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6 July, 2005

Is it about the piece of paper?

I seem to start too many entries with "Interesting article in the Guardian...", but, well, there is.  This one questions whether it's really advantageous to require a doctorate (PhD or DPhil) as the minimum entry requirement to become a university lecturer in an arts-related discipline such as English.  It points out that a student at University College, London in the 1970s was tutored by three of the most eminent practitioners of the century, none of whom had higher degrees (except honorary ones, awarded later).

I don't know what I think of this (not least because my formal higher education was science-based).
It could be argued that a certain amount of academic rigour and technical knowledge is required, but might that instilled by a BA (Hons.) be sufficient? A doctorate might provide the extra, specific expertise to lecture on a certain topic, but that might be too specific to be practical ('Jane Austen's toenail clipping habits, and their role in her writing March-June 1802') and is no greater preparation to teach students or to set and mark exams than that initial BA (Hons.).
Not that the job of 'lecturer' is even primarily about interaction with students, of course. Even in research, though, I'm not entirely convinced that an ability to jump through the specific hoops of producing a PhD thesis is necessarily the best route to becoming a highest-quality practitioner in arts subjects.


I think though (although I may be wrong), that technically a doctorate ism't required to become a lecturer - there are other ways into the profession.

As the article says "None of them would get a first job in a university English department today" (emphasis added) - implying that it's quite possible to become a lecturer if you've already worked at a university in a realated area.

(I, for example, only have an MA - but I'm a Senior Lecturer. I started off as a part-time teaching-assistant)

The 'academic rigour' is the key thing though - and I don't think you can get enough experience about how the academic world operates just from doing a BA (or even an MA).

I think, in general, that the article was slightly misleading for giving the impression that Lecturer == Ph.D., and actually, the requirements for the profession are no different to any other - a qualification or relevant experience.

Posted by Siobhan Curran at July 6, 2005 01:13 PM

Good point about working one's way up through the ranks – I think that was what I was arguing for, without actually saying so (even to myself).
However, in my experience (as I said, in a scientific discipline, which is a somewhat different situation), I think that'd be very rare nowadays.

I know of a couple of people who entered as Research Assistants with some teaching duties (much the same teaching loads as Lecturers, in fact), then were later encouraged to register for PhDs with the expressed purpose of subsequently promoting them to Lecturers i.e. 'get a PhD and the job's yours, but your career won't go any further without one'.
When I joined the department, there was one lecturer without a PhD or even a Masters, who'd been there since the 1970s, but I'm pretty sure he retired as a Lecturer, the same 'rank' as a typical PhD could expect by the age of 30.

I think your situation reinforces my point: that in arts subjects, one either can do it, or one can't the doctorate isn't pointless, but nor is it definitive proof that one would be good at the job; the necessary skills aren't readily measurable.

Posted by NRT at July 6, 2005 03:28 PM

The other thinking behind lecturers having PhDs, I suppose, is that it ups your department's standing in the research stakes. It's the reason I'm constantly being cajoled into doing one. The more PhDs in your department, the higher the research ranking, and the more money you get.

Posted by Siobhan Curran at July 6, 2005 03:39 PM

Yep; I suspect that's the real primary reason behind it: it makes the institution look more prestigious (in the eyes of funding bodies and prospective students), irrespective of the real effect on actual activity.

Posted by NRT at July 6, 2005 04:06 PM
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