In much of Europe, it is standard for a student to earn their BS and MS degree before entering into a Ph.D. program. Once a student has reached the Ph.D. level, they no longer have to take courses and their sole focus is on their research. A student applies to a Ph.D. program solely by getting accepted to a project. It is incredibly common to have research that is only minutely related to the ideals of a department. This means that a students background does not always fit with the department they are accepted too. But the department does not require students to take additional courses to catch them up to the typical focus of their degree title.
In the US, it is incredibly common for students in graduate school to take additional classes past their undergraduate education. There is no requirement for a student to have a Master’s degree before entering into a Ph.D. program. The major difference between Europe and the US is that if a student enter’s a Ph.D. program with a Master’s degree, they are often still required to take classes. The number of classes a student has to take past the Master’s degree varies widely by school and discipline. For example, some schools have their students take only a few classes that are meant to help in their graduate career. These classes may include a coding class, proposal writing, and ethics, for example. Other schools have their students take upwards of 40 credits of science and math classes beyond their undergraduate coursework. Some schools don’t allow their students to transfer any courses from their Master’s degree, even if the classes are exactly the same. This is aside from the makeup courses a student may have to take if they come from a different educational background. The question becomes, how necessary is this coursework (aside from the deficiency courses) to students graduate education? There are a few cases in which this is warranted and other cases where the classes just become busy work and take away from a student’s research time.
I agree that having students take some classes past their undergraduate work helps orient them to the field. It also provides the opportunity to take courses that didn’t fit into a student’s rigorous undergrad schedules, much like the future professoriate course. Personally, I am in a class right not now that teaches me exactly what I need to know to do my research. It is low stress, and I’m learning things I’m interested in. I have also had to take courses that are required but have nothing to do with my research or my future career. They were simply bureaucracy. They were required courses to help me fit the knowledge mold the department wants me to adhere to when getting a degree from them. My question is, why?
There are a few reasons I can think of as to why students have to take coursework beyond a Master’s degree:
1. The department does not believe that the courses the student took for their Master’s degree are sufficient
2. The department is so interdisciplinary, it is unlikely that a student took the exact same course before, and the department wants them to know that material
3. The graduate school enforces each department to have a set number of classes for their students to take – so they can make more money.
This last point seems to be the most likely to me, but I can not find if the graduate school enforces a certain number of classes on the departments. There is one thing in particular that makes this last point incredibly likely. Colleges in the US are very interested in making money while colleges in Europe are not, and students in Europe do not need to take courses in their Ph.D. years.
It seems like graduate schools are always adding more requirements and more courses. The average time to earn a Ph.D. in this country is now 8.2 years with the longest average occurring in the field of Education (12.7 years) and the shortest time in the STEM fields (6.7 years) (NSF, 2008). I cannot find how the time to earn a Ph.D. has changed, unfortunately, but in the late 1800s, it took 1-3 years in the sciences and there was no thesis requirement.
There are a lot of unanswered question on this topic so your thoughts are appreciated!