Monday, March 17, 2014

Purpose of a PHD

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Dr Margaret Kiley is talking on "Should we be worried about the PhD?". She suggested that a PHD graduate should be able to:
  1. Produce quality research
  2. Articulate knowledge and skills developed
  3. Identify how to use their education in future employment
  4. Understand the world.
Margaret related how the first Australian PHDs were women from University of Melbourne 1948 and University Sydney 1949. The programs were based on the UK model, except "oral" examinations are uncommon in Australia.

The average PHD student is 3 years old and equal males and females and 50% are part time for at least part of their studies. Most PHDs come from a job and are studying the field they previously worked in.

The number of students has doubled between 2000 and 2010. International students now make up more than one third of PHD students. Enrolment in "honours" (a program Australia adopted from Scotland) is declining. Structuring of doctorates is increasing (with professional or practice doctorate), having coursework followed by thesis.

One aspect of  Dr Kiley's analysis I did not agree with was the idea that PHD graduates should be "work ready". There are likely to be skills which graduates need which a PHD is not suited to teach or test. To take an extreme example, regardless of the quality of the graduate's thesis, they will not be employed on a mine, building or factory work-site unless they have completed mandatory health and safety training. This training is at a very low level and it does not make sense to teach it in a PHD.

 This is the first of four talks on the future of the PHD to be held at ANU. In July the topic is candidates and supervisors, November on ways of supervising with technology.

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