it takes a village to raise a PhD…

Get the entire book – Grad Skool Rulz: Everything You Need to Know about Academia from Admissions to Tenure – for only $2. You can read it on personal computers, Nooks, Kindles, iPads, and smart phones.

There’s still a few installments of grad skool rulz left to write, but I’d like to summarize the general thrust of the series. At a basic level, graduate education is about three groups: the students, the department faculty and the university. Here is what each brings to successful graduate education:

Talent: The very first thing is ability. Graduate education is an elite form of education and you need the raw ability to make it. Nobody should start graduate education unless they have external signals of talent. Similarly, the faculty should make talent the primary reason for admission to graduate education.

Professionalism: But you also need more than talent, you need to learn that graduate school is about a trade – research. It’s also about teaching, but even if you want to focus on teaching, you still need to show mastery of certain skills. So graduate students should treat the doctoral program like a job – show up every day, work hard and have concrete goals. Faculty should encourage this.

Reasonable expectations and support: This is where the faculty are important. They need to provide a set of goals that most students can achieve in 4-6 years. They also need to provide a structure so that students either finish promptly or learn that the job is not for them.

Finances and order: This is where the university has a big role. First, universities should not tolerate doctoral programs where students take large loans or work to pay the bills. If you want good faculty, you need to give them time to develop. All else is distraction. Second, universities should police programs that display long completion times, poor placement, and other symptoms of chaos in the graduate program. Universities should penalize departments that behave poorly. Third, universities should police students. Anyone who goes over 10 years should have a pretty good excuse, or else face termination.

Written by fabiorojas

August 15, 2008 at 3:00 am

Posted in academia, fabio

10 Responses

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  1. What do you think is the minimum of support a school should give? Considering the opportunity cost for some PhDs, mainly 25-27 year olds, it seems that universities should be hard pressed to justify support levels under poverty rate. What about students finding summer work outside of the university?



    August 15, 2008 at 5:10 am

  2. How disappointing to see the biological and/or McKinseyite concept of ‘talent’ being given credence on this blog.


    Will Davies

    August 15, 2008 at 10:53 am

  3. What is a reasonable working definition of “talent.”


    Brian Pitt

    August 15, 2008 at 2:00 pm

  4. For what it is worth, economics grad programs routinely take and drop half their graduate students by the end of the first year, either because the students aren’t prepared for work at the graduate level or find it uninteresting. (Alternately, they get a lot of math geniuses who can’t contribute to the research frontier.) It seems incredibly wasteful, and unheard of in many other departments. So I think a better filter on “talent” could make that less wasteful for all parties.



    August 15, 2008 at 5:12 pm

  5. I would argue that what Fabio is describing as “talent” is really two things. First, I think that what Fabio describes as “raw talent” is less about intellectual ability and more about basic research skills – the ability to read large quantities of material, summarize, synthesize, and develop thoughtful questions about the subject matter. The last of these leads to the second element of “talent” that seems unstated here, but comes through in a lot of Fabio’s Grad Skool Rulz and that is intellectual curiosity. One can have raw skills, but part of the ability of making it through grad school is to come up with interesting and provocative questions and being self-motivated enough to teach yourself the methodological and theoretical tools you need to answer those questions (and, of course, having supportive faculty that give you enough freedom to let you explore those ideas while making sure that you aren’t going down a never-ending path is also key).



    August 15, 2008 at 6:42 pm

  6. Can someone explain to me why it’s controversial to say that there is variation in talent? I have a cousin who juggles really well. I can’t. He has a juggling talent, and I don’t. Simple non-outrageous fact.



    August 15, 2008 at 7:15 pm

  7. I attempt to coexist with the plentiful offerings of talent. But despising one, and unleashing the other results in a constant battle. Defying the factor, failing you, is an discriminatory act. The branching must occur to allow ventures of various oppurtunities within brain capacity. An infinite regenerating matter based organ should be posessed.


    Jeff Probeman

    August 18, 2008 at 5:54 am

  8. For what it is worth, economics grad programs routinely take and drop half their graduate students by the end of the first year, either because the students aren’t prepared for work at the graduate level or find it uninteresting.

    That seems to be in the past now because few, if any schools do that now. Among top schools, Chicago and Wisconsin were among the last. When I started at Wisconsin in 2004, there over 50 students in my entering class. The average size of the entering class in the past 3 years has been around 20 students. And I hear a similar thing has happened in Chicago as well.



    August 18, 2008 at 5:15 pm

  9. I have to concur with OS. Chicago’s economics program advertises that: “About 74 percent of students who enter the program ultimately earn a doctorate.” The number is almost unbelievably high (and may make the skeptic ponder about what Chicago professors mean when they emphasize the benefits of competition for society…), but basically it is clear that the top doctoral programs don’t have a particularly high failure rate. In fact, that rate is probably not much different from that in “softer” social sciences such as business, sociology etc.
    More to the point, I suspect that the chances of dropping out are higher at less reputed schools and departments. Treatment or selection? Probably both. Bottom line for the rulz, though: No one who wants a research career should be afraid of any top graduate school under these conditions.


    Xavier Martin

    September 26, 2008 at 3:47 pm

  10. […] OrgTheory has the answer… … other posts by huangx […]


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