The newspaper of record for the University of Wisconsin-Madison

January 17, 2001

Ph.D. training lacking in career
preparation, study says

More than 40,000 students earn doctorate
degrees each year from American
universities, widely regarded as the best in
the world in graduate education. 

But a new report released Tuesday, Jan. 16,
says the training doctoral students receive is
not what they want, nor does it prepare them
for the jobs they take. 

"Although no more than half of the students
will become faculty, and most of those will
not find jobs at research universities,
doctoral programs continue to train students
to be research faculty," says UW-Madison
research scientist Chris M. Golde, who
directed the survey of 4,114 doctoral
students at 27 universities. 

Titled "At Cross Purposes: What the
Experiences of Today's Doctoral Students
Reveal about Doctoral Education," the study
was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts. 

Golde says that doctoral education is
"unnecessarily mysterious." Golde says the
study finds that many students do not
understand how the process of doctoral
education works or how to navigate it

One-third to two-thirds of students are
unclear about the core processes of doctoral
study such as the applicability of their
course work, how much time they will spend
with their advisor, how their graduate
studies and dissertation will be funded, and
what the criteria are that will determine
whether they graduate. 

Other key findings of the survey include: 

Ph.D. students, especially those in the
humanities, want to become faculty
members, although other research
shows that in most fields no more than
half of the students will enter the
Half to three-quarters of doctoral
students say that they are not prepared
for the various teaching and service
activities that most faculty members
spend the majority of their time
doing.However, most say that they are
prepared to conduct research. 
Students are less able to learn about
nonacademic careers than about careers
as faculty, and fewer report being
encouraged to make such explorations. 
Students, particularly those in the
sciences, do not clearly understand
what criteria will determine when they
are ready to graduate. 

However, not all news about students'
satisfaction with their Ph.D. programs is
bad. The survey found that most students are
satisfied with the decision to pursue the
Ph.D. and the broad aspects of their
education. Only 3 percent would not attend
graduate school again. More than 90 percent
have the advisor they want and a dissertation
topic that interests them a great deal. 

"These findings demonstrate that it is critical
to offer and encourage doctoral students to
take opportunities to broaden their skills and
consider careers outside of academia.
Furthermore, students and faculty need to
work together to critically assess and change
those aspects of the doctoral program that
keep students from focusing on their
education," Golde recommends. 

The Pew Charitable Trusts support nonprofit
activities in the areas of culture, education,
the environment, health and human services,
public policy and religion. Based in
Philadelphia, the Trusts make strategic
investments to help organizations and
citizens develop practical solutions to
difficult problems.In 1999, with
approximately $4.9 billion in assets, the
Trusts committed over $250 million to 206
nonprofit organizations.

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