In defence of the Ph.D.

I learnt a lot during my Ph.D. studies. But more important than that, it allowed me to demonstrate to people (including myself) that I can take on a complex task, work hard on it over a long time and see it to completion. I think this is a very useful trait to possess, and wouldn’t trade those years in graduate school inculcating it for anything else.

It’s therefore not too surprising that the following article resonated with me so much. In a piece entitled, “Why Would We Want A Less Educated Nation?“, Claire B. Potter (Professor of History at The New School, New York) defends the Ph.D. against the anti-intellectualism that is pervasive in our culture today.

“Responding to the current employment crisis in higher ed by withdrawing education is a huge mistake, and demonstrates only one thing. In an effort to prove how truthful and responsible we are, and to reduce our complicity in the unemployment problem, senior scholars are failing miserably at our primary responsibility, which is to redefine what can be done with the Ph.D. and what a doctoral education for the 21st century should look like. Instead of agreeing with graduate students that what they learn in seven years of intense study is of no earthly use outside of academia (do we really think that what we do is so useless?), we need to articulate forcefully that doctoral education serves social purposes beyond university walls.”

Her basic point in the article is that working toward a Ph.D. gives people a wide range of tools that should allow them to do enriching work anywhere. Just because there are few academic jobs out there doesn’t mean we should stop educating people.

And I agree completely with her.