When professors attack (each other): a response to "What exactly is a doctorate?"

A friend and colleague passed along a Gizmodo article today entitled “What exactly is a doctorate?” First, take a second to look it over, and make sure you sift through the comments, as well, because I think they’re important to the point I want to make.

I’ll begin by acknowledging three important things. First, the writer (Dr. Matt Might of the University of Utah) is intending a humorous take on an institution that’s pure arcana to the average American non-PhD. Heck, it can be pretty arcane to those who have PhDs (or are in the process of earning them). Since he prefaces the piece by saying this is something he uses on his own doc students every year, it’s safe to assume that it’s not intended as a body slam against education. And humor is valuable – we never get anywhere worth going by taking ourselves too seriously.

Second, It’s hard to deny that some PhDs are laboring away to very little effect. A lot of academic research is narrow, abstract and at a glance seems to suggest no potential impact on the real-life progress of society. Worse, too much Social and Humanities research self-consciously obscures itself in jargon that makes it inaccessible to all but the insidest of the insiders. Perhaps my proudest moment as an academic came when, as Dean Willard Rowland was hooding me in my graduation ceremony, he told the audience that my dissertation was “unusually readable.” (Yes, I just made that word “insidest” up – it signifies, given the context.)

Third, apologies if I seem a little sensitive, but if you’ve read me enough you know that I have some issues when it comes to education and anti-intellectualism in the US.

All that said, I can’t help feeling disappointed in the message the article communicates, and for evidence of what that message is have a close look at the comment thread. I believe that Dr. Might has inadvertently made the world a slightly more accommodating place for those who ridicule education. Here in America, which is surely the most anti-intellectual of the world’s developed nations, that’s a large and booming segment that hardly needs encouragement. We’ve never been much on the notion of learning for its own sake – education is only deemed of value if it serves some applied end. This philosophy was codified in the Morill Land Grant Acts (1862 and 1890) and is today evident in the fact that a runaway portion of university research spending is footed by corporate grants. Our universities are about product development and driving business profit, not performing the kinds of basic research that have historically underpinned our greatest discoveries.

We’re currently in the process of losing at least one or two generations to the legacy of George Bush’s spitefully anti-intellectual No Child Left Untested Behind and its spiritual progeny, Barack Obama’s Race to the Bottom Top, all because the money that buys funds elections has a vested interest in a workforce that does, not one that thinks.

And please, let’s not even wade into the swamp that is the Texas textbook selection process.

This is the landscape in which Dr. Might researches and writes and teaches his students.

None of this necessarily makes it wrong to expressing frustration, incredulity, exasperation, or even disdain for the PhD process. It would be horribly dishonest of me to suggest that he or anyone else shut up and toe the line, that we should only say things that are good for “our team,” that we should refrain from giving aid and comfort to the “enemy,” etc., when the truth is that in my day I’ve been brutally critical of things I’ve encountered in the academic world. In ways that weren’t even remotely light-hearted. I’ve also felt that it’s up to “us” to take the lead in addressing the problems we find in our own house. So no, this isn’t my complaint.

Instead, the argument his diagrams advance, even if it’s all intended as humor, seems intellectually dishonest (or maybe unfair is a better term, or at least insufficiently illuminated, because “dishonest” attributes bad faith to the speaker and I have no evidence at all that this is the case for Dr. Might). But even if I accept it as intended – as light self-deprecation – it’s still humor with too much self-loathing about it to suit me.

Here’s the problem. Are there academics whose work is so arcane and narrow as to be transcendently useless? Sure. Are there people who are working their asses off on problems that will never afford any recognizable value to the society that’s funding them? Absolutely. I see Dr. Might’s arguments and I can raise him a dozen more.

These aren’t real or helpful questions, though. The real question isn’t are there PhDs who are eggheads, it’s how do PhDs stack up against other professions? See, there are arguments denigrating every job I think I’ve ever encountered.

  • Lawyers are ambulance chasers.
  • Physicians are soulless robots who are only in it for the money.
  • Priests bugger choir boys.
  • People who work for government bureaucracies? Forget it.
  • Retail clerks? Vapid slackers.
  • Anything that requires or prefers an MBA? Whores, the lot of them.
  • Engineers are well-respected, by and large, but it would nice if they’d put down the Wii and bathe every once in awhile.
  • Corporate leaders rape their companies and the markets they “serve” and then walk away with multi-million dollar golden parachute packages.

No matter what job title you decide to pick on, we can tear it apart if you let us cherry-pick the fringes, the dysfunctions, the bottom 10th percentile and the bad actors. That’s what Dr. Might has done here – he’s isolated a phenomenon that’s real enough and allowed it to lampoon an entire profession – except that it’s not the rule of the profession, not by a long shot.

