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.

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