Length of biomedical PhD's increasing 1-month every year?

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Length of biomedical PhD\'s increasing 1-month every year?

Postby Tapani » Fri Jul 15, 2005 6:06 pm

Brendan: \"I am not sure, but this sounds vaguely like some doctoral program\'s found in Scandinvaian countries, which I have heard Faculty in my department openly mock as glorified masters programs.\"

Hmmm... Maybe those doctoral programs exist. However, at least in Sweden and Finland PhD programs are rigorous. You need 3 - 4 first author papers to graduate. I had 4 for my thesis and I had a Masters degree to start with.

If your faculty members want to mock foreign PhD programs, how about the British system where you get out after 3 years, without necessarily needing any publications? I have talked with many British postdocs and they acknowledge this.

Length of biomedical PhD\'s increasing 1-month every year?

Postby Ruby » Sat Jul 16, 2005 3:32 am

This is a very interesting discussion. Coming from Australia, our doctoral programme also takes 3 years or so to complete. Perhaps the difference is that we don't have as much or no coursework and our research plan is focused from the start. Also most Australian postgraduate award scholarships are for 3 years only. Recent legislation penalizes research students who take longer by asking them to pay full fees for any subsequent years.

With regard to the professional doctorate, you could say I have some experience there as my Phd project is primarily based at our industry partner instead of my university. I go to university once a week to meet with my supervisor, however the bulk of my work has to be done at the company where I have access to the resources I need and not available in my school (this company specialises in proteomics and my school is biomedical engineering). In terms of the funding, my project is federally funded with a partial contribution from the company (and some from the university as well). It would make sense that the duration of a Phd based in industry would be shorter than one based at university because I think there is more focus when I'm working within the company environment and the fact that I have ready access to the latest and best equipment/reagents/consummables for my research while at university I could be slowed down by bureaucracy.
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Professional Doctorate Programs

Postby Andrew » Sat Jul 16, 2005 6:05 am

We already have at least one in Chemistry. Its at the University of Texas - Dallas and its called DChem (Doctor of Chemistry). I think some of the moderators know people from there. I spoke to the chair, Lynn Melton, at a conference a few years back. They have a lot more breadth requirements, require an industry internship, and reduce the research requirements somewhat. I think they get people out in 4 years. They claim to have nearly 100% placement in industrial positions after graduation. I agree, though, with the poster that said most of the industry is filled with people that are very academically oriented and it might be a tough sell to some of them.
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Professional Doctorate Programs - Just Say No

Postby Eric » Sat Jul 16, 2005 7:52 am

If you want to keep it shorter, pick your advisor carefully and maybe considering sticking on the engineering side of the equation. In biochemical engineering, a Ph.D. normally took around five years irrespective of advisor. Four to finish if all your ideas worked the first time and six if you wandered a little too much. On the same campus but in biochemistry, Ph.D.s took from 6 to 8 years. I really enjoyed graduate school so five years was perfect. Plus, I would propose to people considering a Ph.D. that graduate school should be something that you want to do (and will likely enjoy) rather than something you think that you can endure as a means to an end (8 years is too long to be professionally miserable and financially poor).

Having said all that, I think the most disturbing trend is not the Ph.D. but the ever lengthening postdoc commitments. Engineering used to be industry straight out or a faculty appointment straight out with maybe a intevening year of postdoc. It is creeping so that postdocs are pretty regular in engineering (NSF etc are starting to fund more engineering postdocs). I really don't see the value for industry. And what are industry postdocs other than a cheap way to screen candidates. For faculty, one postdoc might be worth it but beyond that? Now take biochemistry. I have met numerous people who spent 4 years as postdocs before landing their first industry job and 6-8 years before landing a faculty position. Financially, that is just too long even if you like the lifestyle.

So do professional Ph.D. programs have a place. Perhaps but you have to be careful how they are designed. Another way to approach this is what makes a Ph.D. valuable (to industry/academia) and what programs test/produce the most valuable personal skills. Some advisors create cookie cutter projects and micromanage their students. The program may go faster (MD/Ph.D.'s in our program took this route for the most part due to time) but have you tested whether the graduates are strong researchers in the end. I don't think so and I think most of us in industry know a few who fall into this camp. Now compare that with a Ph.D. who started with a vague focus and pushed their own project. Now you have a Ph.D who is likely disciplined and self-motivated and who overcame unpredictable failures to discover new solutions. Their capabilities that make a Ph.D. valuable have been tested. My guess is that any professional program would tend towards the cookie cutter, fixed timeline, predictable response project. I might be wrong not knowing the proposed structure of any of them. I just think you have to be careful about removing the value from the Ph.D.


Professional Doctorate Programs - Just Say No

Postby Emil Chuck » Sat Jul 16, 2005 8:08 am

I'm going to throw in a short mention... the Sigma Xi postdoc survey Duke showed that (within the same institution) engineers in postdoctoral training general spend 1 fewer year in training (around 2 years median) and work 10 hours fewer per week (roughly 40 median) compared to the non-science, physical, and biomedical postdocs in the poll. The upper 50% of the engineering postdocs (albeit relatively small sample) also tended to have higher salaries than any other postdoc group.

