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PhD by publication unfair slippery slope?


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#1 science noob

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Posted 04 August 2014 - 02:31 AM

It's a new trend in many continents where PhD can be awarded by compiling 2-3 publications.  Do you think this will produce low quality PhDs as oppose to getting a solid thesis + publications to back it up.  Students can include 2nd author papers where they've contributed 5-10% of the paper (maybe a certain experiment) and still include that as 'their paper'.  This means that collaborators would actually contribute to the student's PhD with a simple acknowledgement of their contribution.

 

 

 

 



#2 Trof

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Posted 04 August 2014 - 03:51 AM

What do you mean by "compiling 2-3 publications"?

 

On our university (apart from the exams and other subjects, needed for fulfilling the required credit amount), you need to produce at least 3 papers, 2 of which have to be first author, 2 of which have to be in IF journals and 2 of which need to be original research (not review article). From this combination it means, that at least 1 first author paper need to be in IF journal.

 

Then you have to write a thesis, where you have two general options. First is to have a classic introduction, methods, results, discussion,.. sections, and as appendix the papers you published. The second is just write an introduction and methods and then include the papers and just briefly comment on what you did there, what your contribution was and what was the result and so.. it's just summing up the papers.

 

The second option is usually easier to write, if you have several papers that have a unifying topic, but are actually quite different. That was my case too. I had two papers about anemias (two different actually) and two dealing with an oposite problems in erythropoiesis (one of them hereditary, other not). My thesis topic wasn't a detailed single problem, but more regarding erythropoiesis disorders in general.

 

For people that deal with a single very narrow problem in their thesis, writing the common style is easy. It would be pretty difficult for me to somehow unify the results other way than in the introduction. So in that case, you can probably say that I compiled several papers in my thesis.  But I don't find it any less demanding that the other thesis style.


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#3 pito

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Posted 04 August 2014 - 04:02 AM

It's a new trend in many continents where PhD can be awarded by compiling 2-3 publications.  Do you think this will produce low quality PhDs as oppose to getting a solid thesis + publications to back it up.  Students can include 2nd author papers where they've contributed 5-10% of the paper (maybe a certain experiment) and still include that as 'their paper'.  This means that collaborators would actually contribute to the student's PhD with a simple acknowledgement of their contribution.

 

 

 

 

Not sure what you mean.

 

You still need to do the "research" , so I am not sure I get your point.


If you don't know it, then ask it! Better to ask and look foolish to some than not ask and stay stupid.


#4 Tabaluga

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Posted 04 August 2014 - 04:33 AM

I think he meant a kind of cumulative PhD were you dont have to write a thesis, just some papers.

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Il vivait. Il mourut quand il n'eut plus son ange;
La chose simplement d'elle-même arriva,
Comme la nuit se fait lorsque le jour s'en va.

 


#5 science noob

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Posted 04 August 2014 - 05:03 AM

 

It's a new trend in many continents where PhD can be awarded by compiling 2-3 publications.  Do you think this will produce low quality PhDs as oppose to getting a solid thesis + publications to back it up.  Students can include 2nd author papers where they've contributed 5-10% of the paper (maybe a certain experiment) and still include that as 'their paper'.  This means that collaborators would actually contribute to the student's PhD with a simple acknowledgement of their contribution.

 

 

 

 

Not sure what you mean.

 

You still need to do the "research" , so I am not sure I get your point.

 

 

I.e. (1 x first author paper) + (3 x papers with 2nd authorship) = PhD

 

Just for example, the breakdown of contributions (amount of work done): first author paper (70%), 2nd author paper 1 (10%), 2nd author paper 2 (10%) & 2nd author paper 3 (10%).  They might just be contributing their flow cytometry expertise for example but they can still include the papers acknowledging other authors did 90% of the other work.  

 

My point is that a student might have only minor contributions in the 2 x 2nd author papers and still gets a PhD by publication given they have the 1 x first author paper.  And even in that paper, they have 2nd authors who do part of their work.  

 

Of course you have to write up an Introduction (= literature review paper) and a conclusion but the content will be the 3 papers.  I know that some grad schools go as far as to accept papers which are "submitted" but not accepted as being o.k. to fulfil the PhD by publication criteria.  


Edited by science noob, 04 August 2014 - 05:12 AM.


#6 pito

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Posted 04 August 2014 - 08:13 AM

 

 

It's a new trend in many continents where PhD can be awarded by compiling 2-3 publications.  Do you think this will produce low quality PhDs as oppose to getting a solid thesis + publications to back it up.  Students can include 2nd author papers where they've contributed 5-10% of the paper (maybe a certain experiment) and still include that as 'their paper'.  This means that collaborators would actually contribute to the student's PhD with a simple acknowledgement of their contribution.

