January 2001

From University of Wisconsin-Madison

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

MADISON -- 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 to be 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 University of Wisconsin-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 effectively.

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 professoriate.
  • 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.

The full report, "At Cross Purposes" is posted on the Web at: http://www.phd-survey.org












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