PhD theses: the pros and cons 4

August 24, 2007

I always thought the point of postgraduate research was to allow a bright person to pursue a subject he or she loves, make an original contribution to it and so add to the sum of human knowledge. To prevent it from remaining private, this new knowledge is then published in some appropriate way.

Submitting a thesis allows the achievement to be recognised by the award of a PhD. Now Alistair McCulloch ("Proof of the PhD is not in the reading", August 17) tells us that the purpose of a PhD was the production of a thesis and is now merely a training exercise.

The research training he describes is suspiciously like project management. The research itself is hardly mentioned and seems to be merely a vehicle for gaining "transferable skills". Then, astonishingly, he says that the candidate does not need to do all the work himself.

If I can lapse into utilitarianism, the possession of a PhD should mean that the person has the ability to understand and express complex ideas in a clear coherent way. This is demonstrated by the personal production of the thesis. Any help from others should at least be acknowledged and may require them to be listed as co-authors. There is only a fuzzy line between improving presentation and refining ideas.

My supervisor was the only person to see my thesis before submission; I would have regarded anything else as cheating.

Dave Kimber
St Neots, Huntingdonshire

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