PhD education and some reflections
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Many pursue a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) degree each year in the world. In fact, PhD education is very significant not only for the PhD students in terms of their better careers but also for universities and society as a whole, since their contributions can enormously benefit society. Moreover, a PhD degree brings fame to the family, especially in those societies where the number of PhD holders is lower. As expected, many students, professionals of non-government organizations, academicians, government officials and others are increasingly interested in the PhD program at home and abroad in recent years and the number of PhD students and graduates is increasing day by day in the world.

Of course, the necessity of the number of the PhD degree may vary across countries. Usually less developed and developing countries need more PhD degree holders compared to developed countries, even if the number PhD degree holders is increasing in China, India, South Africa and most of the Latin American countries. In fact, less developed and developing countries require more knowledgeable and qualified persons for the improvement of diverse educational, social, economic and other sectors more than those of the developed countries. But the fact is that most of the less developed and developing countries fail to provide needed support for PhD program in universities and provide deserved job opportunities for the PhD graduates, while industrialized societies that provide more opportunities for PhD programs can accommodate in universities, industry, government and the non-profit sectors. Consequently, many pursue a PhD degree mostly in developed countries.

But the selection of applicants for PhD scholarship or admission into universities for the PhD program is to be specially noted. The selection process, which often varies across scholarships and universities, usually includes academic results, research experience, publications, recommendation letters, some selected scores such as IELTS, TOEFL and GRE, and some others. Of course, most applicants for the PhD program in any university can demonstrate such criteria with varying degrees. Usually, those who are better on such criteria are selected for such a program. But the right applicants are not selected on all occasions. In fact, lobbying, preference or favoritism (racial or gender), false or intentionally harmful recommendation letters and some other reasons may sometimes be deciding factors for institutional, governmental and other forms of PhD scholarship, even though some candidates have more qualifications on main criteria. Consequently, many good applicants do not get deserved scholarships and cannot get admitted into deserved universities for the PhD program across countries.

It is, moreover, notable that the aims of the PhD program are several. The PhD education aims at not only specializing in a specific field for the creation of something new alongside the work of previous scholars in the given field but also developing PhD degree holders as human resources and skillful for life-long learning. Even if there are enormous challenges such as funding issues, lack of institutional support, conflict with the supervisor, the balance between work and life, time management, stress and problems with motivation, many can earn the desired degree. Even though a significant portion of the PhD students fail to complete the program, a considerable portion can compete it and many of them across countries have in-depth knowledge on the literature of a specific area in which they earned the degree and related scientific methods and techniques, can demonstrate originality of knowledge, are able to critically evaluate research and related aspects and have the ability to tackle and solve problems with variations across countries and degree holders.

These are, of course, very significant as acquired knowledge through PhD education and research and other capacities can be applied to develop diverse fields and the PhD degree holders can serve as desired human resources. But the undeniable fact is that PhD education cannot ensure innovativeness among students always. On some occasions, PhD degree holders fail to bring new ideas in their respective fields. Of course, top-level universities usually can ensure high standard PhD education because of human capital, economic resources, availability of up-to-date educational materials, the presence of world-renowned faculty members and some other reasons but many universities especially less resources in the above terms are not. On many occasions, the standard of PhD education is consequently not good especially at universities in less developed and some developing countries and, moreover, PhD education often turns to be a mere reflection of higher education without innovativeness. A lack of innovativeness in the PhD education may further lead to the lack of innovativeness in professional works and the solution of diverse problems.

Moreover, PhD education does not intend to develop PhD students as human beings who are not only knowledgeable and capable of contributing to the specified fields but also realizing their potentials through differentiating between humanness and animality in terms of their works, activities or behaviors.  In fact, a considerable number of PhD degree holders bring harm to students, employees and others reflecting animality rather than humanness. As is often criticized, many brilliants students at undergraduate, graduate and PhD levels are intentionally suppressed by their teachers who are also PhD holders. Of course, such a reality may be of different reasons. But a lack of development of human-friendly ideals and the feeling of responsibility is responsible for such practices among PhD degree holders in universities and organizations in different countries.

The question is whether it is possible to provide PhD education keeping its main goals stated above and make them more human development-friendly since many PhD degree holders are academicians and responsible officials of different organizations. To me, it is not impossible altogether. In fact, a few academic courses which can develop good social norms and values, responsible behaviors to others reflecting moral integrity and the feeling of responsibility to society can be enormously helpful to increase humanness among them and make them friendly to the development of others. Of course, PhD holders are not outside the society, they are a part of it and, hence, it is likely that they can reflect harmful activities that deter the development potentials of others. But as highly educated persons, they have more responsibility to change the ugly practice of suppressing gifted and talented persons and contribute to the improvement of bad social norms as constructive ones so that others can be constructive too in their acts or behaviors.

It is, of course, undeniable that attitudes and behaviors cannot be changed with a few academic courses only especially at the PhD education level since these are built on for years. In fact, family plays a very important role in this respect. Moreover, good family norms and values and relational factors including peer factors can shape one’s behaviors to a greater extent, even though education can play constructively enhance these. Of course, community norms and values and behavioral patterns can enormously affect behaviors to a greater extent too. Not less important is the overall society that plays very important roles with its policy, culture and others. Yet, the PhD education can help improve the attitude and behaviors of PhD graduates at least to a certain extent needed for not only desired roles for the society but also ideal behaviors to others in the family, community and society.

As expected, the opportunities for the PhD program should be given to those who deserve it genuinely with genuine assessment. If necessary, the investigation should be carried out when recommendation providers provide false information against a candidate for increasing the chance of canceling out a possible PhD scholarship. Full funding should be made available whenever possible.  Though a large number of students receive full funding for their PhD education, many students receive fifty to seventy-five percent funding. Even if there are options including paid works at universities and some departmental and other grants for supporting education costs, sometimes it can be difficult for many students and universities. Usually funding is high in leading universities but in other universities, it may be lower. Funding in developed countries is rendered to be sufficient on most occasions, but in developed and less developed countries it is largely inadequate for the completion of the PhD education. Thus, funding should be increased based on the capacity of universities and the government. Moreover, PhD education should ensure that PhD graduates can work with innovativeness.

Not less important is that PhD degree holders have some responsibilities to others. They should serve society to their best and performs activities more responsibly. They should promote gifted and talented persons and should not suppress such persons at all. Moreover, they should promote good social and cultural norms and values and should avoid doing anything that can lead to deformed cultural development in academies, organizations and society at all. Genuinely constructive roles of the PhD degree holders are more important in those countries where the overall societal system is not established for facilitating human development and the suppression of gifted and talented persons is a common scenario.

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Amir Sayem
Studied Masters of Population Sciences from the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Writing about issues including social, political, public health, environmental, and international relations. Contributor to The Eastern Herald from Bangladesh.