As in any other scientific discipline, the major component of a Ph.D. program in limnology is the thesis research project. The Ph.D. student must propose an appropriate area of research (within funding constraints), develop a plan for conducting the research, carry out the study, analyze the data, and write a detailed account of the project in a dissertation. The final step of the dissertation is publication of key results in scientific journals in order to communicate findings to the broad community of aquatic scientists.
Ph.D. students also must develop skills in written and oral communication and in collaborative research. Experience in giving technical presentations to describe research findings is essential. Teaching experience is valuable because the ability to teach and convey information is an increasingly important skill in all job markets. Professors should provide opportunities for their Ph.D. students to conduct a portion of their thesis research as part of a team, perhaps including students working in related disciplines. Finally, Ph.D. students should have training in writing and reviewing research proposals.
More so than in educating B.S. and master's degree candidates, mentoring plays a critical role in the training of Ph.D. scientists. Many of the skills required of high-level scientists, such as identifying promising research areas and developing proposals to pursue this research, cannot be taught in the classroom but are learned by apprenticeship. The stream ecology program at Arizona State University, described in Box 4-14, provides one example of a strong mentoring system. In addition to mentoring, however, Ph.D. programs need structure within the academic institution; a program that relies solely on the presence of one or two professors who serve as mentors is at risk of being eliminated if these professors retire or move to another institution.
For those who have completed a Ph.D. and plan to pursue a research career, a common next step is a postdoctoral position before an academic faculty or government appointment. Ideally, postdoctoral work should be completed at an institution where the graduate can broaden his or her skills and gain new perspectives.
Mentoring relationships may continue to be important for postdoctoral researchers, but the obligation of senior scientists to provide a supportive learning environment recedes to some extent. The postdoctoral researcher has responsibility for developing research opportunities and broadening scientific collaborations and interactions. Postdoctoral scientists may accept positions to carry out research programs, or some part of research programs, that have been developed and funded by senior scientists. These positions could provide an opportunity to develop management