If not, probably you are on the lucky side of PhD student admission system: Karolinska. Indeed when it comes to the requirements to enter a PhD study, KI is an outstanding exception compare to many other prestigious institutes, where grad students face tough admission tests and only who scores highest gets into the program.
The issue of measuring students knowledge before, during and after a PhD was at the heart of a Doctoral Student Association meeting at Medicinska Föreningen, the medical student union of Karolinska Institutet, last week. The discussion was organized and coordinated by Arash Hellysaz, PhD student in Neuroscience, to who goes all my gratitude for having rise such interesting topic.
Post-editing note May 6th: Credits for the discussion groups within DSA goes to Ranjita Dutta Roy, the secretary of DSA and coordinator of the workgroups. She has put a lot of work and effort into these initiatives, to which goes all my thanks.
— Riccardo Guidi 🇪🇺 (@RiccardoGuidi87) April 29, 2013
As I tweeted from MF room, I we soon realized that people were very attracted by the topic.
Why do we discuss this? At KI all you need to have to be eligible as PhD candidate is a university education (in any field, for what it matter) and a “certifiable” level of English, meaning you may need no document at all, as long as you come with the “evidence” that your english is ok.
On top of this, the administration grants exception based on “special grounds” (p12 Rules for Doc Education).
A provocative question at the meeting was: “Is it because of this ‘loss system’ that frictions occurs between supervisors and students?”. Is rising the bar of eligibility and putting all candidates on tight competition will benefit the institute, the students and the supervisors?
PhD everywhere in the world wants their title to be associated with great competence, incomparable skills and top education available in a particular field. This will make them more suitable for high-profile job positions within and outside academia.
Test or not test? In my view, Karolinska would gain so much introducing sever examination for students: it will increase its prestigiousness, have more prepared candidates and obtain numbers for a data-based education policy.
But, as I see it, KI couldn’t bother less about your background education. This because KI delegates so much the choice to principal investigators (PI) and/or supervisors. The PI scrutiny is all it matters.
However, it appeared to all that in some cases people taken from the street are put on a PhD project for reasons not linked to merit, knowledge or measurable capacity to perform best. Why would a PI do so? The real “problem” is that PhDs have characteristics much more similar to employers then students. The student is chosen by the PI who has all the right to have the last word on who to get into her/his lab. For what it matter, a PI may find way more suitable a “middle knowledge” person with good manual skills then a social-incompetent nerd.
If a test has to be introduced, it may be rather used as complementary information to the PI, that in combination with few weeks of direct supervision of the student in the lab, will make her/his decision.
Though KI doesn’t set the bar for PhD admission too high, it is expected that the education provided will be on the very top scale. Should knowledge tests be introduced during and at the end of the PhD? Some argue that what you really have to acquire at the end of your PhD are not hard core knowledge, but capacity to be open mind, acquire critical thinking and other soft skills. In other words: the time for you to learn text book is up.
PhD students faces the half-time control (2 years post admission) and the Gran Finale thesis defense. Cases of students that failed these tests are relegated as metropolitan legends in Karolinska. This may indicate that either PhD here are all good or the system is not measuring things the “right way”, whatever that means.
It’s clear that the goal of these tests at KI are not to block those people inadequate to persuade their studies, but rather giving feedbacks to students and to make the best out of what you already got. Excellent or not.
In this sense, during a PhD career, students are often asked to point her/his learning outcomes. Is this sufficient? Blind exit polls from KI seems to suggest the contrary. These numbers are not confirmed, but it appears that though students perceive their education as very good, external examiners seem disappointed by PhD performance at their thesis defense. Who’s right? Which of the two scale should taken in account evaluating the Institute education performance?
To add layers of complexity, Karolinska delegates the PhD education to each of its 22 departments, where students are required to perform very differently. In some, text book examinations have been introduced, clearly to face the incredible variety of backgrounds and gap-in-knowledge that students have once recruited.
Which brings us back to the point: tighter the net? The word to you.