How to Build a Better PhD

In "Nature" (2 December 2015), Julie Gould suggests that there are too many PhD students for too few academic jobs — but with imagination, the problem could be solved. Considering the option of splitting the PhD, she writes briefly about the EngD.

There may be too many PhD graduates for academia, but there is plenty of demand for highly educated, scientifically minded workers elsewhere. So some scientists propose that the PhD should be split into two: one for future academics and a second to train those who would like in-depth science education for use in other careers.

Biologist Anthony Hyman, director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany, is one of those who thinks that a split PhD might work. Students in the academic-track PhD would focus on blue-skies research and discovery, he says. A vocational PhD would be more structured and directed towards specific careers in areas such as radiography, machine learning or mouse-model development.

A similar concept already exists in engineering: students in the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Germany can choose to study for either an academic-style PhD in engineering or a doctorate in engineering (EngD), which is designed with industrial careers in mind and often involves a supervisor in industry alongside one in academia. David Stanley, who manages an EngD programme that focuses on nuclear engineering at the University of Manchester, UK, says that the programme is aimed at supplying industry with employees. “Graduates with an EngD are highly valued in industry, more than those with PhDs, because of their extended training,” he says.

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