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Overview of the academic career path in different countries


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Hi everyone,

I'm trying to get some ideas of how academia should be structured.
I created this thread to learn how you go about being an academic scientist in different countries, who pays for it, to see what works and what doesn't, what has or hasn't been tried. An overview of academia around the world.

Just to give you context, our legislature is starting to discuss the structure of the academia in my country, Brazil, so we have a nice opportunity to do this right (as best as we can).

I'll start by giving you an overview of the Brazilian academy, so you know what I'm talking about.

In Brazil, most of science is funded by the government and done in universities (the top ones are public).
The typical career path is to take some tertiary course on some science related field, then follow this with a Masters (optional, but most people do take it). After the Masters you get a PhD, and possibly post-docs (though post-docs are relatively recent in here).
As the vast majority of jobs in research are within universities, to be a researcher you have no choice but to go through a public contest (which is how Brazil hires most of its public servants - see Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_contest) to become a hired professor.
After you're hired (and after your probation period - a couple years), you can't be fired (equivalent to the American tenure). Also, it's not mandatory to do research, after all, you were hired to teach. If you do manage to publish enough, you can apply for a lab, get students, the whole deal (and most people do go that way, despite not being mandatory). This has consequences, good and bad, arising from the same place: intellectual freedom (because of security), but also accomodation (because of security).
During the Masters, PhD and post-doc, you are funded through scholarships given by the federal government agencies for R&D (though the selection process and assigning of scholarships to students is done at the institute level, at each university). Basically, it takes at least 10 years between graduating with a tertiary degree and having your first formal job - which has consequences for when you retire, your taxes, health insurance, etc.
Grants for research are also given by the same agencies, through selection processes that each scientist applies to individually, on a project basis. This money is for research expenses only - the researchers have their salary (they're public servants, paid by the state), students are paid by the agencies mentioned, technicians are hired by the university (by public contests, see above). In fact they can't use the money to hire a post-doc, for instance. This is all badly implemented (a problem shared by all the administrative services in Brazil) and results in lots of bureaucracy to buy even the simplest things for research.

I think I've said enough. These are the main points I'd like to address:
- how grad students, undergrads, postdocs and technicians are hired and who pays them;
- how do scientists get money to fund research, who funds it;
- the typical career path after college/tertiary education;
- any quirks or things worth mentioning.

Also, besides saying how it is structured in your country, I'd love to hear how you think it could be better, opinions are welcome - I just ask that you try to separate the two. =)

I know I'm asking a lot, but I hope it ignites some nice discussion of what's right and wrong with the academic career path.

KTNAJR

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Here's how it works in Canada, for the physical sciences. I'm going to assume the "traditional" path (i.e. going into the field right away, not taking time off etc.)

 

1. Getting into an undergraduate program / a BSc.

There are two main paths that Canadian students use. 

 

a- Direct entry to a University. Students take certain required high school science and math courses and admission is based mostly on the average score on these subjects. Some schools will allow/require applicants to submit "supplemental" applications where they write essays, get letters of recommendation, and show other things like community involvement. Things might have changed since I did this (8 years ago) but if your grades are high enough, you can just get in -- the supplemental stuff is only required if you are borderline. Also, there are no standardised tests (like the SAT or GRE).

 

b- College then transfer to University. Some students will attend a college first, for about 2 years, then transfer to a University. Colleges are institutions that usually do not grant 4 year degrees in science (but they might in something like business). There isn't much research either -- they are mostly for teaching!  The 2-year college program is designed to be transferable to a 4-year university -- there is a system in place to keep the courses aligned with each other. However, it might still take a transfer student 3 years at the University to complete the BSc.

 

Either way, the student generally leave with a BSc or an Honours BSc. Top grad programs in Canada prefer students with an honours degree. An honours degree usually requires the student to maintain a certain GPA, maintain a full courseload (5 courses per semester), take about 10% more credits, and complete an honours/senior research thesis. 

 

As for tuition -- in most of Canada, University tuition costs about $5000 per year plus books. College tuition is about $3000 per year. There are scholarships (merit-basis) or bursaries (needs-basis) available, but most of them will only pay for the first year. Student loans are available from the government on a needs-basis and usually you can get a few thousand dollars per year forgiven (don't have to pay it back). These loans are interest-free until 6 months after graduation. 

