Getting chemistry right

April 28, 1995

The blueprint for a broadened chemistry PhD could be a trailblazer for the other sciences, according to the Royal Society of Chemistry.

At its annual chemical congress at Heriot-Watt University, Edward Abel, chairman of the RSC's scientific affairs board which drew up the guidelines, said the PhD was currently healthy and well regarded by industry.

"People might say if it ain't bust, don't fix it," he said. "But it would be very foolish not to service it."

The RSC's guidelines, which call for students to spend 10 per cent of their time keeping up with developments outside their own specialist area, as well as building up communication skills and team working, aim to be protective rather than coercive, Professor Abel said.

There were fears that when the PhD generally was under review, chemistry might be swept into an inappropriate straitjacket.

Some delegates questioned whether students would have enough time for broadened study, particularly as new safety regulations deter late night working in the lab.

But Michael Goldstein, vice chancellor of Coventry University, said students would work more effectively in the time available if they had a well-structured support programme.

The single most important element in a successful PhD programme was the quality of the supervision, Professor Abel said, but admitted that "the jury was still out" on the role of heads of department in ensuring good supervisory practice.

Heads had traditionally been top researchers, but now might be chosen principally for administrative skills.

"There's a problem with approaching a senior professor and saying 'You're not doing a very good job'," he said.

But the RSC suggests that all students should have another academic whom they can approach for advice if tensions arise with their supervisors.

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