Monday, April 17, 2000
An Overhaul of Ph.D. Training Is Urged, as Survey Suggests
Frustrations of Doctoral Students
By DENISE K. MAGNER
Most Ph.D.'s never land a job at a research university, yet
their training is geared precisely toward such positions. That
contradiction is inspiring a growing chorus of critics to
argue that American doctoral education is in need of an
Just how to fix it was the focus of an invitation-only
conference here this weekend, called "Re-envisioning the
Ph.D.," which brought together 150 people from academe,
foundations, government agencies, and the business world.
Their prescriptions ranged from the mild (teach professors how
to be better mentors) to the radical (turn the Ph.D. into a
broadly based four-year program with postdoctoral
opportunities for those who want to concentrate on research).
Some focused their recommendations on federal agencies
(require that grant applications for research projects have a
teaching component) while others urged change in academe
(require departments to disclose the job-placement rates of
Whatever their angle, most here agreed that the apprenticeship
model practiced by universities, in which faculty members seek
to reproduce researchers in their own image, was outmoded.
"We need to fish or cut bait with the German model of doctoral
education, and I think we need to cut bait," said David
Damrosch, a professor of English at Columbia University.
Doctoral education in the future will be less a matter of
producing new knowledge, he said, than of circulating
knowledge across disciplinary boundaries.
Cataloging the complaints about doctoral education proved
easier than reaching agreement on how to reform it. Graduate
students feel exploited as teaching assistants and trained too
narrowly for jobs at research universities that are few and
far between. Teaching institutions find it difficult to hire
new Ph.D.'s who actually know how to teach. Business leaders
complain that new Ph.D.'s can't communicate and don't know how
to apply theory to real-world problems.
"We have an oversupply of Ph.D.'s for academia, and that's
given us this occasion to rethink what we are doing in
doctoral education," said Jody D. Nyquist, the conference
organizer and director of the Center for Instructional
Development and Research at the University of Washington. "We
don't have an oversupply of Ph.D.'s for society. We need more
people who've been deeply trained, but not just deeply trained
A raft of recent surveys have documented the dissatisfaction
of graduate students. "They do not feel prepared for life
outside research universities, which is where the jobs are,"
said Chris M. Golde, an assistant professor of higher
education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. At the
meeting here, she released the preliminary results of a new
survey that she helped conduct of 4,210 doctoral students at
28 universities from May 1999 to January 2000.
Among her findings:
|Fully one-third of graduate students are dissatisfied with the|
way their doctoral programs are organized.
| Doctoral students are interested in a wide range of faculty|
roles -- including teaching, research, and advising -- but
feel prepared only for research, publishing, and leading
discussion sections of courses.
|More than one-fourth said they would like to be able to take|
more courses outside of their departments, particularly in
business, computers, and the humanities.
|Nearly half of respondents said their performance as graduate|
students is not reviewed annually. That varied by discipline,
with annual reviews given to a high of 83 percent of
psychology students and a low of 35 percent of students in
English and chemistry.
Ms. Golde plans to release a full report on the study's
findings later in the year.
Participants in the conference here acknowledged that academe
had been hearing calls for reform of Ph.D. training for
decades. But Lee S. Shulman, president of the Carnegie
Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, said he had seen a
growing willingness on the part of academic departments to
experiment with doctoral education.
At the meeting here, he announced that Carnegie planned to
begin a multi-year study in September to explore alternative
Ph.D. tracks in which the focus might, for example, be on
teaching. He said he had already had discussions with several
departments about participating in the project.
Said Mr. Shulman: "Our own graduate programs must become the
laboratories in which we experiment with unconventional
approaches to preparing people for the Ph.D."
Copyright 2000 by The Chronicle of Higher Education
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