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Print: Carnegie Foundation Creates New 'Owner's Manual' for Doctoral ...


examines the processes by which universities and doctoral programs train students to be scholars (which the foundation defines not only as faculty members, but also those who practice scholarship in business, industry, government, and nonprofit settings). The book aspires to be a doctoral education "owner's manual," offering practical suggestions for promoting principles of progressive development, integration, and scholarly collaboration within Ph.D. programs.

The 43,000 Ph.D. candidates who graduate each year—and the 400 institutions that train them—face a new and unique set of challenges brought about by technological change: shifting demographics in both graduate and higher education, an increasingly global marketplace for scholarship, blurred boundaries among academic disciplines, and significant overlap among the academic, public, and commercial sectors.

"In short," says the study, "expectations are escalating, and doctoral programs today face fundamental questions of purpose, vision, and quality."

The solution is not to add more requirements and components to doctoral education, say the study's authors, but to investigate whether many of the traditions that have grown up within academe still serve their intended purpose. The authors question many conventions taken for granted in doctoral education, such as qualifying examinations, program requirements, and even the doctoral dissertation. Many of the origins and purposes of those practices are opaque or forgotten, they argue, and continue only through force of habit.

For example, they ask, with fields increasingly interdisciplinary, is it possible to devise a meaningful comprehensive examination? Are some humanities programs' longstanding requirements that students study two foreign languages still necessary? Do the traditional divisions between course work and research as discrete stages of doctoral study serve a useful function or simply delay the development of students' independence, initiative, and creativity?

"It's those kinds of questions that are either often not discussed because we assume or because they're difficult," says George E. Walker, vice president for research and dean of the graduate school at Florida International University.

Mr. Walker, who directed the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate, describes the project as a series of "thought experiments" designed to encourage "a kind of serious scholarly daydreaming" about how doctoral education might be radically reshaped. "That's where new people in the field like graduate students and beginning faculty members can be particularly empowered because they really can think about things de novo," he says.

Engineering Change

The report singles out particular doctoral programs that have re-examined or reinvented those conventions: The history department at Duke University, for example, redefined four of its core courses so that first-year doctoral students gain experience finding and using primary documents, which they then build upon to produce a summer research grant proposal and two research papers in their second year.

Some neuroscience programs encourage versatility and interdisciplinary research by having students prepare and defend a formal grant proposal in a field distinct from their dissertation. The University of Michigan chemistry program asks students to incorporate teaching and learning theory into their research and submit a dissertation covering both their experimental research and how they might go about teaching the subject to colleagues and undergraduates.

Trickier to address, the Carnegie authors say, are entrenched attitudes that define the culture of academe: the way the system values specialization over breadth of study, the traditional segregation of teaching and research, and atomized relationships—all of which, the authors contend, have fostered an academic culture that discourages risk taking, creativity, and collaboration.

Take, for example, the concept of apprenticeship, to which the Carnegie researchers devote an entire chapter. The faculty-master and student-apprentice relationship as the signature pedagogical structure of doctoral education dates back to the university's medieval roots. But, the Carnegie authors say, it's time that model was updated.

At worst, they argue, the traditional apprenticeship model is open to abuses of power by faculty members who exploit graduate students as research drones. At best, it contributes to a cloning of scholars and ideas, reinforcing a tradition of intellectual conformity.

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12/4/2007 8:45 AM

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