He feels some Ph Ds have become a demoralising “conveyor belt”, with students convinced that as long as they “churn out 300 pages”, they will “get through”.Hence, theses become bloated with “page after page of methods”, along the lines of: “I pipetted 2.5ml of this enzyme into that tube.” Philip Moriarty, professor of physics at the University of Nottingham, also worries about wasted effort.He would much prefer to see theses’ introductory sections “written along the lines of a good review article, where the student does a critical appraisal of the state of the field”.
Although Farrar sees the rise of the integrated thesis as “progress”, he is wary of going too far down that road.
He is concerned that the approach risks turning the Ph D into a “paper machine” that disadvantages candidates who are unlucky with their experiments and pushes supervisors to avoid any project that doesn’t obviously hold out the promise of a paper – “and there is already too much of that in science”.
The UKCGE itself, in a statement issued to , notes that examiners “need to be confident that the research has been conducted soundly, securely, ethically and with a robust methodology.
Therefore it is necessary for a Ph D thesis to contain more information than other types of publication that researchers might produce later in their careers when they become more established.
Earlier this year, Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, examined a Ph D candidate at Imperial College London. “What is best for candidate and research in the 21st century?
Although the student “sailed through”, Farrar was struck by how much time he had spent writing up his thesis compared with carrying out experiments. ” He estimates that the average doctoral student spends about six months of their four-year programme writing their thesis, and another three “waiting for it to be examined”.And according to Margaret Kiley, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, many higher education institutions Down Under offer something similar.The UKCGE report attributes the integrated format’s rise to growing pressure on students, particularly in the sciences, to publish their findings prior to graduation – not least so that they can compete for postdoctoral positions in an increasingly international job market.A spokeswoman for Imperial says that the institution “does not currently accept a series of papers for submission as a thesis, although we are continuing to explore the possibility of accepting alternative Ph D thesis formats”.The “integrated format”, as the UKCGE calls it, is already common in many European countries, for which reason it is sometimes known as the “continental model”.Although it is “unheard of” for a department to insist on the integrated format, some supervisors “very much prefer” it, Christianson says.One is David Leigh, Sir Samuel Hall professor of chemistry at the University of Manchester.Some universities also want to eliminate the “opportunity cost to the institution if the Ph D regulations forced candidates to rewrite…pre-published material”.However, there is also a “general consensus” that the bundle of papers submitted “needs to be coherent and to demonstrate explicitly the candidate’s individual contribution to knowledge”.But Leigh argues that unlucky students with no results “shouldn’t be getting a Ph D anyway”, since the degree is awarded “for a contribution to knowledge, not for a good try”.He does not require his students to produce any particular number of papers (five is typical but numbers range from three to nine) and insists that the level of results they have to achieve is no different from that required for a traditional thesis.