this issue titled "Education: The PhD factory" includes a graphical representation of the annual number of science and engineering doctorates. It clearly shows that the Biological sciences and the Medical and life sciences combined saw a close to 100% increase in a four year period of 2003 to 2007 while they remained unchanged from 2000 to 2003. NIH funding (which funds most of this research) lines have dropped from close to 50th percentile to the 5th percentile. Therefore, there is now much less money to support academic research. Therefore there is a bottleneck for academic scientists to get their share of this money. I do think that there has to be much more money alloted to academic scientific research than defense. The discretionary part of the defense budget for this year is set to 660 billion (that is with a b). I don't understand what it is that they can't do with 600 or 500 or 400 billion that they are doing with 660. Since making cuts there is much more political the funding lines for NIH are not expected to change significantly in the near future. So, why not have industry provide half the funds for a PhD program. There could be two tracks of the graduate program at every university. One would be the so called traditional track that runs on government funding and grooms all scientists for outstanding academic careers. The other track would be funded by industry (like engineering) and could groom scientists for industry. I am sure industry wouldn't mind funding graduate students and postdocs on projects in academic settings where they need not invest in infrastructure and research yet reap the benefits of productive collaborations and innovation.

    Secondly, there is the supply and demand issue. As mentioned above the number of PhD holders has doubled in 4 years but the number of positions hasn't The US Labor department states that the unemployment rate for PhDs has been around 2.5% throughout this period. However, this number does not reflect the scientists who want to be employed gainfully but cannot find a job and consequently remain postdocs for longer periods. So, there clearly is too much supply and not enough demand. The two track system can be further tweaked to meet future supply-demand based on 5-10 year predictions given that getting a PhD and postdoctoral research experience takes anywhere between 8 and 13 years. Such segregation would partially ease the burden on government funds (although I still believe there has to be a huge increase in govt funding) and allow for targeted development of scientists which will lead to increased "quality of research".

    I think graduate students should be grateful for the fact that they are making money. They shouldn't be looked down upon by others in science as cheap labor because they are choosing to invest in their future and contributing to science. No other graduate program hands out stipends for students. In fact the cost of graduate school for Medical, Law, Business are exorbitant and come out of the pockets. I think, in the two track system the traditional track could get paid more than the industrial track given that there are two different prospective futures in store. This will allow for healthy competition in academia and elimination of competition from scientists who aren't interested in academic careers in the first place.

  17. Report this comment #20300

    Bill Zhang said:

    As the author just has said, the efficiency of the current academic system becomes lower and lower. The academic research itself is not like free-markets, but for the job searching period, the case is different. Controlling the scale of post-doctoral program but not doctoral program seems to a possible solution. If there is no so-promising job opportunities for PhD graduates, the ones that will choose to have PhD will decrease, leaving those that are truly willing to dedicate their life to scientific research.

  18. Report this comment #20304

    M S Sridhar said:

    Raining of Doctorates!
    An all-time record of 306 PhDs awarded in an academic year, at the rate of almost 2 per working day, by University of Mysore and it has lead to an exclusive convocation event for doctorates. What a tremondous surge in research! Some research guides are even targeting a century mark and it will not be a surprise if they succeed. It is no wonder someone predicted that ?in 1970, America granted over half of the worlds Ph Ds (in science and engineering), but by 2010, the share will be just 15%. Such an output of research from a supposed to be Model University may drastically affect quantitative measures of scholarly output of the university and the country. The sceptics of scientometrics have another shot in their arm. It is difficult to brush aside what critics say about increased quantity of research at the cost of quality. Any research is as useful as the utility of its findings to the community (and not to researcher and his/her guide).
    Incidentally, this is the same convocation, cricket star Mr. Sachin Thendulkar missed deliberately by declining an honorary doctorate!
    http://posterous.com/posts/edit/48974200

  19. Report this comment #20305

    M S Sridhar said:

    Raining of Doctorates!
    An all-time record of 306 PhDs awarded in an academic year, at the rate of almost 2 per working day, by University of Mysore and it has lead to an exclusive convocation event for doctorates. What a tremondous surge in research! Some research guides are even targeting a century mark and it will not be a surprise if they succeed. It is no wonder someone predicted that ?in 1970, America granted over half of the worlds Ph Ds (in science and engineering), but by 2010, the share will be just 15%. Such an output of research from a supposed to be Model University may drastically affect quantitative measures of scholarly output of the university and the country. The sceptics of scientometrics have another shot in their arm. It is difficult to brush aside what critics say about increased quantity of research at the cost of quality. Any research is as useful as the utility of its findings to the community (and not to researcher and his/her guide).
    Incidentally, this is the same convocation, cricket star Mr. Sachin Thendulkar missed deliberately by declining an honorary doctorate!

    http://posterous.com/posts/edit/48974200
  20. Report this comment #20306

    allan lindh said:

    Very depressing to read the editorial and comments without one mention of the possibility that one reason, maybe the main one, for getting an education, at the undergraduate or graduate level, is to grow as a person, broaden one's horizons, have an extraordinary life adventure, maybe even live a far more interesting life as a result of ones broadened horizons, discipline, and understanding. Of course not everyone can have an endowed chair at Harvard, or even a research lab of one's own. But a graduate degree in a scientific discipline will open the possibility of working in a wide variety of fields, teach math or science in a small college, a Junior College, a high school for instance, all of which can provide very satisfying lives, and are badly needed by the society. The notion that a graduate degree, even a PhD from a major research university, should automatically entitle one to a well-funded research career is simply absurd. Life is what you make of it — a college education is a means to a more interesting life, and entry into a wide variety of careers, not a guarantee of anything. If it should happen that the cost of a PhD becomes incommensurate with the rewards it offers, students will solve the problem — they'll stop getting them. In the meantime, bureaucrats, sociologists, and various kinds of social "planners" that dream up these half-cocked arguments are maybe what we need fewer of.

