Nicholas Pedenchuk he graduated from the Geological faculty of Moscow state University in 1991, then left to continue learning and to do research in the United States – first at the University of Alabama, where he received a master's degree, then at the University of Pennsylvania, where he defended his thesis. This was followed by a post-doctoral fellow at Yale University and at the University of calgary in Canada. To date, Nicholas has seven years of experience in teaching and research work in the UK – at the faculty of environment at the University of East Anglia.
We decided that with that background, David can tell you much useful about how an academic career in the US and the UK, what is the procedure of PhD in these countries from that adopted in Russia.
Nicholas, You received a PhD in the United States. Please tell us what the main differences between the research programmes in the USA, UK and Russia?
Very different duration of postgraduate studies in these countries. In the UK research program is three to four years maximum, and in America, usually four or five, sometimes even six years. In the US, even at the PhD level, it is necessary to take additional subjects, do homework, write coursework. And at the same time, it is necessary to conduct research work, but also often have to work off my scholarship, which is usually given by a University.
In the UK the term less - usually three or four years. Additional courses, exams are very rare. It depends mainly on the rules of a specific University. In Britain, the PhD students mainly focus on a scientific theme and work with the supervisor on a particular project.
Generally in the UK is almost always a graduate student comes to the faculty, a supervisor, clearly knowing what he will do. Research funding in Britain is mainly for specific projects, almost always means going through the research councils (Research Council) who have very clear criteria, to whom and for what they give money.
The American system is different when the student goes to graduate school, there looking at the score obtained when receiving a previous degree (undergraduate or Masters degrees), and the results of GRE (graduate record examination). Enrolling in a research program, graduate students are given the time when he can choose the topic and the research supervisor. This usually requires that the student independently started its subject. Of course the University provides guidance, but the idea is usually the student must give himself. The General issue is known, but the specifics – what kind of hypothesis test, what is the scientific question to answer – it is required of the student. In most American universities, the student must pass the defense of their topic/research plan (Candidacy Examination and/or Research Proposal) before he can start this project.
How different is the system of research funding in the US and the UK?
If you do not have independent funding – private or, for example, from the Russian government, something to get financial support in America is much easier. There are no restrictions on the allocation of funds for non-U.S. citizens. Or you can get teaching assistantship or research assistantship – it is usually money allocated by the Department or the University.
Thus, the majority of Russian, as well as Chinese, Indian students, no problem go to graduate school in America. The graduate student, the alien will need more time practicing the scholarship. This can be either a teaching laboratory classes and lectures, or participation in research work in the laboratory – and not necessarily on your topic. Graduate students spend 15-20 hours a week to their scholarship.
In the UK financial support to get harder. There are many restrictions for graduate students not from the European Union. But at the same time, if you can get a grant to study in Britain or the Russian side, then the process of work and learning much easier - not need a large amount of time to spend on teaching. The opportunity to get that practice is still there, but it is not a mandatory requirement.
But if you already have received higher education in Russia, be sure to go abroad in the same specialty?
This is an important aspect. In Russia believe that if you have a certain education, then you need to go this direction my entire academic career. In the UK and in the US the previous specialty or the theme of the thesis are not always an absolute criterion - the main thing is to have a solid base and good potential for working on the project you are interested in now. You can change the theme or direction without any problems. If you have, for example, mathematical education, it can be applied to other practical areas, for example, to the study of the environment, atmospheric phenomena, etc. If you are a chemist, you can do the Geochemistry of the Earth or chemistry of the atmosphere.
And how much different the procedure itself degree with a thesis?
Differs greatly. In the UK there is only one supervisor. May be another 2-3 supervisor project studies, but they usually do not participate in the process and often perform more administrative role rather than actively helping with the work on the topic.
When the written dissertation, it is sent to the external examiner. This is a man who has nothing to do with the University, but he is an expert on a particular topic, which is study. He reads the thesis - it is usually three months, and then assigned to the exam, the so - called viva. It involves another internal examiner from your Department, it is not the supervisor, but rather the opponent.
And these two people conduct the exam for three to four hours you behind the closed doors communicate on the thesis. Usually the opponent is less active in the process of testing. Its main role is to look as objectively external examiner conducts the examination. At the end of the exam and exeternal and internal examiners return the copy of thesis with comments. That is approve or not, is decided during the exam and corrections are made in the last copy. We defend usually about a month to make comments and submit the final version for the signature of internal examiner.
In America the system is very different. First, the intermediate steps: it is necessary to pass the candidacy examination, research proposal then – after the second and third year, then there will be a comprehensive examination and then...
At most universities, the protection is open for the presentation of the first 40-50 minutes in the audience can come to anyone. Then the first part ends, leaving the main audience and begins the exam. A group of examiners is more: four or five people, supervisor is also involved. Each of them has a copy of the thesis, they are in a circle asking questions – three to four hours. In the end give a stack of those reviews and some time (1-2 months) for changes. With her then go to each of them – they'll sign the title page.
But the American system is much harsher, there is an important intermediate stages, especially theme chooser. For example, at the University of Pennsylvania, I had to make two research proposals to the research: one by profession, the other brand is not associated with a major researcher. PhD graduate student needs to make a statement and that another topic, and both topics need to write a short scientific proposal. The goal is to test whether graduate student to choose a topic that has novelty, formulate a hypothesis (or research question) and to offer a logically valid ways to test this hypothesis. If in the opinion of the Commission, the graduate student is unable to demonstrate, the graduate student expelled. If the expulsion occurs after the first year of the PhD, a former graduate student can confer master degrees – so that's a comforting option. In America, the rescue of drowning – the handiwork of drowning.
If I were to summarize in General terms to compare the two systems, the Russian graduate student in the US to some extent easier to obtain funding for training and to conduct a research project. But graduate students in the US usually require more independence and initiative in the conduct of scientific work. Here are more sweatshops and more intermediate stages, each of which needs to prove its worth. On the other hand, in the UK, the graduate student is usually not burdened with a large number of different kinds of requirements that are not directly related to the research project. Here is more opportunity to concentrate fully on topic and to finish PhD work much faster than in the US.
I wish you luck and perseverance in the search for graduate school! I will be glad to give more specific advice and answer questions.