16 August 2011
By Tennie Videler
I didn’t actually plan to write a post on this topic, but I have succumbed to the subtle nudges following Sarah’s post on keeping it in the family. My father said all those years ago that he didn’t feel a British doctorate was as valuable as a Dutch one. Why? The following are my guesses and are really meant as a starting point for discussion! Do people know of situations in other countries as I am only comparing to that in the Netherlands?
- It only lasts three years! How can it be as thorough as a degree that takes at least 4 years?
- In the sciences, people are eligible to enter their UK doctoral degree with much less research experience than their Dutch counterparts, who will have done a year’s research project during their undergraduate (equivalent to MSc)
- Postgraduate researchers are students in the UK, but members of staff in most of Europe, with pension schemes, maternity pay etc.
- Related to the last two points, he perceived UK doctoral candidates to be more closely supervised and less autonomous
- There is no requirement to publish any of your research in peer reviewed journals to gain your degree in the UK(instead you are required to make a contribution to knowledge)
- In Holland theses are printed and bound in an A5 format and handed out to lots of people.
- The British viva is a low key affair- it is really between you and your two examiners, generally without scrutiny. In the Netherlands it is a ceremonious occasion (I would argue this somewhat undermines its rigour), after the thesis has passed a ‘reading committee’ of several internal and external examiners. During the ceremony the candidate is flanked by two helpers (paranymphs) who in theory are allowed to help answer questions but in practice act much as bridesmaids/ best men. One of their duties is to help organise the party afterwards, which is on a similar scale to weddings! (Dutch PGRs are expected to start saving for this and the cost of printing the thesis from the start)
- One of the Dutch requirements is a list of theses (stellingen). These are very wide ranging and ideally show off the wit of the candidate (although there are always some relating to the actual research). Tangential ones I can remember off the top of my head and bear translation are along the lines of ‘It is doubtful that Bax, Max and Zax choose to publish in JACS for purely scientific reasons’ or ‘a true gentleman can open even a revolving door for a lady’.
- Revenge. After my teenage taunts that Chemistry was a more rigorous science than woolly Biology he might well just have been getting his own back…