Dutch PhDs make suggestions to improve science

maandag 22 juni 2015 | Sicco de Knecht

On Friday May 1st 2015 more than a hundred PhDs from a wide range of disciplines gathered at the Trippenhuis (KNAW) to discuss the current state of science in general and the ‘promotie’(PhD from here on) specifically.  The debate and recommendations were summarized in a report. ScienceGuide interviewed (in Dutch) initiator Sicco de Knecht (UvA) about the debate (‘There are too many PhD’s’).

Goals of the day were to bring together PhDs from different fields (from humanities to medicine etc.) and to add to the the current debate that has sparked from ‘Science in Transition’ and ‘Science 2.0’.

The participants discussed the following topics:
● Value of a PhD to the individual and to society.
● Increase of the number of PhD’s.
● Decrease of the intrinsic value of the PhD title.
● Concerns about the bursary experiment.
● Lack of competent human resource management.
● Diversity of PhD contracts and its effects.
● Dutch scientific brain drain.
● Funding and perverse incentives that influence quality of publications.
● The (overestimated) need for valorisation.

During the roundtable sessions and plenary discussion a number of proposals was put forward to address the issues mentioned. Just two examples are cited here, please read the report in full for all recommendations.

‘Empower graduate schools’
Research/graduate schools are officially endowed with the responsibility to ensure the quality and the level of PhD programmes/diplomas. However, they are not always really up to the task. There should be an incentive for research schools to act more strongly on the level and quality of supervision and the PhD as a whole.

‘Reflect on the number of PhD’s a professor can supervise’
We should seriously reflect on the amount of PhD’s a professor of supervisor can supervise (at least for it to be of a certain quality). A number of people argue for a maximum number of PhD’s per supervisor. Of course supervision of many students can be completed with help of other senior staff or post docs, but this presumes these staffmembers are committed in an equal way to the progress of the PhD candidate.

Read the entire report, that was put together on the basis of minutes of the discussions and notes of the discussion by the moderators mentioned at the top of the roundtable reports. Sicco de Knecht did the final editing.

News report (in Dutch, by Hoger Onderwijs Persbureau) about the debate.

Rescuing US biomedical research from its systemic flaws
Also in the United States young researchers reflect on today’s science system. They published their analysis and recommendations in the article ‘Shaping the Future of Research: a perspective from junior scientists‘. At the website rescuingbiomedicalresearch.org you can find the original analysis, that was published earlier in PNAS, and you can make suggestions for improving science.

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