The PhD is in Need of Revision (but in what sense)?

Just over two weeks ago, Rosanna Tamburri wrote an article in University Affairs on the dismal state of the PhD program in Canada and the United States. She lists many findings, including the following:

  • PhD success rates are low in certain disciplines despite record highs in enrollment
  • There are quadruple the number of PhD students than 30 years ago
  • Some universities are limiting their PhD admissions in fields that don’t demonstrate as much of a need
  • Universities are now even more demanding on graduate students, establishing limits on the time spent on completing their degrees

Over a nine-year period, less than 60% of humanities and social sciences PhDs finish their degrees.

What could account for such a high rate of PhD failure? There is no single reason to account for this phenomena, but many continue to theorize:

  • Former Modern Language Association president Sidonie Smith claims the immense challenge of completing the dissertation is the biggest obstacle.
  • The rates also depends in large part on the degree they wish to pursue: if you are a social sciences or humanities degree, you will probably spent about a year longer and you are more likely to abandon it.
  • You are also more likely to work in isolation, and research shows that those who working in teams are less likely to abandon their studies.
  • Other major factors include having adequate funding and publishing in top journals, all of which are better supported by collaborative research.

While the natural and health sciences seem to be able to graduate faster, many end up lingering in postdoctoral positions, where there is little incentive for supervisors to support them and help them become independent researchers. In general, instructors tend not to take a proactive approach, thus people compete for the attention of supervisors and often they have few to turn to for help.

While the article seems to not have a consensus solution for resolving the plight of PhD students, a possible solution emerges at multiple points throughout the article: when PhD students are more socialized, they’re more likely to succeed.

This is exactly what Scholar Hero is working to accomplish!


Not just a clever name (though we like to think it’s a little clever.)

The bigger question is how? How do we get PhDs in fields that are usually much more solitary and individualized to conduct themselves to be more like their more successful counterparts? How do we get them to open up and allow themselves to grow in a positive, productive manner? When will people realize it takes a community to complete a PhD, not just an individual effort?

We’ll have to get back to you on that, but don’t worry, we’ve got a solution in the works.

What it Means to Be a Scholar Hero: A Mission for 2013

Our new name.

Our new name.

It’s been nearly three months since our last post, and so much has happened since then. To give you a quick list of the major events of our project:

  • Incubation: We were selected as one of the finalists for the Business Bout, a competition run by The Thrill Mill, a Pittsburgh not-for-profit that wants to get involved with the booming start-up season. Our reward was a full-year of incubation, which includes free rent, legal support, and access to the business “in-crowd” in Pittsburgh. Suffice to say, we’re pretty ecstatic about that. Our participation was even recently featured in the Pittsburgh Business Times, among other news outlets.


    Our new home.

  • Incorporation: With the security of incubation, we moved forward and finally became incorporated in the state of Delaware on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of this year. However, we remain fully committed to exercising our business here in Pennsylvania and contributing to the local and state economy.
  • Identification: We changed our name. Formerly (and informally) known as “Academica” from Startup Weekend, we changed the name to Scholar Hero and incorporated as “Scholar Hero, Inc.”

The last one needs a bit more elaboration. In a sentence, we wanted to be search-friendly, and masquerading under a “.me” domain wasn’t helping our chances. Some people complained that they couldn’t find us, and others even wondered if we wanted to be found. Thus, we went back to basics and collectively came up with a name that encapsulated our mission completely: Scholar Hero.

Unlike these gentlemen, we’ll honor our Prime Directives.

Our “Prime Directives” remain the same:

  • Create a space for scholars to collaborate in a positive and potentially fun manner
  • Reduce some of the excessive, sometimes exploitative costs that come with participating in the academy
  • Make the overall life of the scholar a much more manageable one

We also have a few more productivity goals that we aim to hit:

  • To go into private beta by June 2013 at the absolute latest (we’ll create a wait-list for this very soon)
  • To go into public beta by September 2013, meaning we’ll be accessible to everyone
  • To do at least a weekly post (now that we have your attention) on this blog

So what does it mean to be a Scholar Hero? Follow our site or get in touch with us and we’ll find out together. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and if you’re willing to join us, contact us here. We’re looking to fill a lot of positions and maybe increase our partnerships, which you can find out about at our Careers page.

“Let’s get hustlin’.”

Lee Ngo
Founder and Executive Director
Scholar Hero