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Reform the PhD System or Close It Down

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the trickle-down-edunomics dept.

Education 487

jamie points out an opinion piece by Columbia professor Mark C. Taylor in Nature News decrying the state of PhD education in the US, calling it "broken and unsustainable." Quoting: "The necessary changes are both curricular and institutional. One reason that many doctoral programmes do not adequately serve students is that they are overly specialized, with curricula fragmented and increasingly irrelevant to the world beyond academia. Expertise, of course, is essential to the advancement of knowledge and to society. But in far too many cases, specialization has led to areas of research so narrow that they are of interest only to other people working in the same fields, subfields or sub-subfields. Many researchers struggle to talk to colleagues in the same department, and communication across departments and disciplines can be impossible. If doctoral education is to remain viable in the twenty-first century, universities must tear down the walls that separate fields, and establish programmes that nourish cross-disciplinary investigation and communication. They must design curricula that focus on solving practical problems, such as providing clean water to a growing population. Unfortunately, significant change is unlikely to come from faculty members, who all too often remain committed to traditional approaches."

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487 comments

"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939604)

Uhh... isn't the whole point of studying for a PhD because you want to remain in academia?

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939618)

Uhh... isn't the whole point of studying for a PhD because you want to remain in academia?

Perhaps more to the point, don't people study for a PhD BECAUSE they want to specialize?

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (1, Troll)

dintech (998802) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939756)

Exactly. But the problem here is that the poster is lumping all PhDs in together.
In Physics at least, specialisation can lead to some very useful and broadly applicable findings. Granted, sometimes completely unexpectedly.
I can imagine the same is not true for a highly specialist life sciences PhD.

However, is that really a problem? The 'great minds' earning PhDs in life sciences, probably would never be useful in the world of 'real' science anyway, so no great loss. Sorry if this sounds snobbish, but it is. :)

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (4, Insightful)

gtall (79522) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939826)

"The 'great minds' earning PhDs in life sciences, probably would never be useful in the world of 'real' science anyway,"

Yes, that is snobbish, and certainly blinkered much like what the article was complaining about. Next time you come down with a life threatening disease, I want you to refuse any treatment that was not done using 'real' science.

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (2)

RDW (41497) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940018)

'In Physics at least, specialisation can lead to some very useful and broadly applicable findings. Granted, sometimes completely unexpectedly. I can imagine the same is not true for a highly specialist life sciences PhD.'

http://xkcd.com/793/ [xkcd.com]

Driving license (4, Interesting)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940132)

In Physics at least, specialisation can lead to some very useful and broadly applicable findings. Granted, sometimes completely unexpectedly.

Indeed. In the Sciences and in Engineering, a PhD is the equivalent of a "driving license" for doing research. It does not guarantee you'll be good at it, but the odds are much better than for someone lacking the qualification. It signifies that you can plan and execute long and intellectually difficult tasks in a particular field, which may include discovery of new knowledge (experiments) as well as detailed physical and mathematical analysis. It shows that you're qualified for certain types of demanding job, which are not in particularly short supply. A PhD in physics or engineering was a prerequisite for my job and for several of my colleagues, and we're in industry, not in academia.

TFA failed to delineate the subject matter, lumping all PhDs together as if physical sciences, bioscience, and engineering suffered from the same lack of utility as the humanities or social sciences. It appears that TFA really just dealt with the humanities which tend to have limited economic applicability (PhD in Religion, or in History of art, or in Etruscan statuary). In some cases they amount to little more than an expensive hobby.

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (5, Interesting)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940282)

Well if you are avocation changing the system you need to lump them together. If the PhD are more often then not are becoming too specialized to be useful then the PhD system needs to change. Sure they are exceptions where some PhD offer enough generalization to show people to know that in order to meet any particular goal that you will need help in different areas. But those are the exception.

I would actually go further stating there is a larger problem with the education system in the whole.

At child at the age of 4 enters school and remains there until they graduate from high school at 17 year. (That is 13 years) Then they will directly go to college for 4 more years at 21 years old (17 years) Now in that process they weill decide what they want to do for a living. Well during that period education is the only system they know, so They choose to stay in education, So they will get 2/4 years of masters (If they want to stay as a k-12 teacher) and 8 years if they want to be a professor. So now we have Teachers and Professors who's life has been centered around education. Then they teach the next generation that repeats the process. What happens is there is a schism between skills and knowledge that people need professionally and what they need to advance in Education, and it will keep on getting worse if you leave the system unchanged.
Many Teachers and Professors (you can tell if you talk to them personally) despise commercial industry, but yet really know what is going on in it. They will focus on the areas where it has gone wrong but not where it has gone well. So they think we spend all our days in a real Dilbertesk like life. Education needs a infusion (A large one enough to change the schools culture) of professionals who are good at what they do to teach information that will be more practical for real life situation and really open up a dialog on how things really work.

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (3, Informative)

PeterKraus (1244558) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939632)

Not necessarily. In my field (chemistry), having a PhD is really quite required to get any decent (see: intelectually satisfying) job right after uni. Otherwise you're just the lab monkey.

But then again, I'm in the UK so it might be different.

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (2, Informative)

gatzke (2977) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939658)

No, it is similar in the US for many Chemistry majors. They often end up running a QC bench without a PhD.

A PhD these days is more often a certification, can you work on a large nebulous problem? Can you work continuously for four or five years on a problem? Can you work with limited direct supervision?

Students do work in their sub-field or sub-subfield. Sometimes they get a truly relevant job, sometimes they get a job in that general area, sometimes they go completely afield. It just depends.

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (4, Insightful)

PeterKraus (1244558) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939698)

Furthermore, the thing you do the PhD in doesn't have to really matter that much for your career. My boss for example studied his MSci and PhD in Oxford - did some organic chemistry in his masters thesis, then fluorinated triphenyl boron research on his PhD, then he worked on two post-docs in two different areas (some transition metals chemistry was one of them) and now (after 15 years experience in the industry) does catalyst support for industrial processes, supervises me doing polymer additives research and does engineering PIDs for pilot plants.

I would say he's not an expert in any given area, but he has bloody good idea about what's going on in anything he touches. I'm pretty sure that's as well due to the hands-on mentality of (partially unsupervised) research he had to do in his PhD - I doubt he's ever gonna touch those boron compounds again (subfield of a subfield of chemistry), but the transferrable skills he learned are invaluable.

(I'm just about to go to my final year of my undergrad course in sept.)

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (1)

gatzke (2977) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939770)

Right. My wife is a PhD chemist, and she has worked in multiple non-related industries, all totally non-related to her fairly obscure PhD thesis topic.

They expect her to figure stuff out on her own and find a solution. A PhD does not guarantee that you have those skills, but it is an indicator that you may have acquired them at some point.