  21. Report this comment #20321

    ABHISHEK SRIVASTAVA said:

    I left my well paid job to join a PhD in US. But now I regret. I studied in one of the top university (BHU) and a top institute(IIT) in India. I never met even a single PhD student in my life "Quote my words" who joined PhD to do research, even in united states also. this slows down the development of science.

  22. Report this comment #20322

    ABHISHEK SRIVASTAVA said:

    I left my well paid job to join a PhD in US. But now I regret. I studied in one of the top university (BHU) and a top institute(IIT) in India. I never met even a single PhD student in my life "Quote my words" who joined PhD to do research, even in united states also. this slows down the development of science.

  23. Report this comment #20330

    B. B. Goel said:

    It is well accepted and well written fact that we produce far more PhDs than we (both academic and corporate houses) need. It is also very well accepted fact that both innovation and invention is slowing down in recent times. Investing more money or establishing new universities/institutes will not solve any of the problems in terms of innovation or invention but will increase the problem we witness in other old institutes/universities.
    There are admissions from many people and funding agencies that "there is very less chance to get another Einstein and Mandel" type genius scientists in modern times. It is not because we stopped producing those, but we do not groom, promote such people any more. Even the few remaining able scientists do not like to take "high risk" research, mainly to ensure grant and pressure to publish- fast and more (in number). Grooming of both PhD and postdoc is very low in US and diminishing fast (as per both NIH and NSF); simply because that is not so remunerative to the faculties. Majority faculties want readily available, decently trained postdocs (to do routine experiments and data collection) than to train an otherwise brilliant student/postdoc for a new techniques.
    Many times it has been observed that academic research is dictated by private companies that develop technology and equipment. Recent over-emphasizing of survey type "-omics" research practically guarantee steady flow of data at the expanse of truly novel research. Basically our current research produces mainly technicians, rather than "scientists" or "technocrats".
    One can read the excellent book by Erwin Chargaff, "Heraclitean Fire: Sketches from a Life Before Nature" to know since when and how we reached this present failed status of academic research.

  24. Report this comment #20349

    Reto Muller said:

    I'd be all for a "planned Ph.D.-hood" model etc., but a Ph.D. takes about 5 years – nobody has a clue what skills and knowledge are going to be needed then. The problem sadly is that there are too many Ph.D.s and that there was too much money going around in academia to support the system. After boom comes bust. Sad for us... if our marks hadn't been that good we would be bankers now (and probably not worse than the ones we have now). Maybe the impending "purge" (- 1.7 bio $ from the NIH) will help a little – just not us who are already in the system. But still, don't let a good crisis go to waste. (And the next guys who writes about broadening horizons during their Ph.D... get one after the 1960ies.)

  25. Report this comment #20351

    Dipanjan Basu said:

    Nice article and illuminating comments. As an Indian I don't feel proud that I come from a country where excellent science was going on 3000 years before the birth of Christ and the country that gave the concept of zero to the world, rather I feel ashamed that I am just a cheap labour hired to populate an American lab. Doing Science means publishing some trash and winning some grants and believing that somehow this process will advance human civilization. Honestly, you don't need a PhD for that.

  26. Report this comment #20352

    Nitin Gupta said:

    @Abhishek: I am a PhD student and joined the program to do good research. I'm about to graduate after 5 years and I'll continue doing research for the rest of my life. I enjoy doing it; and I didn't take it up because I had no other options. I'm from IIT too but I don't think that makes your or mine comment any more acceptable.

  27. Report this comment #20353

    Nitin Gupta said:

    Abhishek: I am a PhD student and joined the program to do good research. I'm about to graduate after 5 years and I'll continue doing research for the rest of my life. I enjoy doing it; and I didn't take it up because I had no other options. I'm from IIT too but I don't think that makes your or mine comment any more acceptable.

  28. Report this comment #20356

    ye xiang yu said:

    The society now judges a person by what he has or how much he earns, not by what contribution he has made. We focus too much on papers! That's the problem, and most of the PhD student are working hard just to produce data for publication.
    I also have to admit some people pursue PhD degree just because they want to find satisfactory jobs and ear more salary , but we are not well trained to meet the demands of companies. There are also many part-time PhD students in china, which further dilutes the quality.

