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Afive-year examination of U.S. doctoral education called the Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate (CID) has developed recommendations for how programs can improve--with the goal of guaranteeing the best educational results for students and society while also cutting an attrition rate that sees half of all students drop out before they earn a doctorate.

"The best doctoral programs attempt to discover the sweet spot between conservation and change by teaching skepticism and respect for earlier traditions and sources while encouraging strikingly new ideas and courageous leaps forward," says Carnegie President Lee S. Shulman, PhD.

The CID involved 84 doctorate-granting departments in six fields-including chemistry, education, English, history, mathematics and neuroscience-from 2001 to 2005, as they worked internally to improve the effectiveness of their programs.

In a book derived from the CID's work, "The Formation of Scholars: Rethinking Doctoral Education for the Twenty-First Century" (Jossey-Bass, 2008), the authors suggest that programs:

  • Talk about purpose. Faculty and graduate students should ask about the purpose of the doctoral program, including the rationale and educational value of each element of the doctoral program.

  • Prepare engaged scholars. Society's complex problems require solutions from its most educated citizens, say the study authors. Therefore, doctoral programs need to prepare scholars who can integrate their findings across contexts and arenas of scholarly work. Institutions should also prepare scholars to collaborate with peers and faculty at each stage of the educational process.

  • Reconsider apprenticeship. The tradition of close work between a faculty "master" and a student apprentice should change to a model of doctoral education in which students and faculty collaborate and learn from one another.

  • Foster an intellectual community. When doctoral programs encourage a collegial atmosphere-where their members feel a sense of shared purpose, are diverse, flexible, forgiving and respectful-students have the best chance of becoming responsible stewards of their disciplines and contributing to the larger society.

-C. MUNSEY