PhD Education in Biomedicine and Health Sciences in Europe
When I started at Instituto de Medicina Molecular (IMM) last July as coordinator of the IMM PhD Programme I search for equivalent projects in Europe and in the United States and that is how I came across ORPHEUS. ORPHEUS, Organisation for PhD Education in Biomedicine and Health Sciences in the European System, is an association that aims to: promote harmonization of PhD programs in biomedicine and health sciences, giving support to its members and encouraging cooperation, networking and mobility among European institutions. Also, ORPHEUS intends to represent higher education and research in biomedicine and health sciences and to influence policy-making at the national, European and international levels.
The organization striked me as very interesting so I registered for their annual conference. Since 2004, ORPHEUS has been holding regular conferences; its fifth Conference (which I attended) was held this year, in April 8-10, in Vienna, on the theme “The Advancement of European Biomedical and Health Science PhD Education by Cooperative Networking”. One hundred and ninety six people attended, representing 114 institutions from 39 countries. It was extremely beneficial to learn about the experience of other countries and institutions, as well as to realize that although we are very different we face similar problems and we aim for the same goals – the best possible education for our graduate students.
The topics discussed in the this fifth meeting revolved around the development of international cooperation and networking, to promote the mobility of PhD students and academic staff, and to increase competitiveness of PhD education in Europe. International PhD programmes are a means to this end, and thus one of the conclusions of the Vienna meeting was to support collaborative PhD programmes established on the basis of existing research collaboration. Nonetheless, the conference assembly agreed that all institutions should allow and stimulate their own PhD students to spend some time in foreign institutions.
The conference was organized in specific topics and towards the end participants were divided (according to their prefered areas) into workshops, small working groups that tried to identify common problems and possible solutions. The final session was a the general assembly discussion of a draft position paper that is now being finalized and should become publicly available soon.
The position paper recommends that institutions should adopt comparable standards (see below) in order to facilitate cooperation among Biomedical and Health Sciences Institutions in Europe, a multicultural space. It was also recognized that methods need to be established to allow both the student and the host institution(s) credit for the work performed at the host institution(s). While the conventional system of ECTS may be easily applied for taught courses, this system is less appropriate to capture research work carried out.
Other recommendations that came out of the 5th ORPHEUS conference were to encourage the drafting of a general blueprint contract as a basis for good working practices between academia and industry; to stimulate the implementation of measures to facilitate the return of young researchers to their home countries; and also the involvement of scientific societies in establishing networks to encourage international PhD programmes.
ORPHEUS has produced different documents with recommendations on the organisation of PhD Programmes in Biomedicine and Health Sciences. These papers and declarations are available in their website, and briefly state that:
- PhD programs are intended to enable individuals to carry out independent, original and scientifically significant research, and to critically evaluate work done by others.
- The reviewers of a PhD thesis should be competent and independent from the PhD thesis' candidates and supervisor, hence the inclusion of reviewers from other universities and countries is encouraged.
- A PhD thesis should be based on original in extenso publications in internationally recognized scientific-medical journals, where the independent contribution of the candidate should be clearly demonstrated.
- While the core of a PhD program should be the thesis and published papers, it ought to include an organised educational part, which should not occupy more than 20% of the candidate workload.
- All universities should make their PhD programs publicly available (in English).
- The development of well-designed and high-quality PhD programs requires substantial support by medical schools, universities, national governments, the European Commission or private sponsors and other institutions in order to engage the best medical students into scientific research.
- PhD candidates might be full time students and part time students. Especially in clinical medicine, it might be expected that most of the PhD candidates will be part time students.
In line with the high requirements for a PhD thesis, no university should enrol more PhD students than the ones it can provide with adequate services.
It is recommended to national and international authorities the creation of specific funds which would specifically facilitate the mobility and co-operation in the PhD programmes.
The proposed Doctoral Program of the Academic Medical Centre of Lisbon follows these recommendations, and has a very flexible curricular structure to allow candidates in different working regimes.
More information available at http://www.orpheus-med.org/
Inês Crisóstomo, unit of Communication and Training, Institute of Molecular Medicine (IMM)
21 7999 411 (# 47022)