April 25, 2011 report
A time for a change in the PhD system
While acquiring a PhD requires many years of study and tens of thousands of dollars, many are finding the opportunities of academia work or any type of employment in their field to be few and far between. Back in the 1980s, predictions of professor retirements and higher college enrollment led to a surge of new PhD students. However, this never happened and the need for more tenured professors was not able to keep up with the supply of PhD graduates, leaving many looking for employment in industrial, government, or not-for-profit sectors.
The United States and Japan are currently the worst for post-PhD employment. Of those receiving PhDs in biological sciences within the last five to six years, 13 percent have secured tenure-track positions, 10 percent are working part-time or unemployed, 33 percent are in other academic positions, 22 percent are working in industry and the remaining are working at community colleges, government or non-profit positions. However, on the flipside, those obtaining PhDs in China are able to find jobs easily as their economy is booming and they have found the ability to provide jobs for those with PhDs.
According to Mark Taylor, the system for PhDs needs to be reformed or shut down. Universities are promoting their PhD programs in order to have the graduate students in the laboratories and as teaching assistants. This works as a benefit to the universities, but in the end provides no benefit to the graduate. The PhD programs have become too specialized in subfields and many find they are unable to talk to colleagues in the same general department because their knowledge is too specialized.
Taylor believes that in order for doctorial programs to keep up with the 21st century, they need to eliminate these specializations and move towards more cross-disciplinary knowledge. Curriculum should focus more on applying knowledge to practical problems providing real world solutions. Areas where programs are inadequate or redundant need to be eliminated. PhD students also need to be educated on the true job prospects acquiring a PhD will give them.
Reform the PhD system or close it down, Published online 20 April 2011 Nature 472, 261 (2011) doi:10.1038/472261a
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