But that's not based on the quality of their work

Male PhD students twice as likely to obtain ‘cum laude’ distinction

Promotie via skype Foto: Bas Schreiner
Photo: Bas Schreiner

Six years ago, the Dutch newspaper NRC wrote that men were more likely to obtain a PhD with the "cum laude" distinction compared to women. According to a study by Thijs Bol, a researcher at the University of Amsterdam, made last year, the disparity applies to all fields. 

Now, yet another study, published this month, confirms the difference. This research identified the same phenomenon at another Dutch university, where male PhD candidates are roughly twice as likely to obtain the distinction than women.

First, the researchers analysed whether the disparity could be explained by the research field, the composition of doctorate boards, and the number of co-authors, but none of these factors were determinant. The quality of the research conducted by the PhD candidate doesn't have anything to do with it either. 

Next, the researchers investigated the journals in which PhD students published their articles and how often they were cited. Once again, they found that women's work is equal to that of men, although they are less likely to be awarded a cum laude distinction for their efforts.

The study does not name the university concerned, but lead author Peter van den Besselaar is an emeritus professor at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam. The study is not a further analysis of previously researched UvA data. 

To Thijs Bol, Professor of Sociology at the University of Amsterdam, this is a commendable study which further indicates that the appreciation of male and female PhD students is unrelated to their performance.

Bol advocates for the abolition of the designation cum laude. “It has no scientific added value,” he says. “These outcomes should act as a spur for formalising the procedure for awarding cum laude distinctions to mitigate the potential for bias. However, that takes a lot of time and work, and whether bias can be completely eliminated is debatable. So, why should we bother pursuing this?”