Friday, June 04, 2010

Thinking about a PhD?

A PhD graduate without a teaching position, without even a job interview in three years has some interesting comments here. Among other things, he says,

Read books. Start a blog and write articles. You don’t need to get a PhD to know about your subject. Actually you would only go after a PhD if you already knew your subject well enough to say something lengthy about it.

Or as someone once told me, “Study yourself into expertise on something and then write about it.”

I am a big fan of education, and if I were doing it over, I would do it all differently.

But I’m not. And I can’t.

But here’s what I have heard: there’s a glut of PhD’s out there who do not have jobs in the area of their studies, particularly in academia. And I, for my part, don’t see that getting better.

Formal education is great. And, in my opinion, it is necessary to a certain level. But the reality is that almost everything you get in a doctoral program is something you can get on your own if you have the will and the discipline to search it out and study it.

The exception to this is the peer interaction, both with fellow students and professors. There’s simply no substitute for face to face contact with people, passing conversations in the library, or long debates over coffee. Try pulling up a chair in a professor’s office on the internet. You can’t do it, and therefore will miss out on what should be one of the greatest components of education. I know you can email him or her. It’s just not the same. And we all know that, or at least our spouses do.

So get a PhD if you love study and want a PhD. A lot of people should get them. I loved the PhD classes I took.

But get a real one. And don’t make the mistake of thinking it will get you much. You may end up knowing an awful  lot about something no one cares about, and you may be highly qualified for a job for which no one is hiring.

It makes me wonder if the final question on the PhD oral defense ought to be, “Can you be clearly understood on the intercom when you say, ‘Would you like to super-size that?’”

Cold, isn’t it?

P.S – As I was finishing this up, my four year old son just called. He told me he dialed the phone by himself, and said he wanted to talk about cars … “about axles and stuff.”

A PhD can’t prepare you for that, and it can’t give you more joy.

So I am off to tell my son everything I know about cars.

I’ll be back in five minutes.


Anonymous said...

Your comment about getting a job makes me wonder. This is a common sentiment regarding getting one's PhD. But I've often wondered, how many people who chose to get their PhD really do so out of an economic desire? (And of course that desire is to get the best paying job possible.) I don't have any statistics in front of me, but I wonder if the majority of people getting a terminal degree do so out of reasons totally other than economic gain?: joy of learning, the challenge, the feeling of accomplishment, to be cool and try to get a sense of self-worth, etc.

Larry said...

I think you are correct. Many do it for that, which is great. I almost did. Glad I didn't, in a way, but still would have liked it.

He addresses that in his article, as do some of the commenters. He said he got paid to do what he wanted to do which was study. And there's nothing wrong with it.

I was just commenting on the lack of jobs. If someone is getting one in order to get a good teaching job, it may not work.