Wed, 12 Feb 2003 16:35:18 GMT

Are doctorates worthwhile?.

asks Brian Martin in his review of Canadian literary scholar Wilfred Cude's The Ph.D. Trap Revisited.

The PhD is the accepted apprenticeship into research and has become a prerequisite for academic jobs in most fields. But is it a good idea? The negative view is that studying for doctorates wastes vast amounts of time and effort, produces narrow-minded scholars and discourages recognition of good teaching. Far from promoting research, according to this critical view the doctorate is a serious brake on intellectual creativity.

I believe that the Ph.D. may globally be an institution that selects against originality, but there might be pockets of oxygen here and there with open minds where one could come up with a fresh approach and survive. However, things can get difficult afterwards, as Ph.D. hiring practices can also be conservative in most places. It's hard to be taken seriously when you stand out too much.

Martin also reviewed Jeff Schmidt's Disciplined Minds: A Critical Look at Salaried Professionals and the Soul-Battering System that Shapes Their Lives. Jeff Schmidt was an editor at Physics Today magazine for 19 years, until he was fired for writing this provocative book. From the review:

Jeff Schmidt argues that training professionals is a process of fostering political and intellectual subordination. On the surface, this is a startling claim, since the often-stated aim of educators is to promote independent thinking. […]

There are two key ideological processes in professional education, according to Schmidt. One is favoring students who pick up the point of view of their superiors, behavior Schmidt calls “ideological discipline.” The other is favoring students who direct their curiosity as requested by others, a trait Schmidt delightfully dubs “assignable curiosity.”

Hm. If there's one thing I've been sorely lacking all my life, it is indeed assignable curiosity. Guess I'm an amateur professional.

Schmidt also draws an interesting parallel between indoctrination as practiced in cults and professional training. But I think there are cult-like aspects in almost all social structures, not just the professional ones. Perhaps they are more important where there is a lot of power to be gained by working one's way up, though.

Brian Martin's writings on higher education systems are among the most thought-provoking ones that I've come across, by the way.

[Seb's Open Research]

I have always wanted a doctorate, that is the primary reason that I am getting one. I also have found a home in several academic circles, and that is why I will probably use my doctorate, else i probably would just hang it on my wall and go on my way with the rest of my life, but once you are inside the system it becomes increasingly hard to consider leaving, you inhabit a certain set of realities that are perhaps not of this era, but that belong to a previous time, and the mythos that you inhabit is entirely different i think than most others.

I think that there is only 1 reason to get a doctorate, and that is because you want to, you imagine yourself with one because of some reason or another. everything else is secondary. whatever you want to research you can probably research without a doctorate, whatever you want to do, you can probably find a way to do it without a doctorate.