  29. Report this comment #20358

    Anurag chaurasia said:

    I have got many calls & mails ( for my comment #20266 on this thread) to know about my achievements with only M.Sc. degree. Let me explain it to all..
    1. Indian scientific institution like Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) appoint scientist only with fresh M.Sc degree by competative examination, even Ph.D. are not eligible to appear.
    2. Indian council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) recruit scientistsB with M.Sc as minimum qualification. Even for post of Director in CSIR institutes Ph.D is not a essential criteria though ICAR has it for higher post.
    3. Indian government conduct CSIR- NET examination to become eligible for Lecturership in universities for which again M.Sc is a minimum requirement.
    Now let me tell about me, I cleared Agricultural Research Scientist examination of ICAR & got appointed as scientist in Indian Agricultural Research Institute, PUSA, their as faculty member of Molecular Biology & Biotechnology i taught & guided the students. Each scientist run independent project & publish the paper. I am editorial board member of Journal of Industrial Microbiology & Biotechnology,Springer, reviewed more than 100 manuscripts for World journal of Microbiology & Biotechnology,Crop protection,Current Science,Journal of Theoretical Biology and for many more prestigious journals. Used to set &evaluate question papers for various organisations, member of project evaluation team and at present have establised a new ICAR institute NBAIM (www.nbaim.org.in)
    Hence i found my self performing better even without Ph.D degree. In fact researchers know what not they have to do besides science to earn a Ph.D degree which unfortunately i am unable to do.
    My M.Sc. thesis on Piper betle has finally led to discovery of first drug for Blood Cancer (by IICB, Kolcutta,India) which i could not pursue on in my own organisation as my boss undrestimated me becouse of my M.Sc degree only.
    Anurag chaurasia,ICAR,India
    anurag@nbaim.org.in, anurag_vns1@yahoo.co.in, +919452196686(M)

  30. Report this comment #20366

    ameet kumar mishra said:

    I am really thankful to nature for publishing this insightful special on PhD fixing. Being a PhD student myself, I agree to most of the concerns raised her but not to all. Motives of universities to take PhD students can be to fill the spots, find easy labors or to get money (as some universities are getting money for number of PhD students graduated); similarly motives for students to join PhD can be easy job, getting a degree, spending few more years at universities or in some cases good way to get permanent residency...
    But still lets not forget, there are many PhD students who are doing PhD because they love research and they want to contribute. They are devoting most of their time in labs. Unlike most of the senior they are neither obessed with the single molecules or narrow field and neither running as a publications machine.
    It is good time to rethink and analyze whole funding systems. Tax payer money should not go just for replicating experiments and datas for the sake of publications. Young brain should be promoted and given more opportunities. Because most often it is the young researcher who come up with the fresh ideas.
    I believe it is the right time to start PhD offer best on the competitive research proposal. Paid and part time PhD should be discouraged.
    Its time to FIX THE WHOLE RESEARCH FIELD NOT JUST PHD. Saying all these whatever and however it will go the one who deserves will reach the destiny.

  31. Report this comment #20367

    B Madsen said:

    I love this Editorial: A deep problem is raised!

    It is interesting to see how history is forgotten. The many Ph.D. factories across the world produce exactly what they have been engineered to by regulators wanting incentive driven performance.

    The purpose of the Ph.D. is to produce individuals who are capable of increasing society's productivity through investigation of fundamental problems. Whether the host for solving these problems is business-managed research or government-managed research should be irrelevant. Government's can hold and licence patents too, though few do.

    But was is academia today? A self-sustained degree factory which makes Ph.D.'s a commodity? A consumer of funding with minor progress due to the political justification process?

    As Goel says above: Our society needs people with critical thinking skills more than ever. The problems we have to deal with are more complex than ever, and will continuously increase in complexity in the future as the world's societies become more and more connected.
    We train people to think in finding solutions which trade off many variables to maximise return of investment; but where is the incentive for genuine problem solvers in a political academic world? And where is the incentive for doing research when the salary does not match the insight?

    I would argue that the problem presented in these articles is questioning how wealth is created and distributed? Wealth is created through solutions to problems in the real physical world – exactly what we intended to train intelligent people to deal with in their Ph.D.'s – but then we insert these talents in a system owned by ideologic regulators who are decades behind the technological state of art.

    Wealth is not created in complex regulations proposed by ideologic regulators. Nor by costly enforcement through administrators.

    Regulations are supposed to set and enforce the minimum's we are attempting to maneouvre above. Intelligent people do not need regulations on how they work, only the minimum standards which must be complied to.

    But yet, here we are, with board rooms filled with lawyers and accountants who specialised in 'sussing out the system' instead of improving it through meaningful intervention. These specialists make the most of the systems, and have a key interest in keeping it as it is. And now these articles wonder why there is so little incentive for Ph.D.'s who are specialists in increasing the productivity through intervention of the system? Through changes which must be acknowledged by regulators who favour their own rulebook?
    This tangents a shakespeare commedy.

    250 years ago, governments were acting businesses as well. Today they are? ...Hosts of real-estate? ...Tax-redistributors? Only if governments and universities enter the competition for licensing of intellectual property rights patents, they will be able to justify expensive exploratory research. Quoting Rex Williams: Researchers can create industries. But which regulator would allow you to justify such an attempt? In contrast, how can it be that regulators have diplomatic immunity despite streams of unjustified regulations?

