The decadence of German medical doctorate

The decadence of German medical doctorate

Germany is a country where a doctorate still invites respect and even deference, in certain circles at least. Here, the prefix “Dr.” even becomes official part of your name, while your professorial thesis advisor is reverentially called “Doktorvater”- doctoral father (there is no appropriate term for female supervisors, which makes the concept even more embarrassing these days). There is a whole zoo of German doctorate degrees, biologists and other natural scientists are generally “Dr. rer. nat.” and medical doctors are “Dr. med”. Unlike in the Anglo-Saxon model, German physicians do not receive a default MD title with graduation, they can only call themselves Herr or Frau Doktor once they wrote and defended a dissertation at their university.

The thing which angers German life scientists (and others) about this peculiar German medical doctorate, is that it is relatively easy to get, while providing equal, if not better, academic advantage as their own PhD-like Dr. rer. nat. Biologists need between 3 and 5 years to have enough material for a thesis, while their medical colleagues invest often less than a year, and even this in-between their university lectures, courses and exams. The medical dissertations themselves accordingly often contain little (if any) own research and are much shorter, occasionally just a couple of pages describing the attached co-authored publications (doctors publish a lot, often the sheer quantity counts). This lightweight model is exactly what generally prevents German medical doctors from having their titles recognized in the US or elsewhere as a PhD degree. In Germany however, both Dr. rer. nat. and Dr. med. have an equal value when academic jobs are distributed. Continue reading “The decadence of German medical doctorate”

Undeserved authorships: Blog + Poll

Recently, Nature News brought an article about the issue of scientific authorships. A Twitter discussion was started by Dorothy Bishop, neuropsychologist at the University of Oxford, and it can be summarized as such: how can we know that all of the paper’s listed authors have actually read the paper, never mind providing any actual original research or ideas to it?

The issue of who becomes a co-author of an academic publication, and who does not, is a rather old one. Yet even these days many scientists are not always sure what kind of contribution justifies an authorship. As a PhD student, I had to include certain people as authors on my publications, who never pitched in even a single experiment or any specific idea to my research project. Their input was restricted to sharing a certain technology (which they did not develop themselves) and allowing me to use their specially equipped lab.  Back then, I raised the issue with my supervisor, only to be made to understand that these people were strategically important for him.  In fact, where I did my PhD, and at any other medical clinic of a German university, such “political” authorships are rather normal. I was once offered a gene expression plasmid which I thought I needed, by a group leader of my University Clinic, in exchange for an authorship. The plasmid was commercial, but that group leader received it gratis from someone else. Even back then, I considered his expectations ridiculous and was happy that I did not need that plasmid after all. Continue reading “Undeserved authorships: Blog + Poll”