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Year : 2020  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 81-85

Perspectives of PhD research: The key components for assessing its quality

MGM Center for Genetic Research & Diagnosis, MGM New Bombay Hospital, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, India; MGM Institute of Health Sciences, Navi Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Date of Submission26-Apr-2020
Date of Acceptance01-May-2020
Date of Web Publication19-Jun-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Bani B Ganguly
MGM New Bombay Hospital, Vashi, Sector 3, Navi Mumbai 400703, Maharashtra.
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/mgmj.MGMJ_39_20

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The number of PhD theses approved for the doctoral degree is on a steady rise in different disciplines across the globe. However, the quality may not meet the requirement of the academia and industries, especially in biomedical research and development (R&D), and that is not only contributing to the escalated problem of unemployment of such population having higher degrees but also diminishing the quality of education and research. Therefore, a harmonized approach shall be adopted by the universities for an examination of the quality of PhD theses and approval of the PhD degree. Quality of PhD theses of all universities, including central, state, private, and deemed to be (private or public), which are governed by the authorized regulators, such as University Grants Commission (UGC) in India, is important for the PhD students as well as mentors and granting institutions. On the basis of the current state of the art, concepts have been conceived to capture the merit of PhD degree or higher education. Evaluation of the quality of PhD can be achieved through the articulated examination system of the three key factors such as the merit of the PhD candidate, facility and position of the PhD mentor or guide, and the examination system of the granting universities. The discussion of this article has been concentrated in the quality of PhD in biomedical sciences to assess a comprehensive picture of PhD or higher education, which would not only be helpful for judging the merit of PhD but also redefine and implement policies by the regulators of higher education for continual improvement.

Keywords: Assessment of PhD quality, factors of PhD research, quality of PhD thesis

How to cite this article:
Ganguly BB. Perspectives of PhD research: The key components for assessing its quality. MGM J Med Sci 2020;7:81-5

How to cite this URL:
Ganguly BB. Perspectives of PhD research: The key components for assessing its quality. MGM J Med Sci [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Oct 21];7:81-5. Available from: http://www.mgmjms.com/text.asp?2020/7/2/81/287169

  Introduction Top

The need for higher education, especially a doctoral degree, is increasing in all study disciplines for achieving a satisfactory job. The quality of research and PhD arises from the various institutions that are in question. An all India survey on higher education conducted by the Ministry of Human Resource Development of Government of India during 2011–2013, had an estimated 77,798 PhD registrations with a preference in science stream and that was 0.5% of the total student enrollment [Figure 1]. Globally, the PhD, a doctoral degree, defines the level of higher education in any educational discipline, and leads to qualifying for postdoctoral training and seeking a job in academia or research scientist in industries. Therefore, the quality of the PhD thesis stands very important, which otherwise would consequently affect the delivery of services in educational system and research. More so, if such “so-called” educated people are employed in higher education departments and/or industries, poor quality will be percolated to all levels, and will ultimately diminish the quality of production in research and development (R&D).[1] In India, regulatory issues pertaining to functionalities of all universities are handled by the University Grants Commission (UGC), under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, which is redefined from time to time. Execution of PhD research shall ideally be carried out by a PhD candidate, meaning the candidate shall possess the requisite knowledge in the subject, have exposure to several aspects of the subject, including its application and importance, dedication and sincerity devoted for the entire work, a skill for writing and presentation, data analysis, and confidence for defending the PhD work before the review committee for the doctoral degree and/or publication of the PhD outcome in peer-reviewed and indexed journals.[2],[3] In India, apart from the basic education required for a PhD enrollment, a 6-month course is taught in the beginning toward the orientation of a PhD student, followed by a Research Eligibility Test (RET) for qualifying for PhD candidature, which is different from the PhD education being conducted in other developed countries, meaning there is no criterion on the required credit marks from compulsory course work, which shall be relevant to the PhD research. Indian National Eligibility Test (NET), conducted jointly by Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR)/UGC, is mandatory for the government-funded institutions and/or research projects, whereas the selection of PhD candidates in private universities, though include written and oral tests, are not comparable to the NET standard.
Figure 1: The trend of increase in PhD enrollment in India. (A) Science. (B) Humanities and social science. (C) All disciplines (Source: https://data.gov.in/catalog/doctorate-degrees-awarded-faculty-wise?, Last accessed on June 6, 2019)