    If we make research degree's the business of governments (or at least the universities) and grant researchers a share of the returns from licencing their findings, then the game changes: Businesses can engage researchers in their fields of interests, because they legally own the output for research projects. Why don't Universities and/or Governments invest to the same degree?

    • Their spending power exceeds the business world many times? There are no legislative constraints on Governments (or universities) from doing the same.
    • They can easily sponsor the research degrees to the talented kids with pay included during the research so s/he can focus on the research without having to spend night-hours flipping burgers.
    • They can licence the produced intellectual property to businesses and other governments, and,
    • they can reward the inventor or researchers with a degree and later a default board position representing the value of the intellectual property.

    Why don't they? Are the regulators and administrators not dressed for this challenge?

    The concept of research is brilliant – it is the organisations around the researcher which are failing.

    bjorn.h.madsen@gmail.com

  32. Report this comment #20372

    Min Kim said:

    I agree with Dr. Madsen's idea. Now, I am PhD. student in U.S. and my working field is rehabilitation counseling. To attend rehabilitation counseling of PhD, I need at least two years field experiences. What about this idea? By adding one more regulation (need two years field experience) to appply PhD course at all university, students can reduce gap between field and academic system. Also, personally, I think these regulation help students to increase their communication skill during two years. However, because the major field is not same with me (rehabilitation counseling), actually in this field is science, it might not work!!!

    The other problem is which is better to PhD students between research based or teaching based. In science major is based on research so many students focus on papers and publication. In rehabiltiation field, personally, teaching is more important than research becuase people and some faculties think rehabilitation counseling is just counseling, not based on science. So, when I was taking fifth statistics course, one faculty member asked me, why are you taking statas course over four (maximum limitation is 4 stats courses!!!). But, rehabilitation counseling is being changed to science based becuase of development of science or ststistics power in this field. So, I am worrying about papers and publication. Although I really like statistics, I hope I do not want to focus on research much than teaching. The purpose of faculty is on teaching, not resech. Thank you for read my really personal idea.

  33. Report this comment #20396

    allan lindh said:

    Another aspect of this discussion that is missing is that obtaining a PhD in "modern" biology (Biology + MolBio) is to partake of one of the great intellectual adventures humankind has yet attempted. Ask Plato, Bacon or Kant what period and what problem they would like to come back for a lifetime to work on, and they would all answer "The period in which we live, so they could be Biologists."
    One can't really "be in the game" without getting one's hands dirty, and being a grad student today, to get to work on that greatest of all questions "What is the nature of life?' is a privilege to which all thoughtful human beings who have lived in the last several thousands years would give anything for. And this discussion cheapens it all to a matter of dollars and sense. Shame on you all.

  34. Report this comment #20398

    allan lindh said:

    Another aspect of this discussion that is missing is that obtaining a PhD in "modern" biology (Biology + MolBio) is to partake of one of the great intellectual adventures humankind has yet attempted. Ask Plato, Bacon or Kant what period and what problem they would like to come back for a lifetime to work on, and they would all answer "The period in which we live, so they could be Biologists."
    One can't really "be in the game" without getting one's hands dirty, and being a grad student today, to get to work on that greatest of all questions "What is the nature of life?' is a privilege to which all thoughtful human beings who have lived in the last several thousands years would give anything for. And this discussion cheapens it all to a matter of dollars and sense. Shame on you all.

  35. Report this comment #20404

    Ada Jhan said:

    can't agree you more, allan lindh!
    Quote"... for getting an education, at the undergraduate or graduate level, is to grow as a person, broaden one's horizons, have an extraordinary life adventure, maybe even live a far more interesting life as a result of ones broadened horizons, discipline, and understanding. ... The notion that a graduate degree, even a PhD from a major research university, should automatically entitle one to a well-funded research career is simply absurd. Life is what you make of it ? a college education is a means to a more interesting life, and entry into a wide variety of careers, not a guarantee of anything. ..."

    I agree we need reform PhD education system to pick out qualified candidates. More important, we need a better system to keep scientific research on track. We should understand, junk research is not because of PhDs, but PhD candidates can be greatly affected by the bad environment.

    "fix the PhD" is a fake center of argument. In fact, the thing that should be fixed is our research philosophy. Therefore, we need "fix the scientific research"

  36. Report this comment #20412

    Kata Strofa said:

    @Ada Jhan

    ""fix the PhD" is a fake center of argument. In fact, the thing that should be fixed is our research philosophy. Therefore, we need "fix the scientific research""

    I fully agree. We shouldn't blame the PhD candidates for the faults of their professors, who push the young people into caring more about the number of publications than the quality of research, even punishing them for showing that the boss' pet theory is wrong. Everybody knows how important the references from your advisor are when securing a postdoctoral research position. Even if you don't have that many publications, a good reference can practically guarantee you a place in a good group. Conversely, even if you are good, but your advisor simply doesn't like you, they can break your career. This is XXIst century, why do we let this feudal system endure?

