Organisation - August 31, 2017

‘Do it properly or don’t do it at all’

Lieke de Kwant

Wageningen PhD candidates are required to submit a separate sheet with their thesis, with propositions related to a range of scientific fields and topics that are ‘relevant to society’. In one of her propositions, Franca Bongers takes aim at this custom. She explains her viewpoint from Beijing, where she is living now.

Franca Bongers received her PhD on 4 July for a study of plasticity in plants.

Propositions should be part of the PhD thesis itself and thus printed within, or discarded altogether.

‘I think it is confusing that it is compulsory to write propositions but they don’t appear in your book. They are not assessed in the same way as your thesis: there is no peer review by the reading committee. So you get your PhD for two different components assessed by different standards. I would say: do it properly or don’t do it at all.’

If I had to choose between those two, I would be inclined to scrap the propositions. They are nice for guests who haven’t read your thesis, but I think it’s crazy that I, as a plant scientist, have to make a claim about, say, animal sciences. In the old days, that was appropriate: then you were a scientist in six fields at the same time and the committee was primarily testing your general academic development. Now academic practice is far more specialized. I can still make a statement about apes, but surely I don’t understand the first thing about them?

As it happens, the very first question at my defence was about a proposition, my claim that there is more bias in the social sciences than in the natural sciences. That led to a nice discussion about prejudices in research.’