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Different countries follow different guidelines for judging the quality of PhD theses.[2],[3] A number of criteria have been demonstrated in several reports; however, none provides a comprehensive and consolidated picture of its overall aspects.[4],[5] The key issues such as the topic of PhD, academic status and research facility of the PhD supervisors, institutional policies on constitution of PhD committee and selection of examiners to establish a quality assessment system, and so on, contribute to producing good quality of PhD theses.[4],[5],[6],[7] There has not been any established guideline to evaluate the legitimate contribution of each criterion involved in examination of the PhD theses, which ultimately ensures a PhD of good quality, meaning the purpose of the doctoral research is fulfilled.The length of a PhD thesis varies from subject to subject. Usually, the upper limit is set as typically between 70,000 and 100,000 words, with most theses coming in at around 80,000. Four to five year time is generally required for completion of research to award a doctoral degree. Many institutions, mostly private deemed universities, consider PhD research as a time-bound program of 3 years.

Attributes of the Ph.D. Candidate

A PhD researcher shall have three basic characteristics such as perseverance, tenacity, and cogency in work, and that shall be manifested in the PhD thesis. To estimate how well a PhD candidate demonstrates these attributes, the parameters listed in [Table 1] will present a clear view.
Table 1: Assessment of intellectuality and performance of the candidate reflected in the thesis

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Special emphasis shall be paid on the plagiarism or similarity index using anti-plagiarism software such as “URKUND.” It is a fact that though the quantity of research has increased, the quality of research stands low, which is reflected in quick/fast-track publications in open access journals against payment of fees. Such publications are not reviewed with stringency by the subject experts or editorial board members, who either do not possess the required expertise/experience in the field, or are very casual in reviewing the research paper, or favour some authors (conflict of interest). ‘Fast track’ publications in ‘open access’ journals are also scrutinized for the repetition of the similar work. Hence, such publications are generally of low standard coming out of poor quality research.

Guide factor

Guide’s academic achievements and intellectual contribution such as publications, patents, awards, grants as PI and/or CO-I, number of pre- and post-doc students continuing or completed, the average time taken for a PhD research, as an examiner of other institutions, etc. will indicate the capacity of the guide, research laboratory and/or department and physical infrastructure available with the guide to support research.

System of examination and granting PhD theses of university

Handling of PhD theses by the granting university, meaning the constitution of the PhD committee and the relevance of their expertise to a particular thesis topic, identification/nomination system of PhD examiners, reporting of examination, evaluation of examiners’ reports and action, submission-to-examination-to-award time, and so on, plays a pivotal role in producing good quality of PhD research. However, the first examination is made by the PhD guide before it is submitted to the approving authority. At the next level, theses are reviewed by the PhD review committee of the university who identifies and appoints appropriate independent examiners. The PhD thesis of the University of Calcutta, Kolkata, India, is examined by three examiners: one may be selected from the region, that is, the state, one from the national context, and one examiner from other countries (such as the United States, Europe, and Australia).[8] All of these examiners have the required expertise and are highly reputed in the field. Once the university receives the reports from all the examiners, the PhD review committee summarizes the examination result and concludes the outcome. Selection of examiners from the region and examiners’ relationship with the PhD guide or candidate may have some negative impact on the quality of PhD theses.[3] PhD-defense system is another mechanism to improve the quality, which if conducted before submission of a thesis, the experts’ comments can be duly attended for necessary changes and further improvements in the PhD work/theses. Submission of or obtaining the examination report is a vital clue to evaluate the quality of a PhD thesis. If the university/institute provides a uniform format to the examiners for submission of the examination report, it shall at least include the characteristics of a good thesis [Table 1]. Therefore, the university shall have a laid down policy and implemented procedures on the examination system.