As for the topic at hand, I reserve my judgement on it. I don't know how acceptable PSM's are, so having a PSD seems a little odd. I would be more inclined to think people would be more accepting if there were general curricular standards and expectations for this population in the same way there are curricula for professional medical doctors (i.e., M.D.'s).
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Professional Doctorate Programs - Just Say No

Postby Kelly » Sat Jul 16, 2005 8:41 am

Can we make a distinction between a working degree vs an academically-oriented degree?

This isn't too suggest one should look down the nose at the other. In several fields, there is a distinction bewteen Masters (e.g., a Masters by course work to help someone's application for medical school vs. a Masters by Thesis as a prelude to a PhD).
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Professional Doctorate Programs - Just Say No

Postby Eric » Sat Jul 16, 2005 1:31 pm

Agreed but what would be the point of a program like the one that UT-Dallas has in chemistry. Maybe the person who introduced it could explain what UT-D, graduates, whatever think the advantages are.

I can't actually believe that the training makes anyone more prepared for industry than would a professional Master's program (As opposed to a thesis Masters program). It just seems like excessive training to an end that isn't clear to me?

Some people seem to want a shorter more straightforward path to a Ph.D. caliber degree. Honestly, I don't think you can have an MD like path (and please don't impose a ninternship/residency as that is truly a miserable existence.) to a Ph.D. degree. In the end, the professional doctorate wouldn't mean as much for the reasons I posted earlier.


Professional Doctorate Programs - Just Say YES

Postby Dave Jensen » Sat Jul 16, 2005 1:46 pm

My only experience with these professional doctorates is by watching those who have them in Scandinavia (I'm a columnist with Scandinavian Life Sciences). They seem to work great for these people, who work with the best of mentors in both academia and industry, and then go almost universally into PhD positions in industry.

I think they make a great deal of sense here, because the two different career tracks for PhDs are indeed SO different. The academic career track demands certain things that the industry career track doesn't, and a professional doctorate like this may be the answer we need for many young scientists who want to work for industry.

Professional Masters programs have been a mixed bag. Sadly, many of them go out into the world and take BS level jobs. Most employers lump jobs into the PhD category and OTHER, meaning BS/MS level. But a professional doctorate, if it were accepted by industry, would take people directly into those PhD positions. The big thing, as others have mentioned, is whether or not the hiring managers would accept these degrees, since the current crop of hiring managers comes up through the usual academic route. My guess is that if their companies were involved in the program development, they would. So it would take a few big companies like Amgen, Genentech, Biogen-IDEC, etc, to get behind this.

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Professional Doctorate Programs - Just Say YES

Postby Kelly » Sat Jul 16, 2005 4:04 pm

I think these programs sound like a great idea. We need to do SOMETHING different in the training process. We have too many people who have worked too hard that are ending up "homelss." It is a waste of talent and education.

I have considered in the context of my folks what to do differently. I try to get people to look at the bevy of options early and put some effort into figuring out what they are good at and what they enjoy doing. We get locked into this "academics only" mode. We train students in this "academics only" mode. We fail to cultivate skills for any otehr than this outcome and for most people this is not the outcome.

I think these types of programs are at least worth a try. Now until these are formalized, how would one work for someone in a basic science/biomedical lab with work that has no relationship to drug making? In short, what's my assignment for monday?
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Professional Doctorate Programs - Just Say YES

Postby Andrew » Tue Jul 19, 2005 3:20 pm

Industry managers complain about Ph.D.s not being prepared to work in industry and that there are few qualified people for the jobs they need to fill. At the same time we know there are lots of Ph.D.s waiting in postdocs for a job. Lots and lots of them. So, there appears to be a disconnect somewhere.

Specifically what hiring managers complain about is that the Ph.D.s they see from school do not have adequate non-technical skills (speaking, writing, teaming) nor do they often have the right technical skills either. They are often the world?s expert on some technique while knowing little to nothing about most others, with the result that they are useless for problem solving (if all you have is a hammer?.). They also often have never worked on a messy system. Academics often ask complex problems of simple systems (how do you develop a multiple-quantum sequence to measure cluster size in salt crystals?) whereas industrial folks ask simple questions of complex systems (how do you develop a method for measuring the polyol content of a softgel formulation with 8 unknown components?).

The idea of the D-Chem program was to provide some exposure to students of real industrial systems and a breadth of problem-solving tools while at the same time maintaining the rigor of the Ph.D. program. I have no idea how well it works as I?ve never met anyone that graduated from the program. But that?s the philosophy anyway.

I would be concerned about lessening the value of the Ph.D. as a research degree by changing it dramatically, which is why I like the idea of a separate program. Still, there are probably some things one can do within a Ph.D. program that can mitigate the concerns somewhat.
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