At Cross Purposes: What the experiences of today’s doctoral students reveal about doctoral education

Here’s a report released in 2001 on the state of doctoral education. It looks like a serious study and the conclusion is scary:

What we learned may not be entirely surprising because our findings confirm many of the concerns that have been raised in the last 10 years. However, our data provide detailed, confirmatory evidence of particular tension points. We found that:

  • The training doctoral students receive is not what they want, nor does it prepare them for the jobs they take.
  • Many students do not clearly understand what doctoral study entails, how the process works and how to navigate it effectively.

4 thoughts on “At Cross Purposes: What the experiences of today’s doctoral students reveal about doctoral education”

  1. The sad thing is that the majority of professors will simply think that this is normal and that the wise students will get through it because they are “worthy” and a “worthy” student doesn’t need to be told what to do.

  2. 1. I didn’t think that the percentage of people studying were so eager about teaching
    2. If the trainig is not what they want, why not move to something else? More importatnly, how far are they in their studies when they realze that?

  3. 1. If you do a Ph.D., in many countries and topics, it is extremely difficult to get a relevant job in industry. And even if you can find one that you’d like, it is likely that your Ph.D. has badly prepared you for it. The truth is that most professors couldn’t train a Ph.D. student for an industry job even if they wanted to. So the way it happens is that someone decides to go for the Ph.D. without careful thought. Maybe they wanted to become a professor, maybe they wanted to do research in industry. But at the end, even if they want to, they can’t easily find a place in industry, so they try to go for a professorship. It creates a terrible bottleneck where there is 100 to 300 applicants for each professorship. Competing against 99 people, all with Ph.D.s is no fun. It is frustrating as hell. (The only reason why I can be open about it now is that I was able to beat the system so nobody can say I’m saying this because I didn’t get the jobs… I got the jobs, but it was not fun getting them…)

    2. You start your Ph.D. and you learn as you go. You tend to trust the system. It is only after the fact that you realize you have not be trained properly, when it is too late. You didn’t get the skills to, say, get a good job in industry (hence, you are stuck in trying to go for a professorship), but that’s only something you learn later.

    Now, it isn’t all that bad. I got my Ph.D., started a post-doc. As I was in a post-doc, I did some consulting, created a company. The company didn’t last (dot bust) and I got a professorship. Then I moved to a government lab, then I moved back to a professorship. I had a very good life, great jobs, great experience. But it was much harder than it had to be. The bad thing in my case is that I was extremely ill-prepared for life when I finished my Ph.D. and I wasn’t even aware I was ill-prepared. I remember sending resumes for industry job while describing my Ph.D. work… there was no way in hell I was going to get an industry job. Good thing I was a bit of an entrepreneur (and still am).

    My real failure is that I started out my Ph.D. wanting to get an industry job. I failed. It turns out that the failure is ok because I ended up consulting in industry… but the fact remains that my original plan, which should have worked, badly backfired. It backfired because I was badly ill-prepared. Granted, it is partly my fault… but the system is not helpful.

    Still to this day, if Microsoft Research or Google Labs had offices in Montreal, I’d apply. Maybe I’d get the research job now that I have many years beyond the Ph.D. I hope I would. But now, I know why I wouldn’t have gotten these jobs when I finished my Ph.D.

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