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (1)

memyselfandeye (1849868) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940146)

I agree with all of this. I bitched and moaned in the other thread last night that complained about worthless PhDs and a foreign takeover of the scientific community, or some such conspiracy.

Unrated to this reply, but back OT, while I love The Journal Nature, I really do not think the chair of the religion department at Columbia is exactly qualified to tell a fresh post-doc that their degree is worthless because their thesis was on the mitosis of toilet bacteria and their first job is investigating HIV in humans for big Pharma. I mean, really? The whole point of advanced education is to specialize so you can show the world that you can become an expert at something, and by contrast, anything!

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (5, Insightful)

paiute (550198) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940292)

No, it is similar in the US for many Chemistry majors. They often end up running a QC bench without a PhD.

A PhD these days is more often a certification, can you work on a large nebulous problem? Can you work continuously for four or five years on a problem? Can you work with limited direct supervision?

Students do work in their sub-field or sub-subfield. Sometimes they get a truly relevant job, sometimes they get a job in that general area, sometimes they go completely afield. It just depends.

from the link in my sig:

"The undergraduate sits back waiting to be filled with learning. The Professor speaks, the undergraduate absorbs. Regurgitate the data on a few tests correctly enough and you are home. The Ph.D., on the other hand, means that you have done some original research. Sounds simple, but what it really means is that you have to be constantly defending yourself, explaining what you did and why. It leads to questioning all of the work of everyone else. Why did they do it this way? Were their conclusions correct, their evidence airtight, their reasoning sound? You need to be a skeptic. A doubter, a demander of proof. A B.S. given an SOP might think it comes down from on high, cast in stone. He or she will handle it with care. A Ph.D. will immediately get out a hammer and beat on it to see if any rotten pieces fly off."

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (1)

Edsj (1972476) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939636)

Not really, PhD is like a valid visa to work anywhere in the world. You can do a crappy PhD and still be granted for something like the USA EB-1. There is a whole PhD degree business going on and little practical research being done.

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (2)

iinlane (948356) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939692)

Not necessarily - I'm doing a PhD and have no plans to stay in academia. I do not expect to receive any direct benefits from the degree after I graduate, it's just something I like to do. The PhD studies are free in my country so why not take the opportunity.

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35940154)

Uhh... isn't the whole point of studying for a PhD because you want to remain in academia?

It's only so you can vote for a communist like Obama

Re:"irrelevant to the world beyond academia" (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940208)

Uhh... isn't the whole point of studying for a PhD because you want to remain in academia?

Even in that case, the PhD system has a serious problem: 1 professor can, and is usually expected to, shepherd more than one student through the PhD process(plus, many research labs would basically fold without the available supply of cheap but highly skilled grunt labor). Thus, the supply of PhDed candidates who want academic jobs increases substantially faster than established professors can die or new professorships can be created.

It is certainly true that, for many PhD students, an academic job is the ideal; but the supply of academic jobs makes that difficult: There is a comparatively small supply of good ones(tenure track faculty, probably won't get rich, unless your field is conducive to consulting on the side; but you are basically assured an adequate income and the opportunity to do what you are interested in. IFF you can make it through the knife-fight-in-a-telephone-booth that is getting one of those). Beyond those, though, it can get real grim, real fast. People dealing with absolutely grinding teaching loads, or more or less dead end lab-grunt work for under $30k/year are not at all out of the question.

If the PhD is to be a sort of Academia entrance requirement, they really need to figure out how to keep production at steady levels, and ideally inform people who Just Aren't Going To Cut It as early as possible, so they don't waste their time and money. If the PhD is going to be a much more broadly useful thing, it sounds like it needs some changes.

Oh Come on (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939624)

"Increasingly irrelevant to the world beyond academia"

The language of number theory seemed to be an exercise in the technical until hundreds of years later we end up with encryption systems based on their very principles. How you can claim prior knowledge of what will be useful in future, I do not know.

Re:Oh Come on (2)

nashv (1479253) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939872)

Yes yes, but this about context. What is meant is , there is some research that is increasingly irrelevant to the world beyond academia , and likely to remain so for a duration of time in which a graduate student's career choices will be made.

Re:Oh Come on (1)

JasterBobaMereel (1102861) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940236)

Which ...

Electricity was considered a novelty at best, until practical uses were found for it ...

Group theory was considered esoteric and purely academic since it was invented in 1832 by Évariste Galois, until it was used in the Standard model of Particle physics ...

Most of current Mathematics is like this, and large swathes of of other science cannot get funding because no-one can see the current relevancy of it ...

Re:Oh Come on (2)

AtomicJake (795218) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940056)

"Increasingly irrelevant to the world beyond academia"

A PhD is very often only relevant for academia. It might help also a carreer outside of academia, but in essence the work of a PhD should advance the research in the field of study - therefore advancing "academia".

Re:Oh Come on (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35940180)

I do not know.

While I agree with the rest of the comment, here you're making a logical error.
First of all, you're not him. Or us, for that matter.
Second, you not knowing may as well just be your stupidity (not saying it is. just making an argument ;), and says nothing about the ability of others, to predict the future.

How you can claim prior knowledge of what will be useful in future,

And if you think we can't predict the future at all: Actually, our brains are nothing but big future-prediction machines. That's their sole purpose and function. (It took me quite a bit of thinking and studying to realize that.) Because all we do, is recognize similarities in our observations (that's what neurons do), and form theories about rules in our environment from them, so we can predict things based on those theories. (The purpose of this is competitive advantage in natural selection. Which actually may just be the purpose of everything surviving life does.)

Hmmmm.... (-1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939642)

"Unfortunately, significant change is unlikely to come from faculty members, who all too often remain committed to traditional approaches"

That traditional approach being stuffing whatever corporate-sponsored stuff into the heads of their students.

Re:Hmmmm.... (1)

gtall (79522) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939846)

"That traditional approach being stuffing whatever corporate-sponsored stuff into the heads of their students."

Never been in a PhD program have you. And by the way, this is somewhat the opposite of what the article was complaining about. If new PhD students were being stuffed with Business School Product ideas, then they'd be doing relevant research, wouldn't they.

Sometimes it helps to actually think before you...well...in your case...think.

short-sighted (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939644)

This guy seems to forget that all the practical interdisciplinary research he is obsessed with is based on loads of theories in specialized sub-sub-sub-fields with no obvious practical use until then. It all looks like mental masturbation of the brain-heads up to the point where you need exactly that tiny piece of research to actually build the clean-water infrastructure for the third world (as an example).

Re:short-sighted (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939660)

Seriously. The statement pretty much reminds me of Sarah Palin deriding fruit fly research - yeah, just because it doesn't have an obvious practical application immediately does not mean that the research is not potentially useful. It's not really a good idea to go and start saying what students can and can't research.

