Longer loans from Labour

May 31, 1996

Your anonymous author ("A Doctorate in McMarking?", Research Opportunities, May 17) illustrates a common view of what it is like to be a PhD student. However, for the majority, a PhD is a hugely rewarding experience. It's not easy - many of us have to make personal and financial sacrifices, and a PhD requires enormous self-motivation and independence - but most find it worthwhile and even enjoyable.

The student-supervisor relationship is necessarily personal and is one of the unique features few people would wish to change. When it works well, as mostly it does, it provides a great intellectual stimulus and ensures that research is an exciting (and surmountable) challenge. Of course, the individual nature of the relationship means it can easily break down if not managed.

The National Postgraduate Committee has highlighted the crucial importance of the student-supervisor relationship to a successful PhD for several years. This has led to initiatives in many institutions to ensure better supervision and to provide safeguards when things do start to break down. But such developments need to be more widespread.The Harris review of postgraduate education will help. A rating of 3 in the Research Assessment Exercise is certainly not in itself an indication of good quality in research training. However, the report makes strong statements about the environment and infrastructure necessary for postgraduate research. All institutions should be required to subscribe to a code of practice. This will address supervision and ensure that supervisors have training and experience.

Jamie Darwen

Chair, National Postgraduate Committee

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