One-year practical course proves a launch pad for PhDs

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In response to Cristina Banks-Leite's comments in Correspondence ('More ground work needed to prepare students for PhDs' Nature 455, 285; 2008) — I couldn't agree more.

I secured a PhD scholarship straight from being an undergraduate. In retrospect, I believe that both I and my PhD supervisor would have benefited enormously if I had gone through the process of acquiring an MSc, and as a side effect been at least a year older, if not wiser.

A few years and many more mistakes down the line, I now teach on a programme whose main mission is to prepare students to be researchers in human and applied physiology. Practicals far outweigh the lecture time and intake is severely limited (despite the economics), so everyone's hands can get dirty. Experiments, not demonstrations, are the order of the day. Furthermore, research projects without at least the intention of publication are dirty words!

Sitting on the other side of the selection-panel desk, I see a succession of bright, talented and enthusiastic souls attempting to explain why they — holding excellent grades from a course with lecture theatres full to the brim, but having never touched any of the relevant equipment — want to do this MSc and then go on to do a PhD.

A high proportion of those admitted onto the course have gone on to do admirably well in their subsequent PhD studies, and many have become independent and eminent researchers within their respective fields.

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Andrew Green, D. One-year practical course proves a launch pad for PhDs. Nature 456, 29–30 (2008) doi:10.1038/456029d

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