Re:short-sighted (5, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939920)

Also, when Einstein published his theory of general relativity, nobody expected this to ever become relevant for anything beyond pure curiosity. Well, that's because nobody thought of GPS back than.

And when he was arguing against completeness of quantum mechanics, there's no way he could have imagined that his thoughts would one day lead to quantum cryptography.

When Kepler thought about the movement of celestial bodies, he would never have guessed that his insights would one day help with weather forecast.

When Heisenberg and Schrödinger formulated the equations of quantum mechanics, they didn't think of TV sets, computers, or the internet.

The inventors of the particle accelerator thought about studying particles, not about cancer therapy.

Too many bodies, too few incentives. (5, Insightful)

pnotequalsnp (1077279) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939650)

The competition for tenure track positions is currently insane, since the professors from previous generations have trained too many PhDs. The funding agencies reward large labs under a single PI with large grants, with the labs mostly running on graduate students and post-docs who themselves see no way out. Now we are seeing career post-doctoral positions, especially in the biomedical sciences; see the recent suggestions about making a post-doctoral position more permanent. Not everyone can be a manager (PI), so we are stuck being graduate students or post-docs. I know industry is also a home for PhDs as I am one of those happy campers, but the fact is there are too many PhDs being trained relative to the number of positions available.

Lets have a system where the professor is rewarded for doing their own research, rather than their ability to write grants and farm out the work to their subjugated minions.

Re:Too many bodies, too few incentives. (4, Insightful)

AchilleTalon (540925) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939704)

Hum, I can accept the idea there is too many lawyers, too many financial counsellors and many other too many. But, too many Ph.D.? Provided the challenges humanity is facing, I don't think so. However, I can accept the idea we have not yet found a way to take advantage of all of them.

Re:Too many bodies, too few incentives. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35940224)

The whole point of Dr. Taylor's article is the lack of correlation between having PhDs and solving the world's problems. We need skilled, smart people with the necessary knowledge, trained in the application of the available tools. Traditionally the PhD has been one way of a prerson obtaining these skills and knowledge. The point of the original article is that the current PhD system is not necessarily aimed at this goal.

I have a cousin with a PhD in sociology. I've seen and read her work, and its not her knowledge of sociology that impresses me, although I'm not knocking it. Rather, its the way she combines that knowledge with mathematics and statistics, using computers for analysis that adds to human knowledge. To achieve this she has earned Master's degrees in Math and Computer Science after getting her doctorate.

She also gives a great deal of credit to her graudate students. Research is a team effort these days, even when, as the old saying goes, 'concensus is doing what I say'. Someone has to have a vision, either jointly or individually.

Re:Too many bodies, too few incentives. (2)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940234)

But, too many Ph.D.? Provided the challenges humanity is facing, I don't think so. However, I can accept the idea we have not yet found a way to take advantage of all of them.

If by "take advantage of all of them" you mean something like "pay them a living wage" then you are correct, we can not do that. There are simply too many.

...and Academia doing Industry research kills both (4, Insightful)

DingerX (847589) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939824)

The current focus on "relevant research" and turning university labs into money-making operations is part of the problem. While it's couched in terms of universities "Making Money" and "Doing something useful" (as the TFA appears to want), in practice, it means that university researchers pair up with private industry, doing only the things that private industry deems important (=incremental and rarely disruptive). Grant programs amplify this trend ("What are the industry applications of this research?", "Was your last research project a financial success?"). So, if the universities are paying researchers to do private-industry research, private industry has less incentive to fund its own research. As a result, we're moving from a system where we had academics engaged in fundamental research, with often disruptive results, and a thriving private industry research community, to one where a smaller pool of public-private academics do the bidding of private industry.

Too many Ph.D.s? You bet. In the name of "solving practical problems", we've moved industry research into the universities, and killed off fundamental research.

Re:Too many bodies, too few incentives. (3, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939930)

but the fact is there are too many PhDs being trained relative to the number of positions available.

That may just mean that there are too few positions available.

Re:Too many bodies, too few incentives. (1)

loufoque (1400831) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939936)

Lets have a system where the professor is rewarded for doing their own research, rather than their ability to write grants and farm out the work to their subjugated minions.

Did you mean to say, "let's have a system where no research is actually done"?
Important research cannot be done alone. And doing research with several people working on your projects requires receiving grants to be able to pay them. Doing all the paperwork to get those grants (which is not something we can get rid of) means that's the researcher won't have much time to actually do research, indeed. But usually he still has enough time to explain his vision to the people working with him, and that's enough to get things done.

Re:Too many bodies, too few incentives. (2)

TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939970)

As a Post Doc for 5 years now. I can say that perhaps it should have been this way sooner. Tenure would be great personally, but i think its stupid as a general rule, I mean where else do you get such a thing? I would quite like to take a permanent PostDoc job. The money is good enough (you are never here for the money) and currently i get stuck with department rules of the max time you are allowed to be a post doc.

new york times; civil war has begun? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939668)

figure of speech? Person Having Difficulty? domestic violence re-approved? we're to kill each other rather than go to court? civil? no killing? no kidding. triple threat tuesday starts with yet another dull tome of fear, hatred (of each other today) & fake weather, again, today, until at least 2025, or when we all voluntarily disarm ourselves, & our 'partners', even bombs are 'smart' now. it takes heart/conscience/spirit to be a human being doing something useful for another human being doing....

even more conflict being staged by our rulers (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939740)

it must be proven, & approved, to be in the new york times? now us? must we throw rocks at each other until the 'security forces' arrive, arm both media enhanced chosen 'sides', then kill everybody? anything for god & country, & a chance to be chosen for something good enough to die for.

The Whole Premise is Flawed (0)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939680)

People don't pursue a PhD because they want to "provide water to a growing population." They can go to Mexico and dig wells to accomplish that (as some college friends of mine did). No one's delaying their release into the workplace to get a PhD so that they can make a better contribution to "the world," period.

People pursue a PhD so that they can stay in academia, where they are comfortable and proficient, and make as much money in academia as an academic can. Since academic institutions profit directly from the milling of PhD degrees, you'll get no argument from them on the topic.

Re:The Whole Premise is Flawed (1)

ElectricTurtle (1171201) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939760)

My father-in-law has a PhD in CS and he is in industry applying it to the real world. My sister-in-law is earning a PhD in linguistics and will probably apply it within academia. That is a fairly normal division, PhDs in the sciences are more likely to gravitate toward actual industrial application, and the arts/humanities toward academic application. It's natural since there are rarely if ever any businesses that need PhDs in English Literature.

However it's disgusting that you are so dismissive and even derisive of people who work so hard, and depending on the institution that employs them, will probably go on to educate scores of people. Educated people are the key to not becoming a broken society in the first place that needs foreigners to come dig wells for them.

