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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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Fry up some bacon, pull down a coffee mug, and pour yourself a glass of breakfast. It’s the Morning Smack Imperial Milk Stout from Three Taverns Craft Brewery in Decatur, GA.

With maple-notes and a solid sweetness, this stout drinks like a dessert. And at 8% ABV, it’s probably wiser to save it for after dinner.

You can still sip it from a mug, though!

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111: Empowering the Impossible with Citizen Science

It looks like a cross between an anteater and a hedgehog, but don’t let that description fool you into believing it’s easy to spot an echidna in the wild. These denizens of the Down Under know how to hide.

“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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110: The Secret Life of Pets (in Grad School)

After a tough day of negative results and an ornery PI, it can be nice to come home to someone who thinks you’re amazing, loves you unconditionally, and wants nothing more than to cuddle with you on the couch.

Of course, we’re talking about pets; dogs, cats, gerbils, rabbits, birds, horses and, I’m told, snakes and reptiles, can brighten even the darkest day.

But despite their well-known restorative powers, pets can be a lot of work. Does a grad student or postdoc really have time to take care of another creature?

This week, we assess the pros, and cons, of caring for pets in grad school.

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