Thursday, November 10, 2011

Change the PhD: PhD by Publication

The other day I was writing about changing the PhD and Jenny wrote an informative reply to my post informing me that in the UK there are actually three types of PhD programs, the ones that I had experience with (though my researching of PhD programs): the "enter with a dissertation topic;" those that have required course components and a dissertation (what I would term "North American style"); and finally a type of PhD program called PhD by Publication.

Being curious, I spent some time looking into what is meant by this type of PhD program and it added to my readitlater reading list (along with the Change11 posts that I wanted to read that day).  I have to say that  I was sufficiently intrigued by this method of getting a PhD. As Jenny alluded it, it is hard to get into this type of program since it seems like it's either reserved for staff members of the university (so perhaps as a way of getting required credentials for career advancement having already proved your knowledge, know-how and capabilities by working at that institution and having already published.  The other way of getting in (if the institution has this type of program for non-staffers) seems to be to come in with a portfolio of publications already and provide justification as to why these collected works are worthy of a PhD.

It seems to me, that if you haven't already published in peer-reviewed journals, a traditional PhD may be the route to go (since that would be shorter), but if you have already published in peer-reviewed journals that body of work can speak to your skills. It seems like there isn't much standardization in PhD by Publication programs, but it seems like your publications (which are peer reviewed, defended in writing by the candidate, and reviewed by the faculty of the institutions) are a substitute for the dissertation. Perhaps there is additional coursework required for some more observation by faculty and other SMEs who are tasked with certifying your competency.

Personally I have no problem with this, I actually think it is an interesting idea.  Some of the comments I saw online however, from traditional PhD holders seems negative, talking about people who get PhDs this way as people who couldn't compete and couldn't hack a "real" PhD. From an educational perspective I think that people are too wedded to the Dissertation without thinking about what a dissertation is meant to show - and that is your capability, as a PhD candidate, to conduct some original research.  If 5-7-10-15 research articles accomplish the same goal, who care if you did a dissertation or published original research?  After all, not all PhD dissertations are publishable, but all of your published research is....well, peer-reviewed and published!

I don't know how old this concept of PhD by Publication is, but it seems like an way to think out of the box and change PhD education :-)
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