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The PhD is used to train most research scientists around the world and provides evidence of a gruelling period of independent study. But critics say many graduate student programmes have not adapted to accommodate changes in the workplace. Do PhDs need a rethink? This collection of articles and resources from across Nature Research looks at the PhD from a range of different perspectives.
Biomedical scientist Vladimira Foteva didn’t imagine she would be working with physicists at an Australian particle accelerator when she began her PhD, but the experience taught her the value of collaboration across disciplines.
Circumstances outside my control contributed to a year of ‘F’s when I started at university, but by owning the experience and addressing it directly, I strengthened my application to do a PhD, says Jasper Elan Hunt.
Publications are commonly used to evaluate PhD students’ aptitude and have the appeal of a single, ‘objective’ measure. A collection of World Views in this issue, however, suggests that this creates only an illusion of true meritocracy. Not only assessments but PhD training per se require substantive improvements to benefit science and scientists.
Publications are often considered a hard currency for evaluating PhD students by graduation committees and funders alike. Anne-Marie Coriat of the Wellcome Trust calls for a change in how PhDs are assessed, placing more emphasis on other aspects of training.
PhD students produce more than publications; they create a wealth of resources as a means to their research. Matt Crump, Associate Professor at the City University of New York, argues that PhDs should share these resources as portfolios that demonstrate their skills and to benefit the scientific community.
Many PhD students have no intention of remaining in academia, and outdated university curricula do them a disservice by not offering training for careers in industry, argues Kyle Isaacson, a PhD student in biomedical engineering.
Comparing the experiences of students at Menzies Institute, PhD student Fan Li reflects on the importance of publications across disciplines, but argues that these should not detract from the benefits of PhD training.
Publishing novel, eye-grabbing results is rewarded in academia; whether publishing robust replications will be rewarded by graduation committees and future employers is yet to be determined. Andrea Stoevenbelt calls on committees to consider how different publications are weighed on candidates’ CVs.
Evaluating PhD students by their publications may have the outward appearance of a meritocracy, but as long as students from minority groups do not enjoy the same privileges as their peers, the playing field is anything but level, argues Alon Zivony.
Setting publication targets for students is corrosive for scientific culture and instils the wrong values in PhD students, argues Nick Yeung. A culture shift in PhD student evaluation criteria is needed, away from publications as the key proxy for student success.