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114: Grad School Should Have a Time Limit

Here’s a controversial idea: what if graduate school finished on a predictable schedule the way (checks notes) every other academic training program does!

Since kindergarten, your education has had fixed milestones. You knew it would take 12 years to graduate from high school, 4 for college, and 2 for a masters or an associates degree.

Even medical school takes a predictable 4 years, with an additional 3-6 for residency and fellowship, depending on the field.

So why does graduate school take between 4 and 10 years, with a lot of discretion, uncertainty, and mental anguish in between?

Start the Clock

This week on the show, we explore the strange, but sticky, notion that graduate training should be open-ended with no fixed program of development.

If we could sacrifice that sacred cow, we might be able to design some requirements and milestones that feel less arbitrary and can consistently churn out bright, capable scientists.

Imagine a world in which your PhD program was limited to 5 years.  What type of training would build your research skills and make you ready for the workplace?

The fact is, our current system is extremely variable – each student has a unique project with individual successes and failures.  One student might sail through in 3 years, while another is forced to change labs and stays through year 9.

Is the first student smarter? Better equipped to succeed?  

Or is the second student better trained by the additional time?

The reality is that ‘time to PhD’ is not synonymous with skill or training.  And if time isn’t correlated with success, then there’s an opportunity to tighten up the training schedule without sacrificing pedagogical quality.

We share a handful of ideas and concerns about a fixed-term PhD, but we’d love to hear what you think!  Is it worth standardizing scientific training, and where should we start?

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“They’re really understudied in Australia because they’re hard to find in the wild,” says Tahlia Perry, a graduate student at the University of Adelaide who has staked her graduate career on studying these rather shy creatures.

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033: It’s Tax Season – Here’s What You Need to Know (R)

You might believe that because you’re in grad school and receiving a research stipend, you don’t really need to worry about paying an income tax.  You don’t have a ‘real job’ and no one asked you to fill out any paperwork so you’re off the hook, right?

Wrong.  Utterly, expensively, illegally wrong.

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