In the recent Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Washington Update, there is a letter to NIH director Francis Collins that supports recommendations from the Biomedical work force working group’s recent report. The report recommends, among other things, shortening the average Ph.D. training time to five years, while increasing training in skills targeting scientific careers outside of academia. How practical would it be to implement these recommendations?
Graduate school takes far too long. Ph.D.s are, generally, ill-equipped to do much more than academic bench work. But, I’m not convinced that the current system can be changed easily.
One reason Ph.D. takes so long is that a first author publication from your research is often a de facto requirement for graduation. These days, papers require increasingly complex experiments and reams of data, not to mention drawn out review processes. Unless publication requirements change, I don’t think a significant dent can be made in the average time to graduate number.
Increased training in the skills needed for pursuits outside of academic science may be moe daunting. Improving these skills will require time outside the lab and the support of PIs, who were indoctrinated with the traditional values of academic research. Time for this training must either come at the expense of less training in research skills or increased time in graduate school.
The recommendations do not really address the major role that PIs will play in making these changes happen. While I think that many investigators will support these recommendations, PIs are only familiar with the academic track may not equipped to mentor students through a shorter training period,while also facilitating career development. These and their previous experiences. Without training for mentors to match the increased training of students, this plan will be doomed to fail.
It is a multi-layered problem, but I’m glad that the NIH seems to be taking a look at the situation they fund. I’ve personally struggled with a lack of training in areas outside of academic benchwork and I hope that the system will be improved. To see what fellow blogger Mike thinks of this issue, check out his post on the topic.