posted on November 20, 2012 15:55
Book by Golde, C.M. & Walker, G.E.
Review by Bernadette So
Student Services, Allied Health Career Coordinator
Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Is doctoral education broken? Why are graduates unprepared for their careers, why are women and minorities underrepresented in doctoral programs, and why are attrition rates in these programs so high? Depending on the discipline, these are some of the problems affecting American doctoral education. As part of the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate (CID), leading scholars within the fields of Mathematics, Chemistry, Neuroscience, Education, History, and English were asked the question, “If you could start de novo, what would be the best way to structure doctoral education in your field?” The essayists were urged to reflect upon how doctoral education prepares “stewards of the discipline” when answering this question.
The essayists describe the unique characteristics of doctoral training within their respective disciplines, yet common themes regarding the future of doctoral education emerge. Among these themes, two are important for advising graduate students. First, both scientists and humanists emphasized the importance of balancing breadth and depth in doctoral training; increasing collaboration and becoming interdisciplinary must be valued as much as developing independence and becoming specialized. Second, the desire for a critical evaluation of how the relationship between student and advisor should be structured was apparent. Many essayists questioned the value of the skills that doctoral students gain during their education, relative to the students’ own goals and the careers available to them. In particular, with fewer traditional academic job prospects, doctoral students who pursue nontraditional careers should be encouraged and supported, so that it is acceptable if “they do not become a clone of their dissertation advisor” (p. 411).
Although the essayists offer their thoughts from their faculty perspective, the book is useful for graduate advisors and anyone else interested in the issues surrounding doctoral education. While it was interesting to see common themes unfold across disciplines, essays can be read in isolation as each provides an interesting commentary on doctoral education. The discussion of the challenges of doctoral education, as well as the suggestions for improvement, can be shared with graduate students. For example, graduate students may benefit from Steven Hyman’s discussion of how a doctoral program can shape the future of a discipline; doctoral students have the ability to influence the direction of a discipline. In reading the essays, I was also reminded of Light’s Making the Most of College; just as in Light’s book, common themes within the essays outline a path for how students could derive the most from their training.
Golde writes, “The goal of these essays is to start a conversation.” (p.16) Doctoral education is not necessarily broken, but the essays will certainly inspire discussion about how doctoral education can improve and evolve. The perspective of this first product of the CID can be narrow at times since all essayists are well established in traditional academic careers within their respective disciplines. It would be interesting to read additional perspectives from Ph.D.s in nontraditional careers, or students who may have encountered the problems of the current doctoral system, to see whether similar themes appear.
Light, R.J. (2001). Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Envisioning the Future of Doctoral Education: Preparing Stewards of the Discipline. (2006). Book by Golde, C.M. & Walker, G.E. (Eds.). Review by Bernadette So. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 480 pp. ISBN # 0-7879-8235-0