Re:The Whole Premise is Flawed (2)

ldephil (868060) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939782)

I've not yet RTFA, but your statement seems like a sweeping generalisation and overlooks other possibilities. In various industries, a doctorate is a pre-requisite for most roles (e.g. semiconductor engineering). You might just squeeze in with a Masters degree, but more often a Ph.D. is required to even get your foot in the door. Given the erosion of standards for 'regular' degrees (B.Sc., B.Eng., etc.), the demand for a higher degree is easier to understand. You'll get more applicants as a result. What I find interesting is the ability to study a highly technical field, get a Ph.D. and then find next to no employers in that field within the country. That's what I ran into in the UK - by the time I was out of the Ph.D. grind, the relevant employers had all left for greener shores. I had to follow them. As a result, the UK has benefited very little from the expenditure on my education. Even before undertaking my Ph.D., it was very clear that working in academia was not going to be my thing. The lack of resources and funds stood in stark contrast to the facilities available for similar R&D within companies. Having to fight for funding every n years was far from appealing. This is from a UK-perspective, but I hear similar concerns from those in the US.

Re:The Whole Premise is Flawed (1)

Obfiscator (150451) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940226)

I would disagree with this. I can only speak from personal experience, but I didn't get a Ph.D. to stay in academia. In fact, one of the reasons I picked the research group I did was because of my advisor's contacts in industry. I thought a Ph.D. would be good to develop my research skills under a more free environment, and it was.

Am I in the minority? I don't think so. At least, many of my friends wanted to make a difference in the world, and thought a Ph.D. was the best way. And if they didn't think that at the beginning, more thought like that at the end (after doing a lot of theoretical work, a lot of people start looking for more applied problems).

Re:The Whole Premise is Flawed (4, Informative)

SunTzuWarmaster (930093) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940298)

No one's delaying their release into the workplace to get a PhD so that they can make a better contribution to "the world," period. People pursue a PhD so that they can stay in academia, where they are comfortable and proficient, and make as much money in academia as an academic can.

I am working full time while obtaining my PhD. I am getting the PhD because it is teaching me to do the things that are required, and that I cannot learn elsewhere. While I have not delayed my entry into the workforce (I like money), one of the reasons that I am getting it is because I want to make a contribution to the world. Everyone has goals in life, and while some people have goals like "own box seats to the Packers", "pay for my grandchildren's college", and "backpack through Europe" others have goals like "make a difference in the world". These are what you want out of life, and I find your derision of "help the world" to be insulting.

Since academic institutions profit directly from the milling of PhD degrees

The idea that academic institutions make any money on PhD students is downright false. The fact of the matter (and I've spoken with numerous professors/advisors about this) is that "suckers pay for their PhD". This is a direct quote from Dr. Kapoor (http://www.nanovk.com/), who has had 40+ MS/PhD students. Nearly everyone obtains funding from a number of sources (I've only met one person who didn't, and they just didn't try), including:
1 - work on a grant project (if you do your dissertation on an aspect of the project)
2 - RA work (live in the dorms for free, get tuition comp'ed, and get little-$ for it)
3 - TA work
4 - the school itself
5 - their work (full time work/part time school)
6 - Work program (work pays you go go an get skills they are interested in, owe time afterwards)
7 - governmental aid program (non-loan)
8 - grant program/award (NSF or the like)
9 - outside agency help (NAACP or whatever)
10 - outside governmental involvement (foreign government sends people to America to be educated, brings them back afterwards)
Keep in mind that many of these program stack. You can sign up for RA work (free place to live and money) to have your tuition paid for (easy), get a NSF grant (not easy), work on funded projects for your major advisor (very easy), and get a bit of outside agency help (moderate). Of course you have to produce through this time.

Also, getting someone through their PhD is incredibly time-consuming on behalf of the professor and organization. Although the school is compensated for the classes, they have to compensate the student for project work. Then, they get to foot the uncountable-but-still-very-real cost of advising PhD students (~2 hours/week at ~$100/hour = ~$10K/year for 4-5 years) with professor time.

He gerneralizes (4, Insightful)

drolli (522659) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939682)

He generalizes the situation in some subjects (e.g. philosophical sciences). The situation in natural sciences is different. Having a PhD in physics (and not being an idiot who does not look left or right) enables you to talk to a lot of people and understand a lot of people. And you usually get you degree in 3-5 years (after the master) and not 12. And yes, i agree with him, weed out the subjects in the PhD courses where people waste, badly supervised, their valuable lifetime and replace the PhD courses by more appropriate new topics and fields. My feeling however is that this is more a problem for the philosophical faculties than for the science faculties.

Re:He gerneralizes (1)

golden age villain (1607173) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939946)

These 12 years are really exaggerated. I got mine in less than 4 years as most people I know in the life sciences and physics. A friend got his PhD in economy in the same number of years. The only notable exception I know is a friend of mine who got his PhD as a geologist in about 6 years but that was mostly his choice not to finish it earlier. All these people studied in Europe though and it is possible that American PhDs take longer.

Re:He gerneralizes (1, Interesting)

Obfiscator (150451) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940260)

I think it's generally true that US Ph.D.s take longer because of extra coursework required. Since studying chemistry in undergraduate in many European countries (and Australia as well, from my experiences there) means you actually study chemistry (and not all the electives and general education requirements we have in the US), European students are considered more knowledgable in their field after getting their Bachelor's. After the Ph.D., though, it seems comparable.

For physical sciences in the US, four years (including the coursework) is considered good, but five years is more the norm, and in some areas (synthetic organic chemistry) 7 is not uncommon. 12 seems like a lot, though.

Curricula? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939690)

What's this about curricula? Aren't PhD studies research? Isn't every PhD student working on something slightly different, in order to get their own results and have something to write about in their thesis? I'm confused.

Mark Taylor (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939712)

Mark C. Taylor's PhD is in religion [columbia.edu]. What was that about providing clean water to a growing population?

Re:Mark Taylor (1)

iliketrash (624051) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939754)

LOL. Great point. The dude has two choices: (1) Get his guy to perform a miracle so that there is more clean water, or (2) Get his _other_ guy to stop banning birth control.

Eliminate the BS Ph.S. programs (4, Insightful)

iliketrash (624051) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939718)

One thing that might be helpful (at least from the point of view of Prof. Taylor) would be to eliminate the bullshit Ph.D.s in fields such as political science, poetry, philosophy, English literature, and so on. Seriously. I talk to these types several times a week a bar near the Arizona State University campus and it is amazing how obscure their research topics are. Indeed, I get the feeling that there are extra points awarded (in some sense) for the more bizarre and irrelevant your topic is. And you can just feel the inner sneer as they watch you try to process the title of their dissertation.

Some of these people understand that they are shouting in an echo chamber of one, and in their circle of nominal peers, that's freaking cool.

