British PhDs (was:postdocs to faculty)

Bart Janssen bjanssen at
Wed Aug 27 11:51:44 EST 1997

Karen Allendoerfer wrote:

> It sounds to me as if you are generalizing from one or two bad
> experiences
> with US PhD's, and I'm sorry you had those bad experiences.  Maybe a
> little
> bit of research into the topic would be helpful.

Hi Karen

I did say that I had limited experience.  But I have been in the US
close to 3 years and been at 3 different Universities (Texas A&M, UC
Davis, and now U of A) and I too have seen the tired stressed faces of
the undergrads in our lab during exam time and when assignments are
due.  So I talked to them.  And to my amazment (seriously, I was
stunned) I found these students (some of whom were very good) had a
course load of around 20 hours/week.  This was including all lectures
tutorials discussion groups and labs.  And this was considered a heavy
work load.  Yes they had assignments etc.  Now I'll freely admit that my
experience was limited, but I did try to ask all the undergrads I came
in contact with what their work load was and 20 hours was normal (at the
Universities I was at).  As for lab courses, yes it was possible to take
lab courses, but it was also possible to do an entire BSc (a science
degree) without a single lab course! (insert stunned amazment here).  By
the way one of those people who did a degree without lab work got his
BSc at Caltech.

By comparison in my first year of University (in NZ) I had 36 hours/week
of either lecture or labwork (and I had three part time jobs).  That
wasn't typical most students averaged around 30 hours/week.

So that's what planet I'm from.  I really don't think that my
experiences in the US are true of all students.  But I also don't think
US students work nearly as hard as they can or should.

As for the comments about the knowledge base of students coming into the
University that is based on the complaints of a number of professors who
were frutsrated that they had to teach the high school curriculum at
College because many (not necessarily even most) of the student didn't
have the base level of knowledge to learn the College level material.

Anyway, as I said these are merely my experiences of both the US and NZ
system and also contact with some British post-docs.  I could be
completely off base, but at the moment I think my assessment is real.
US PhDs (on average) don't have the same level of knowledge and skill as
NZ or British PhDs (on average).  By the way the contact I had with US
post-docs in NZ was extremely good, we got some really exceptional US
post-docs in NZ.  It is my contact with undergrads and grad students in
the US (with notable exceptions) that has soured my opinion of the US


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