CBR: Central Bureau for Research Capabilities
- Parent Category: Community home
- Tuesday, 14 June 2011 17:20
- Published on Tuesday, 14 June 2011 17:20
- Written by Ernst Geutjes
“When will you finally finish your PhD”?, is a question I get almost every week. My PhD has been lasting for 5 years, 5 months and 27 days now. I have no idea when I am going to finish, I don’t even know whether it is going to be this year or next year. For sure, I am not the only PhD candidate in this situation. In the Netherlands, every PhD candidate gets an employment contract of 4 years. However, only 7% of all PhD candidates succeed in finishing their PhDs within this time frame. In the worst-case scenario, PhD candidates have to ask for unemployment pays. Besides doing research, writing job application letters to vague scientific acquaintances suddenly becomes a weekly prerequisite.
A PhD almost always takes more time than has been planned for, because the concrete demands to get a PhD are unclear. The PhD guidelines from the University of Utrecht at which I am enrolled as a PhD candidate say: “the PhD candidate has executed his research independently or/and has made an essential contribution to science”. Clearly, independency is not prerequisite to get a PhD. Some PhD candidates start their own research projects, but probably most PhD candidates work on research projects that their supervisors have initiated. Some PhD candidates design their own experiments and execute them, but there are also many that design their own experiments and have others execute them.
In practice, I am being judged on my contribution to science, which is determined by the quantity and quality of publications of scientific data in scientific journals. The PhD guidelines do not mention how many articles the PhD candidate has to publish and of which quality those articles should be. As such, these requirements are dependent on the scientific standard of the supervisor, which is highly variable. For example, the demands of my supervisor to obtain a PhD have varied from one publication in a good journal to up to 2 publications in excellent journals. Recently, a PhD candidate from a different supervisor that is also affiliated to the University of Utrecht graduated without any publications. I also know PhD candidates that have been working on their PhD research for almost ten years now.
Obtaining your PhD has many similarities with obtaining your driving license. The arbitrariness and financial aspirations of my driving instructor were determining in when I was allowed to apply for a driving exam. During my 60th lesson, in which I drove as well as in my 30th lesson, I was really suspecting that I was contributing to the reconstruction of my driving instructor’s villa in the rich people’s town Huizen. My suspicion was underscored by the fact that I passed the driving exam with the exam only taking 30 minutes instead of the usual 50 minutes, because the driving examiner was already convinced that I was able to drive.
If only the number and quality of publications is important in science, than the PhD title is nothing more than a status symbol inherited from the medieval centuries. I thus propose that the PhD candidate has to convince a scientific committee of his acquired scientific skills after four years, similar to what is being done in the UK. A PhD candidate can then decide for himself whether he wants to try to publish his findings, depending on his ambitions and the financial resources of his supervisor.