This is a debatable issue given for me to make inquires on: some people said that coursework should be introduced at the doctoral level while others insist that it should not be introduced, as a PhD student is already a Master in the area of study.

What are the arguments for and against introducing coursework for PhD students?

  • Welcome to Academia SE. I edited your question to ask for the pros and cons of coursework, as otherwise it would be too opinion-based and also dependent on the field and other factors.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 11:01
  • @Wrzlprmft Are pros and cons objective?
    – OJFord
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 19:17
  • @OllieFord: Yes. Objectiveness usually arises from the impossibility of objectively weighing pros and cons against each other, e.g., some persons consider a certain pro to outweigh all cons, while others consider the respective pro to be irrelevant.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 19:41

2 Answers 2


I think that which way one goes on the question has a lot to do with whether you are dealing with a US-style model (long program bundling Masters and Ph.D.) or a European-style model (short program assuming Masters already completed).

To my mind, the main pro of doctoral coursework is that it ensures graduates have a solid general grounding in the field at some depth, and cannot only hyper-specialize. Complementarily, the main con is that coursework interferes with research by taking time that would otherwise be devoted to it, thereby stretching out the time expected in a program.

In a US-style program, a large amount of coursework is pretty much always included and the program is expected to take longer accordingly. In a European-style program, I think one can make a reasonable argument that there should be no coursework, as that should have been completed during one's Masters.

  • 2
    It is definitely not true that all European programs, which require a Master, do not have any coursework. We even had a couple of courses aimed only at PhD students. The state exam is also more thorough in comparison with the Masters final exam. Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 15:54
  • @VladimirF Absolutely: there is a great deal of heterogeneity both Europe and the US.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Apr 18, 2015 at 16:33

It very much depends on the program. For example, this assertion:

a PhD student is already a Master in the area of study

Is not necessarily true for all fields. For example, my own field, Epidemiology, doesn't have a large number of undergraduate or Masters-only level programs in the U.S. That means that many students that enter Epidemiology PhD programs have at best a number of bad habits to undo, and more likely are entirely clean slates. As such, most of the top programs in my field involve at least two years worth of coursework.

This does definitely slow down the time until degree completion, which is the usual argument against coursework, but in this case really is the only way to ensure students are properly prepared.

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