Here’s the truth of the doctorate. First off, that PhD who’s hammered away at a speck of human knowledge so small you need a microscope to see it, that speck might turn out to be something significant. I mean, heck, Wilhelm Röntgen “wanted to determine if he could see cathode rays escaping from a glass tube completely covered with black cardboard.” Who knew that would add up to anything?

Second, a good number of those irrelevant researchers also teach, and in most cases they’re teaching about subjects that are more broadly applicable than their own research. Because they have to be experts in the entirety of their field – they have to pass those comprehensive examinations before they write their dissertations. If you have a good college education, you have almost certainly benefited, perhaps dramatically, from your interactions with a professor whose own narrow research you know nothing about.

Finally, and this is the most important part, the doctorate process is a brazen assertion that smart matters. The brain is like the body – exercise it and it performs better. You lift weights and you get stronger. You do distance training and you can run farther. Depending on what you’re working on, you can make your body jump higher, run faster, endure more. Studying martial arts? If so you can develop muscle memory that might pay off if you’re mugged. You can lengthen your life and make yourself healthier and happier.

You can train the brain, as well. Education generally exercises mental faculties, resulting in a mind that knows more, remembers more, solves problems more quickly and creatively, and one that’s capable of exploring greater and greater depths of intellectual space. And the piece that Dr. Might leaves out, as he’s good-naturedly kneecapping his fellow PhDs, is that academics tend, by design, to be smarter. It’s a self-selecting profession – as a rule, you have to be pretty smart and have posted a track record of academic accomplishment and dedication to even assault that mountain. And once you do, the process works to transform the mind, making it capable of even greater feats. This doesn’t mean that all PhDs are smarter and it doesn’t mean that people in other professions aren’t smart – any number of non-academics are brighter than any number of academics. I’m merely pointing to the general tendencies of the system.

I know a lot of PhDs. Despite what Dr. Might’s series of circles would suggest, they’re not narrowly focused types. One close friend (a hard sciences doc who had seven of his own experiments up on the space shuttle before he even finished his dissertation, and someone who hangs around S&R a good bit) also knows a tremendous amount about music. He was a D1 letterman. While I don’t share all of his views, he’s nonetheless an astute thinker who can handle pretty advanced conversations on politics and culture. Oh, and he’s also a writer of fiction. Pretty well-rounded guy.

He’s not atypical, either. Most PhDs I know can walk into just about any cocktail party and hold their own in a range of conversations, including any number of topic areas they don’t know about. How? Well, they’re trained to learn and assimilate information, so they listen well, they ask good questions, they triangulate and associate to see if other things they know are applicable, and above all, they respect the knowledge that other people have. They’re not intimidated by brilliance, they’re drawn to it, and they’re comfortable being in the learner role. That’s how you climb that academic mountain.

My guess is that Dr. Might wouldn’t dispute a word of this. Up until you get past the fourth or fifth circles in his series of diagrams he’s doing a fair job of noting that education does fill up that white space. But that isn’t the point of the article – it’s the point where he begins blowing up the speck on the periphery that’s the point, and that’s where I feel he begins to do a disservice not only to his fellow PhDs and to the culture as a whole, but really to himself as well. If you’re an invisible blip out beyond the frontier and your work is that irrelevant, why should you be paid? Why should we afford you tenure, which is really nothing more than academic welfare? I’ve heard these arguments and I’d bet he has, too.

I don’t know Matt Might, but he’s an Associate Prof at a good school, so my guess is that he’s pretty damned bright. I’ve been through the PhD process myself, so I know how hard he had to work to get where he is and I know they kind of competition he had to beat out to land his current job. He’s in a computer science program at a Research-1 institution, so tenure is going to be a bear to earn. He’s clearly a guy who values education, and my guess is that he didn’t really see his piece from the perspective that I do. If he reads this commentary, he might still disagree with me.

In the end, though, America is a nation where education often feels like it’s hanging on for dear life. I appreciate humor as much as the next guy – I try to be funny as often as I can myself, and as I said earlier, it’s important not to take yourself too seriously. By the same token, though, it’s critically important to take yourself seriously enough, especially in a world where there are so many looking for any opportunity to undercut you and the principles you stand for.

Categories: Education

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29 replies »

  1. I dunno. I kinda like the diagrams. I think more than a few immunologists and funding agencies need to see them. For a long time, immunology was (and still is) stuck on individual “things.” Grants are usually only funded if you are looking at a very specific mechanism involving a very specific “thing.” Be they cytokines, receptors, or even cells. But that’s not how the immune system works. Jacking around with that “thing” usually jacks around with whole networks of things. And most “things” in the immune system has “back-up things” or even “other ways of doing the same job.” So, in that sense, people DO need to look at the big picture.

