PhD-students opinions on doctoral training
Eliisa Kek‰l‰inen, M.D.
PhD candidate representative,University of Helsinki Haartman Institute, Dept. of Immunology, Helsinki
The organizing committee of Orpheus 2007 congress did a web-based questionnaire for European PhD-students in order to get background information about the current situation in PhD training for the congress sessions. The questions were mainly about MD / PhD training in accordance with this years focus on clinical science. The questionnaire was open for everyone on the congress web page and it was also advertised by e-mail to European universities and graduate schools that had a specific MD / PhD program. Of all 22 answers that we received, 16 were from Sweden and 4 from Finland so these results can hardly be generalized to the whole of Europe. The average age of the respondents was 35 (in a range of 23 to 56 years), and 64% were women. 13 out of 22 were MDs. Half of the respondents were working in the basic biomedical or health sciences and the rest considered their studies to be more clinically oriented.
The first question was about ones personal motivation of doing medical research. Most of the respondents thought that general interest in learning more and personal development were the greatest motivators of doing research. PhD degree was considered beneficial for medical career also. Some were motivated of the thought that the results of their studies would help patients in the future. It was also said that research is more intellectually stimulating and creative than ordinary patient work. Quotes: "To be able to differentiate between useful and unworthy results every modern physician is in need of a research oriented education." "I just like the work as a researcher." "To contribute to the total knowledge of mankind and hopefully contribute to better health."
62% of the respondents were taking part in some PhD-program. In general these programs were considered good, especially for young researchers. Some thought that these programs are mainly designed for PhD students in general or pre-clinically oriented medical students and not for MD / PhD students. Special PhD-programs for MDs doing their speciliziation were hoped for because excisting programs were considered to be too basic science oriented. It was also pointed out that these programs are quite hard to get in and people that only do their PhD for CV extension take the places from people that would like to make a career in research.
All respondents thought that a PhD degree would be beneficial for their career. Almost all were interested in continuing research in the future also. Many thought that a post doc position is an interesting option after finishing the PhD: there are a lot of interesting projects abroad and nationally and finding funding was considered easier for post docs than undergraduate students. In Finland and Sweden the PhD degree seems to be appreciated in clinical specialization, at least in some clinics. However the lower salary in research versus clinical work was considered a big problem. Quotes: "MD / PhD degree offers better jobs." "Having a PhD is highly respected." "I think future career options are increasing." "To continue doing research, specially basic, as an independet scientist is very difficult as there is little financing and lots of competition."
The general consent was that there is quite little collaboration between clinical and basic sciences. Some thought that successful collaboration nowadays depends too much on ones personal contacts and networking and hoped for organized think tanks and research centers to make the collaboration easier. The researchers thought that differences in research traditions, communicational problems, lack of knowledge and strict legislation are in the way of more extensive collaboration. 9 out of the 13 MDs had also worked in clinical patient work while doing research. Generally the view was that it is professionally important to do both but the main problem is lack of time. Some thought that it is impossible with current biomedical information load to master both occupations. Quotes: "The feeling of split and loyalty is a problem." "I think it is very difficult to combine both basic research and clinical work since both are quite demanding both in terms of time and mental effort." "Nice and important questions! We much find some solutions for the future in order to get rid of this "them or us" mentality (clinicians vs. basic researchers) which must be contraproductive."