BSPP News Summer 2002 - Online Edition

The Newsletter of the British Society for Plant Pathology
Number 42, Summer 2002 

Contents of BSPP Newsletter 42

Election of Vice-President and Board Members 

All members of BSPP are entitled and encouraged to nominate candidates for election to the Board which runs the society. This year, as usual, an election will be held for a Vice-President for 2003, who will then serve as President-Elect in 2004 and President in 2005. Elections will also be held for three ordinary Board members (who are also Directors of the Society) to serve from 2003-2005. The nomination form is on page 3 and 4 of this issue of BSPP News. Completed nominations must be sent to the Secretary of BSPP, Dr Avice Hall, to arrive by 15th July 2002. This form is also available to print out from the web (

Editorial: Is the Ph.D. the best we can do? 

One source of this economic problem of supply-and-demand is that the course of study for the Ph.D. degree serves two purposes. Not only does it train scientists, but it is also one of the cheapest ways for a lecturer to carry out a research project. As a result, too many Ph.D. studentships are offered and too few students apply for them, while employing a post-doc is seen as a comparatively expensive way of doing a research project.

Should the nature and purpose of the Ph.D. degree be completely re-thought? Doctoral degrees were originally regarded as licences to teach at universities, but the number of Ph.D. graduates who step straight into lectureships nowadays is miniscule. Indeed, a large majority of Ph.D. graduates take up other careers (often after a period as a post-doc, which may or may not be of any additional benefit). To compare the training of scientists to that of other professionals, a Ph.D. course is like an accountant being trained by being told to audit a medium-sized company single-handedly or a medical doctor by learning just one procedure to the near-exclusion of any other. People with a good knowledge of science are desperately needed in many walks of life,  such as accountants who understand the long-term nature of research and development, managers who actually know how their companies' products work and lawyers who really understand forensic evidence.

The successful completion of a medium-sized research project, with flair, initiative and imagination - the hallmark of a good Ph.D. thesis - is surely a good qualification for working as a scientist. But is it really the best way of training the many other scientists that are needed in Britain and elsewhere?

James Brown