Doctorate Dilemma: Is a Ph.D. the Path to Success in the 21st Century?

14.06.2023
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Is it worth doing PhD in the present day?

With the increasing specialization in science and research, professionals with advanced research degrees have become crucial in global scientific and innovative systems. Developed and developing countries alike are witnessing a rise in the number of individuals holding higher degrees. The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is an advanced degree obtained by achieving mastery in a specific area of study or professional field. This degree entails extensive research and expertise in the chosen field. Presently, there is a substantial increase in the number of individuals holding Ph.D.s within the scientific community compared to the previous decade. However, it is important to question whether these Ph.D. holders have embraced modern technologies for their selection and completion. Are these candidates adequately trained to address current societal demands and provide solutions? Or do we find ourselves still influenced by outdated systems established in the 19th century, reluctant to undergo reform?

Let’s examine these questions individually and identify the deficiencies in current Ph.D. programs, as well as propose potential solutions to address them.

PhD and outdated hierarchical systems

When it comes to the selection and graduation criteria for Ph.D. programs, there are concerns about whether they align with modern-day technologies. In many instances, when research groups are approached for a chance to pursue a Ph.D., it is common to receive responses stating that they already have a candidate in mind for the position. However, they still advertise the vacancy on the internet to demonstrate that they are actively hiring, meeting the requirements of selection and grant committees who are funding these positions. This practice is prevalent in top research groups and raises questions about its ethical implications.

Upon closer examination, it becomes apparent that the selected candidate often has prior experience working in the same research group on a similar project and possesses the necessary foundational knowledge to advance that specific project. However, this raises the question of why such positions are advertised on the internet, attracting hopeful applicants from around the world, if the intention is already to select an internal candidate. This discrepancy suggests a failure to modernize the selection procedures and adherence to outdated hierarchical systems. In summary, the persistence of advertising positions when internal candidates are already favored indicates a lack of modernization in the selection process, reflecting the continuation of traditional hierarchical practices.

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PhD and overall development

The process of obtaining a Ph.D. is known to be rigorous and time-consuming, spanning a person’s life for approximately 3-5 years. During this process, individuals are expected to conduct extensive background research on their chosen topic, identify gaps in knowledge, and contribute to filling those gaps through their expertise. The ultimate aim is to develop an application or solution that benefits the specific field and, in a broader sense, serves societal interests. To achieve this, individuals are required to perform literature reviews, report their findings, conduct experiments to address identified gaps, and document their work in the form of a thesis or research paper. The final evaluation typically involves a dissertation and a viva examination conducted by experts in the field, leading to the awarding of a Ph.D. degree.

This traditional process has been followed since the 19th century without significant reforms. However, there is a growing recognition of the need for changes. One reason for this is the emergence of agencies that offer services to complete the various tasks required for a Ph.D., allowing candidates to obtain the degree with minimal effort. In these cases, candidates may only need to study a summary or have others complete the work on their behalf. While obtaining a Ph.D. through such means is not easy, there have been instances where candidates have managed to acquire a Ph.D. in this manner. The need for changes in the Ph.D. process arises from concerns about the integrity and quality of the degree. Allowing shortcuts or alternative routes to obtaining a Ph.D. undermines the value of the degree and compromises the credibility of the entire system. Hence, it is important to address these issues and ensure that the Ph.D. process maintains its standards of academic rigor, intellectual growth, and contribution to knowledge.

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PhD and support

The primary motivation for considering reforms in the Ph.D. process is not to burden students with excessive work or activities. Instead, the aim is to make it more oriented towards addressing societal needs and fostering a supportive environment within institutions, allowing students to balance their academic pursuits with their social lives. The traditional descriptive approach to documentation should be modernized through the utilization of contemporary tools that facilitate the dissemination of research findings to the general public. It is essential to embrace current technologies as problem-solving tools and equip students with the necessary skills to utilize them effectively.

Institutions should actively support and promote the commercialization of students’ new inventions and ideas, minimizing barriers to implementation. The outdated mentality of supervisors asserting dominance over students should be abandoned in favor of a more inclusive and supportive approach that encourages students to pursue their work with a broader perspective. Conducting regular surveys among Ph.D. students to gather their feedback and insights can aid in the process of modernizing the approach. Close collaboration between institutions and industries is crucial to support students’ ideas and provide the necessary infrastructure for implementing those ideas. Governments also play a vital role by closely monitoring research activities within institutions, providing financial and infrastructural support, and encouraging more students to pursue research in their fields of interest.

Overall, the reform of the Ph.D. process should focus on making it more relevant to societal needs, fostering supportive environments, leveraging modern tools and technologies, encouraging innovation, and ensuring collaboration between institutions, industries, and governments.

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Reference

[1] https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-00084-3

I am currently working as a Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Leeds, where I am actively involved in research activities. Prior to this, I successfully completed my master's degree through the renowned Erasmus Mundus joint program, specializing in Tribology and Bachelor's degree in Mechanical Engineering from VTU in Belgaum, India. Further I handle the social media pages for Tribonet and I have my youtube channel Tribo Geek.

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