Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Coursework for Australian PHD Students

Australian universities have traditionally adopted the master-apprentice model for training researchers, derived from the UK. The doctoral student spends years being supervised by an experienced researcher, conducts research and then writes a thesis to show they have mastered the research process. However, many PHDs now go into industry, rather than academia and are not researching. Even those in academia spend part of their time teaching, supervising and administrating.

In contrast to Australia, the North American approach is very structured, with PHD students understating set courses and being required to gain experience teaching. As an example, Stanford University, requires PHD students to teach (for which they get paid) and do a program of courses. 

Cambridge University (UK) might provide a better model for Australia, with a small amount of coursework required. The students undertake a "Certificate of Postgraduate Study" CPGS in their first year. This includes a Research Skills Programme on research writing (also part of their M.Phil).

Cambridge just requires a "very good degree" for PHD entry, but their "MPhil in Advanced Computer Science" is also an option.

Introducing more coursework will divert sorceresses, and more of the student's time, from research. However, I suggest that the equivalent of six months full time spent on coursework, spread over a three year PHD program, would more than pay for itself. The coursework would result in more skilled and confidence students who would compete more quickly (and more would complete. As a byproduct, the university would have a way to track student progress, without the need for a separate HDR monitoring system.

At the same time I suggest Australian universities should  "flip" the design (and thinking) about higher degrees. The current approach assumes that students will be full time, on campus and destined for a career in research. Instead programs could be designed for students who are mostly off-campus, part time and destined for industry. Apart from providing more relevant programs, this would improve access and equity.

No comments:

Post a Comment