    And I’m only limiting it to immunology.

    At the next level, people need to be aware and remember that individual systems work together. The brain talks to the immune system. Stress jacks around with T cells. Cytokines cause depression. Whatever.

    Long story short, I think that series of diagrams is something EVERY PhD candidate should see, regardless of their chosen field.

  2. Is my snark meter poorly calibrated? In the comments, I see a couple of tired digs, a few silly jokes and a lot of discussion about the chart, the idea, the scale, and an attorney barking, and a couple of boob/dick jokes, and not much real stabbiness at all. In fact, the most strident voices there are the two people talking about the vicious attacks on doctorate holders in that thread. Which I can’t really find.

  3. Nope, I see your point. Google is the result of a PhD dissertation. The original paper is still available although Google’s PageRank algorithm has moved on somewhat.

    Plus, I’ve always liked the example of the chain of dissertations that started with light diffraction in lobster compound eyes, wondered into mathematically modelling that diffraction, got turned into a computer program and ended up becoming radio array telescopes.

  4. I see this on two different levels. I can see how someone who is ignorant can look at that and go “See, education is worthless! All it does is make that stupid little bump.” But I can also see how someone who is educated (especially at a post-graduate level) will look at that and think “Yep, that’s right, but add up enough of those bumps and you end up with the entire circle getting bigger, which is the point of getting that PhD.”

  5. Along the same lines as Ubertramp’s and your response, I can think of a world of supposedly smart people who should look at these diagrams and realize that their PhD in Field A doesn’t automatically make them experts in Field B. Climatology vs. petroleum geology, for instance, or economics vs. engineering. The expertise can be earned, but it sure as heck can’t be assumed.

    I’d even go so far as to suggest that people with PhDs should probably smack down other PhD’s who peddle their PhD in Field A as equivalent to a PhD in Field B. But maybe that’s just my own personal windmill to tilt at (and it’s probably off topic, so I’ll stop now).

    Brilliance and common sense often do not occupy the same brain, unfortunately.

  6. A healthy dose of perspective helps here. Some fields overlap significantly. For instance, if you look at my dissertation, it’s really pretty damned multidisciplinary. I did nearly a third of my coursework in English (the degree is in Mass Comm) and the diss could have, with not too much effort, have been offered in English, American studies, perhaps history and even theology.

    I’m not that uncommon. So while a PhD doesn’t make you an expert in everything, it probably means you’re past the average layman in many things and you may be an expert in areas beyond the field listed on the diploma. Still, it’s important to know what you don’t know, and that’s on the individual scholar.

    • Of course fields overlap, and so in those fields where there’s a lot of shared information, a PhD in one area may well make you more expert than someone who has an MA/MS in the related field. But my point wasn’t that related fields couldn’t comment on each other, but that expertise in one field doesn’t confer expertise in an unrelated field. Apparently I didn’t make that clear enough. Note that I didn’t use the example of climatology vs. meteorology, because those two fields are closely related (although even there, this same problem applies as you push further toward the edge of human knowledge).

      Put another way, your dissertation was very multidisciplinary, but would you say that means your as expert on Catholic theology as someone who has a specialized PhD in the parts of Catholic theology relating specifically to the concept of a “just war?” Personally, I’d say that you’re probably qualified to talk to a certain level, but after that their expertise trumps yours (unless/until they prove themselves to be idiots, anyway), just as your expertise trumps theirs when they try to talk about how Christian dogma has influenced technophilia vs. technophobia over the course of American history.

      “So while a PhD doesn’t make you an expert in everything, it probably means you’re past the average layman in many things…”

      Before I go any farther down this path, how do you delineate “layman” here? Because depending on where you draw that somewhat fuzzy and maybe squiggly line I either agree or disagree with you.

      Something tells me that having a virtual whiteboard would make explaining how I’m picturing this a whole lot easier for others to understand, especially since it started in a graphical format in the first place.

      • Put another way, your dissertation was very multidisciplinary, but would you say that means your as expert on Catholic theology as someone who has a specialized PhD in the parts of Catholic theology relating specifically to the concept of a “just war?”

        Nope. What expertise I have there – and it’s far from comprehensive, so the word “expert” doesn’t even apply, probably – is decidedly Protestant, and in particular is mired in the Southern working class theology I grew up in.

        Personally, I’d say that you’re probably qualified to talk to a certain level, but after that their expertise trumps yours (unless/until they prove themselves to be idiots, anyway), just as your expertise trumps theirs when they try to talk about how Christian dogma has influenced technophilia vs. technophobia over the course of American history.

