04 June 2010

Why is this taking so long?

Are American scientists twice as good as British scientists?

Because the Americans are spending about twice as long working on the doctorates then the Brits are.

DrugMoney said the length of a doctorate has fluctuated from five and a half to seven years. I asked if this was U.S. data, but haven’t seen an answer yet. Those kind of numbers are also typical of Canada, too.

But the typical length of a doctorate in the U.K. is about three years. That kind of length is typical for Australia, too.

DrugMonkey also said:

I'm willing to accept that 4 years may be too short of an interval(...)

I’m not willing to accept that. Because I don’t automatically think my colleagues who got degrees in other countries with shorter doctorates are crummy half-rate scientists.

I didn’t exactly rush to finish my own degree (I was pretty happy as a graduate student, and I had a lot to learn), but I don’t think that the expectation that a degree should take that the better part of a decade is healthy. It reminds of the report I talked about before that talked about “maintaining incentives for entry into scientific careers as the training phase extends” rather than shortening the training phase.

The disconnect between policy and ground truth was represented in a recent presentation to some U.S. lawmakers. Not surprisingly, they didn’t know what things are like for incoming scientists:

The members of Congress seemed surprised and, according to Miller, “deeply concerned” and “disappointed” by this and other testimony – which indicates how effectively the viewpoints of the research universities and today's established scientists have dominated the discussion and how little attention tomorrow's scientists' concerns have received.

The lawmakers, two of them UC alumni, all expressed chagrin. Miller in particular seemed flummoxed by Tyler’s presentation. He mentioned briefly that what she revealed appeared to contradict the widely assumed scientist shortage. “It’s almost as if we’re toying with some of the brightest, most talented, and skilled people in our society,” he mused in dismay.

As far as I can tell, the length of expected training for scientists before they can start an independent research career – particularly post-docs – has very little to do with actual amount of training to be done, and a lot more with the strangled job market for researchers.

Photo by ATIS547 on Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.

1 comment:

Bjørn Østman said...

Hold on. The European PhD degree (that I know of) are indeed three years, but they build on a master's degree, which takes (three years for a bachelor's and two more for the master's) five years. That make it a total of eight years to get a PhD after starting college/university. That is what should be compared to the typical 4+5 in the US.

Taking a master's in Europe involves taking classes. The PhD does not. In the US the master's is sort of built into the PhD program.

That being said, it might still be true that the time from freshman to doctor is more than a year longer than the same in Europe.