 

There are no private universities that perform scientific research in Canada (nothing comparable to say, the Ivy League or Caltech). The public universities are mostly funded by the government (although this has dropped slightly below 50% in recent years), so the real cost of tuition is probably at least 2-3 times the numbers quoted above. International student tuition is much higher (about 3 times higher). I think the general philosophy is that since educating our population will create overall benefits for society, every student's education is partially subsidized by taxpayer dollars. In the province of Quebec, they have even higher taxes and Quebec residents have access to even cheaper tuition (about half the amount that the rest of the country pays). 

 

2. The next step is to go to graduate school and get a Masters degree. There are no standardised tests in Canada for graduate school -- the main criteria is your academic performance and research experience. Students submit essays and letters of reference from former supervisors.


The MSc program is usually 2 years and is fully funded. MSc and PhD programs in Canada are separate programs, however many students will choose to stay with the same supervisor from MSc to PhD (see next step). Graduate admission in Canada is more like the job hiring process. Students submit their applications to the school, and there is a committee that decides which ones meet the standard for the school. Then, they forward the applications to the profs that are named in each application (and/or the profs that meet the applicant's interests). It is usually then up to each prof to decide whether or not they want to accept that student since the prof is responsible for a large portion of the student's stipend. The department is also responsible for a portion of the stipend too (through awards or TAships) so there might be some negotiation between profs and the department if the total number of students wanted exceed the budget. However, this usually means that a MSc student is admitted to a school to work with a specific prof or research group.

 

This is because the MSc program is generally research heavy. In the two years, the students take courses and do research concurrently. The courseload is pretty light, usually 4-6 courses over the two years, and research usually starts as soon as the student arrives, although most students don't make a lot of progress until the first summer. After the two years, the student is expected to have completed a MSc project, write a thesis, and defend it in some kind of oral examination. Unlike PhD work, the MSc project does not have to be original research or even publishable quality work, although it generally is. 

 

Funding comes from doing work as a TA, money from the supervisor's grant (to pay for the research work you do on your thesis) and fellowships awarded by the school or external agencies (such as the government). The funding packages have values that typically range from $25,000 per year to $35,000 per year at the MSc level. However, the student is expected to pay for tuition out of this money. Tuition is about $4000 to $7000 per year. 

 

3. After the MSc, the next step is to get into a PhD program and complete it!

 

The standard path is to apply to a PhD program after completing your MSc. Most students stay at the same school, but you have to reapply to the school since it's a separate program. You would even have to get transcripts and letters of reference from your own supervisor! However, this is mostly a formality. This also allows the student to change schools or just change supervisors (or change projects with the same supervisor) from MSc to PhD. If the student is extending their MSc work to a PhD, they can probably finish in an additional 3 years. If they change schools or projects, it might take another 4 years. 

 

There are two common exceptions though!

a- Many schools will allow MSc students to "skip" to the PhD program after the first year of the MSc. This allows them to skip the whole MSc thesis/defense thing and probably finish their entire degree in 4-5 years total. Each school/department has their own regulations of what is required to do this, but some people will recommend that you complete the MSc first!

 

b- Some schools will follow the US system and only admit students to a direct-PhD program. These students might get a MSc along the way for completing coursework, like the US system.

 

For a PhD, there would be additional course requirements. Unlike the US system, courses aren't front-loaded necessarily...usually students take them throughout their years. Most schools have some kind of comprehensive exam partway through and the comps are also a defense of the PhD student's thesis proposal in front of a committee (which is usually the eventual thesis committee). Many programs will consider the successfully defended proposal a "contract" -- i.e. once the student completes everything in the proposal, then they are ready to graduate! PhD level work must be original research and definitely publishable quality. The thesis can be a traditional manuscript, but some places will accept 3 first authored papers by the student instead. This kind of thesis would usually just require reformatting the published papers into thesis format, and some introduction, transitional text, and summarizing text added. 

 

Funding for PhD students work the same way as MSc students, above. Some programs may award higher stipends to PhD students.

