Tuesday, January 16, 2001

  Survey Points to Mismatch Between Ph.D. Students, Their
  Programs, and Their Potential Employers

  The training that  Ph.D. students receive isn't what many of
  them want, nor does it prepare them for the jobs they
  eventually take, according to a survey released today.   But
  the survey, sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, also found
  that nearly all of the students were satisfied with their
  decision to attend graduate school, and more than half
  wouldn't change their adviser or their dissertation topic.
  Many of their complaints centered on the particulars of their
  education -- from a lack of career advice to unclear
  requirements. Chris  M. Golde, a researcher at the University
  of Wisconsin at Madison, directed the survey of more than
  4,000 doctoral students at 27 universities. She found a
  "three-way mismatch" among the purpose of doctoral education,
  the aspirations of students, and the realities of their
  A report based on the survey's findings, "At Cross Purposes:
  What the Experiences of Today's Doctoral Students Reveal about
  Doctoral Education," is available on the Web
  Two-thirds of the Ph.D. students surveyed said they definitely
  wanted to become full-time, tenure-track faculty members,
  while a quarter of them said they may be interested in such
  posts  -- even though in most fields no more than half of the
  students will ever realize that goal. At the same time, more
  than half of the students said they're not prepared for the
  various activities that most faculty members spend their time
  doing, especially teaching.
  The final part of the mismatch is that students are less able
  to learn about nonacademic careers and are often not
  encouraged to explore such options. "A lot of departments
  unwittingly participate in making faculty look like the only
  option," Ms. Golde said. "Look at their literature. It says,
  'Some of our more illustrious alumni are at Wisconsin,
  Harvard, Yale and Princeton.' Not, 'Of our last 30 graduates,
  here are the 30 things they are doing.' No wonder incoming
  students are not realistic. Of course, how much of that is
  being misinformed, and how much is being 22 and being
  John V. Lombardi, a professor of history at the University of
  Florida, agrees that there is a mismatch between Ph.D.
  training, the expectations of doctoral students, and the
  academic job market. "We have one degree that has a purpose,
  and we have a whole bunch of jobs where people ask for the
  degree," he said.   "So you've got a mismatch in what they
  want in a credential and the skills they want to have."
  But Mr. Lombardi, who previously served as president of the
  University of Florida, has been an outspoken critic of turning
  faculty members into career-placement gurus. "They're not
  experts in how to place Ph.D.'s in banking, but it's not clear
  that that's the responsibility of the Ph.D. program."
  Instead, he suggested creating different types of graduate
  degrees and programs that don't focus so heavily on research.
  Robert Weisbuch, the president of the Woodrow Wilson National
  Fellowship Foundation, said he believes that most faculty
  members are open to change and willing to think about
  opportunities for their graduate students beyond academe. The
  survey, he said, will give them hard data to consider."I think
  it's a kind of an alert in that it provides some evidence of
  how it feels to students," Mr. Weisbuch said of the survey.
  "It's not the ultimate bottom line. It's an important
  perspective, but it's not the only perspective."
  The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation has been a
  strong proponent of encouraging academics, especially in the
  humanities, to consider opportunities beyond academe. Such a
  shift would help more than just graduate students, Mr.
  Weisbuch said.  "This isn't just an issue of, Isn't it too bad
  graduate students aren't given information that would help
  them?" he said.  "It's about what the culture is losing from
  not taking advantage of these graduates."
  Also highlighted in the survey was the widely held student
  perception that doctoral education is "unnecessarily
  mysterious," said Ms. Golde. Some are unclear about how their
  course work applies, how much time they will spend with their
  adviser, or who will pay for their dissertation work.
  Less than half of the students, who were all in at least their
  third year of graduate school, reported that the criteria for
  earning a doctorate were "very clear" to them. And that number
  was even lower in some disciplines. For instance, just one of
  every four chemistry students said the requirements were very
  clear to them. At the same time, Ms. Golde stresses in the
  report, students have to take responsibility for their own
  education. That means asking specific questions and demanding
  clear expectations.
  Debra Stewart, the president of the Council of Graduate
  Schools, said she was heartened by the report because many of
  the ideas in it are part of a "quiet revolution" in graduate
  schools across the nation. "Graduate deans recognized these
  issues, and many of them across the country are stepping up to
  that challenge," Ms. Stewart said.
  She pointed out that for the last decade graduate schools have
  been trying to confront worries that not enough attention was
  being given to preparing students for all the jobs faculty
  members must perform, especially teaching. Preparing Future
  Faculty, an effort sponsored in part by the Council of
  Graduate Schools, now includes 295 institutions and offers
  doctoral students a chance to observe faculty responsibilities
  at a variety of academic settings.
  Ana Marie Cox contributed to this article.

Copyright 2001 by The Chronicle of Higher Education


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