sobering stats for phd students (not that we'd have time to drink in order to really need them)
From Tomorrow’s Professors mailing list and blog comes an interesting analysis of the problems in PhD education in Texas. There are certainly some lessons for other states and countries. Being a PhD student myself, I would agree that lack of support (especially to find some direction), community and a sense of disconnection within the research institute would be much stronger incentives to drop out than academic difficulties or the opportunity costs (mostly financial in my case) of moving from the private sector into graduate school. On a positive note, I think the biggest issues are also relatively easy to fix. A first step could be to design incentive schemes that focus on interim outputs and progress of PhD students rather than exclusively acknowledge the completion of degrees or the amount of publications by Professors themselves (regardless of involvement of their students). At the same time, some Professors/Researchers are not interested in working with students (or not very good at it) — and these individuals should not be forced to do so.
A recent investigation by the Council of Graduate Schools discovered that after 10 years of study, the completion rates were only 64 percent in engineering, 62 percent in life sciences, 55 percent in physical sciences and social sciences and 47 percent in the humanities. These findings are consistent with those reported in previous studies.
The national median at all universities for registered time-to-degree (from completion of a baccalaureate degree to receipt of the doctoral degree.) is 7.6 years – a figure that has been rising steadily over the last 30 years.
Since training doctoral students is a time, money and labor-intensive proposition, such data are profoundly alarming.
True, some students will drop out or fail to meet required academic standards, but research shows that significant numbers of doctoral students who do not complete their degrees are performing well academically yet are alienated by poor social and academic integration into their programs, poor mentoring practices, and other factors.