 

4. After the PhD, the next step is usually post-doctoral positions for the academia-oriented graduate. These are 2-3 year research only positions. I think it's expected that you do at least one, usually two stints as a post-doc before you are seriously considered for tenure-tracked positions. At this stage, you are almost solely evaluated on your research performance/output. Transcripts from grad school are not usually needed, except for maybe fellowship applications. Most Canadians seem to do at least one post-doc outside of Canada if they did their PhD in Canada. 

 

5. The next step for someone who wants to be a tenured faculty member at a research university is to hope to get hired on a tenure-tracked position. Usually these are assistant professorships at Universities. The hiring process is a big deal. The Department usually have to compete with other departments in order to get the Dean/University to award a professorship position to them. The Department forms a search committee to solicite applicants. The committee usually consists of faculty members of all rankings, and some graduate student representatives. Sometimes undergraduates are involved as well. After they make a shortlist, these applicants visit the school for interviews and to give "job talks" -- usually these are department seminar or colloquia. Research is probably the main criteria, but teaching is also something that might be valued, depending on the department.

 

6. After someone is hired as an assistant professor, there is some period of time (usually about 5 years) before they are considered for tenure (and promotion to Associate Professor). In this period of time, the new faculty member is working really hard to generate a lot of research, serve on committees etc. When it's time for tenure review, it's an evaluation by a committee again. Sometimes students are directly involved in the committee, but the department might ask the students to write in letters in support of or against a faculty member up for tenure. If the tenure application is not successful, this usually means the dismissal (but not always) of the faculty member.

 

7. After getting tenure, then the Assistant Prof is considered for promotion to Full Professor some 5 ish years later. The process is similar to the tenure review. The difference between Full and Assistant Prof is mostly only in department bylaws (for example, they might require the department head be a Full Prof etc.).

 

That's pretty much all I know about how it works in Canada. Obviously, I know more about the earlier stages (that i've experienced or know people who have done so), so my descriptions are longer in these steps! 

 

As for my opinion, I think this works great. You only pay out of pocket during undergrad (and it's already mostly subsidized). Grad school is basically a job (and the admission/hiring process is like that of a job). I'd consider grad school as some sort of apprenticeship, where you are slightly underpaid for your skills in exchange for the ability to learn/develop them. In the physical sciences in Canada, graduate students are generally treated decently and our stipends are generous compared to other fields. The take-home stipend amounts are even above the poverty line in most cases!

Edited by TakeruK
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  • 2 weeks later...

This is a great thread!

 

I'll talk about Indian situation, which is somewhat similar to the Brazilian one, but not exactly. The system is the same for the STEM and for the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences disciplines.

 

India has a 3 years bachelor's degree, which will soon be changed to a 4-years degree, mostly to help those students who want to apply to the US universities, as the 3-years Indian Bachelor's is not regarded at par with the 4 years Bachelor's in the US.

 

One can have an Honours (Major) and one or two optional subjects (Minor) in the Bachelor's level.

 

Admission into Bachelor's is based on the % of marks one gets in the High school level - this is the only criteria for admission into college and hence, given the exploding population of India, there is a stiff competition for getting admission into prestigious colleges.

 

After the Bachelor's, it is mandatory to go through the Master's before registering for a research degree. Bachelor's is not enough to apply for a PhD, as is the case in many Western countries.

 

Entrance into Masters in the prestigious universities is based on a very competitive entrance test, in which hundreds of candidates compete for a few dozen seats. 

 

In lesser known universities, it is again based on the % of marks obtained in the Bachelor's level.

 

 Master's is a 2-years programme. After this, in top universities such as those in Delhi, it is mandatory to go through a 2 years MPhil (Master of Philosophy) before registering for a PhD. In other, lesser known universities, MPhil is not required and is not offered. Students go straight from the Masters to the PhD level.

 

Again, in the top-level universities, admission into MPhil is based on a competitive exam, comprising of written test as well as an interview, in which a tentative research proposal is submitted and cross-examined by the faculty. Again, only about 10% of applicants can hope to gain admission into MPhil.

 

MPhil is a research degree, spanning 2 years in the most rigorous universities, out of which first year has course work and the second year requires writing a dissertation and defending it in a viva before the dissertation committee and an external examiner. In some universities MPhil is of 18 months. 

 

Thus, a candidate registering for PhD in India already has 5-7 years of tertiary education. Those with MPhil have already written a post-Masters level dissertation and defended it.

