percent of the population holds a PhD.” But, like
all absolute numbers, this is meaningless without
comparisons with similar countries. It would not
have been difficult to turn to the OECD data in
the Education at a Glance report for 2015. Though
it is never easy to find really comparable countries, it remains that Canada is confronted first
with the U.S., which is certainly a very innovative
country, so let us stick with that for a moment.
If we exclude international students, we find that
the U.S. and Canada are identical – at a rate of
1. 1 – in terms of what the OECD calls “first-time
graduation rates” at the PhD level (see Table
A. 3. 1). The U.S. attracts more foreign students
than Canada, so if they are included, the rate
rises to 1.5 in the U.S. compared to 1. 3 in Canada
(Quebec is at 1. 7). By comparison, the rates for
Japan are 1.0 and 1. 2, respectively.
These numbers suffice to recall the complexity of the relations between economic activity,
productivity, innovation and PhD production
and the danger of simplistic talk about “more is
better” and that more PhDs would solve the
problem of “innovation” in Canadian industries.
That there may indeed be a problem with
producing more PhDs is implicitly hinted at
when the author suggests that companies should
hire more of them. Ho wever, the author provides
no argument for training more PhDs. For saying
that one should hire more PhDs does not mean
we should train more of them given that those
firms in fact do not hire them as wished.
To illustrate the point, imagine someone continuously pouring water on soil. After some time,
a passerby observes that water is accumulating
and flooding the terrain. The individual then
insists that his action is not the cause of the flood
and that the soil should simply absorb more
water! The possibility that this particular soil
has – for diverse reasons – a limited capacity of
absorption seems to escape his understanding.
A more sensible person would stop pouring
more water and start trying to understand why
that particular soil, given its properties, can
indeed absorb only so much and maybe even find
ways to make it absorb more. Only then would
he try to pour more water on it.
Dr. Gingras is a professor in the department of history and holds
the Canada Research Chair in the History and Sociology of Science at Université du Québec à Montréal.
Not so satisfying
i have to take issue with the statement, “Indeed
it is the case that PhD graduates have well-pay-
ing and satisfying careers in multiple sectors,
including the academy” (“Canada needs more
PhDs,” April issue). Most of us who are contract
teachers in the academy and who teach around
a third to a half of all the courses in Canadian
universities do not have well-paying jobs at all.
Many of us have PhDs. We have a career of cob-
bled-together, piecework contracts. This is neither
well-paying, particularly satisfying or has any
long-term career prospects.
If Canada is serious about producing more
PhDs, then it’s going to have to start treating the
ones it already has rather better. And Canadian
academia is one of the worst offenders for not
doing so. Get your house in order before producing more highly qualified people with a lot of
student debt and nowhere to go.
Dr. Robinson is a contract teacher of physics at Carleton University.
Les Presses de l’Université Laval sold 300 copies
of La destruction des Indiens des Plaines, a translation
of James Daschuk’s book Clearing the Plains, in
the first week it was released in December 2015,
not 2,900 copies as reported in our feature
“Standing out in the world of scholarly publishing” (April issue). We apologize for the error.
Les Presses de l’Université Laval ont vendu 300
exemplaires de La destruction des Indiens des
Plaines, une traduction de Clearing the Plains de
James Daschuk, la première semaine de sa pa-rution en décembre 2015, et non 2 900 exemplaires comme le mentionnait l’article de fond
« Se démarquer dans le monde des publications
savantes » paru en avril 2016. Nous nous excusons
de cette erreur.
What’s new online! Nouveautés en ligne!
traction on Canadian
Results encouraging from this
relatively new field of research
La « présence atten-
tive » attire l’attention
sur les campus
C’est un domaine de recherche
encore jeune, mais les résultats
sont encourageants UA AU universityaffairs.ca/affairesuniversitaires.ca
Done properly, safe
But some issues need to
be approached tactfully and
More PhDs? Define “demand” first