On a saturday morning, my eye caught this tweet- “PhDs are overrated…”. Being a PhD candidate myself, my reflexive response was to jump to its defence and launch a light-hearted 140-character retort. However, like a wise-sage (deliberate tautology) I decided to reflect and pour my thoughts out on this issue on DMJ – that’s why I have a blog right?
“PhDs are overrated…” is not a new slogan. I hear it everyday, I see it in the eyes of people who would wait till hell freezes over before embarking on one. To make matters worse, The Economist gave the opinion a stamp of approval. I decided to do a mini-survey on what has prompted this line of thinking and general reactions. Here are some of the reasons/support arguments I found:
I …learned that wisdom doesn’t require a PhD – that all this formal training can, at times, even be a positive hindrance to it.
Now if you were searching for WISDOM, seriously, is a PhD really your gateway?
Just yesterday, on an HigherEd teaching seminar I attended, one of the group tasks we were given was to highlight the characteristics of an Effective Student – *cue in drumroll* INTELLIGENT didn’t make the list! No fountain of wisdom springs from a PhD. It is myths like these that spur sweeping statements like, “PhDs are overrated”, because when you expect a golden nugget to spew from my mouth every time I open it, I might simply just want to chew a bar of Bounty chocolate. Helllooo, I’m human.
Going on, I love the argument put forth below by Quora:
Overrated to whom? They’re certainly not overrate to other academics, as a PhD is basically an apprenticeship for doing research work. If you want to go down that path then it’s a pre-requisite and so not overrated at all…[sic]
On another forum, someone asked this question:
..What are the unique and specific advantage of having a PhD in the following field is in improving your job prospects. Confused.[sic]
The answer from another forum participant goes thus:
Given the way you have worded it, I think you are confused. If a Doctorate is what you are aiming for, then pursue the passion. You may be a Researcher in some organisation…or some think-tank, or you may eventually be in teaching line. Or, you may do both—Work full time somewhere and then teach part-time, passing your thoughts and sharing your valuable experiences with students. Doctorate degree will give you the confidence and leeway you deserve, irrespective of geographic coordinates, if that is what you are looking at. Don’t pursue it if you do not have the mental makeup.
My final point point of call, before I rest my golden pen 😀 is that article by The Economist – the disposable academic. The points I picked from the article that backs up its ‘disposable’ argument are that:
One thing many PhD students have in common is dissatisfaction| There is an oversupply of PhDs. | business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things.| The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes (very mean analogy)| PhD students are cheap, highly motivated and disposable labour | the list goes on…
A PhD can surely be overrated (I can’t stop you from overrating it for instance), but not to everyone. People go down the line of further studies for diverse reasons and usually with a sense of purpose -like I do. No one said the road is ever going to be easy. In fact, as far as i’m concerned, no true career-path is an easy stroll; even Ponzi schemes are a risk, ask Madoff.
I propose that whether or not PhDs are overrated, they remain a relevant part of the academic system and certainly produce knowledge that the society would find useful directly or indirectly, in the short term or in the long-run. I believe one’s purpose for embarking on a PhD should not be a pilgrim’s progress for wisdom, a primary race for the “Dr.” title (as a cheque with the right figures may get you that in some circles) or the gratification of being respected as you peer down your wire-rimmed glasses.
It should be first and foremost something you are passionate about, as the case is with most careers. Every career has its down-moments when the only fire that keeps you going is the recollection of the excitement you felt when you started up the ladder. A PhD could be a means to the end to the career you desire – no one would crucify you for that. Lastly, it should contribute to existing knowledge at least, even if it doesn’t solve a societal problem [a criterium without which it’s kinda impossible to pass the viva anyway].
If after all these, someone decides to look upon my chosen path and ‘overrate‘ it – well.. Hasta La Vista 😀
Would you go on a PhD programme? Why or Why not?