One concern about the integrated format voiced by many respondents to the UKCGE survey is that it can be difficult to identify students’ individual contributions to multi-author papers; 64 per cent of institutions require each student to state their own contribution to each paper and 22 per cent require claims to be endorsed by the co-authors.
According to Christianson, such measures make it harder for students to “fudge” their own contributions, as they can in the traditional thesis.
He would much prefer to see theses’ introductory sections “written along the lines of a good review article, where the student does a critical appraisal of the state of the field”.
But what about going further and abolishing the thesis entirely, and instead allowing students to submit a bundle of papers?
He has successfully “encouraged” all but one of his doctoral students during the past dozen years to submit for examination a series of papers, published or not – including the literature review favoured by Moriarty.
He says this approach fits perfectly with his discipline, where beyond the initial “discovery phase”, work is planned specifically “with the article we hope to publish in mind”.
Some universities also want to eliminate the “opportunity cost to the institution if the Ph D regulations forced candidates to rewrite…pre-published material”.
However, there is also a “general consensus” that the bundle of papers submitted “needs to be coherent and to demonstrate explicitly the candidate’s individual contribution to knowledge”.
And according to Margaret Kiley, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University, many higher education institutions Down Under offer something similar.
The UKCGE report attributes the integrated format’s rise to growing pressure on students, particularly in the sciences, to publish their findings prior to graduation – not least so that they can compete for postdoctoral positions in an increasingly international job market.