Visitor must be shown the door 2

July 26, 2002

Lyndon Smith raises important issues about the status and purpose of the PhD award (Why I..., THES , July 19). English universities have not traditionally awarded doctorates. It was once the norm for some subjects to be taught and supervised at research level by lecturers titled Mr, Miss or Mrs. Doctorates were regarded as Germanic contraptions or New World simulations.

But since the PhD is now a basic qualification for most lecturing and many commercial research projects, we need to know what is expected. Does it function as an academic gold standard for all research or does it signify completion of a research "apprenticeship"?

Demands on PhD students have increased. A typical three-year PhD programme includes units of generic research training, related studies such as conference and internal seminar presentations, a grounding in relevant literature, theory, lab work and so on, and the completion of a book-size, professionally referenced, original dissertation - all irrespective of any undergraduate teaching contributions.

That is more than enough. Smith's lobbying for six refereed papers (sometimes more than an Oxbridge don's life output in, say, 1850) is plain daft. PhD programmes should primarily prepare students for publication and not make the integrity of the dissertation assessment dependent on it.

Smith's views are not so much hardline as ahistorical and unrealistic.

Dennis Brown
Professor of modern literature
University of Hertfordshire

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