Doctoral Programs Flunk a Test
SIX YEARS AFTER their group project was due for Professional Responsibility and Academic Duty, Chris Golde and Tim Dore have submitted a 58-page paper that is making national headlines.
"At Cross Purposes: What the Experiences of Doctoral Students Reveal about Doctoral Education" surveys 4,114 candidates at 27 universities about their training and how effectively it prepares them for academic careers. Does PhD work get a passing grade? Not from arts and sciences students, who say it doesn't adequately train those who actually land faculty jobs -- about half of the 45,000 who apply -- for teaching and administrative duties.
According to the report, a fundamental "mismatch" exists between the goals of doctoral education and students' expectations, exacerbated by the paucity of academic jobs. "Students are not well prepared to assume the faculty positions that are available, nor do they have a clear concept of their suitability for work outside of research," write Golde and Dore, both PhD '98.
Or, as one respondent put it, "graduate education is designed to create academics, of which there is a gross oversupply. Yet the everyday world of consultants, government, industry, business, pre-college education, etc., needs qualified people."
Nor is the road to a doctorate particularly well paved, the researchers say.
"Undergraduates have a pretty good idea of what required courses they have to fulfill to get a degree, but the doctoral process can be overly mysterious," says Golde, an education policy analyst at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Not knowing how long a program will take, where the fellowship money will come from and how often one's work will be reviewed can take a toll, she adds. "And for a grad student sitting in an adviser's office, asking those questions can feel quite scary and dangerous."
What's more, says Dore, an assistant professor of chemistry at the University of Georgia, the current apprenticeship model of doctoral education -- an iteration of an older German tradition -- is outdated. "A lot of emphasis is placed on a single adviser, and it's unrealistic to expect that a student is going to get everything he needs from one mentor."
Dore and Golde met in 1995, when they both enrolled in the professional responsibility seminar taught by University President Emeritus Donald Kennedy. The course was designed to help prepare future faculty members to work in university environments. But Kennedy got an eye-opening insider's perspective from his students, who surveyed dozens of colleagues and found many of them profoundly disappointed with their experience.
Kennedy tapped the Pew Charitable Trusts for some funding, and Golde and Dore expanded the survey to include students on other campuses. They released the new results in January.
As Dore examines organic molecules and keeps his eye on the ticking tenure clock, he's also launching a new seminar at Georgia for undergraduates hoping to get into graduate schools. He has a thing or two to tell them.
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