Academic journal article College and University

Doctoral Education: Present Realities and Future Trends

Academic journal article College and University

Doctoral Education: Present Realities and Future Trends

Article excerpt

Doctoral education in the United States forms a huge and diverse enterprise. Seen from the outside, American graduate education is often hailed as the "gold standard" to which other nations and academic institutions aspire. From the inside, however, doctoral education faces many challenges. This article provides some basic information concerning doctoral education in the United States and will focus attention on the challenges facing doctoral education. While some U.S. analysts would disagree, my basic perspective is that American graduate education in general and doctoral education in particular is largely successful and effective.

The system of doctoral education as it has evolved in the United States over the past century and a half serves both the academic system and society reasonably well. Indeed, many of the problems facing doctoral education are engendered by the system's success. Some of the challenges facing doctoral education relate to broader societal forces while others are internal to the academic system.

Doctoral education needs to be viewed alongside broader trends in American higher education, and especially graduate education.The doctorate, especially the Ph.D., is the pinnacle of a large and complex higher education system. This essay focuses mainly on the Ph.D. degree, the research-oriented doctorate, and not on the increasingly important professional doctorates such as the doctor of business administration (DBA), the doctor of law (JD), the doctor of education (Ed.D.), and others, although some attention will be paid to these degrees. Doctoral study also is related to graduate education generally-master's degrees in many fields including the traditional arts and sciences and in numerous professional fields (Conrad, Haworth, and Millar 1993). Postdoctoral study is also not considered in detail in this discussion, although in many fields in the physical and biomedical sciences a postdoctoral research appointment is increasingly considered part of research training and is quite common.

Doctoral education cannot be separated from cither the American academic research enterprise or the arrangements for teaching large numbers of undergraduates in the larger research-oriented universities (Graham and Diamond 1997). Doctoral students, especially in the sciences, are an integral part of the research system. They provide the personnel at relatively low cost who do much of the research under the supervision of senior professors. The research grants provided by government agencies such as the National Science Foundation and many others, by private philanthropic foundations, and increasingly by corporations are the sources of funding for graduate assistants who work on research while studying for their doctorates. In many cases, dissertation topics relate to the funded research. This system of financial support for doctoral study and basic research works well for American higher education. It ensures financial support for students as well as faculty mentorship and supervision for them, and it ensures a steady source of labor for research projects. These research funds are awarded on a competitive basis, and as a result the bulk of financial support for doctoral students in the sciences goes to the prestigious research-oriented universities. Doctoral students in all disciplines, but especially in the social sciences and humanities, serve as teaching assistants and sometimes as lecturers for undergraduate courses. In return for modest stipends and tuition scholarships, doctoral students provide much of the teaching in large undergraduate courses. Typically, they work under the supervision of a senior professor and conduct discussion sections for students as well as helping with grading and evaluation. In some cases, advanced doctoral students independently teach courses. In the sciences, doctoral students may help with laboratory supervision. Funds for teaching assistants generally come directly from the university. …

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