 

 

 

 

Not sure what you mean.

 

You still need to do the "research" , so I am not sure I get your point.

 

 

I.e. (1 x first author paper) + (3 x papers with 2nd authorship) = PhD

 

Just for example, the breakdown of contributions (amount of work done): first author paper (70%), 2nd author paper 1 (10%), 2nd author paper 2 (10%) & 2nd author paper 3 (10%).  They might just be contributing their flow cytometry expertise for example but they can still include the papers acknowledging other authors did 90% of the other work.  

 

My point is that a student might have only minor contributions in the 2 x 2nd author papers and still gets a PhD by publication given they have the 1 x first author paper.  And even in that paper, they have 2nd authors who do part of their work.  

 

Of course you have to write up an Introduction (= literature review paper) and a conclusion but the content will be the 3 papers.  I know that some grad schools go as far as to accept papers which are "submitted" but not accepted as being o.k. to fulfil the PhD by publication criteria.  

 

Strange.

 

No here you still need to write a "thesis", so the thesis is actually the main, important part!

 

Also: papers are often (here) less important because if you have a bad/hard subject its not always possible to publish in high impact journals.


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#7 Trof

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Posted 04 August 2014 - 02:44 PM

Also: papers are often (here) less important because if you have a bad/hard subject its not always possible to publish in high impact journals.


That is quite the oposite of here actually. The papers (mind, that the IF doesn't need to by high.. it has to be any) are the proof that the work you did was actually worthy anything. Well, in theory of course, it actually proves nothing (and it only can be applied to science study programs). It is viewed that apart form subject being hard or not, you need to make a new piece of knowledge (and publish it). If you had bad luck, good advisor will always make effort to make his student finish at least in the least impact journals he knows. If you have a bad advisor, that's just bad luck on you. Life is not fair.

We were told while doing are masters, that master thesis can say "well, sorry, it all went wrong and we did acomplish nothing", if the person is worth anything and just had a bad luck. Master's thesis doesn't have to contain any new "science", it should just prove you learnt something, can use literature and can write a coherent scientific text.
But they warned us, that PhD is different, no one cares anymore if you tried hard, if you had bad luck, when you don't have any considerable output, you cannot get PhD.

Actually to finish PhD without the necessary minimal publication number, you need to have other outstanding achievements and get a dean's exception. That actually happend to my colleague, who had only two papers needed, but one of them was a sum of a six years work and has published in a journal with IF nearing 30.

 

For that reason finishing PhD is not same for everyone in the programme, more stright forward for some, harder and longer for others, I could see that myself.
And even a not finishing one.. after a probably largest and most "top-tier" scientific fraud discovered, for all of the scientist's guiltless PhD students, that was the end of their PhD. The advisor was gone, the topic was gone, probably many many iluzions lost, they couldn't continue and build upon a decades of frauded work. And many of those just didn't have the nerves to start it all again. It was a disaster for a whole department and probably not only one. As I said, life is not always fair.


Our country has a serious deficiency in lighthouses. I assume the main reason is that we have no sea.

I never trust anything that can't be doubted.

'Normal' is a dryer setting. - Elizabeth Moon


#8 pito

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Posted 04 August 2014 - 09:24 PM

It makes me think a lot about: publish or perish!

 

It provokes bad science and fraud! Because they are pushed to publish something....

 

Here you also need a publication, but just 1 as first author about what you did. This is normally Always possible even if you are stuck: then you can publish about something thats somesort of a "sidetrack" of what you are really doing.

+  the second paper can just be a review paper..

 

Its more about the work you did and the PhD thesis itself!

The reason is simple: not all subjects are "good" enough to publish a lot about or in high impact factor journals!

 

The focus on the number of papers is a sad evolution actually and they do not look at the science anymore or the work you did, this is rather stupid.

 

I know good scientists that have 10% of the papers of others that actually suck. Some labs just put everyone on every paper they publish.... I mean...

 

Others want their names on papers for a contribution that is not even 0,1% of the work (just having used one of their machines is already enough to request their name on the paper... stuff like that).

 

 

+ needing those papers can also lead to "free work" if the PI stops you from publishing or pushes you further and further to get more results and so on.. you can end up doing a PhD for too many years ..


If you don't know it, then ask it! Better to ask and look foolish to some than not ask and stay stupid.


#9 science noob

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Posted 04 August 2014 - 10:10 PM

That's exactly my point. Before the introduction of "PhD by publication", students have been compiling their thought process in the form of a thesis.  And now, they can just jumble up bits and pieces of their contribution (e.g. a particular technique/expertise) in another person's work to get their PhD "by publication".  

