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Ph.D.: Piled higher and deeper with our country’s problems

05:01 AM July 17, 2019

This is in response to Rufa Cagoco-Guiam’s columns, “Greed in the academe” (2/11/19) and “PhD: Sh*t is Piling Higher and Deeper” (7/15/19).

Our problem with Ph.D.s is that there are so few of them practicing their profession. A person with a Ph.D. degree is trained to demonstrate the ability to do original and independent research that contributes to knowledge. A new Ph.D. (which is the basic license to do research) has just the basic skills for research.

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The professional outcome of the new Ph.D. is somewhat like what is expected of new MDs. New physicians are not expected to have all the professional skills they need at the start. They need more training, and in the case of new Ph.D.s, this is postdoctoral research training.

You do not need a Ph.D. to become a good teacher. And neither do you need one to be an excellent administrator. But you need one to do research. In this line of work, the values of research and administrative integrity are best developed in a collegial academic environment. Without this, the Ph.D.’s moral integrity may be compromised, hence the “proud bragging rights” that Cagoco-Guiam despises.

In the Philippines, the Ph.D. is often viewed as a degree that is an end in itself. New Ph.D.s are commonly not assigned to do research but to be full-time teachers without time for research and, in some cases, to be administrators. They usually do not proceed to further postdoctoral training. They do not develop the research skills and ethical obligations of the job. Compare this with new MDs who are expected to take on residency training to become good specialists and, in doing so, imbibe the ethics of their profession.

The Philippines produces too few Ph.D.s in the academic disciplines. This forces Ph.D.s to take on subjects that are often outside their discipline in order to teach and provide technical services the country requires. Many take on further training, but some do not. Some gain expertise on these subjects in the course of their research. Most ecologists for example are experts in ecological statistics, not because they have a major in this subject even if they took one Ph.D. course on this, but because they learned this in research training where they were mentored by supervisors expert in the field.

Cagoco-Guiam’s criticisms are valid, but the solution is not to shame Ph.D.s but to encourage the best of our young people to take Ph.D.s, provide them with research and teaching opportunities and to support their research.

Despite government support for Ph.D. scholarships in recent years, the country still needs to establish research-enabling policies on equipment and material procurement. In the Philippines, it  takes months to purchase a chemical reagent, while it takes only half a day in other countries.

According to the late dean of the UP College of Science, professor Perry S. Ong, Ph.D., the Philippines needs to graduate 3,000 Ph.D.s every year for 20 years to meet national development objectives. The country can only produce less than 30 per year.

The country has only 188 scientists per million people, while neighboring Vietnam has 672 per million, many of whom are Ph.D.s. Technologically advanced China has 1,206 per million. We need Ph.D.s to mentor new Ph.D.s. There is no other way.

The reality is that the few Filipino Ph.D.s who do research are piled higher and deeper with our people’s problems; they are overworked and frustrated, and their advice to government is often unheeded. Now, may I ask, what have we done aside from criticism to improve conditions?

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BENJAMIN M. VALLEJO JR., PH.D., associate professor, UP environmental science

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TAGS: academe, Benjamin M. Vallejo Jr., Inquirer letters, PhDs
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