    Competition among scientists is good, but it should be fair competition. We shouldn't limit the number of PhDs — after all, nobody is forcing the professors to accept PhD students, or the students to start PhDs — the system should select the best PhDs on their merit, not on how well they play the political games. I've seen a lot of situations where the main thing distinguishing a successful young researcher from their less fortunate colleague was that the first was better in schmoozing with the old guys. Sure, if you're a genius like Mandelbrot, you will have no problems in science — but if a system is fair only to the top 0.0001% of people, it's not fair at all (and Mandelbrot had problems anyway because of his intellectual independence).

    All this makes me laugh when I read (there was an earlier article in Nature about it) scientists complaining about PhDs leaving the academia for Wall Street jobs. It's not only about money (successful people in science can earn decent money), it's also about being treated fairly and rewarded for your real skills and abilities.

  37. Report this comment #20413

    Scott Bevan said:

    As a prospective neuroscience PhD student (starting in october) I am probably quite biased about this topic.

    But knowing about the lack of opportunities for PhD students in academia does not deter me. I am going to study for my PhD because I enjoy science. I do not want material gains from it (my stipend gives me £13000 a year and to me it is a lot of money) I just want to be in laboratory doing experiments, publishing papers. I am not going to deny that I would like a career in academia but that is only because I want to work in a scientific environment and doing a PhD allows me to do this. I don't lose out from doing a PhD, I get three years of paid work, get to study what I want and at the end of it have a good qualification.

    Secondly it is not mentioned much in this article but there are an increasing number of graduates, I would be interested to find out how the ratio of postgraduates to graduates has changed. Something which is completely ignored in this article.

  38. Report this comment #20425

    Todd Norcross said:

    The current situation with the overproduction of PhDs is just one example of a broader problem in higher education. There are several examples of fields where supply by far exceeds demand (i.e. Lawyers, MBAs and American-born tech workers). Don't even get me started about the graduates of for-profit "career colleges." Believe it or not there is a very simple solution to this problem. Our elected officials should enact laws that allow graduates to sue their alma matter for damages (recover tuition costs, housing, lost income and pain and suffering) if they are not able to find meaningful employment (a full time job paying private sector market wages in their field of training) within a year of graduating. By meaningful employment I don't mean the typical slave-like situation that often accompanies academic STEM jobs. The almost immediate result of such legislation is that supply would align with demand and the quality of graduates would go up dramatically. Another consequence of this proposal is that committee members would not sign a dissertation if they suspected the PhD. candidate could not make a meaningful contribution to his/her field if they knew they could be financially liable. This sucking of money out of academic institutions would undoubtedly lead to layoffs of faculty members (tenured or not!), and the first to go would be those individuals who don't produce anything practical (i.e. all their former graduate students and postdocs don't have meaningful employment). Over time professors would no longer be judged by the number of scientific publications they co-auther, but the magnitude of the positive impact they have on the economy.

  39. Report this comment #20444

    Andrew McLarnon said:

    Perhaps the governments should address why people who have gained their PhD leave science in droves after a few years (eg in biosciences, around two-thirds of people leave the field within 10 years of qualification). Establishing oneself as a PI is notoriously difficult and many do not even want to run their own group. There are plenty who would like to stay 'in the lab' as professional researchers, but lack the opportunity to do this. The old one project, one PI for one disposable postdoc system needs to be changed. If there are better, structured careers then it may retain experienced scientists in the system. We need to keep these people, not just churn out more PhD students to fill the void left by people with 10 years experience who leave to become teachers etc.
    Scientists want it to change. Funding bodies want it to change. It would be better for science, and for the people who work in the field.

  40. Report this comment #20446

    B. B. Goel said:

    Majority PhD (or even postdoc) does not add much value to our effort to market ourselves in the job market. What we learn is, mostly, few techniques and tricks (of the trade), than science per se. Every Tom, Dick and Harry think that his/her gene/protein or technology (e.g RNAi) of interest is the best target to develop drugs, vaccines etc. If overexpression or down-regulation of a gene gives publications on stress tolerant plants in a decent journal, people start thinking they are on the verge of developing stress-tolerant plant variety! Almost none of those people and their supervisors have any idea about drug or novel plant variety development; but such data ensures next grant and then again another grant and at the end of each grant, it will be concluded, ?more research is needed?. For postdocs and PhD student their next appointment will not be on the basis of their ability to develop drugs or novel plant varieties but on how good they are to make better PowerPoint presentations and how confidently they convince (more or less) equally ?qualified? selection committee members.
    Universities and research institutions are shifting the responsibility to identify talents to tax payers and funding agencies (in form of ?ability to attract grants? based mostly on public money) rather than making their own decisions and pay for their own activities by doing research that generate market and/or revenue.Funding agencies do not seem to be much bothered if the stated objectives are met, particularly if there are few decent publications (to decide about the next grant). I do not know how long this practice will survive in this era of resource crunch for national governments.

