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Ph.D. increase needed

Letter to the Editor | Thursday, October 18, 2007

The other day Philip Reed wrote in to comment about how a low percentage of Notre Dame undergrads go on to grad school (“Ph.D.s promoted for wrong reasons,” Oct. 17). It is unfortunate that Reed seems to discourage students from considering graduate school, and even more unfortunate that he seems to think very little of the academic talents of the Notre Dame undergraduates.

The administration noted that our students do not go on to advanced studies at the same rates as schools of comparable academic stature (that’s what ‘peer institutions’ is supposed to mean). If you believe that Notre Dame is producing some of the best and brightest college graduates in the country, it should be shocking that fewer Notre Dame students go on to Ph.D.s as compared to other universities.

Does Reed suggest that it is bad for students to get their doctorates? I wouldn’t speak for the undergraduate student body, of which I was never a member, and say they “probably are more likely to consider a life devoted to family or social work,” but I could see how that may be true. That doesn’t mean that one cannot have scholarship and family or scholarship and social work. I hope people interested in preventing infectious diseases would be better off with a Ph.D. than, well, staying at a Holiday Inn last night.

As one of the premiere academic institutions in the country, the University absolutely should promote advanced scholarship. As the premiere Catholic academic institution in the country, the University absolutely should promote a life devoted to family and social work. These two identities of Notre Dame are not separate, nor is one alone more important than the other. Father Jenkins recognizes this, and suggested more Ph.D.s from our undergraduates is in line with this. I am sorry that there are too few jobs for philosophy Ph.D.s. If you really love the topic though, a low employment rate in your field should not and would not deter you from advanced studies. It seems almost that Reed is trying to keep people out of his field (“too many students already in Ph.D. programs”) in order to keep his competition down. Reed seems to forget that there are other programs besides the (excellent) philosophy department at Notre Dame; his experience definitely is not typical of all graduate programs.

Many people are astonished to find out that the tuition for science graduate school is $0 a year – none pay a dime in tuition, and in fact, are usually paid a stipend by their university. Why? Well, partly because the graduate students are teaching assistants and deserve compensation of sorts, but also because there aren’t enough graduate students in science. Yes, doctoral programs come with their own challenges and pressures. Just because it’s hard is no reason to discourage people from even trying, though.

“Six or more years” (average 6.2 years at Notre Dame, but less depending on your field) of school sounds unthinkable to some people, yes. Apparently though at Stanford it’s only unthinkable to 85 percent of the students instead of 94 percent here. Should the large pool of pre-med students at Notre Dame stop applying to medical school because it’s hard and it takes years to be an M.D.? Hardly. Frankly, I prefer graduate school over a job. I, for one, am glad I didn’t have a bitter professor tell me as an undergrad that I should get a job instead of graduate school.

Perhaps creating intellectual leaders doesn’t require students to get Ph.D.s; it certainly helps though. Perhaps a life of the mind doesn’t require a Ph.D.. For those capable of the challenge, though, it certainly makes intellectual pursuits more rewarding. To think that Notre Dame only wants students to get Ph.D.s such that the University looks better in U.S. News – World Report’s ranking is ignorant of the mission statement of the University.

Matt Smylie

graduate student

off campus

Oct. 17