Rapid results culture undermines quality 1

December 11, 2008

Universities that require - or strongly pressure - students to submit their PhDs within three years of admission do a disservice to their students and undermine the credibility of the British PhD ("Doctor, doctor, quick, quick", 4 December).

As an experienced supervisor and examiner, it is blindingly obvious to me at least that excellent PhDs often require four years to be written and if they had been given a three-year time limit they would not have succeeded.

Recently I examined a PhD thesis by a student who had submitted it because, after three years, it was "due". In fact, it was not a thesis but a draft of a thesis, and quite a rough one at that. This presented me with an unfair dilemma. Strictly speaking, it was inadequate - an MPhil really.

However, I found enough substance to believe that it was capable of becoming a passable PhD. So, should I have referred? Probably not, but I opted to do the latter out of sympathy for the student and my own anger at the university for placing me in this awkward position. Consequently, the "viva" became in effect a four-hour supervision from a specialist in the relevant field, ie, myself.

I later heard that the student had done the "corrections" and had been awarded the PhD. Pleased as I was for her, the experience left a bad taste in the mouth and has possibly fatally undermined my respect for that particular institution, which will now get undeserved credit for another timely completion.

Anonymous.

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