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

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Professional Doctorate Programs - Just Say YES

Postby Carlysle Tancha » Tue Jul 19, 2005 4:39 pm

Andrew... have you ever tried to do any molecular biology work--talk about the complexity there... (!) and having to edge your way out of every single situation until it becomes a hand-waving issue. There is a lot of problem solving going on there and the interdisciplinary nature of many of the life sciences programs also adds to the breadth of the scientists trained in the programs. (I do think that chemistry is different--look at the time to graduation; that's not everything.)
Carlysle Tancha
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Professional Doctorate Programs - Just Say YES

Postby Andrew » Tue Jul 19, 2005 4:58 pm

Yes, chemistry is different. So is Engineering. I had to generalize and I realize there are a bunch of exceptions, but the program I mentioned was a chemistry program.
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Professional Doctorate Programs

Postby Emil Chuck » Wed Jul 20, 2005 2:19 pm

I'm still generally conflicted by the idea.

In medicine, there are many "professional" allied health degrees out there. You don't need an MD to do any of the following: dentistry, pharmacy, optometry, physical therapy, or nursing. There are specialized medical degrees and schools that specifically cater to those needs in the health care industry. There are specific certifications for each degree and a series of professional exams to take for each of these (not to mention MD's as well).

So that said, I don't know whether those additional degrees are really what we want. I agree that the advantage is there is more specific training for the people in those programs to go for non-academic positions, but I think it is to help the fulfill the current supply of positions that are out there in industry. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I'm just saying that for the long run, will any of the people in these positions be preferred when it comes to hiring an Executive Director for Research?

The advantage of the Ph.D. is the presumption that you have the ability to innovate and create a new line of research in the academic world. It is this innovation that is cherished and desired by industries so I would presume. It also does not address the insufficiencies in current graduate training; rather it just surrenders the problems of bad mentoring to more of a "suck it up... or you should just apply for a PSD program and start over again". As of yet, I do not see that a degree like this is going to really address the problems with the Ph.D. productivity problem, given that we don't know how these students could get funded or supported on other grants.

I do think that a PSM though is extremely useful and serves an advantage in job searches. There are many types of masters degrees including psychological counseling, genetic counseling, and other more "professional"/allied areas.
Emil Chuck
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Professional Doctorate Programs

Postby Kelly » Wed Jul 20, 2005 5:05 pm

I think everyone would agree we are simply producing too many PhD for too few jobs in academics. People have been saying for years this will change and it hasn't. I don't think it is going to change.

Ten years ago we had a critical problem in provision of health care in rural settings. The PA programs have helped this situation. People who did not have access to primary care now have this without driving 60 miles with broken arms.
People were against PA programs when they first started but it has worked.

Why not at least try professional doctorates? We have to do something different, soon and should have done years ago. There is no incentive for cutting back on students entering standard PhD programs, which in my mind is the only real solution.
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Professional Doctorate Programs

Postby Alana » Tue Jul 26, 2005 1:06 pm

I will be starting my phD program this september and already know that I want to go into industry rather than academia. I think the idea of a professional doctorate sounds good, since there is no industry training in a traditional phD program. If you dont want to deviate from the traditional phD, maybe there can be some type of industry internship as a fourth rotation or something, but that will just further extend the time to degree so a professional doctorate program that focuses on people intending to go into industry sounds beneficial. I am entering a top 5 program and they claim time to degree is 5.5years....i am now really scared of 8.5 years! From what i hear what makes the difference in someone graduating in 3.5 to 8.5 is a combination of good luck and hard work. Any advice for an incoming student so i dont end up spending a decade on a phD?

Professional Doctorate Programs

Postby Ken » Tue Jul 26, 2005 1:19 pm

Alana -

My biggest piece of advice is to have committee meetings early and often.
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6 month rule

Postby Kelly » Wed Jul 27, 2005 11:08 am

The thing that keeps people in PhDs for so long in my experience is projects that don't work out. You can waste easily a year on something that isn't working and might not ever work (no matter what your supervisor tells you). You can spend years going from dead end project to dead end project. This is generally what accounts for the people in for 8-10 years; too many false starts.

I have a couple of "rules." The over-arching premise is that I as good as the next person (no better no worse).

For any new methodology or project: I try for about 6 months. If the method or protocol isn't working or the project is not data-ready (which means ready to start generating a data set) in 6 months, I drop it. Like a rock. And move on to something else.

For any project where you are picking up something maybe someone else in the lab started or are doing the next project: get the experimental notes and read them YOURSELF. If you find that only "useable" results were obtained 50% of the time, you are going to spend a lot of time generating nothing, no matter how hard you work. A project with a 50% return on effort is no good. Always use the experimental notes, pull them yourself and read them. These are your owner's mannual for the project. make sure you didn't get a lemon.

This is my bias, but I don't think method development or implementing new protocols in the lab are the job of a graduate student. Their projects should be centered around well established methodologies in the lab (not gee someone else did this in the literature why don't you set this up for us) with a well defined question (building on lab story not developing a new area) that leads to a next project independent of what the outcome of the first project is.

This gives you a year for full time class work and rotations. A year to get your feet wet in your lab home. Two years to really generate data and about a year to write up thesis and get the papers accepted before leaving.
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6 month rule

Postby Jim Gardner » Tue Aug 02, 2005 2:03 pm

Alana--great advice from Kelly and Ken!

(Kelly, where were was your advice when I needed it? You could have saved me several years.)

As I mentioned much earlier in this epic thread, I took nearly 8 years to complete my PhD. The problem: a failed project. (See Kelly's post above.)

The bigger problem for me (that lead to the failed project) was my attitude. I was so enthusiastically into science as I entered grad school that I took on a project that was aimed more at winning a Nobel prize than getting a PhD. Instead of "plugging into" the tried and true techniques of the lab I was entering (that consistently produced data), I tried to adopt some completely different techniques, that nobody in the lab had experience with. Had I entered grad school with a more appropriate attitude--one of a student trying to get trained, get educated, and get out--I would have undoubtedly finished my degree faster.

(Note -- this is not intended as a complaint. Things have certainly worked out well for me!)

Good Luck!

Jim Gardner
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6 month rule - good policy

Postby Michele » Wed Aug 17, 2005 2:19 pm

Another good idea is the use of 'master plans'. I find it incredibly helpful if I spend a little bit of time trying to figure out what I need to do in order to complete a project. I then give myself a series of deadlines. In the academic arena, it is incredibly easy to get distracted by minor lose focus on the end result. I find that not only am I more productive in the long run, but that I have to be at work less hours. I usually don't let myself go home until I've met my daily goal...some days that means crazy long hours, but also it means less time wasted. It also gives you a sense of accomplishment. It also empowers you...which is a good antidote to the impending sense of doom (too much to do, no idea where to start much less ever be able to finish) that can be associated with graduate school.



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