CDTs: where’s the evidence?

In 2008 the EPSRC decided to slash the number of PhD project studentships it funds by 33% and switched £300 million of its funding to Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) instead.

Many senior scientists were angry about this, and I personally felt a bit disappointed in this decision. I felt like the EPSRC were taking a swipe at project PhD students like me. In the end, I went on an unattractive rant, which I’m not massively proud of, but which does explains some of the issues.

I wanted to find out if there was any evidence that CDT students would be ‘better’ than project studentship PhD students. For example, the business skills that CDT students are supposed to develop might provide the UK with better economic returns on the investment in PhD students. If that is the case, then perhaps the EPSRC has made the right decision.

The ESPRC provided me with this report which analysed a four year PhD prgram in neuroscience run as a pilot scheme similar in nature to contemporary CDTs in the 1990’s. One key point is the following:

For example, the programme’s management committee looked at the productivity of ex-students nine years after they started their PhDs and found that scientists who trained on UCL’s four-year programme published approximately twice as many papers as scientists who had been accepted for the scheme but opted to go elsewhere for their training.

But I wasn’t completely convinced. Does publishing twice as many papers automatically mean that CDTs should completely replace project studentships? I wanted to do some more digging and the Times Higher Education were kind enough to host me while I did it. My report is published today, and was co-written with Paul Jump.

I have no wish to criticise the EPSRC or any CDT, but I do think this switch from project studentships to CDTs is important enough to get talked about more. I look forward to the comments under the THE article…

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