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Pondering the PhD

In a news feature appearing in this week’s Nature, the journal examines just how, in some countries, "people who have trained at great length and expense to be researchers confront a dwindling number of academic jobs, and an industrial sector unable to take up the slack." While Nature says that the economies in China and India "are developing fast enough to use all the PhDs they can crank out, and more," graduate quality has shown to be inconsistent in both places. “Only a few nations, including Germany, are successfully tackling the problem by redefining the PhD as training for high-level positions in careers outside academia,” Nature adds. Meanwhile, Nature’s Allison McCook presents "five approaches to shaking up the hallowed foundations of academia," which range from increasing an interdisciplinary nature in existing programs to students choosing to pass on the PhD altogether. And in a Nature News opinion piece, Columbia University's Mark Taylor says it's time to either "reform the PhD system or close it down." Taylor says that since there are "too many doctoral programs, producing too many PhDs for the job market," it's best to "shut some and change the rest." More specifically, he says that in order to be sustainable, doctoral institutions "must tear down the walls that separate fields and establish programs that nourish cross-disciplinary investigation and communication." In addition, Taylor says that in order to inspire system-wide change, universities should abandon "pernicious rating systems and develop structures … that foster cooperation." To drive his point home, he adds that American higher education "has long been the envy of the world, but that is changing." In order to reverse that trend, he says "total reform of PhD programs" is required, and "it must start at the top."

The Scan

Self-Reported Hearing Loss in Older Adults Begins Very Early in Life, Study Says

A JAMA Otolaryngology — Head & Neck Surgery study says polygenic risk scores associated with hearing loss in older adults is also associated with hearing decline in younger groups.

Genome-Wide Analysis Sheds Light on Genetics of ADHD

A genome-wide association study meta-analysis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder appearing in Nature Genetics links 76 genes to risk of having the disorder.

MicroRNA Cotargeting Linked to Lupus

A mouse-based study appearing in BMC Biology implicates two microRNAs with overlapping target sites in lupus.

Enzyme Involved in Lipid Metabolism Linked to Mutational Signatures

In Nature Genetics, a Wellcome Sanger Institute-led team found that APOBEC1 may contribute to the development of the SBS2 and SBS13 mutational signatures in the small intestine.