Null effects of boot camps and short-format training for PhD students in life sciences [Social Sciences]
Many PhD programs incorporate boot camps and summer bridge programs to accelerate the development of doctoral students’ research skills and acculturation into their respective disciplines. These brief, high-intensity experiences span no more than several weeks and are typically designed to expose graduate students to data analysis techniques, to develop scientific writing skills, and to better embed incoming students into the scholarly community. However, there is no previous study that directly measures the outcomes of PhD students who participate in such programs and compares them to the outcomes of students who did not participate. Likewise, no previous study has used a longitudinal design to assess these outcomes over time. Here we show that participation in such programs is not associated with detectable benefits related to skill development, socialization into the academic community, or scholarly productivity for students in our sample. Analyzing data from 294 PhD students in the life sciences from 53 US institutions, we found no statistically significant differences in outcomes between participants and nonparticipants across 115 variables. These results stand in contrast to prior studies presenting boot camps as effective interventions based on participant satisfaction and perceived value. Many universities and government agencies (e.g., National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation) invest substantial resources in boot camp and summer bridge activities in the hopes of better supporting scientific workforce development. Our findings do not reveal any measurable benefits to students, indicating that an allocation of limited resources to alternative strategies with stronger empirical foundations warrants consideration.
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