There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings.
Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.
From The Economist.
Many of the arguments are valid. But make two plausible assumptions and you get a different answer.
Assumption 1: Innovation, including academic research, is the fundamental driver of long term health, wealth and happiness for the human race. (The “including academic research” bit is the biggest leap.)
Assumption 2: Unfortunately it’s very difficult to say beforehand who will and who will not produce great, or even good, research. (Even after five years departments have trouble predicting which of their crop will excel.)
In this world, each extra PhD raises the chances of one more brilliant, world-changing idea. While hardly comforting to the thousands who toil without job prospects, the collective benefits just might outweigh all the individual misery.
The decision might be individually rational as well, especially if students are no better at predicting their success than their advisors (they probably aren’t).
(A similar analogy comes from Lant Pritchett, who points out that you need a system that produces an enormous number of terrible dance recitals to get the handful of sublime performers. The same logic applies, he argues, to development projects and policies.)
One counterpoint: Here is where I would expect to see overconfidence bias lead to oversupply (and few of the collective benefits thereof). So maybe we need a system that gives the least promising an easier out that saves face.
A non-ranking ranking system for Graduate education in the USA.
Graduate programmes are assessed and measured, but stale data could reduce impact of long-awaited report.
Which US chemistry department is the biggest? As of autumn 2005, the University of California, Berkeley, had a whopping 406 graduate students. That must be some departmental picnic. Which ecology programme takes the longest? The median time to complete a PhD degree in the ecology and evolutionary biology department at Tulane University in Louisiana is 8.5 years. Which genetics programme has the highest average number of citations per faculty publication? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge dominates, with a knockout 10.08. Which physics programme is the best? A new report that supplies all of the other answers doesn’t make the call.
Released on 28 September, the long-awaited National Academies study on US PhD programmes, A Data-Based Assessment of Research-Doctorate Programs in the United States (see go.nature.com/tqvokc), is notable for not ranking programmes in 1-2-3 order. But it aims to offer comparisons that are detailed enough both to help students determine where to apply and to help job-seekers judge offers. The findings could also guide spending by administrators at a state or school level — whether by lavishing funds on standout programmes or by spending money to improve less-successful ones.
More at the NAS and the rest of this report via the link at top.
The Role of PhDs in the Smart Economy – Advisory Science Council – An Comhairle Eolaíochta | www.sciencecouncil.ie
Sometimes, important documents get less publicity than they deserve:
The Role of PhDs in the Smart Economy
Date: 15 December 2009
Source: Advisory Science Council
A flow of knowledge and human capital between enterprise, higher education and the public sector is essential to firmly embed enterprise in the knowledge economy and ensure the recent investment in the research infrastructure is leveraged for economic development in the long term. This report examines the skills that businesses require from 4th level Ireland, the roles in enterprise that are filled by PhD graduates and the barriers that prevent their move into enterprise.
From the press release:
A new report launched today by the Advisory Council for Science, Technology and Innovation (ACSTI) has found that Irish R&D firms employing PhD researchers have rates of patenting 2.5 times greater than similarly active firms which do not employ PhD researchers and have vastly higher collaboration rates with both Higher Education Institutes and other firms. While only 29% of R&D active firms employed PhD researchers in 2007, these companies accounted for 70% of business expenditure on R&D. The report, the Role of PhDs in the Smart Economy, highlights Ireland’s need to maintain a competitive output of PhDs in relevant disciplines in line with other developed countries and sets out a list of recommendations to maximise the development of 4th level education in Ireland and its critical relevance to enterprise and society.
Major Recommendations are below the fold.