A doctoral thesis depicts an idea—a kind of intellectual masterpiece and an account of original research carried out over a period of 4–5 years. In most countries, a PhD degree is a basic requirement for a career in academia, which ultimately introduces a PhD candidate in the world of independent research. Universities have realized that PhD students are cheap, highly motivated, and disposable laborers. Academics can do more research with more PhD students, and in some countries, PhD students are also engaged in teaching, with less or no salary. PhD students and postdoc researchers are described as “the ugly underbelly of academia.” An increase in enrollment for PhD and postdoc has outnumbered the faculty posts, wherein the salary of a postdoc in life science is equivalent to the average of a construction worker. In some areas, 5 years as a postdoc has become a prerequisite for securing a full-time job. Every year, the increasing trend of the PhD students moving from developing countries to the developed nations, who also tend to tolerate poorer working conditions, is contributing to keep their wages down due to the supply of such cheap, brilliant, and foreign labors. Such armies of low-paid PhD researchers and postdocs boost the research output of the universities of several countries, including the United States. It is being thought that a PhD may not offer financial benefit over a master’s degree; even if it is from a good university with a substantial quantity of good research output. Therefore, private-sector jobs are becoming lucrative for PhD researchers. However, poor quality of research under poor supervision leads to bad job prospects, and lack of or unexpected fulfillment of their job profile, which cause them to lose the service. Hence, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills expected from PhD candidates, indicating that teaching and research activities leading to award of the degree are not happening in the right direction. In general, there is an oversupply of PhDs in all disciplines. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Nevertheless, the supervisors tend to vest little interest in students who are leaving academia. An Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) study has shown that more than 60% of PhDs in Slovakia and more than 45% in Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Spain serve on temporary contracts for 5 years after getting the PhD degree (https://medium.economist.com/why-doing-a-phd-is-often-a-waste-of-time-349206f9addb, last accessed on January 20, 2020).

Students who tend to join PhD programs are eligible to draw stipends and avoid job hunting immediately after university education. Nevertheless, the knowledge spills into society, for making it more productive and healthy, come fr vom higher education. Also, PhD and postdoc researchers develop skill for writing grant applications for their supervisors, and thus may acquire a position in academia.

This article has highlighted the quality of higher education or PhD theses in the field of biomedical sciences. Altogether, the study will guide in making procedures and policies and its implementation toward the assessment of PhD research, which also shows good research practice (GRP) of universities.[9] A good PhD research will ultimately help the researcher to occupy important positions within and outside the country, which can come from a holistic and motivational approach of the faculties and universities toward research, and finally lead to the production of quality products to meet the country’s needs.


The author gratefully acknowledges the guidance and inspiration given by Dr. Shashank D. Dalvi, the Vice-Chancellor of MGM Institute of Health Sciences, Navi Mumbai, India, and Dr. Nitin N. Kadam, the Medical Director, MGM New Bombay Hospital, Navi Mumbai, India.

Financial support and sponsorship

This study was supported by MGMIHS.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Nerad M, Heggelund M. Toward a Global PhD? Forces and Forms in Doctoral Education Worldwide. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press; 2008.  Back to cited text no. 1
Golding C, Sharmini S, Lazarovitch A. What examiners do: What thesis students should know. Assess Eval High Educ 2014;39:563-76.  Back to cited text no. 2
Kyvik S, Thune T. Assessing the quality of PhD dissertations. A survey of external committee members. Assess Eval High Educ 2015;40:768-82.  Back to cited text no. 3
Bearman M, Smith CD, Carbone A, Slade S, Baik C, Hughes-Warrington M et al. Systematic review methodology in higher education. High Educ Res Dev 2012;31:625-40.  Back to cited text no. 4
Kumar V, Stracke E. Examiners’ reports on theses: Feedback or assessment? J English Acad Purposes (JEAP) 2011;10:211-22.  Back to cited text no. 5
Lovitts B. Making the Implicit Explicit: Creating Performance Expectations for the Dissertation. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing; 2007.  Back to cited text no. 6
Tinkler P, Jackson C. Examining the doctorate: Institutional policy and the PhD examination process in Britain. Stud High Edu 2000;25:167-80.  Back to cited text no. 7
Ghosh BB. Alterations in Structure and Behaviour of Chromosomes and Certain Cellular Components Induced by Heavy Metal. PhD Thesis. Kolkata, India: University of Calcutta; 1988.  Back to cited text no. 8
Agarwal P. Higher Education in India: The Need for Change. Working Paper No. 180. New Delhi, India: Indian Council for Research on International Economic; 2006. p. 194. Available from: http://www.icrier.org/pdf/ICRIER_WP180__Higher_Education_in_India_.pdf. [Last accessed on 2020 January 20].  Back to cited text no. 9


  [Figure 1]

  [Table 1]


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