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The PhD in the US: Criticisms, Facts, and Remedies


Doctoral education in the United States has in recent years received a number of criticisms. In response, several initiatives have been developed to address some of these criticisms. In addition, three major surveys have been undertaken to better understand the process, content, and outcome of doctoral education. This paper explores the criticisms and outlines the initiatives for change. It argues that initiatives for change in doctoral education are important first-step responses to the criticisms; however, they must be accompanied by ongoing research that can provide empirical data on doctoral student experiences, career paths, and on the impacts of the initiatives themselves.

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  1. In this paper I am using the term PhD, that is the strict academic doctoral degree, interchangeably with the generic term, doctoral education, that also includes professional doctoral degrees such as the EdD, Dr of Engineering or Dr in Public Health, but NOT the doctorate of law, the JD, nor the medical doctorate, the MD, which are strictly professional degree with no research dissertation.

  2. Particularly in times of high reliance on funding through multiple sources.


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Nerad, M. The PhD in the US: Criticisms, Facts, and Remedies. High Educ Policy 17, 183–199 (2004).

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