From THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION Daily News
Tuesday, January 16, 2001
Survey Points to Mismatch Between Ph.D. Students,
Programs, and Their Potential Employers
By SCOTT SMALLWOOD
The training that Ph.D. students receive isn't what many of
them want, nor does it prepare them for the jobs they
eventually take, according to a survey released today. But
the survey, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, also found
that nearly all of the students were satisfied with their
decision to attend graduate school, and more than half
wouldn't change their adviser or their dissertation topic.
Many of their complaints centered on the particulars of their
education -- from a lack of career advice to unclear
requirements. Chris M. Golde, a researcher at the University
of Wisconsin at Madison, directed the survey of more than
4,000 doctoral students at 27 universities. She found a
"three-way mismatch" among the purpose of doctoral education,
the aspirations of students, and the realities of their
A report based on the survey's findings, "At Cross Purposes:
What the Experiences of Today's Doctoral Students Reveal about
Doctoral Education," is available on the Web
Two-thirds of the Ph.D. students surveyed said they definitely
wanted to become full-time, tenure-track faculty members,
while a quarter of them said they may be interested in such
posts -- even though in most fields no more than half of the
students will ever realize that goal. At the same time, more
than half of the students said they're not prepared for the
various activities that most faculty members spend their time
doing, especially teaching.
The final part of the mismatch is that students are less able
to learn about nonacademic careers and are often not
encouraged to explore such options. "A lot of departments
unwittingly participate in making faculty look like the only
option," Ms. Golde said. "Look at their literature. It says,
'Some of our more illustrious alumni are at Wisconsin,
Harvard, Yale and Princeton.' Not, 'Of our last 30 graduates,
here are the 30 things they are doing.' No wonder incoming
students are not realistic. Of course, how much of that is
being misinformed, and how much is being 22 and being
John V. Lombardi, a professor of history at the University of
Florida, agrees that there is a mismatch between Ph.D.
training, the expectations of doctoral students, and the
academic job market. "We have one degree that has a purpose,
and we have a whole bunch of jobs where people ask for the
degree," he said. "So you've got a mismatch in
want in a credential and the skills they want to have."
But Mr. Lombardi, who previously served as president of the
University of Florida, has been an outspoken critic of turning
faculty members into career-placement gurus. "They're not
experts in how to place Ph.D.'s in banking, but it's not clear
that that's the responsibility of the Ph.D. program."
Instead, he suggested creating different types of graduate
degrees and programs that don't focus so heavily on research.
Robert Weisbuch, the president of the Woodrow Wilson National
Fellowship Foundation, said he believes that most faculty
members are open to change and willing to think about
opportunities for their graduate students beyond academe. The
survey, he said, will give them hard data to consider."I think
it's a kind of an alert in that it provides some evidence of
how it feels to students," Mr. Weisbuch said of the survey.
"It's not the ultimate bottom line. It's an important
perspective, but it's not the only perspective."
The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation has been a
strong proponent of encouraging academics, especially in the
humanities, to consider opportunities beyond academe. Such a
shift would help more than just graduate students, Mr.
Weisbuch said. "This isn't just an issue of, Isn't it too
graduate students aren't given information that would help
them?" he said. "It's about what the culture is losing
not taking advantage of these graduates."
Also highlighted in the survey was the widely held student
perception that doctoral education is "unnecessarily
mysterious," said Ms. Golde. Some are unclear about how their
course work applies, how much time they will spend with their
adviser, or who will pay for their dissertation work.
Less than half of the students, who were all in at least their
third year of graduate school, reported that the criteria for
earning a doctorate were "very clear" to them. And that
was even lower in some disciplines. For instance, just one of
every four chemistry students said the requirements were very
clear to them. At the same time, Ms. Golde stresses in the
report, students have to take responsibility for their own
education. That means asking specific questions and demanding
Debra Stewart, the president of the Council of Graduate
Schools, said she was heartened by the report because many of
the ideas in it are part of a "quiet revolution" in graduate
schools across the nation. "Graduate deans recognized these
issues, and many of them across the country are stepping up to
that challenge," Ms. Stewart said.
She pointed out that for the last decade graduate schools have
been trying to confront worries that not enough attention was
being given to preparing students for all the jobs faculty
members must perform, especially teaching. Preparing Future
Faculty, an effort sponsored in part by the Council of
Graduate Schools, now includes 295 institutions and offers
doctoral students a chance to observe faculty responsibilities
at a variety of academic settings.
Ana Marie Cox contributed to this article.
Copyright 2001 by The Chronicle of Higher Education
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