Chemistry PhDs fail the acid test

April 7, 1995

Doctorates in chemistry are of low quality, more students should be told earlier that they are not up to the mark, and the rest should be more rigorously supervised, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.

The RSC also wants PhD students to do a minimum of 45 hours of taught courses relating to their own subject of research and to produce annual reports on their progress, defended orally in a formal setting. It wants to see a further 45 hours a year of formal courses on developments in chemistry in general. The report, The Chemistry PhD: The Enhancement of its Quality, was prepared by the society after consultation with industry, the research councils and academia, and is especially important because the PhD is the starting point for most chemists.

It says: "Failure by some institutions to apply sufficiently rigorous standards has drawn adverse comments from industry. The apparent reluctance of some supervisors and some universities to require students who are not coping with the rigours of a PhD programme to re-register for the lower award of MPhil or, in some cases, to discontinue their studies, is not compatible with the need to maintain the standard of the PhD award, nor in the best interest of the individual student.

The report calls for poor quality doctoral students to be told "clearly and honestly" about their chances. It says that sanctions could be used "to ensure that a reasonable range of courses is completed". It wants to see students keeping a log book containing a programme of courses, workshops and seminars, which would be compulsory at registration for the doctorate.

Michael Goldstein, vice chancellor of Coventry University and member of the working group that produced the report, said that the chemical and pharmaceutical industries had exacting standards for PhD graduates. "It is possible that we could slip in world ranking if we don't follow the recommendations of this report".

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