Tuesday, 10 August 2010

PhD woes/lack of them

Peter Gratton's PhD experiences certainly seem to be exceptional. I'm not even sure if it is possible to finish a PhD inside eighteen months in the UK -- in political science at least. Most departments would not want to lose the funding for one thing (and so would surely attempt to refuse early finishers if at all possible) and any students with Research Council funding are funded for three years so it wouldn't make any sense for them to finish early even if they could -- they might as well work on something else in the meantime and finish the thesis off at the three year point.

I am not currently a PhD student but I have many friends that are and it seems that their supervisors expect them to work their thesis over and over several times before they actually commit to a topic or a question firmly, let alone complete the thing. This may be due to badly thought through ideas but it certainly seems that this is seen as being a formative experience that all but the most utterly exceptional students are expected to go through.


  1. Well the state of postgraduate education in the UK amongst the Humanities and Social Sciences seems to be more about box ticking and jumping through hoops anyway.

    As you probably know, if want to do a PhD (well at least if you want funding) you need to have an ESRC accredited Masters Degree, even the AHRC are leaning towards this requirement (it seems as though purely theoretical PhD's are becoming obsolete).

    The majority of people I know see the initial Masters (i.e. as part of a '+1') as a purely performative thing and hardly use the 'skills' acquired through that banal process for their actual thesis anyway.

    I agree that it would be pretty much impossible to finish a PhD inside 18 months in the UK, you would simply be told to revise the thing over and over- and this (knowing how most social sciences departments work in the UK) is for money if anything else.

    But it's not all bad I guess, I have a friend that received funding (which includes a £17,000 a year non-repayable maintainance grant) he pretty much finished his thesis after a year, and decided to work practically full-time teaching hours (which is at least £30 an hour) whilst receiving all that grant money and only having to make occasional tweeks to his this for two years!

    Sadly, it's all become a bit of a game hasn't it, but when was it ever not?

  2. Quite so.

    The ESRC accredited degree is a bit of a joke (I've done one). I was taught entry level stats, qualitative methods and philosophy, which would be fine except for the fact that if anyone was planning to use quantitative, qualitative or philosophical methods they would already have skills exceeding that of the entry level course and if they weren't going to use them (and develop them further) then there was not a lot of point in learning them (its not like they took you far enough to actually be of use in future).

    I agree that it is a pretty good deal if you can get the funding but it is almost unfathomably difficult to do so.