February 5, 2001
Lack of Direction for Ph.D. Students
By Kate Devine
Recent articles about postdocs have revealed job-related issues such as low salary, lack of benefits, and insufficient mentoring (H. Black, "The Plight of Postdocs," The Scientist, 15:28, Jan. 22, 2001; K. Devine, "Reader Survey: The Postdoc
Experience," The Scientist, 15:29, Jan. 22, 2001). Now, a study released in January shows Ph.D. students with woes of their
own as well. "At Cross Purposes: What the Experiences of Today's Doctoral Students Reveal about Doctoral Education,"
(www.phd-survey.org) indicates that many students do not understand the doctoral education process. The study, funded by
the Pew Charitable Trusts, reveals that one-third to two-thirds of students are unclear about doctoral study core processes such
as course work applicability, amount of time to spend with advisers, graduate studies and dissertation funding, and criteria
determining whether they graduate. "We found that many students do not have a clear idea of how different the process of
doctoral education is from undergraduate or master's level schooling," says Chris M. Golde, assistant scientist, Wisconsin
Center for Education Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Golde, who directed the survey of 4,114 doctoral students at
27 universities, says this is evident from the advice that survey respondents give to prospective students. Respondents suggest
critically assessing programs for meeting a student's needs, being very clear about the reason for obtaining a Ph.D., and understanding the career prospects associated with the degree. Perhaps most distressing is that many students do not understand the criteria used to determine when they will be ready to graduate. Most disciplines indicated 40-50 percent of
respondents being clear on this point, but lab sciences scored the lowest, with molecular biology and chemistry both less than 25 percent.
The Scientist 15:30, Feb. 5, 2001
© Copyright 2001, The Scientist, Inc. All rights reserved.
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