 

PhD admission in the most prestigious universities is based on the past grades, an application including a research proposal and an interview in which the faculty cross-examines the candidate on the research proposal and related questions. In lesser universities, the format of the admission is the same, but the procedure is less rigorous.

 

PhD spans not less than 5 years in most cases in the most prestigious universities and in many cases can go upto 9 years (not including Masters and MPhil).

 

On the other hand, lesser known universities can grant a PhD after 2 or 2 and a half years and the PhD is much less rigorous in these universities.

 

In India, it's a good quality primary and secondary school education that is expensive and few people have the resources to get their children educated at these schools. But after one completes the school education, tertiary education is highly subsidised and one has to pay very nominal fees and needs to have money only for personal expenses.

 

The University never asks a candidate whether they have the money to support their University education - it's the candidate's headache, not the University's - that's the difference between a developing country and a developed country.  :)

 

From Masters onwards, most candidates get a scholarship for fees and personal expenses and for MPhil and PhD, one can get a luxurious fellowship on passing a highly competitive fellowship exam.

 

Resources in Sciences labs vary from being very well-funded at prestigious universities to being strapped for resources at other places.

 

All the Universities and most of the Engineering and Medicine institutions are owned and funded by the government. Private institutions are lesser in number and are much lower in prestige value than the government-owned ones. There are some run by the Christian Missionaries, funded by the Churches in the West that are regarded as prestigious, but these are few in number.

 

Engineering Bachelor's is a 4 years degree and hence, at par with the US degree. The IITs (Indian Institute of Technology) are very prestigious and IIT undergraduates get either a funded admission or a job offer in the US and other Western countries quite easily.

 

Post-Bachelor's, engineering students can get an MTech and a PhD if they like. Admission is again based on competitive entrance exams in BTech, MTech and PhD levels. The Engineering entrance exam is highly competitive and out of thousands who appear, only a few hundred qualify. 

 

Similarly, MBBS degree is of 4 years and admission is based o a highly competitive exam. After the MBBS, one can get an MS and go for super-specialization if one wishes. All admissions are based on very competitive entrance exams.

 

Engineering and MBBS degrees are much more expensive than the normal college and University degrees in other subjects. Besides the government-run moderately priced institutions, there are many private institutions where large amount of money is required to get these degrees.

 

One can get a Master's in Business Administration (MBA) after a Bachelor's in any subject. Admission into MBA programmes is based on very competitive entrance exams and these programmes are usually very expensive. 

 

In India, a PhD is not necessary to get a regular job in a University. High Second Class Master's is the required degree, along with passing an eligibility exam conducted by the government for getting into university jobs.

 

All University jobs are government jobs.

 

In more recent years, the government has made rules about granting points for publications and conference papers. However, there is no check on where the publications should come from and where papers should be presented. The emphasis is more on quantity rather than quality.

 

Hence, immediately after getting a Master's, candidates begin to look for academic jobs. Given the swelling population of India, each year the number of candidates multiplies by several-fold. This causes stiff competition - almost cruel in nature. There are large number of candidates having same qualifications applying for very few jobs.

 

This means, that appointments in reality are not based on merit and knowledge of a candidate, but on what kind of powerful contacts one has. The result is that almost always quality is compromised and mediocrity is very consciously promoted. This is the bane of Indian academia.  

 

To add to the problem, Indian work laws provide that a person in a regular job - called a "permanent job" in India - at par with the tenured jobs in the US - can't be fired. They get all the health, travel and living benefits over the salary and don't have to face any serious quality checks in their work. They need to show some publications for promotion, but there is no check on where the publication should come from. It's easy to show the required number of publications and keep on getting promoted.

 

Because mostly mediocre people are hired and the more brilliant researchers are sidelined, these people who get the jobs, try to suppress innovative research from their students - because they suffer from a sense of insecurity. This happens in all universities of India - including the most prestigious ones.

 

So, the problem in Indian academia is not that there is any lack of talent, resources or universities with good infrastructure. The problem is that innovative, critical research of younger scholars is consciously killed by their seniors.

 

Because of this, most talented candidates try to leave India as soon as possible after getting a Master's degree - because Indian 3 years Bachelor's is not accepted in the West. They leave not because there is any lack of resources, but because they know they can't grow after a certain stage.