Re:Eliminate the BS Ph.S. programs (2)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939788)

Eliminate the bullshit Ph.D's in... philosophy.

Thank you for that. I haven't done a coffee spit-take on slashdot in a long time...

Re:Eliminate the BS Ph.S. programs (1)

rmstar (114746) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939858)

One thing that might be helpful (at least from the point of view of Prof. Taylor) would be to eliminate the bullshit Ph.D.s in fields such as political science, poetry, philosophy, English literature, and so on. Seriously. I talk to these types several times a week a bar near the Arizona State University campus and it is amazing how obscure their research topics are.

Two things.

1. People need a specific subject for their PhD thesis. Normally, they are supposed to have a wide grasp of the field well beyond the headline subject per se. That's why people have "a PhD in Physics", where they probably had a thesis on a subject orders of magnitude more obscure than your Philosophy or Political Science PhD.

2. The subjects you mention are fairly useful, just not directly. If you eliminate them, you severely impoverish the cultural environment. In particular political science is applied rather a lot in government matters, although the public isn't aware of it at all.

Re:Eliminate the BS Ph.S. programs (1)

dcollins (135727) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939862)

"... might be helpful (at least from the point of view of Prof. Taylor) would be to eliminate the bullshit Ph.D.s in fields such as political science, poetry, philosophy, English literature, and so on..."

You sure about that? Because Prof. Taylor himself has a doctorate in Philosophy (Copenhagen 1981), and he now heads Columbia's Department of Religion.

I read this more as a thinly-veiled attack on basic scientific research, actually.

Re:Eliminate the BS Ph.S. programs (2)

gtall (79522) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939876)

"political science, poetry, philosophy, English literature, and so on."

That shows how much you understand about research being a web of ideas. Maybe you think those ideas in the sciences grow on trees? Read Descartes sometime, he only invented algebra.

And it is clear you have never done science. Great ideas come from great analogies, those are frequently not from science.

Re:Eliminate the BS Ph.S. programs (1)

woodsrunner (746751) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940026)

While there will always be a need for professors in the Liberal Arts, this does not imply that University doctoral degrees are Vocational schools preparing their students for jobs.

Hey, without the lit and philosophy majors, who are you going to talk to in the bars? Who's going to correct your grammar or point out the pun in the title "Eliminate the BS"?

The difficulty in a PhD in these fields is the requirement to do unique work. This is hard to do in the context of an artist like Shakespeare or Milton who have been thoroughly researched over the centuries. You either focus on newer artists or revisit a classic topic under a new lens of popular critical thinking (i.e.: Freudian, Marxist, Feminist, Post-Modernist, etc).

Just because something is difficult or obscure doesn't mean it shouldn't be pursued. However, to teach at University level the minimum requirement is a terminal degree. This is an indication of both commitment to academia as well as an ability to contribute to the body of critical work. For some fields, such as writing, an MFA is considered a terminal degree.

If a school does not have a good reputation in a specific field, receiving a PhD is of little value. The market will decide if a school should keep a department open. If it cannot attract students it will need to evaluate whether it is better to improve or cull the department.

On the topic of being able to attract students I would posit the homeland security restrictions placed on foreign students to engage in Scientific research will be a greater barrier to attracting students than potential employment. For this sake, if roughly half of US students seeking advanced degrees are foreign, American universities may be better off focusing on the Liberal Arts.

Re:Eliminate the BS Ph.S. programs (1)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940048)

One of my old history professors did his thesis on how African American Teenagers Danced to Jazz (?) in the 1930s in Philadelphia.

Re:Eliminate the BS Ph.S. programs (2)

bledri (1283728) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940176)

One of my old history professors did his thesis on how African American Teenagers Danced to Jazz (?) in the 1930s in Philadelphia.

And there are people that are glad that research was done. Seriously. And how teenage African americans danced to music in the 20s and 30s is what led to how a generation danced to music. I love science, engineering and technology but there is a lot more to life. I think people (not saying you) that look at higher education's goal as essentially a trade school are, well, narrow minded.

Publish or Perish Problem (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939724)

To get a tenure track position, you have to get your stuff published. To get your stuff published, you have to get past peer review. The only way to get past peer review is to convince the reviewers that you have done something worthwhile. The reviewers are all ultra-specialized and form a community. They won't agree that anything is worthwhile unless it meets their 'standards'.

The bottom line is that you're not getting a job if you don't join a narrow community and narrowly specialize.

Entry barriers are set to low (2)

Jack Malmostoso (899729) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939730)

I believe that the current inflation of PhD degrees is a direct consequence of the "everyone in university" attitude. I think that there is absolutely no point in giving a BA degree to pretty much anyone who enters university, because this produces an enormous mass of mediocre MS students, which then turn into way too many PhD candidates of dubious value. I include myself in this group, as I know full well that 20 years ago I would have not been admitted in a PhD program, let alone receive a degree. A PhD nowadays is an award to persistence, not excellence.
The inflation in titles is then carried on to the job market: more and more jobs are offered to candidates who hold a PhD, where a good MS would be more than enough. However, as a poster above noted, a PhD is basically taken as a certificate of being able to work independently (which, in may cases, is hardly true).
Treating PhD students as cheap labor is not doing a favor to anyone. I would find it much more honest intellectually to offer long-term internships for BA and MS students, instead of enrolling them to receive a higher degree which on the long run is devoided of all meaning.

Re:Entry barriers are set to low (2)

Yoshamano (1424781) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939956)

Not to drag this too far outside the topic, but the "everyone in university" attitude is simply a reaction to today's hiring practices. What I continue to tell my friends is it doesn't matter what type of degree you have or what that degree is in. Simply having that degree is what gets your resumé in the game. Its simply the easiest way to thin the herd of applicants out without resorting to any sort of illegal discrimination.

This attitude is most blatant for jobs requiring any sort of associate's degree, but the glut of those degrees has been pushing many hiring decisions toward requiring a bachelor's degree for the same reason.

Too many people, too few jobs.

Re:Entry barriers are set to low (1)

golden age villain (1607173) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939974)

A PhD nowadays is an award to persistence, not excellence.

To strengthen your point, I don't know of anyone who failed his or her PhD. Some people abandon but if you stay there and get some results, you will get your PhD. In most labs I know, when a PhD student doesn't get anything because the project is badly designed (happen often) or because he or she is not up to the task, he or she gets shifted to someone else's subproject and gets a quick low impact first author paper. A PhD student failing is bad PR for the lab since it suggests to the university authorities that the lab cannot select/attract good candidates or is simply bad at managing projects.

