Thesis Hatement – Slate Magazine

Fair warning from:

Rebecca Schuman – Slate Magazine.

A guy came up to me in a coffee shop the other day as I was grading papers. He started up a conversation (not like I was busy or anything), asking me what I taught. When I told him, he got all excited. He merely taught high school and was thinking of going back to graduate school to get his PhD so he could do some real teaching.

I looked him straight in the eye and told him not to do it. You’re better off where you are, I said. And I meant it.

Unlike Rebecca Schuman, however, I don’t regret earning my PhD. I just wouldn’t recommend that anyone else do what I did (a reverse categorical imperative?).

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2 Responses to Thesis Hatement – Slate Magazine

  1. Steve Fuller says:

    Would I recommend a PhD. for someone thinking of doing one today? Well, put it this way, I don’t know if I would do one, given how much academia has changed over the past 30 years. The only redeeming social value of academia in its classical (i.e. pre-neo-liberal) mode is that potentially it allowed certain (‘tenured’) people the time and space to develop lines of inquiry that may overturn established opinion and thereby – if taught to sufficient numbers – move society forward. However, these lines of inquiry may turn out to be false leads, or you may simply lose your way in the process — and yet you still kept your job. In a sense, you were paid for committing yourself to trying.

    We need to admit openly that this has always been an elite ideal and it does not scale up well. The problem, however, is that universities did scale up, promising to be all things to all people (most recently ‘wealth creators’). Along with that scale-up came a watering down of the meaning of tenure – so that it simply became a sinecure for very clever people fascinated by esoteric stuff that nobody else is dumb enough to pay for. Needless to say, this is not adequate grounds for continuing the institution of tenure, which is really what makes being an academic a ‘career’ and hence worthy of pursuing a Ph.D. You don’t need a Ph.D. to be either a good teacher or even a decent researcher. And you certainly don’t need a Ph.D. to become an eccentric – though you may need to be independently wealthy. Ask Charles Darwin. ;)

    • Keith Brown says:

      As always Steve, well put. I don’t have a PhD. However, I am a good teacher, can do decent research (when I am motivated), and I am an eccentric. I just need to become independently wealthy. :P

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