Trends in research training: Impulses from the USA

31.10.2002
In connection with a visit from professor Maresi Nerad of College of Education, University of Washington, Seattle, NorFA and the Norwegian Research Council organised a seminar on trends of the research training systems of the USA and Norway. The seminar was opened by NorFAs rector Hans Guðmundsson, who introduced the internationally recognised American speaker.
In connection with a visit from professor Maresi Nerad of College of Education, University of Washington, Seattle, NorFA and the Norwegian Research Council organised a seminar on trends of the research training systems of the USA and Norway. The seminar was opened by NorFAs rector Hans Guðmundsson, who introduced the internationally recognised American speaker.

Professor Nerad gave a historical overview of American research training. Education is expected to be useful to the American society, which is not always the case in Europe where education for the sake of learning is accepted. In the USA, the universities are to a great degree autonomous, provided with their own boards. This leads to several American systems of research training.

American research training can still be said to follow a main structure, beginning with two years‘ course work. This is a general introduction to the field with seminars and lab work. After these two years the research student takes a qualifying exam in resarch methods, research litterature and research design. In addition, the students take an oral exam where the early ideas for a dissemination are discussed.

After having been awarded the doctor‘s degree, it is becoming increasingly common in the USA, especially among women, to start a post.doc. period. Professor Nerad cleary sees the dangers of this trend, post.doc. positions being low-paid, low status and granting few social rights.

Researcher dr. philos. Svein Kyvik of NIFU presented his results of an evaluation of Norwegian research training. The main problems of this training is according to Kyvik that Norway has too few doctoral students, that their average age is too high, that too many drop out and that of those who complete, many are too old when they do.

As an example Kyvik mentioned the fact that in certain fields in the USA the candidates are 33 years old when awarded their doctoral degree, whereas many Norwegian students are 33 years old when starting their research training. On the other hand, the percentage of drop-outs is lower in Norway than in the USA because of better financing systems.

Kyvik‘s solutions to Norway‘s problems is a new degree structure enabling the students to start their research training after the first year of their master degree, leaving a research training period of four years instead of three. Kyvik also recommends graduate schools and a better post.doc. system.

In the discussions following the presentations Kari Balke Øiseth of the Ministry of Education and Research statet that the intention of the post. doc. system in Norway is to keep the candidates in the system after being awarded their degree and in this way offer them a position. This is contrary to the American system of post. doc.s often being regarded as cheap labour. In addition, Kari Balke Øiseth expressed interest for NorFA‘s new graduate school initiative.
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