Re:Entry barriers are set to low (2)

hraponssi (1939850) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940112)

I have a PhD in CS and in one the courses I had to take they actually said exactly this. That a PhD is maybe 5% about good ideas, passion, insights, etc. and rest is about persistence. Just hang in there and keep pushing and you will get it. I have also seen a plenty of PhD's in CS that I have no idea what is the real science or contribution in there, besides having implemented something that the industry was asking for. Mine is not necessarily much different. When you count the number of PhD's, publications, etc. in the academia as your performance score and one of the main basis for funding and salary etc., this is obviously what you get. Same goes for academia these days being in bed with the industry. Even in industrial research I always see them trying to push in because everyone is hunting for funding where-ever they can get it. Of course, once they get the funding its another matter if you hear from them. It seems that today the PhD is more like what MSc was 20 years ago considering how many are pushed to get it. That is no necessarily a bad thing, education is good and I learned a lot of useful things myself, including different ways of thinking etc. I am still doing research in CS field, but the industry seems more attractive these days. Especially since if you don't play with the old farts and their views or just be in the "inner circle" it is hard to get in. The academia is just like any other field where the core group is hugging each other to keep their positions and power. Funding is always a huge job with all the competition (as mentioned here), and sucking up to everyone in industry and academia, well, sucks :). Too bad where I live the PhD is mostly considered as disconnected from real life and real problems, and it is a bit hard to find some place to put your skills into practice. So it seems a bit hard to figure where to fit yourself :) Besides all the whining, I think there are plenty of useful skills to be learned for industrial application in a PhD process. But how to make best use of them in general is perhaps something to improve..

This is the Age of the Internet (2)

martin-boundary (547041) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939738)

This is the Age of the Internet. Overspecialization isn't the problem it used to be. With instant communication and email, a PhD student can be in regular contact with all the 10 people around the world who work in his particular sub-specialty if he wants to. So it doesn't matter very much if the local faculty don't know his specialty, although in practice at least the advisor ought to be qualified enough to supervise the work. Arguably, it's superior because it may lead to more inter-university collaborations.

Re:This is the Age of the Internet (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35940190)

I think this Overspecialization and lack of ability to communicate across industry is more in reference the current stagnation of
Chemistry, Physics/Engineering, Horticulture & Medical fields of science

If these fields communicated and worked together more freely , we would have considerably more advances in science

Bullshit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939748)

Is he arguing that we should dump research in favor of a practical education? He clearly misses the point: Someone who needs someone to solve practical problems shouldn't be hiring a Ph.D.

What is needed are quality educational programs for applied sciences.

tenure (1)

djfake (977121) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939750)

By far and away the biggest abuses are allowing PhDs autonomous control of their careers. And once given tenure, they simply take those bad decisions and put them in affect for life. We have faculty that do not teach, do not write grants, do not do research, or take on administrative appointments to act like they are busy. Some have not been on campus or in the same state for months or years at a time. All the while, they draw salary because they are tenured. Those that retire milk the system for a huge retirement bonus, then get rehired; only death will get them to leave and make room for another generation. They let students fail and retake classes, allow students to take up to a decade to earn their PhDs, even allow students to live in other states while earning their degree. The problem is "peer-review" management. They are their own bosses, they make their own decisions and once given tenure have absolutely no accountability to anyone but themselves. Fail.

The goal should be to research something relevant (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939752)

The goal should be to research something relevant, not to publish as many papers in as short a time as possible.

That's the core of the problem.

Very often, a reseach is actually broad enough to have some relevance... but in the race to maximize the publications, the research is cut up into tiny fragments which are then published.

Darwin wrote a single book that was relevant. Nowadays, that research would be distributed over at least 500 papers... making it nearly impossible to read. And you have to wait for someone to write a review after 5 more years to get any kind of summary.

Re:The goal should be to research something releva (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939818)

Academic papers provide a citable unit of research that can be built upon to create more research and to write these books you're so fond of. Despite what you may think, most researchers don't work in an attempt to maximise paper output- to the contrary, they would much rather continue researching. The academic paper is something that can be quickly and easily written to summarise units of research and get it out into the public sphere so that other researchers can build upon it rather than waiting to collate a large amount of research into a tome while someone else starts researching the same field as you and produces papers along the way.

Re:The goal should be to research something releva (1)

captainpanic (1173915) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940078)

Universities are graded, ranked and funded by the amount of papers they publish and the amount of students that graduate. Neither of those promote good research.

Re:The goal should be to research something releva (4, Insightful)

gtall (79522) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939910)

It would be hard to argue that group theory was relevant when it was developed. Or early number theory. Maybe you'd have liked Einstein to have given several applications for his theory of relativity (hint: it was before space flight and GPS). Or how about quantum mechanics. How about modal logic, that was merely an academic curiosity before Tony Hoare and a host of others came along and made it relevant, relevant enough for Intel to care about mathematically proving facts about their chips.

Science is a web of ideas, start pruning before you even know whether something is useful is stupid and short-sighted. Here's a thought, science can chew gum and walk at the same time. It produces relevant stuff and stuff that you will not think will ever become relevant...until it does.

Re:The goal should be to research something releva (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939972)

I'm sorry but group theory was invented in part out of a need to understand symmetry properties of molecules.

Building from the ground up (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939780)

I'm a computational chemistry PhD student. Most people have no idea what I do and would think it overly specialized. But we are getting to the point of being able to use computers for tuning molecules for specific medical properties. Some guy 30 years agi slaving over code to evaluate integrals so he could get the bond distance of water correct may seem to be wasting his time to asshats like this guy but it may help save your life someday. Before we could do what we're doing we had to start somewhere, even if it seemed irrelevant

Missing the point (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939794)

The article assumes that a PhD in, say, data visualisation trains you for a career in data visualisation. That's not the point. If someone needs an expert in data visualisation, then it's your lucky day. Nevertheless, a PhD is a training in doing research. Don't look at the facts learned, look at the transferrable skills. A person trained in research has the skills to quickly dive into almost any other research topic and quickly get up to speed. Even if the PhD doesn't choose to continue in research, the transferrable skills learned (analysing literature, time management, presentation skills, writing...) ... will act in his favour when getting other jobs.

                    - m.

Ok, let's break the PhD system. (1)

Permutation Citizen (1306083) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939814)

That would just mean stopping science. Performing actual research is the best way to learn a scientific subject. It's the only way, in a sense.

Professor of RELIGION (4, Insightful)

dcollins (135727) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939830)

Note that "Columbia professor Mark C. Taylor", pontificating on how research has become too specialized and non-understandable to the public at large, and "must design curricula that focus on solving practical problems, such as providing clean water to a growing population" is himself a Professor of Religion. FTA:

"Mark C. Taylor is chair of the department of religion at Columbia University in New York and the author of Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities (Knopf, 2010). e-mail:mct22@columbia.edu"

Sort of easy to predict that, in fact. Because you know what? A person doing real, cutting-edge research, developing insights that no one else ever has before in history, is almost by definition going to be non-understandable by other people -- at least until such time as their research becomes diffused and more accepted by the mainstream. The call to "nourish cross-disciplinary investigation... focus on solving practical problems" is a thinly-disguised attack on basic scientific research. It's classic short-term thinking; if you demand profit/practical solutions right now, then the basic research that develops heretofore unimaginable solutions tomorrow will not be done.