 

From the prestigious institutions, in the STEM disciplines the emigration to the West after Master's or even after PhD is almost 100% - same as from the IITs.

 

In the Arts, Humanities and in the Social Sciences, emigration happens after Master's or MPhil stage for Master's or PhD admission in the West. The % of emigration is lesser because even in the West there are lesser opportunities in these disciplines. But whoever is a good researcher and knows it, leaves.

 

Only such people stay in the Indian academia, who are mediocre, but know they can use non-academic routes to get a permanent job in India - from where they can't be fired.

 

Thus, a person who has a regular job in an Indian university is more likely than not to be a mediocre academic. Those who have taken a long time to find their feet despite a good publication record are likely to be much better than those who have got the job. And eventually they do find their way out of India at some stage.

 

This is really the problem with the Indian academic system, not the lack of resources. And as far as I can see, it can't be solved. 

Edited by Academe
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For the U.S.:

 

3-5 years for Bachelor's (the equivalent of 4 years of coursework, but people have very different timeframes depending on personal and financial factors) (some allow highly motivated students to complete and defend a "Senior Thesis", but it's rarely required)

2-3 years for a Master's (some require defense of thesis, some don't)

4-6 years for a PhD (all require defense of dissertation)

1-3 years for a Post-Doc

5+ years to get tenure from beginning of tenure-track position

 

12-17 years after finishing a Bachelor's, one can achieve a tenured position in academia.

 

In terms of funding, it's quite variable. There are public schools (which get some funding directly from the state) and private schools (which do not receive funding directly from the state). Within both types of school, you can apply for privately- and publicly-funded scholarships/fellowships at Bachelor's, Master's and Doctorate levels. Post-docs and faculty are paid by schools or often through grants (which come from public sources such as the Department of Defense, or the National Science Foundation; or from private sources such as the Ford Foundation, etc.).

 

Also, many students fund their education partly or fully by taking out student loans (again, these can be administered by the state (better interest rates) or by private institutions). I think this is the most dangerous part of our system: more students are allowed into programs than can be funded, and they choose to attend because they think they will be able to pay it off with a tenure-track job, but we end up producing more PhDs than there are tenure-track jobs for, and we end up with people $200,000 in debt living as homeless people on welfare, with a doctorate under their belt.

 

That's just my very basic version, but I'd love to hear other's takes on the American system.

 

I also want to hear about other countries' systems! I've already learned a ton that I didn't know about academia in Brazil and India!

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This is a very informative thread!

 

About the US - I'd like to add that perhaps it would be better for the US to invest more funding into tertiary education, to reduce the cost of education - as Canada does.

 

Brazilian and Indian systems are almost completely run by the government and hence, costs are not high. Their problem is more to sort out the recruitment and the entire academic job system - the way it functions.

 

India is a classic example of how to destroy a well-structured tertiary education system by its own people.  :)

 

The argument given here makes sense, as when  these Indians come to a Western country, they do very well. They are obviously talented researchers.

 

For Canada - I don't know if it's right to involve the Undergraduates in the faculty appointment process. I'm not sure they have the expertise for the process. But the way Canada looks at funding the tertiary education as an investment in social welfare is quite commendable.

 

I hope we'll see more accounts from other countries as well.

Edited by Seeking
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This is a very informative thread!

 

For Canada - I don't know if it's right to involve the Undergraduates in the faculty appointment process. I'm not sure they have the expertise for the process. But the way Canada looks at funding the tertiary education as an investment in social welfare is quite commendable.

 

Undergrads / students are involved in faculty appointment (and at UBC, they also sit in one of the panel interviews for applicants to the Department Head position, which involved applicants internally and externally), but I would not expect that we were given an equal vote in the process. What usually happens is that each of the student societies (e.g. Undergrad Physics Society, Graduate Physics Society) each elect one representative to participate in the hiring committee. Through a meeting with their respective societies, each student representative gathers the thoughts, concerns, questions etc. from their constituents and brings these ideas to the hiring committee meetings. This is helpful for the professors on the committee, who might not be as directly involved/exposed to the things that directly concern students, especially the undergrad students who are generally more anonymous and further removed from professors than graduate students.

