Author Topic: Some food for thought for our best and brightest aspiring for a PhD  (Read 7087 times)

Joe Carillo

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For an academic career, a PhD is undoubtedly a basic requirement, the proverbial door to the world of independent research and a feather in the cap of the doctoral candidate. In some developed countries, however, the production of PhDs has far outstripped the demand for university lecturers and researchers. Yet many universities, having long discovered that PhD students are cheap, highly motivated and disposable labor, keep on churning them despite the growing glut in PhDs. And this is happening even as business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, indicating that PhDs are not teaching knowledge that’s actually needed by business and industry.

This is the gist of “The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time,” a report of The Economist for its December 16, 2010 Christmas Special. The situation has gotten so bad, the report says, that the fiercest critics now “compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.”

The Economist cites in its report the following statistics presented by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus in their book Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids and What We Can Do About It: “America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships. Using PhD students to do much of the undergraduate teaching cuts the number of full-time jobs. Even in Canada, where the output of PhD graduates has grown relatively modestly, universities conferred 4,800 doctorate degrees in 2007 but hired just 2,616 new full-time professors. Only a few fast-developing countries, such as Brazil and China, now seem short of PhDs.”

The report of The Economist concludes: “Many of those who embark on a PhD are the smartest in their class and will have been the best at everything they have done. They will have amassed awards and prizes. As this year’s new crop of graduate students bounce into their research, few will be willing to accept that the system they are entering could be designed for the benefit of others, that even hard work and brilliance may well not be enough to succeed, and that they would be better off doing something else. They might use their research skills to look harder at the lot of the disposable academic. Someone should write a thesis about that.”

Or, at the very least, that should be food for thought for our best and brightest thinking of gunning for a PhD.   

Read “The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time” in The Economist Christmas Special now!
 
RELATED READING:
In “Cheaters Find an Adversary in Technology,” an article written for the December 27, 2010 issue of The New York Times, Trip Gabriel reports on an effective new technology now used by some universities in the United States against the cheats in school exams: it analyzes answer sheets by computer and flags clusters of questions answered wrong or right in the same way by so many examinees that the chances of random agreement are astronomically small. “The computers also look for unusually large score gains from a previous test by a student or class,” Gabriel writes. “They also count the number of erasures on answer sheets, which in some cases can be evidence that teachers or administrators tampered with a test.”

Read Trip Gabriel’s “Cheaters Find an Adversary in Technology” in The New York Times now!

« Last Edit: January 01, 2011, 10:46:56 PM by Joe Carillo »

megan23

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Re: Some food for thought for our best and brightest aspiring for a PhD
« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2011, 09:51:18 PM »
Great post, thanks for sharing.. :)

Eduardo (Jay) Olaguer

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Re: Some food for thought for our best and brightest aspiring for a PhD
« Reply #2 on: September 25, 2011, 08:47:48 PM »
Joe, you've hit the nail on the head! I long ago realized that the whole research system in the US was exactly a Ponzi scheme in which most post-docs and grad students were there merely to feed the pyramid. That is why I became an industry scientist and consultant, eventually joining a non-profit boundary organization to try to apply cutting edge science in practical settings, such as environmental and industrial policy and regulations.

Melvin

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Re: Some food for thought for our best and brightest aspiring for a PhD
« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2012, 05:31:34 PM »
How about the reality of those who are aspiring for that PhD title here in our country? In the graduate school where I enrolled, a number of younger (below 30 years old) graduate students are increasing. Enrolling in a certain graduate school is one of the surest ways to be promoted. Although sometimes I am wondering what will happen after my master's, I am still positive it is not a waste of time. I hope so.
« Last Edit: July 27, 2021, 12:41:00 PM by Joe Carillo »

pipesdaddy

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Re: Some food for thought for our best and brightest aspiring for a PhD
« Reply #4 on: March 27, 2012, 06:45:02 PM »
The main thing is quality. If that is not maintained, then it will lose its grandeur. Thanks for such a great post.