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PhDs in different countries

Bart Janssen bjanssen at ag.arizona.edu
Wed Aug 27 18:34:58 EST 1997

S L Forsburg wrote:

> > From: ravena at cco.caltech.edu (Karen Allendoerfer)
> >
> > In article <34030BF7.502C873B at ag.arizona.edu>,
> > Bart Janssen <bjanssen at ag.arizona.edu> wrote:
> > >
> > >However, (and this comment will probably get me into a flame war)
> my
> > >impression is that despite a long BSc and long PhDs the average PhD
> > in
> > >the US is not as knowledgable or skilled as the average British or
> > New
> > >Zealand PhD.
> >
> > Nonetheless, this statement doesn't fit my personal experience or
> that
> > of people I know. It is hard to compare the two systems, and I have
> > known plenty of outstanding PhD's from both systems.
> Bart's pretty negative about everything in the US system.
> While my undergraduate degree was fairly broad, on the
> other hand, it allowed me a double major in disparate
> fields and was much more enriching.  And I'll stack
> my MIT PhD up against a doctorate from any  institution
> in any country  with confidence.  ;-)

Hi Susan

OK that's probably a fair cop.  I am pretty unimpressed by the US
education system.

I absolutely agree there are outstanding PhD programs (MIT included :))
and outstanding PhD students.  The point I was trying to make
(unsucessfully) was in response to Davids post where he said

"My thanks for your (and Bart's) response.  Do you actually get negative

comments from overseas?  My own experience is that the "negative
comments" are used to justify (in my opinion) overly long PhD programs

What I was trying to point out was that I didn't think that the shorter
PhDs in Britain and elsewhere gave rise to less skilled PhDs (my
personal experience has been the reverse).  Rather that the long PhD in
the US was necessary because the undergraduate program in less intense
in the US, in MY LIMITED experience.

I don't claim to have any evidence other than anecdotal.  But what I've
seen is that US undergrads do not work as hard as undergrads in New
Zealand or as I understand it in European universities.

> i agree with Karen's post.  Let's watch out for broad
> generalizations, okay?

Hey that's not fair, I was very careful to make it clear that I was
talking about my experiences, that those experiences were limited, and
most important that there were oustanding PhD programs and PhDs in the
US.  What I was trying to convey was that I thought (note this is my
opinion only) the workload on the undergraduates in the US universities
I (note my experience only) had seen was significantly less that the
load on undergraduates in New Zealand.

> In my experience , which at the
> personal level is UC Berkeley, MIT, and UCSD in the US,
> plus Oxford University in the UK (where I was a postdoc,
> and tutored students extensively), overall, the
> UK PhD is very focussed, and the US PhD is broader.
> One is not better than the other, but they
> are different and there are different expectations
> from the university attached to them.

Fair point, but my post was in response to Davids question which
suggested that the shorter PhDs were seen as giving rise to less skilled
scientists, whereas my experiences have been the reverse.  The
scientists coming out of the longer US system are not as experienced and

> For me as a PI choosing a postdoc, what
> matters is the individual rather
> than the country of the degree.  You can do a
> lousy degree or a good degree.  That depends
> on the candidate rather than the system.

Of course the variation amongst individuals is far far greater than the
variation between the systems.  But in my opinion the US system is not
as intensive at the undergraduate level and the effects of that carry
over into the PhD system.

I knew I should have avoided this issue.  But I really think that people
in the US are overly sensitive to any critisism of anything US, in this
case the US education system.  No system is perfect but everytime I've
discussed these kind of issues with Americans they become very defensive
about "their" system.  What is the problem with suggesting that some
aspects of the US system aren't as good as they are in other places?

Look I'm sorry if I offended anyone and I am well aware that there are
students who do work very hard through their undergrad, moreover I am
well aware that there are excellent US scientists, all I tried to say
was that I didn't think that the longer US PhD gave rise to better
scientists.  Hence longer isn't necessarily better.


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