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    Simon Mitchell said:

    I don’t agree that DTCs lead to a “significant decrease in UK research volume” and if they do I would argue they lead to a significant increase in UK research quality.

    As an undergraduate student of Computer Science and Maths I would not have wanted to, or been able to, study a PhD in Systems Biology without the DTC system. Undergraduate courses do not fully prepare you for postgraduate study, especially in young disciplines or those with interdisciplinary requirements. I don’t know of a good alternative to a DTC in these situations. Scrapping DTCs would lead to these subjects excluding early career academics.

    As the Lords noted I think diversity (including DTCs) is the key, as we can’t predict which research model will produce the next breakthrough. Although the importance of agile funding is undeniable I also think it’s essential to maintain funding for DTCs long enough to ensure the new institutions have a chance to become better established and demonstrate their success.

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    Richard Walker said:

    Hi Simon,

    I may not have been clear in enough in my post – but I absolutely don’t disagree with having DTCs, in cases such as yours they are clearly invaluable. It’s often hard to get interdisciplinary collaborations together and having a centre that forces students of disciplines to come together and then go off to a variety of research fields is a great thing, and often leads to really exciting science.

    My point is that they don’t work in all situations and they certainly don’t work as the only method of funding research – I’d question whether they’re even ideally the main route, but that’s less certain.

    Plus they’re really expensive, so you have fewer researchers which means fewer lab hours. You can argue about how you measure research volume (there are anecdotal suggestions that DTC students produce more papers), but by at least by sheer raw volume you do have a de-facto decrease.

    Rich

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    Ben Small said:

    The divestment in Doctoral Training Centres (DTC) appears disingenuous at a time of financial hardship.
    The considerable initial financial outlay and loss of the human resource used to construct the DTCs have been enabled via funding from Research councils and Universities alike. To undo all this investment is nonsensical. Advantages of the DTC structure appear numerous:

    They encourage collegiality, collaboration, team-work and shared learning which are facets of both successful academic and industrial research. Given that “convergence”: http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/convergence-0104.html across much of science, technology and engineering is becoming (or always has been) an apparent theme (Sharp et al., 2011)⁠, inter or cross-disciplinarity training becomes ever more crucial.
    Where a common first taught year is included it allows supervisors and students alike the time to assess their respective wants and strengths and assess opportunities for collaboration on the full-thesis project. Reflection that isn’t always afforded during the ‘standard’ studentship route.
    They provide a problem-solving support network across the years for both supervisors and students.

    If DTC’s are more expensive is this solely related to the initial start-up cost or are they 60 % more expensive on a per annum basis? Although I agree with the Lords comments that  Research councils should “preserve a variety of Ph.D. delivery models…” I also believe that the inter-disciplinary training afforded by DTC’s in at least the life sciences is crucial to making the substantial progress envisaged by governments and industry in these fields and should be maintained.

    Sharp, P. A., Cooney, C. L., Kastner, M. A., Lees, J., Sasisekharan, R., Yaffe, M. B., Bhatia, S. N., et al. (2011). The Third Revolution : The Convergence of the Life Sciences , Physical Sciences , and Engineering. http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2011/convergence-0104.html

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    Thomas Forth said:

    traditional PhDs, similar to scientific apprenticeships, are painfully out of date in a world where fewer than 10% of the apprentices can expect to follow in their masters’ footsteps. By providing funding to students rather than a supervisor DTCs solve this problem by ensuring that the development of the student is placed above the needs of the supervisor’s research.

    A return to the old system of PhDs assumes that increasingly indebted students will be willing to chase a career in academia that is increasingly unattainable. I doubt we will attract the most talented with that offer.

    Of course, I am strongly biased. The supervision for my PhD has been exceptional and the training, shared with four other institutes, has been excellent. Without the DTC system I would most likely be trading derivatives instead of studying malaria metabolism; policy makers will have to decide whether that’s a good or bad thing.

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