Now, there's a lot of problems with PHD employment prospects, etc. But this is pretty damned skewed by how exceptionally non-useful this guys' graduates in philosophy and religious studies are. (I say this as someone with degrees in both philosophy and STEM.) I might suggest actual solutions would include: (a) Mandatory clear information provided to prospects about career and employment prospects, so they can make their own decisions on priorities. (b) Rollback the corporate-minded administrative takeover of higher education from faculty. (c) Return most teaching positions to being full-time tenured, instead of part-time contingent faculty as we have today, etc. The "make education practical/profitable" effort has been going on for 30 years, what we have now is the result of it, and it's time to stop digging the damn hole any deeper.

Professor of Woo? (1, Informative)

ferd_farkle (208662) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939840)

Before going to the article, I quick checked Wikipedia for "Mark C. Taylor".
First sentence:

Mark C. Taylor (born 13 December 1945) is a philosopher of religion and cultural critic who has published more than twenty books on theology, philosophy, art and architecture, media, technology, economics, and the natural sciences.

I didn't read the article.

Re:Professor of Woo? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35940016)

I didn't read the article.

Wow! Give the man a cigar! He refused to even so much as listen to the message because the messenger is from the field of social science rather than natural science. And he's proud of it to boot!

Cynicism aside, this is what Slashdot has become, to a large extent, and - I'll be frank - it disgusts me. Instead of providing reasoned, intelligent debate on a wide variety of topics for intelligent people with an interest in technology, it's become an echo chamber where Slashbots such as you bleat the ever-same soundbites: social sciences suck! Global warming isn't real! All politicans suck! I'm masturbating to Ron Paul! Nuclear power is safe! We must colonize space! Poor people suck! The man is out to get us! China sucks! Look, I can quote Thomas Jefferson! Everyone who's not an engineer sucks!

It's said that there's no blinder man than the one who refuses to see. For people who consider themselves to be of above-average intelligence, the Slashdot crowd these days displays a stunning inability for critical self-reflection and self-examination; it's become nothing more than a group of self-congratulatory yes-men who pat themselves on the shoulders and engage in a collective pseudo-intellectual masturbation, both feeding off and reinforcing their preexisting biases.

I don't necessarily agree that everyone who's not part of the solution is part of the problem, and I can understand that not everyone feels capable (or required) to try and solve the world's problems; talking instead of acting can still be valuable. But what passes for discourse on Slashdot these days is hardly ever more than a giant steaming pile of shit, and the fact that comments like yours not just regularly get modded up, but are in fact the only ones that are, speaks volumes about the readership of the site has long lost its ability to tell the manure they're feeding themselves from the genuine food for thought that one would expect to find on a site like this.

Congrats, ferd_farkle. You're not just wearing your blinders proudly, you've pulled them all the way over your ears and also stuck your fingers in your ears while going "LALALA I CAN'T HEAR YOU". It'd almost be astounding what has become of this site in the past 10 or 12 years if it wasn't so sad.

Re:Professor of Woo? (1)

ferd_farkle (208662) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940040)

If I wanted the thoughts and discussion of a proponent of a Demon Haunted World, I would go to BioLogos, not where I go for 'News for Nerds'. Really, Templeton Prize winners' wacky notions of reality are available all over the web, if you bother to explore a bit. I'm reading Slashdot for a reason, and Woo isn't what I'm looking for.

Re:Professor of Woo? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35940098)

You're not just wearing your blinders proudly, you've pulled them all the way over your ears

*eyes.

I should proofread my rants. ;) Mea culpa!

Glad this wasn't about MLK! (1)

erroneus (253617) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939848)

Not sure if many people here know, but one day I was searching for Martin Luther King's history and found a lot more than I wanted to know. Among these were that his name wasn't officially changed to Martin Luther and neither was his father's. Next I found that many people in the PhD programs discovered that King's PhD paper was largely plagiarized and would likely have been revoked if he weren't already dead. (Some still think it should be... I'm on the fence about it... what good would it do? None for his memory, but a lot for anyone who thinks PhDs are important and should be earned. But his PhD was in religious studies ... how seriously can anyone take THAT?)

But I think it is still somewhat relevant to the discussion as being awarded a PhD in things like religious studies? Really? Anthropology I can see. Sociology I can see. But religion? Something that literally no one can agree on? Not even *what it is"? Ridiculous.

Freedom of Thought (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939854)

Its not surprising that he would be saying these things since he doesn't understand science. He is a professor of religion.

His article is crying out for all university research to be the same as corporate labs with top-down agendas saying for example that "clean water" is an acceptable problem to solve. This isn't the point of university research.

The main point of university research is Freedom of Thought. Do the research you believe to be important.

Bachelor's programs (1)

lyinhart (1352173) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939868)

Actually, a lot of what he wrote also applies to other academic programs such as bachelor's programs. The thing is, getting a degree used to be pretty rare, so it definitely made anyone who got one (no matter what field it was in) stand out from the rest of the pack. Now there are loads of programs that don't lend themselves to trades, lots of folks with degrees and not enough graduates with what matters - work experience.

Only a small percentage of students want careers in academia, but that is the field for which most universities prepare their students. And an even smaller percentage can manage to make a career out of academics. I don't think major overhauls to the degrees programs are necessary, but I believe the educational system should do a better job of promoting vocational experiences as well as academic ones.

Not US-specific (4, Insightful)

loufoque (1400831) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939912)

This is not US-specific, it's like that in all western countries.

And it's actually meant to be that way. The academic world is the only place where fundamental research can be done, since the private sector has no interest in research that do not have direct applications.

If you want to do practical research, work as a R&D engineer in the private sector.

