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Editor,—Following my study into MD degrees1 I investigated the current means of obtaining a PhD in the UK. The same questionnaire was sent to the 10 doctors whose PhD was quoted in the paediatric/perinatal section of the Index to theses with abstracts journal in 1986–95. Nine replies were obtained.
Though this was a small study one can make some comparisons between MDs and PhDs. All candidates pursuing a PhD, unlike all those doing an MD, had research posts, the shortest being for 30 months. The median length of the post was three years, compared to two years for the MD candidates. Surprisingly, none of the PhD students in contrast to 29% of the MD candidates, were able to submit their PhD within their research period. PhD students spend a smaller part of their time (median 10% compared to 20%) on non-research related activities. It would seem that almost all higher degree students have clinical commitments and demands unrelated to their research and there may be a case for adding six months to the research period to allow for this inescapable fact. All of the PhD supervisors had a higher degree, whereas only 78% of the MD supervisors had an MD or PhD. PhD students also had more meetings with their supervisors.
PhD students received their theses back from examiners more quickly that the MD students (median three compared with six months). Only 22% of PhD candidates had to make revisions to the theses compared with 46% of MD candidates. All PhD candidates had an oral examination compared to 47% of MD students. The smaller percentage of PhD candidates who needed to make revisions to their theses may reflect the fact that their research projects were superior or possibly that they were better supervised. Alternately, the oral examination may have given candidates the opportunity to explain or elaborate on certain points, thus decreasing the number who needed to make revisions. Interestingly, the length of time from the start of the higher degree to confirmation that it had been obtained was equal for PhD and MD students (median 54 months); however, given that a PhD generally requires a longer research period and is a more detailed study, this reflects better on PhD candidates.
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