 

When students are able to sit in on panel interviews, they can also ask the applicant direct questions about their ability to contribute to the department. For example, if the undergrads want to get a class in, say, computational physics, they might push the committee to hire someone with this area of expertise. They can also ask the applicants about their ability or desire to teach courses like this. Or, if the students think the department could use more outreach programs, they might push the committee / ask the applicants about their interests in this. In the end, the student representative brings this information back to their respective student societies and we debate on which person(s) we would like to see hired/promoted. 

 

In the end, the student representative will present the recommendations of their student society to the committee, which may include a recommendation for or against a certain applicant, but I don't think the students really get a full vote equal to the other profs. Instead, our opinions are more like "advice" for the committee to consider based on what the undergrads/grads want out of their programs. Obviously, the role of students is not to judge how effective that prof will be at research etc. since we are not experienced in that. But we can provide useful insight on the other parts of the application. That is, the students can really only judge some aspects of an applicant.

 

Sometimes, student opinion is solicited in another way. At one school, during the tenure/promotion process, all students are also asked by the department to write letters of opinion about Prof X who is under review. Students can write anonymous letters if they wish, and they can write letters recommending for or against the Prof's promotion. 

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Takeruk,

 

Thanks for explaining this. 

 

As long as the Undergrad's views are taken as advice from the student community, it makes sense.

 

What would you say are the shortcomings in the Canadian system - since it was part of the original question?

Edited by Seeking
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A major shortcoming of the Canadian system is that Canada has much fewer resources than the US. I don't even know if the per-capita government spending on graduate education is even higher in Canada, but the much larger US economy allows for much larger scale missions, studies, and opportunities. For example, a search on Wikipedia shows the budgets for our respective Space Agencies:

 

Canadian Space Agency 2009 Budget: 0.350 Billion CAD

NASA 2009 Budget: 17.7 Billion USD 

 

Although the US has about 10 times as many people, this shows that the US spends about 50 times more on its space program than Canada does! Of course, NASA's mission statement is very different from CSA's mission statement. But overall, for certain fields, such as planetary science, the resources and opportunities are just not available in Canada. 


I guess what I'm trying to say is that for a lot of things, you can say Canada is just a scaled down version of the US (by a factor of 10). For some fields it might mean that there are just less Canadian scientists working on the same problem. For other fields, such as missions to Mars for example, work at that level is just not possible for a smaller country such as Canada. Other similar advantages of being in the US are funding and access to more telescopes! I think this is a good reason why many Canadians in my field spend some time in the US (either grad school or post-doc).

 

On the other hand, the Canadian government awards fellowships for the social sciences that are worth about the same as the natural sciences and engineering. That is, there is a Social Sciences and Humanities equivalent to our equivalent to the NSF. My American friends tell me that there isn't that level of federal funding / support for the social sciences. I'm not sure of exact numbers but while the social sciences/humanities fellowships might be equal in value to the natural sciences, I'm not sure how the total number of awards compare, in Canada.

 

Another downside of the Canadian funding system is that when our government cuts funding to the sciences, they tend to cut from the "pure" (as opposed to "applied") sciences and emphasize research with practical or economical value more strongly. Perhaps that is the right thing to do in tough economic times but many feel that cutting too deeply into our "pure" research might save money in the short term but will hurt our progress and ability to contribute to the international field in the long term. 

 

Finally, government funding of our Universities is dropping. The government used to be responsible for the majority of our Universities' budgets but now at some schools, the fraction is somewhere between 40% and 50%. Schools have responded by some combination of cutting services, raising tuition, increasing enrollment sizes / class sizes (which might not be terrible overall except when they accept extra people with the intention of weeding people out). 

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Thanks for dropping all this knowledge! I am learning so much, and this is especially helpful since I'll be looking for jobs (in 4-5 years) all over the world.

 

It's amazing how differently things can work even in neighboring countries with so much in common. I think it's great that undergrads are involved in the hiring process in Canada. I'd like to implement a similar policy someday, when I'm hopefully on a search committee. :)

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  • 3 weeks later...

You all probably know this already, but the U.S. system has a few differences that weren't already mentioned.

 

1. In most fields, an MS is not necessary for admission to a PhD program.

2. Schools often award MS degrees to people unable to finish their PhD, but this is not necessarily always the case and they are not obligated to.