 

Hence leading to the 'slippery slope' of supervisors including everyone in the lab on their papers without substantial work, new generation students thinking it's easier to obtain a PhD and the publish/perish cycle.  This would inevitably lead to more fraudulent data, retractions and deviations from doing 'good' science.  

 

And the key is that different institutions would have slacker rules than others, hence producing "low quality" graduates.  

Some institutions require >3 first author papers which makes up the three chapters (similar to that in a traditional thesis) but others require 1 first author and a "few more" 2nd author ones.  

 

This leads me to my next discussion regarding PhD quality.  How would a PI select which PhD they would employ for a post-doc position? What makes PhD #1 stand out from PhD #2? Number of papers? Lab techniques? Expertise?



#10 Trof

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Posted 05 August 2014 - 03:13 AM

In my experience, PIs hire postdocs depending on a personal recommendations rather than anything else. And if they don't have it, they look on papers and they quality, for whom they worked, his whole history etc. Expertise matters only when you want them to start on a rather advanced topic and you require him to have for example a long experience with cell cultures, because they are going to cultivate something difficult. 

I thing it doesn't matters if the institution has a "lower" limit than other. As I said, the PhDs are not the same, even from the same institutions. 

 

My boss for example, has personal requirements higher than the faculty has. He wants his students to have a really good paper to finish (even if it means taking longer time to finish) even if the faculty would suffice with "just" any impact.

 

I don't thing it differs much across any profession. You may have a "qualified" plummer and he's a disaster, you may have a plummer who studied the same school and he's great. If the goverment pushes to have more graduates and more university degree holders (as my does), then logically the quality falls a bit. But not of all, the good will always be good. You just can't tell only from having some title, as, actually, you never did anyway, now there is just more of them. Don't thing it's anything new or anything "now it will be all worthless". Yes, the titles hold less prestige when everyone has it (and not everyone can be outstanding) but it's just titles. It doesn't mean the good students will be worse, maybe even oposite, they would want to stand out of the "crowd". 

Apart from a society's influenced fluctuation of titles numbers I don't see much of a difference here. Any institution that keeps incompetent people with titles, just because titles, deserves the result. The other will select the "good" from the "bad" simply because they do good work or don't. And if this doesn't happen, in a larger scale, in a whole society, then it as well deserves and in the longer run, it will collapse. That is actually an evolution of a kind ;)


Our country has a serious deficiency in lighthouses. I assume the main reason is that we have no sea.

I never trust anything that can't be doubted.

'Normal' is a dryer setting. - Elizabeth Moon


#11 pito

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Posted 05 August 2014 - 03:14 AM

That's exactly my point. Before the introduction of "PhD by publication", students have been compiling their thought process in the form of a thesis.  And now, they can just jumble up bits and pieces of their contribution (e.g. a particular technique/expertise) in another person's work to get their PhD "by publication".  

 

Hence leading to the 'slippery slope' of supervisors including everyone in the lab on their papers without substantial work, new generation students thinking it's easier to obtain a PhD and the publish/perish cycle.  This would inevitably lead to more fraudulent data, retractions and deviations from doing 'good' science.  

 

And the key is that different institutions would have slacker rules than others, hence producing "low quality" graduates.  

Some institutions require >3 first author papers which makes up the three chapters (similar to that in a traditional thesis) but others require 1 first author and a "few more" 2nd author ones.  

 

This leads me to my next discussion regarding PhD quality.  How would a PI select which PhD they would employ for a post-doc position? What makes PhD #1 stand out from PhD #2? Number of papers? Lab techniques? Expertise?

Well many of them just look at the number of papers and thats it!

Its even or scholarships like that: they just count the number of publications and often thats it...

 

But in general: the value of a PhD is not so big anymore.. there are too many people getting one.. and many of them without added value. A PhD (in my opinion) is for when you want to do research. 

Now people get a PhD just to teach, to get certain positions (that often do not even require a PhD). I see people graduating with a PhD that know pretty much nothing..

I know PhD students here that teach their master students crappy stuff... Its often horrible. Many of them are not even willing to listen to advice or looking stuff up, they just hear something, think its always correct or look it up (badly) and never check it... stuff like that.

I know PhD students that are not even able to make dilutions and stuff like that.


If you don't know it, then ask it! Better to ask and look foolish to some than not ask and stay stupid.


#12 phage434

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Posted 05 August 2014 - 05:39 AM

Yes, and they keep walking across my (and mdfenko's) lawn.

;-)






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