Friday, April 25, 2008

Doctoral Training Centre proposal

I am helping to prepare a bid for a "Doctoral Training Centre" (DTC) in response to this call for proposals. We need to make a 3-page outline to submit by the 6th of May, then some of these outlines lead to invitations to submit more detailed proposals.

It seems that Liverpool is preparing about 5 of these bids. According to one of the people who is helping to coordinate the bids, it is likely/plausible that this is going to be the new model for how PhD studentships are allocated by the research councils, as opposed to the "doctoral training account" ones I mentioned in my previous post here. While my participation in this proposal suggests a certain level of endorsement of the general concept, I can still consider the advantages and disadvantages in a fairly impartial-looking way...

DTCs can be advertised effectively; a DTC may typically take in about 50 PhD students over 5 years, so it's a big centre. You can spend money on proper advertising, and better yet, you know in advance that you will have the funds for the students, so you can make a proper advertising campaign. (Note the complaint I made in my previous post.)

But, because they're big centres, taking in a large part of limited funds, DTCs lead to concentration of activity in a small number of institutions. Good news if you're one of the "winners", I guess, but the losers face the prospect of having to get out of the business of PhD supervision altogether, at least if the prognosis mentioned above is accurate.

Can DTCs as envisaged, be faulted for reducing the choice available for prospective research students? (Thus, currently, prospective students can submit their own research proposal, hopefully after working on it with an academic who could supervise.) I don't think that's a problem --- I reckon that prospective research students cannot identify a research project in much detail; it only makes sense to expect them to know their general research area of interest, e.g. "algorithms and computational complexity". (Experto crede — I am PhD admissions tutor!) On the other hand, I think they can be criticised for reducing academic freedom, or at any rate, flexibility in choosing a research topic for one's PhD student.

Finally, whatever our success at this effort, it is somewhat interesting to get to meet up with people at the University from outside my own department, and get a view of the bigger picture.

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