    Basically we are producing technicians rather than actual scientists or technocrats during our tenure as PhD/Postdoc. But our free market economy is not ready to pay for such routine technicians. The commercial companies, which could have been a much better recruiter of scientific ?talents?, now hire more low paid research technicians rather than decently paid ?scientists?. After all, if the candidate cannot offer anything new or novel that solves a real problem but can perform routine cloning, protein expression, -omics study, then why to pay more! Any class 12th grade student can do that with some training. Companies (from whom they buy the machines, reagents) can also troubleshoot in no less efficient ways (for most of the time).
    On the other hand, teaching does not need much research talent. One needs not to be a Newton to teach why apples come down from trees. But we need a real newton to discover why apple comes down.
    Fortunately or unfortunately, there is NO fixed way (publication or otherwise) to judge such real talents, no fixed way to groom one either (varies from person to person, society to society). But one thing is certain, one must have talent to identify and understand talents.
    No wonder, our ability to do research is decreasing and ruthless mediocrity is increasing and increasing fast. That is quite evident from the performance of our big pharma and other ?research? based companies and their growing tendency to minimize its R&D efforts.

  41. Report this comment #20449

    Ross Nicholson said:

    PhD seeking and thinking are two quite different animals. Frenetic educations make poor mounts to carry us forward. While the vast majority of scientifically trained people are alive today, the vast majority of beneficial discoveries are behind us, usually far behind us. Finding out what is there is the enemy of finding our way out. Giving up and complaining does no good. Complexity and Multiple Causes are refuges of the inept. No phenomenon has ever been found to have multiple causes. For instance, it's all been one disease, one cause, pretty much.
    Thinking requires study, time, commitment, peace, duress, and poverty. The more we pay our PhD's the more they will play with our money to have a good time. Bra size trumps I.Q. every time. It is a wasteful way of civilization groping our way ahead. May I suggest an alternative system?
    Pay authors of journal articles, not editors, certainly not publishers in a market based but state-regulated library system that rewards scholarly achievement.
    Offer prizes for specified scientific advances. People who find nothing should be paid nothing.
    Machine gun the psychologists, not literally, but academically. Shred those psychobabble air-castle degrees and exile them to seminaries without state support where they belong. Deduct all psychological 'soft' (headed) science from degree requirements. Replace them with math and chemistry courses.
    In short, society should pay for results and they will get them.

    A broad-spectrum  medical treatment for thrill-seeking (crime, drug addiction, unwanted perversions) now exists: a human pheromone, the healthy adult male facial skin surface lipid 'kissing daddy's face' pheromone.  Perhaps due to differing metabolic/neuronal pathways, alcoholism is unaffected by pheromone treatment.  One dose of 150-250 mg provides permanent relief of even the most obdurate cases.  
    See:

    Nicholson, B. 1984;  Does kissing aid human bonding by semiochemical  addiction?   British Journal  of  Dermatology  111(5):623-627.

    Nicholson, B. 2011:  Of Love 2nd Edition  Textbook of medical science:  exocrinology.  http://www.amazon.com/dp/1456564889

    BBC-TV interview
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeD6JtqbSbY
    typical anecdote
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YVJbRaCVj20

  42. Report this comment #20462

    Guillem Anglada said:

    I can only agree with what?s been already said. I am not from the bio-world, but I can tell you that astronomy/physics is pretty much the same. I would like to add a general comment about NSF funding policies.

    Recently I had the ?privilege? of participating in some NSF panels reviewing grants. I read very good proposals and I hope that the best ones will get funded. What was common in all of them though, was that 90% of the funds were requested to cover PhD students and postdoc related expenses (salaries+benefits, travel and don?t forget the 60%-ish institutional overheads!). Also, I found amazing that this was viewed as ?normal? by most of the other panelists and NSF officials. While I agree that educating the new generation of scientists is an important issue, my (probably) narrow view of the research funding system is that the agencies should fund provide funds to make actual research. At the end, all the highly rated proposals were to pay somebody else but the PI to do the actual work. While I don't have any doubt about the scientific quality of some of the proposals, most of the times graduate students and postdocs will be used as cheap highly trained manpower. I seriously doubt that many of them will get any useful training after all.

    Call me radical, but I think this is a perversion of the system. Highly trained researchers in tenure track or faculty positions should be the ones doing the actual research. If they need manpower, call them technicians, pay them a proper salary and dignify the job of 'research assistant' as a long term career... not all PhD were born to be PIs after all. Given the already saturated pool of postdoctoral researchers bouncing from one temporary position to another, I really think the funding agencies should promptly rethink the whole funding system (eg. strongly limiting the institutional overheads and give more weight to the actual commitment of the PI to the actual work to be done). Universities/research institutes will have to re-adjust or die, which might not be a bad think in the long run...

    just a thought

  43. Report this comment #20481

    Paige Brown said:

    I have written a response to themes in this month's feature on fixing the PhD. _So you wanna be a science writer?...Sssshhh, your supervisor might hear! _ Please find my post, Hiding Place for the Artsy-Scientist, on my Nature Network blog From The Lab Bench

  44. Report this comment #20546

    Sherry Jacob said:

    The concept of 'multidisciplinary Ph.D' is most appropriate...It is essentially required for staying tuned in the frontier areas of research. Unfortunately, most institutes lack linkages with parallel organizations in other fields, thus restricting the scope of research to topics that can be handled by individual organizations.Plant science research would have made much better break throughs.. had the Ph.D programmes compulsorily included some major aspects of animal science...

