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TJR

Andrew, in my last comment, would you please change "tenure-track fellowship" into "tenure-track-like fellowship", and then delete this comment? Emmy Noether does offer the credentials of a tenure evaluation, and most graduates eventually get a permanent position. But the program itself does not offer a permanent position.

TJR

@Johannes:

Every serious job candidate amasses as much academic currency as they can: papers, grants, networking. So the differences between top candidates will be very small. That is largely why the tenure-track market is so unpredictable.

In this environment, a whiff of Guttenberg-Schavan can be very damaging.

(To return your snark: as an academic you certainly know this already. For those who don't, the executive summary of the 2008 evaluation of the Emmy-Noether-Program for tenure-track fellowships contains this gem: "Ähnlich sind sich beide Gruppen aber nicht nur in der Selbsteinschätzung: Auch die Analyse der Publikationen der Antragstellenden und der Zitierungen dieser Publikationen ergab weder vor noch nach der Förderung klare Unterschiede zwischen Geförderten und Nichtgeförderten. Beide Gruppen publizieren auf hohem Niveau." The report acknowledges self-selection bias of applicants.)

Johannes

You prove that you are the real deal by having some peer-reviewed papers in decent journals or conference proceedings. In the natural sciences a "big book" like a PhD or a Habilitationsschrift (which is all but dead in these fields) is not as important as journal papers. (As a math PhD you certainly know this already.)

And this is of course also important in the social sciences and humanities. Not every journal there is peer-reviewed, but many are and in any case there is more peer quality control if smaller portions of one's research are published/presented to an expert audience who will usually realize whether you are a hack or a decent scholar/scientists.

You can fool all people sometimes etc.

One problem with the German "Doktor" is its history. During the 19th century it became for some reason the standard exam in most fields of study (before that it had been more similar to a Habilitation, in the medieval universities the professors were called "doctor"). In the 1920ties and '30ties students often studied for 6-8 semesters, then they wrote a doctoral thesis of less than 100 pages in about one or two semesters, passed a doctoral exam (often the first real examination in their studies) and they were done. Anyone who wanted to get into research had to do a Habilitation (which often was a big book already back then) anyway. And there were far fewer students at this time and most of them were, at least for the humanities, extremely well prepared for scholarly work by an elite "Gymnasium" with a heavy focus on Classical languages and history
At some stage intermediate degrees were introduced (I do not know the details) and dissertations got longer and more involved as the PhD was no longer the first real degree. Although as the Schavan case shows it was still possible at some universities and in some subjects to finish with a PhD as a first degree until recently (90ties), it was extremely uncommon.

So today we have the somewhat unfortunate situation of involved PhD theses with lots of original research and rather shallow ones satisfying mainly the vanity, and probably lots in between.

Andrew

All of these are excellent points. I'm familiar mostly with the law, where the problem is, perhaps, at its worst. I am definitely willing to assume that the greater transparency and objectivity of the criteria in math and the natural sciences probably makes the problem less acute there.

TJR

As a fresh German maths PhD, how would I signal to American universities that I'm the real deal, without looking unprofessional? I obviously did do all the best practices you outlined.

Mison

While I have to agree with most of your Germany-bashing, I think it mainly applies to the social sciences.

In natural sciences, I would see other motivations:
1. Engineering: You will earn a lot more with a Dr., so your professor applies you as a lab technician for three years while paying you close to nothing and putting his name on your results.
2. Chemistry, Biochemistry: You won't find a job at all without a Dr., otherwise the same.
3. Physics, Maths: You don't know what to do with your life after the Msc and so decide to spend some more years in cosy academia.

All in all, most if not all research in the sciences is done by Doktoranden, so I would consider these phds as extremely valuable.

Of course, scientific misconduct is also possible, but at least not in the forms you mentioned.

Johannes

I think the Schavan case is being exaggerated. She was more being sloppy than actually plagiarizing original ideas. What she basically did was the following: She summarized ideas on consience by people like Freud giving the impression of having work with Freud's original text, but actually paraphrasing secondary literature on Freud without giving sufficient credit to these authors. Of course that is bad scholarship and formally wrong, but no way as "criminal" as Guttenberg's copy&paste.

Certainly the criticism on (parts of) the German system is on the mark, but it is not all that likely to change all that much. There are of course many theses which are good and rather tightly supervised, but without changing the system completely and both more funds and less PhD candidates (because the professors would actually have to do some serious supervising) there will still be a few weak theses going through.

In most cases it is no big deal, because nowadays everybody has to have some pre-PhD degree (usually M.A., Diplom or Staatsexamen). As theses have to be published it is extremely unlikely that someone with a weak thesis will have a scientific or scholarly career.

I do not think it makes sense to have to options, because they would have to be distinguished somehow. They should skip the thesis for MDs at all (as Austria has done, I believe) and the ones who do a research thesis in medical science should receive a different degree (like Dr. rer. nat. med.)

In all the other subjects we should in the long run only accept serious theses with two or three supervisors. For anything else the Master should be sufficient.

Thomas

Nice diagnosis of the German psycho. Having a doctorate in Germany (I am not a fan of comparing it with a PhD, since I wrote my thesis (law) in less than a year and would wholeheartedly deny any academic quality) does not only provide you with respect, but also with economic benefits, by the way. I got the financing for my apartment for somewhat better conditions since I had a doctorate.
Oh yeah, and speaking about plagiarism in Germany - let's not forget about Martin Luther King, who plagiarized a substantial part of his dissertation and is officially only considered "Dr." King since his thesis is supposed to be so excellent that only the non plagiarized parts would merit a doctorate. Which is about as ridiculous as the pomposity of German academic degrees, in my opinion.

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