Brit-Yank systems, compared

SL Forsburg susan_forsburg at
Sat Feb 17 14:56:48 EST 1996

I think I can answer some of Sarah's comments with a sense of 
comparison; I did my postdoc in the UK and have first hand experience
of both systems.

Ms. S.J. Rickard wrote:
> ...but I do tend to think that Americans take there
> science more seriously than us. 

That's partly a cultural "thing".  We Yanks are a rather competitive 
people, and we like to see people working hard. Contrast this with 
 rather extreme way of looking at British science, which is that 
it isnt appropriate for people to be SEEN to be working hard--ie, 
accomplishment should appear effortless!  I'm' not trying to make any
value judgements, far from it, but I think there's a real cultural 
difference  here in how we judge effort.   To most of the British I
know, we American postdocs seemed like humorless over-serious swots.
The opposite is also true....9 to 5 just doesnt cut it in US
academic science, and anyone purusing the more British style would
be perceived as probably lightweight and not sufficiently serious
about their work.

obviously I am exaggerating somewhat to make the point, which is 
that these differences reflect distinct cultural values.

Sarah also wrote:
> The British degree is "harder" than a US degree to my knowledge 
> which is why a British Phd takes only 3 years. 

Well, not quite.  In my observation the British educational system
 requires a university-bound student to specialize while still in 
school and apply to university to read for a degree in a particular
field. The students are more advanced because they have focussed
very early. The US system is  more generalist. The American may not
have decided between English LIt, Biology, or Physics until her 
third year.  Thus there's a difference in the intended goal of a 
University degree.

The first year in graduate school in the US (students are
admitted to a department, rather than being accepted by a supervisor
as in the UK) brings the Yanks up to about the same level. 
After the firstyear, the American chooses a research supervisor 
within her department. 

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