Clearly, I’m suffering from instructor error here, but I’ll try it one more time. Back in my parents’ day, mothers told daughters, “Learn how to type.” Because one never knew if you might have to go it alone, and accurate, rapid typing, at the time, was a genuinely employable skill in demand. Remember that most biomed Ph.D.s won’t wind up in academic tenure-track jobs, so, like it or not, employment prospects out in the real world matter. We’re failing our Ph.D’s and post-docs if they wind up with the equivalent of English Ph.D’s, especially in light of the hundreds of thousands of federal dollars spent training a Ph.D. It’s not that DrugMonkey is wrong in calling for Ph.D’s to develop “an understanding of a literature in your own mind” or that Chad is wrong in arguing for the development of “critical thinking skills.”
And every job description does tell candidates they should have critical thinking skills–along with all the other hooey: being ‘proactive’, able to work in teams, and so on (actually, I’m convinced many bosses and managers don’t want too much critical thinking–it might endanger them). This include job descriptions I’ve written.
And it’s all horseshit.
Those job ads also call for specific experience and skills–and these skills are often technical and not learned on the job. Critical thinking doesn’t really enter into it. It doesn’t hurt, and when employers have to choose among several people, those nebulous critical thinking skills don’t hurt. Might even help.
This is where biomed Ph.D’s get hurt ‘out there.’ They are very well trained and, in terms of accreditation overqualified, but often lack general technical skills (e.g., programming) that a variety of employers require. And employers usually will hire the person with those skills over the generally smart person.
This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be concerned about the intellectual development of biomed Ph.D’s: I do take very seriously the concept that Ph.D’s aren’t highly specialized lab techs, but are doctors of philosophy.
But, as they used to say, learn how to type.
An aside: I think the prospects for ‘terminal’ undergraduates and masters recipients are pretty good. Good biomedical workers are valuable. But you don’t need a Ph.D. for those jobs (and typically, if you have one, you won’t get hired).