  45. Report this comment #20614

    Christina Steel said:

    I completed a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences in May 2010. I was simultaneously laid off from my adjunct faculty position and spent 3 months unemployed. I most definitely agree that the system is broken: there are far more Ph.D. holders than demand in my area. While I never assumed that my degree would mean an instant tenure-track position, there are also fewer postdoctoral positions than Ph.D. degrees. Many programmes appear designed to turn out an army of lab-clones with no teaching experience, little grant-writing experience, and few to no marketable skills outside of lab techiques. I am concerned that some Ph.D.s have graduated with only one or two peer-reviewed publications, typically none as primary author, and occasionally ZERO. We are, simply put, unprepared. This necessitates years of poorly-paid postdoctoral experience. I have deep concerns about the pressures this puts on my generation of researchers to "cut corners" or rush publications, but I believe that it is because we have less experience determining the "publishable unit" rather than deliberate or negligent intent. I have also personally witnessed the impact of our "publish or perish" scientific culture, and the pressure it puts on both PIs and students/postdocs to rush to press. It is ugly and leads to less rigour than is ideal. Worse, the peer review system fails to act upon these rushed articles.
    I know most reach a stage at which they just want to "be done" with their degree because I experienced that. However, I had outstanding mentors at key stages through my educational career that instilled a very strong desire to make my science the best it could be, and to never compromise that. I would honestly rather work at a hamburger stand than compromise scientific integrity--even if that means that I must leave the field of science.

  46. Report this comment #20774

    Plamen Nikolov said:

    By my opinion, the current scientific research system has several very serious problems:
    1) ?Clogging? with meaningless papers
    As the number of written scientific articles is often the main criterion for good scientific work, every researcher is pressed to produce as many of them as possible. At the end we have incredible flood of papers, where the meaningful results are dangerously diluted by a trash. More and more time is needed for a researcher to follow the development in his/her field. As a result the time for experimental/theoretical research is shrinking and every field become more and more fragmented in subfields. The researchers from different subfields have less and less contact and the exchange of information between them become more difficult.
    I think that the best discoveries are made in the heads of single persons or in discussion between maximum 3 individuals. Maybe, the decline of great discoveries in recent times is mainly due to ?clogging? of the minds with huge amount of bad quality information.
    2) Fight for money
    To win more grants from governmental/EU institutions or private firms is the main aim of every leader of research group. In most cases it is a fight for survival. The scientific results at the end are not as important as to spend the money and to present a satisfactory final report. As a result, the group leaders are overwhelmed by bureaucratic work and in some moment in their career they essentially stop to do real research. The real research is a business of inexperienced and untrained enough young scientists, which on their turn are heavily pressed to produce results with the minimal possible training.
    3) To build a career one researcher need to be a supervisor in any case. In action is the ?classical? Parkinson?s law for the reproduction of bureaucracy.

  47. Report this comment #20865

    Feruz Ganikhanov said:

    Exactly. The problem is to fix research philosophy. Who will fix it? Is it possible to fix it at all being confined within four walls of your academic lab and trying to satisfy formal requirements of demostratig your work by producing documented proofs (this is how it is called in our University)? There is a whole generation of people who grew up in this boxed environment of meaningless data and publications and do not know much about outside world and how real innovations are made (professors do not even take sabbatical to spend within industrial environment). It is probably possible to change things a bit and tie research output (especially in the experimental field) to real world of product development and technology transfer. A lot of people will loose their jobs though unless they want to become teachers. This is simply because of what has been said. 95% of publications are useless research, made up stories, recycled reports, etc. Those will never materialize in useful technologies and products for industries since they are basically fake and not solving a problem. I totally agree with a comment (somewhere above) that academia (and many academics) is a decade (if not more) behind state of the art of technology (used to be opposite just 50 years ago). They simply evolved into paper production generators and operators with narrow minds often without realizing this fact. It is amazing how this has happened in such a short period of time. This ridiculous culture of "publications", paper and their derivatives spread so broad and overwhelmingly.

  48. Report this comment #20947

    Celia Caulcott said:

    This is an interesting feature but does largely omit developments in PhD training in the UK which are addressing many of the points raised.

    For a number of years, the UK Research Councils and other UK Higher Education funding bodies have emphasised the need for PhD programmes to provide students with broader experience and training. The Research Councils jointly published a ?Joint Skills Statement? in the 1990s which was subsequently incorporated into the UK?s code of practice on research degree programmes (published by the QAA) in 1999. A key report, authored by Gareth Roberts, SET for Success (2002), made a case for further change, and this was followed up by new Government funding to support universities in providing professional skills development for both PhD students and postdoctoral researchers. For many years the Research Councils had funded their students to attend ?Grad Schools? providing intensive career development advice and skills development, and in 2008 this evolved into the major national ?Vitae? programme to champion and support wider skills in PhD programmes. The UK also has an evolving mix of doctoral programmes, including a well-established ?CASE? PhD model for collaborative training with a commercial partner, and the professional doctorate, providing research training into areas of professional, scientific and engineering practice.