100% in agreement (2)

YamiYaiba (2045158) | more than 2 years ago | (#35939928)

I'd like to speak on this matter as a graduating Psychology undergraduate struggling to get into a PhD program. Professor (Doctor?) Taylor raises an excellent general point. I'm not sure I agree with his entire view, as I am admittedly too short on time at the moment to read his entire article. That aside, I just wrapped up my Honors Thesis. It was an in-depth look at the state of youth suicide treatments, preventions, and interventions. My research conclusively led to one point: academia knows insane (pardon the pun) amounts about suicide itself. It has been so focused on the quest for knowledge that the focus of the science has been lost. There are few, if any, empirically supported treatments/preventions/interventions much less supported by longitudinal data. Perhaps I'm overgeneralizing, but I feel this issue has overtaken the sciences as a whole. Academia has become a self-contained system. We dig and dig and dig, research every aspect of every subject, publish it in dusty old journals that get crammed into a library shelf, and it never actually gets USED. We don't apply what we know to anything practical. Certainly this isn't universally true, or we wouldn't have seen any innovation, but I feel that it is a growing problem within academia. I look at the researchers in my department and I see loads of statistics and data produced on a daily basis. It gets crunched and analyzed, applied to a hypothesis, printed onto a poster or in a journal....and that's the end of it. It isn't actually used. My department recently churned out a rather impressive study on tattoo stigma. Long story short? It exists. Woo. Published. The data was recycled for a couple other studies, which were in turn made into posters, won a conference award, and.....then what? The data isn't used for anything! Why are Psychologists not working with advertisers or equal rights groups to implement a program to alleviate the stigma? This is just one example in a sea of millions. Anyone else feel the same?

It's Big Business (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939950)

Look at the utter proliferation of community colleges over the last 40 years. Academia has turned into an industry. Even though all of these starter schools are staffed w/ mostly Masters level profs with some PhDs thrown in the mix, each school fights for it's perceived share of the public funding. Moreover, these starter schools spend more time than what should be necessary simply in remedial work to qualify them for post-secondary work. Every school (community college, typical 4 yr residential college, research university) over this time has been madly competing for students because registered students=FTEs=$$. Why has tuition skyrocketed? Why are the community college faculties so up in arms in these economically lean times? Just like US manufacturing a generation ago, US higher education is undergoing a significant reshaping.

Re:It's Big Business (1)

RobertLTux (260313) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940102)

and some community colleges tend to be focused on getting a person a degree and trained for an actual JOB.

A comment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35939992)

'Twas once said that the ideal PhD candidate was a person who increasingly knew more and more about less and less until eventually he knew everything about nothing.

To quote Heinlein: "Specialization is for insects."

Return of Dark Ages? Monk Leads Crusade (3, Interesting)

turkeyfish (950384) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940066)

Taylor is really just advocating a return to the Dark Ages, where monks could sit around at ponder philosophies at little expense to their feudal masters. While that might be OK if one's major concerns are debating just how many ferries dance on the head of a pin, this is not true for science. In science, mathematics, engineering and medicine, such specialized technical training is absolutely essential to even begin to understand the issues at the frontiers of science and knowledge. There is simply no way anyone can predetermine what odd fact or phenomenon will be at the heart of the next breakthrough nor learn enough fast enough not to specialize. Who would have thought that the properties of dielectric materials would spawn entire industries and revolutionize the way people communicate when they were first discovered in the 1840's? If you read the comment section of the article, Igor Litvinyuk's response was right on target.

What Taylor calls for is really a dismantling of funding for science under the ruse that it is hurtful to students. It is not at all surprising that Taylor points to the collapse of the research economy in the 1970's. Since this was precisely when the philosophy of Ronald Regan came into being, where "government is viewed as the problem" and the solution is for all power and wealth to be ever more concentrated into the hands of a few ultra-wealthy so that it can "trickle down" to the more deserving. Taylor's piece is little more than a call to return to the Dark Ages, where more and more money that otherwise might be spent on education and expanding the frontiers of knowledge that can be used to solve humanity's many pressing problems go instead toward yet another tax break for the wealth and an other special handout to the already well to do. They want to "reform" the PhD system because there are not enough jobs, by dismantling it. Same old sham, just repeated once again. One would think eventually people would be smart enough to recognize the consequences of such a disastrous philosophy being applied once again to yet another segment of our society.

They want reform because they fear the consequences of a lot of smart people sitting around thinking there has to be a better way. It is a threat that focuses attention on the real cause of the failure in the lack of jobs. Namely, that the ultra-wealthy, in whom we after nearly 40 years of the philosophy of Reaganism have consolidated virtually all the wealth and power, don't want to spend their money on advancing the frontiers of knowledge that might contribute to the solution of the myriad of problems plaguing society, they would rather spend it on themselves and upon maintaining their special, most fortunate status. Unfortunately, it is this system that is truly unsustainable, since the planet groans at the weight of billions all trying to achieve the same status. On such a planet, humanity will only survive if every job soon requires the skills inherent in a PhD. We need more PhD's not less. We need more education not less. To accomplish this we need less concentration of wealth to make it happen. We need more PhD's and fewer crusading monks who only seek a return to feudalism and a return to the Dark Ages. If you really want to solve the PhD job problem, not to mention most other societal, political and environmental problems work to end the consolidation of wealth in hands of a few not educated enough to recognize or just too comfortable not to want to recognize the danger inherent to humanity in the philosophy of Reaganism.

I question Dr. Taylor's credentials... (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940068)

Checking Columbia's website the first Mark C Taylor I find is chair of the Dept of Religion [columbia.edu]. It also says his PhD is in religion. I suspect he might not have much first-hand experience with scientific graduate programs, to know how cross-disciplinary they are. For that matter, the general push for NIH and NSF research funding has been for cross-disciplinary collaborative research.

Not to say that our system is perfect - it most certainly is not - I'm just not sure he's the right guy to evaluate it.

Huh? (1)

MMC Monster (602931) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940130)

I haven't read the article. (After all, I'm on /..) I do have one question, though?

What drivel is this? The enhancement of knowledge is what doctorate level education is all about. If you don't want to pursue knowledge, jump out after your BS/BA or masters.

The room looks full (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35940196)

From my personal experience, student cross-disciplinary study was encouraged by faculty who thought they could handle it. There is more self determination, self monitoring, and self management. Although at the time there was no biotechnology program at the time of my study, I was permitted to determine my own course and it was an absolute joy to embark on. Speaking with colleagues still in academia, the problem nowadays seems to stem from mundane students and the school's desire to fill seats so the room looks full.

The problem isn't the PHD program. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#35940202)

It is the pushing of a PHD degree over that of a Masters degree.

It is the duty of the PHD candidate to push to the extremes of a specialization. It is not the candidates duty to be generic. That would be much lower in priority - well under that of proper records, accuracy, depth of study in the specialization.

It is the masters candidate that is to understand and relate many subspecializations of study. That is why even the NAME of the degree is "masters". The MS candidate must understand a broad area of study, and have mastered the information within that area.

It used to be that the graduate student would get a BS/BA, then go on to get a MS is the field of study, and FINALLY, if the candidate had the urge, and preserverence to extend the art, receive a PHD for the effort.

Nowdays, the PHD has been watered down to the point that everyone must have a PHD or not get an advanced job of any kind.

It is also why we see so much crap offered as "research" when it really isn't new, nor does it extend the art.

Flameworthy (1)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 2 years ago | (#35940262)

I will get flamed, but how many folks get a PhD because academia is the only real employment path for the specialized field they've chosen?
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