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Students fuzzy about the future

Nature volume 409, page 442 (25 January 2001) | Download Citation


Students at US graduate schools are happy to be doing PhDs and love their research, a new survey says. But they do not get enough teacher training or career advice, and their rapport with staff has room for improvement.

Just 3% of those surveyed admitted to being unhappy with their decision to pursue a PhD and 93% said their research interested them “a great deal”. But more than a third might consider changing universities, advisers or dissertation topics if given the chance to start again.

The survey, carried out by the University of Wisconsin at Madison for the Pew Charitable Trusts, polled more than 4,000 students in the third year or above in 27 graduate programmes.

“We were trying to bring the experiences and voices of students into the debate,” says lead author, educationalist Chris Golde.

Only about a third felt their programmes were preparing them to teach lecture courses, compared with three-quarters who felt up to the task of conducting research. Students in the 'hard sciences' were more likely than those in the social sciences or humanities to be required to teach, but were less likely to receive any training.

Under half had a clear understanding of what (or how long) it would take for them to graduate. Molecular biologists and chemists were the fuzziest on these points, probably reflecting the unpredictable nature of laboratory research, according to the report.

The report's authors call for better communication between staff and students, including annual reviews to discuss needs, expectations and progress — an opportunity now only available to about half the students. They also urge students to voice their needs and expectations.

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