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Anna Karamazina

26.11.2022 15:00

PhD education has to be reformed as it is losing effectiveness

There is seldom a world leader nowadays who does not promote science. The keynote speaker at the annual Indian Science Congress, which took place this month in Nagpur, was Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who urged the country's scientists to conduct the research necessary to make India self-sufficient. Premier Xi Jinping of China outlined his vision for how innovation and science may spur prosperity at the historic Communist Party conference held in October. Additionally, in an effort to keep the US at the forefront of technology, US President Joe Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act in August of last year, releasing US$13.2 billion for workforce development and semiconductor research.

The message to scholars is unmistakable in each instance: Leaders view science as crucial to a nation's economy, well-being, and, of course, competition. Is research up to the task of advancing, improving, or criticizing these goals? Not quite, and it won't be until the PhD training program—the entry point to a career in research—undergoes major restructuring.

Challenging training

PhD training has been in danger for a while, as Nature and other magazines have chronically highlighted. In most countries, the value of student stipends has decreased due to rising inflation, resulting in an issue related to cost of living. Early-career researchers frequently express worries about a persistent lack of support and inadequate supervision, with older researchers being infrequently educated in mentorship. In many areas, the culture of academia is permeated with racism and bigotry.

Additionally, PhD applicants lack the necessary training for the big teams and cross-disciplinary collaboration that are essential to modern cutting-edge science. The vast majority of PhD applicants will pursue professions outside of academic research, thus this is particularly true for those fields.

Not all aspects are negative though. PhD evaluation has undergone reform or is undergoing change in select high-income countries' universities. However, a candidate's work is still assessed using a single-authored dissertation in the majority of areas, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. IAs a tribute to its nineteenth-century roots, it is "defended" before a panel of academics in a procedure still occasionally referred to as a viva voce (Latin for "with living voice"). Furthermore, prior to receiving a PhD, applicants are often required to publish in a journal, which opponents fear may encourage predatory publishing.

The system's stresses are now more visible as a result of the substantial increase in the number of persons pursuing PhD training. According to the 2022 book Towards a Global Core Value System in Doctoral Education, the number of PhDs conferred in China increased by more than twofold from 23,400 in 2004 to 55,011 in 2016 (and reached around 60,000 in 2019). India had an increase in enrollment from 17,850 in 2004 to 25,095 in 2016, whereas the US saw an increase from 48,500 to 69,525 during the same time period.

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