3. Many schools simply do not offer MS degrees in certain fields (many sciences) due to the above reasons.

4. It's pretty rare for someone to finish a PhD in 4 years, I'd say the average is more like 5-7 years. Subject dependent, of course.

5. The government simultaneous believes that it shouldn't fund students, and that everyone should go to college...

6. By the way, "college" and "university" are often interchangeable in common usage here. Although technically a university often has many colleges (or "schools") within it (College of Engineering, Natural Science, etc.). A 2-year school from which students often transfer to a 4-year school (or one that often only grants Associates degrees, and the occasional BA/BS) is usually referred to as a "Community College" or "Junior College" (not in common usage).

6. Funding for public universities is mostly from the state, not federal level. So, depending on the political climate or economy of that state, tuition varies widely. Ex: Michigan has a particularly poor economy, so it cuts funding for education due to lack of funds. States which tend to be conservative in political nature tend to cut funding regardless of their economy.

7. Private colleges/universities have drastically higher tuition in most cases. They tend to be filled with people with rich families, or really bright students that have large amounts of scholarship or financial aid money. A high cost private college does not necessarily equate to a more prestigious degree, but it can.

8. It costs much more money to attend a public university in a different state.

 

Student loans are completely out of control due to cost of higher education rising constantly. Most students just don't see another way to finance anything. It's practically impossible for a person to save the money required for education and pay for it out of pocket. Decent public schools (4 year university) typically cost anywhere from $12-25k a year (only tuition, and that's in-state!). So, the old strategy of saving money over a year or two, just isn't realistic. Neither is having parents pay (most of the time). There are savings plans that some people take advantage of, to put money away for their children starting from an early age. Many people attend community colleges for a year or two, and then transfer to a larger school. This can actually cause problems, because classes taken at the smaller school are not guaranteed to transfer, so they can end up having to re-take things (which is why I find that strategy to be a waste of time if you can get into a 4 year school).

 

Personally, I think they should be funding education a lot more. However, it's unlikely to happen. It's not a perfect system, and no country's is. There are pros (most people can get a college education if they want it) and cons (student loan debt is a problem, but with good planning can be minimized).

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Groverj3,

 

Thanks for that insight into the finer dynamics of US education. I do feel very strongly that the undergraduate education in the US should have more funding from the government. It will reduce costs substantially.

 

This topic is also about dynamics of getting a job after Graduate studies and I have said elsewhere several times that the most undemocratic and unsound part of getting an academic job in the US is that it places undue importance to the "prestige value" of the PhD - especially in the Humanities - which often does not reflect the real academic standing and potential of a candidate. 

 

I have also seen a trend in recent years - candidates with a "prestigious PhD" but not much academic potential tend to use the prestige value of their PhDs to fill up the available positions as adjuncts and keep the really good candidates out of tenure-track jobs for years. This is increasing the number of unemployed PhD candidates in the job market - in addition to economy and other aspects.

 

The schools fall for the temptation of saving money by taking as adjunct a mediocre person who has a prestigious tag attached to the PhD, rather than offering a tenure-track job to an academically sound candidate. I have seen cases of positions initially advertised as tenure-track later being filled with adjuncts in this manner.

 

I strongly feel that the system of adjunct teaching should be abolished. This will give the jobs to at least some qualified PhDs. And definitely, jobs should go to the most academically sound person, regardless of where they got their PhD from.

 

In Canada, the trend seems to be slightly different - US PhDs seem to have an advantage over Canadian PhDs in general. The "prestige value" there seems to be associated with the US, not with the top-ranking Canadian programs - both cases would overshadow the actual academic standing of the candidates.

 

I found this about the academic recruitment in the Philosophy departments in Canada. Please do read the comments below the article as well. It seems that this is the trend in many disciplines in Canada, though Sciences may be different - 

 

http://www.universityaffairs.ca/phd-to-what-end.aspx

 

The bright part is that at least Canadian academics are beginning to ask the right questions about how recruitment is being done in Canada and whether it treats the candidates in a fair manner. I wish and hope the American academics would begin to ask questions whether the candidates are being given their fair due in academic appointments based on the prestige value of PhDs.  

Edited by Seeking
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