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PhD degree in the Soviet Union USSR

In leading (elite) institutions

PhD degree in the Soviet Union USSR

In leading (elite) institutions

Excerpts from

my 15 years at iki by mike gruntman

My Fifteen Years at IKI, the Space Research Institute:

Position-Sensitive Detectors and Energetic Neutral Atoms Behind the Iron Curtain

Interstellar Trail Press, 2022. ISBN 979-8985668704

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Chapter 3. Blazing My Own Trail

Behaving oneself vs. having fun (pp. 68-68)


I spent one year measuring the scattering of atomic oxygen on atoms of neon and argon. It was not challenging enough. Somehow, incremental advances never interested me in the past and do not ignite enthusiasm today. I always wanted to work on tasks that were never attempted and with unpredictable outcomes, where nobody knew how to proceed.

Consequently, my interests had shifted by that time to a much more exciting but seemingly hopeless direct detection of individual neutral atoms in space. Nobody knew much or cared about them. I steadily progressed with the development of MCP-based detectors for ENA imaging. During those early years, the development of position-sensitive detectors, another challenging area without established paths, dominated the work. Possible applications of PSDs in various fields led to many interesting professional contacts and "distractions," which made science life diverse and exciting. As a result, I received my Ph.D. degree 6.5 years after graduating from MFTI. Such a time frame was actually common for many young staff scientists in the Academy of Sciences and nuclear physics research centers in the country.

Defenses of Ph.D. theses took place in special science councils. Each council comprised one or two dozens of leading scientists. The process starkly differed from the American practice of defense in an essentially "family environment" at a committee composed of the Ph.D. thesis adviser and a few university colleagues.

IKI 15 pages 66-68

The science councils appointed two official reviewers for each Ph.D. thesis, called "opponents," who provided an independent assessment of the presented theses. The word "opponent" did not imply an adversarial attitude but rather an independent qualified evaluation. In addition, the council requested a formal review of the defended thesis by another research institute specializing in the field. The latter review involved a few leading experts of that organization, and the candidate also gave a talk at a science seminar there. All these external evaluations and reviews that were also followed by the final approval by a national board provided the quality control of Ph.D. degrees.

IKI had a few science councils authorized to conduct Ph.D. defenses. I defended my thesis at the science council headed by IKI director Roald Sagdeev. More than a dozen of the most senior IKI scientists served on his council, which usually dealt with defenses of the higher level D.Sc. degrees. This latter degree roughly corresponded to the habilitation qualification (a post-doctoral degree) in Germany, France, and some other European countries. In exceptional cases, Sagdeev’s council also conducted defenses of "regular" Ph.D. theses, and mine fell into that category.

My thesis "Substantiation and Development of Methods for Detecting Neutral Particle Fluxes in Interplanetary Space" (Fig. 3.9) covered the physics areas more diverse than a typical Ph.D. and included subjects that were rarely mixed. Suffice it to mention that the two appointed official reviewers, the opponents, were Vladimir Kurt and Yuri Gott, representing the fields far apart.

The reviewers had to be experts in the areas of the defended work. Astronomer Kurt headed a laboratory at IKI and specialized in interstellar gas and ultraviolet optical space instruments. An experimental physicist from the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy [25] (IAE), Gott, excelled in studies of particle interactions with matter and their applications for fusion plasma research, a classical area in nuclear physics. He also authored a unique monograph [26] in this field in 1978. IKI assigned the Physical-Technical Institute in Leningrad to serve as the official reviewing organization. At that time, LFTI led the Soviet and international effort in a related area of corpuscular diagnostics of fusion plasmas. [27]

In addition to producing "the brick," a thesis with 100-150 typewritten pages, the candidate also prepared its extended summary, known as "avtoreferat" in Russian (literally meaning “auto-synopsis”). The latter had typically 15-20 pages (Fig. 3.9) and listed the official reviewers, the assigned reviewing organization, and the place and time of the defense, which had to be open to the public unless the work was classified. The avtoreferat then summarized the main points of the defended work, described its conclusions and specific advances of the state of the art, and listed related publications of the author. As required, IKI printed one hundred copies of the avtoreferat in advance and sent them to research physics institutions of the country and main national libraries.

The avtoreferat listed my 16 publications, which reflected the breadth of the Ph.D. thesis. I was the lead author in all except one article. In half of the publications, my sole authorship reflected the situation that I worked largely on my own and without much help.

There was an obvious price to pay for independence and for attempting to tackle a seemingly hopeless experimental challenge of chasing ENAs in space. On the other hand, science life becomes much more interesting and intellectually rewarding when one develops own interests rather than follows tight guidance by the advisor. As Lewis Grizzard used to say in his routines, "Life is like a dogsled team... If you’re not the lead dog, the scenery never changes." [28]

IKI 15 p. 68

Fig. 3.9. Cover of the synopsis (avtoreferat) of the Ph.D. thesis, 1984, of the author of this book.


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