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Education United States Science

Reform the PhD System or Close It Down 487

jamie points out an opinion piece by Columbia professor Mark C. Taylor in Nature News decrying the state of PhD education in the US, calling it "broken and unsustainable." Quoting: "The necessary changes are both curricular and institutional. One reason that many doctoral programmes do not adequately serve students is that they are overly specialized, with curricula fragmented and increasingly irrelevant to the world beyond academia. Expertise, of course, is essential to the advancement of knowledge and to society. But in far too many cases, specialization has led to areas of research so narrow that they are of interest only to other people working in the same fields, subfields or sub-subfields. Many researchers struggle to talk to colleagues in the same department, and communication across departments and disciplines can be impossible. If doctoral education is to remain viable in the twenty-first century, universities must tear down the walls that separate fields, and establish programmes that nourish cross-disciplinary investigation and communication. They must design curricula that focus on solving practical problems, such as providing clean water to a growing population. Unfortunately, significant change is unlikely to come from faculty members, who all too often remain committed to traditional approaches."
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Reform the PhD System or Close It Down

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  • by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) * on Tuesday April 26, 2011 @08:27AM (#35940570) Journal

    In Physics at least, specialisation can lead to some very useful and broadly applicable findings. Granted, sometimes completely unexpectedly.

    As in can in other fields.

    Math, for example, has become so specialized that two people with PhD's in Math might study such diverse areas that they couldn't explain their work to each other.

    Personally, I pride myself on having what may be the most useless PhD ever devised by man. My area is Literary Theory. I deal in texts. I am qualified for absolutely nothing, not even to bathe myself in the mornings. However, it gives me god-like powers in the comments sections of blogs.

    I was able to make a decent living in academia, until I retired (the work was just too strenuous for me). Now I spend most of my time bathing myself in morning, commenting on Slashdot and playing Portal 2. Fortunately, my wife is still a working mathematician so the refrigerator continues to be refilled, somehow, with food and drink. Oh, I walk the dog, too. I am qualified to walk the dog.

    No, I don't think there's anything wrong with the PhD system. I think it is a fine system. It has allowed me, someone who in other societies would have been a shaman or dead, with a way to keep occupied without hurting anyone but inattentive undergraduates.

  • by stewbacca ( 1033764 ) on Tuesday April 26, 2011 @09:32AM (#35941164)

    If I go to school that long, the last thing I want awarded to me is Dr. Phil.

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