    All the Research Councils are continuing to promote the on-going evolution of PhD training in their subject areas. In BBSRC, for example, we have just launched a major new funding scheme (Doctoral Training Partnerships) which aims to foster far greater collaboration and partnership in the provision of PhD programmes, as well as requiring the introduction of a Professional Internship scheme for PhD students. Further details are on our website at: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/dtp

    There are many other aspects of UK PhD training which I could mention where the UK has sought to address issues raised in the articles. A useful and fairly recent overview, entitled ?Redefining the Doctorate? (2007) published by the UK?s Higher Education Academy is available: http://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/435/1/RedefiningTheDoctorate.pdf This led to a major conference in 2008 in which the Research Councils participated, and details can be found here: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/events/detail/2008/24_Nov_2008_2020_Vision_London

  49. Report this comment #24435

    Jagadeesh A. said:

    Excellent Editorial. With Ph.D is seen as the highest degree for research and teaching especially in developing countries,there is mad rush to acquire one. In any quantitative approach quality often suffers. Another field is publications. Some Universities in developing countries as well as Institutes started their own journals and two publications in peer reviewed journals are enough for promotion and pre requisite to submit Ph.D Thesis. Even Today it is seen a short article/research paper in 'nature' is highly respected. One University pays US$ 16,000 for a research paper published in 'nature'.In 1990 I was paid US$ 3000 for a research paper published in a leading Energy Journal.

  50. Report this comment #26152

    Helen Troilo said:

    I completely disagree with this article. People also like to complain that undergraduate degrees are devalued because more people have access to this level of education. Its not untrue. However "the best" candidates tend to come from the most privileged backgrounds. How can someone with no background or family in the sciences compete with the sons and daughters of existing research profs who can tell them exactly what the interview panel will want to hear? How can those of us who had to hold down jobs during our undergrad degrees match the exam grades and work experience of someone with equal ability but whose parents bankrolled them?

    The only answer is to make PhDs more widely available so that everyone with the talent and dedication has a shot at proving themselves where it actually counts- in producing good research. If that means the "best" candidates now have to face the fact that you can be bright, work hard and still fail then GOOD. That's something the rest of us learned to deal with as children.

  51. Report this comment #34334

    Aretta Tamar said:

    Indian council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) recruit scientistsB with M.Sc as minimum qualification. Even for post of Director in CSIR institutes Ph.D is not a essential criteria though ICAR has it for higher post.
    3. Indian government conduct CSIR- NET examination to become eligible for Lecturership in universities for which again M.Sc is a minimum requirement.
    Now let me tell about me, I cleared Agricultural Research Scientist examination of ICAR & got appointed as scientist in Indian Agricultural Research Institute, PUSA, their as faculty member of Molecular Biology & Biotechnology i taught & guided the students. Each scientist run independent project & publish the paper. I am editorial board member of Journal of Industrial Microbiology & Biotechnology,Springer, reviewed more than 100 manuscripts for World journal of Microbiology & Biotechnology,Crop protection,Current Science,Journal of Theoretical Biology and for many more prestigious journals. Used to set &evaluate question papers for various organisations, member of project evaluation team and at present have establised a new ICAR institute NBAIM (www.nbaim.org.in)

  52. Report this comment #36565

    S DE said:

    I agree with Joe Jalimi completely, as long as there is no consequences to prevent PIs from forming a Post Doc plantation of slave labor, nothing is going to change. PIs need to include community outreach programs in their grants in order to be considered for funding. Why not also make them have to show how they are going to promote the career of the post doc that they will hire for the project and if they do not, take the funding away from them.

    Also, instead of encouraging people to pursue PhDs in science (everyone seen the commercial campaigns to encourage young girls to be interested in science), I believe there should be a group or organization who go around to undergraduate universities and speak honestly of the dismal career situation in science, so they can choose to pursue other career interests before it is too late. Kind of like a Scared Straight for science.

    Stop paying people to get PhDs while making others pay for Masters. Of course people are going to choose the option where they get paid to learn. Undergraduates need to realize, it might be free now, but you are going to have to pay dearly later when you become a post doctoral fellow and become so overqualified that you won't even be considered for master's positions anymore.

    Only when the endless, raging river of post docs dries up, will real change occur.

    The PhD is a dead end. Anyone who is reading this article and my post, if you are in grad school pursuing your PhD degree, opt out for your Masters degree RIGHT NOW! Get the entry level position in a company or for the government and enjoy your life!!! Don't be fooled by science career fair speakers who tell you there are opportunities in science for PhDs, that is what they are paid to say whether you get a job or not.

    Get out while you still can and never look back.

  53. Report this comment #59850

    stephen ecarney said:

    Today we have seen that number of universities are offering PhD but the standard to meet the requirement is quiet low.Some students works in the same university and get the degree with little effort. Some of medical schools to psychiatrist education are providing quality education . Their phd scholars bringing good changes to the count.

  54. Report this comment #60180

    Mette Hansen said:

    I have written a response to themes in this month's feature on fixing the PhD. _So you wanna be a science writer?...Sssshhh, your supervisor might hear! _ Please find my post
    Ejendomsmægler

  55. Report this comment #61557

    stephen ecarney said:

    Getting the desired results is called real research. By writing few numbers of pages is not the PHD we need. Its time to putt some real efforts so quality work comes to the market.Like Refrigerators in french door style are one step head in the field of storage same with the others we have to take steps ahead towards the future to educate phd students in a real quality environment.

Subscribe to comments

Additional data