News - June 14, 2007

More room for criticism of PhDs

Reading committee members should make more use of the opportunity to criticise PhD theses. The Wageningen UR Doctorate Board has decided to encourage this in response to a critical evaluation of the way reading committees function, carried out at the Board’s request.

The Doctorate Board will also introduce a system to compare the level of theses with theses from other countries. This is in response to demands from the Executive Board that it should be possible to give an indication of the position of Wageningen research in the world. Reading committees are already entitled to comment on theses, but make little use of the opportunity, according to Frans Kok, Dean of the Wageningen graduate schools and a member of the Doctorate Board. ‘Mostly it is only the external referees who make comments.’

Under the new system, if one member of the reading committee fails a candidate, the awarding of the doctorate will be postponed. The promotor will have to supervise the candidate’s improvements to the thesis. Kok indicated that the system will be introduced after the summer vacation, as the directors of the graduate schools have already given their approval.

Aad Termorshuizen criticised the quality of PhDs in last week’s edition of Resource. ‘When I’m an opponent at the ceremony I feel like part of the decorations,’ he wrote. Termorshuizen thinks that external referees should be able to comment on draft texts.

Paul Richard, Professor of Technology and Agrarian Development, is familiar with the British system, where theses are assessed in this way. As he sees it, the process is very time-consuming. ‘The British system has advantages, but the Wageningen system does too. The public defence of a thesis offers guarantees, even though the candidate has already gained the title.’