Perils in obtaining a Ph.D.

I was struck by the recent article by Louis Menand in this issue’s Harvard Magazine. Essentially, for many academic fields the length of time to obtain a Ph.D. and the potential prospects for finding a tenure-track academic job is enough to make one who desires further academic inquiry to question whether the Ph.D. is the best next step. Additionally, the 6-9 years in takes to receive the Ph.D. involves heavy inquiry into a small area of one’s discipline. This quote from the article was particularly powerful:

“Doctoral education is the horse that the university is riding to the mall. People are taught—more accurately, people are socialized, since the process selects for other attributes in addition to scholarly ability—to become expert in a field of specialized study; and then, at the end of a long, expensive, and highly single-minded process of credentialization, they are asked to perform tasks for which they have had no training whatsoever: to teach their fields to non-specialists, to connect what they teach to issues that students are likely to confront in the world outside the university, to be interdisciplinary, to write for a general audience, to justify their work to people outside their discipline and outside the academy. If we want professors to be better at these things, then we ought to train them differently.”

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