        Couldn’t agree more. But we’d each know enough to have an extremely enlightened conversation on the subject, with each of us learning as we went.

        Before I go any farther down this path, how do you delineate “layman” here? Because depending on where you draw that somewhat fuzzy and maybe squiggly line I either agree or disagree with you.

        You’re overworking this point. But in general, a layman is a normal person who has no particular academic or professional expertise in the subject under discussion.

  7. I think the U.S. is anti-intellectual, and that is driven by two factors–an inherent bias against elitism in all its forms and a particularly strident form of religious adherence that argues that the need for knowledge and questioning is a full on frontal attack on faith.

    I get that Phd’s are an embodiment of intellectualism and that an attack on them is indicative of the whole anti-intellectual thing. So I see your arguments defending knowledge accumulation for knowledge’s sake and the value of Phd’s as knowledge leaders. But when you make the leap to defending people who have Phd’s, you lose me. What am I missing?

    • But that’s the thing, Sam. We DON’T dislike elitism in ALL its forms. We’re pretty damned tolerant of particular kinds of elitism, and the ideologies we attach to them is nothing short of delusional. I mean, we hate them darned snide PhDs (so many of which were born with very little and worked their asses off to get where they are) but we’re just fine with a George Bush, who was born royalty and never earned anything in his life.

      My defense of PhDs is more about trying to dispel some myths. The stereotypes of scholars that dominate our popular culture are insane fictions, and it would be nice if a measure of reality could be injected into our discussions of these people.

      And I’ll be forever grateful to Neal Stephenson, whose last novel (ANATHEM) devotes a good bit of attention to this phenomenon. Spot on, as he so often is….

  8. OMG, I may actually agree with Sam on something. 🙂

    It doesn’t happen very often, but I always laugh when people ask me what I do and how I got there. “It’s…complicated,” I say with a smirk. “My degrees are in aerospace. But I study immunology. And behavior. And radiation. And gravity…” By then, whoever it is I’m talking to is usually already looking for an escape route. “I had mentors in aero, chem E and, of course, my chair was in psychology and kinesiology…” If they haven’t run by then, I finish it off with “oh, and by the way, I’ve never actually taken a class in immunology…” I don’t know what I’d do after that. It’s never gotten that far. 🙂

    I guess my point is, a dissertation isn’t necessarily the whole of a PhD’s knowledge. Sometimes it’s just a small subset of a Whole Lot of Stuff that just happens to fit together well enough to tell a story. So, in that sense, I have less of a problem with PhDs crossing “boundaries” than Brian seems to have.

    Of course, I also agree that PhDs as a whole should smack down bullshit when they see it. 🙂

    • I’ve got no problem with knowledge on other parts of the diagram poking out and wrapping around to connect with the main thrust of a PhD, or with someone picking it up as they go along. Recall that I don’t have a PhD, I’m an EE, and that I’m slowly teaching myself atmospheric physics, climatology, and diving deeper into stats than I ever figured I would “for the fun of it.” My main point is that I don’t think that expertise should be assumed in areas outside someone’s PhD field, and that it’s critical that PhDs don’t assume that their expertise in one area makes them an expert in another.

      If Sam wanted to claim expertise in electrical engineering, given his mass communications background he’d have a hell of a bar to clear first. Your bar is set relatively lower (in actuality the bar is set at the same spot, but your background puts you closer to it) because you’ve already got the basic science background, but you’d still have to prove yourself to an EE PhD. Could either of you do it? Absolutely. But right out of the gate, I’d trust EE equations derived by an EE PhD a whole lot sooner than I’d trust EE equations derived by either you or Sam. Just like I’d expect that you or Sam would trust information from an fellow immunologist or a communications expert (respectively) before you’d trust my opinions.

      Hell, that’s the purpose of experts in the first place, isn’t it?

      • Well, here’s where the limitations come in. I’m absolutely not capable of a sciences PhD. I could do some of the fields I noted earlier, for sure, as well as things like Sociology and Anthro and even corners of Psychology. I don’t have the skills (or the self-loathing) necessary to do anything with math beyond statistics, so no Econ and for sure no hard sciences. I know these things, and I’d never assert an expertise in these areas.

        There are probably some scientists out there who could do a social-side doc in a variety of things, especially if it was related to the culture of science (and my program actually did a little bit of that during the first year, because it was important for us to understand where our field resided with respect to science and how it all evolved).

  9. Oh my.

    I appreciate the thoughtful analysis of my diagrams.

    My fondest dream would be that the anti-intellectual movement adopts them as their banner.

    Can you imagine fundamentalists marching through the streets waving the “Boob of Knowledge” on their placards as they demand cuts to NSF funding?

    [Honestly, I didn’t see it until it was pointed out to me.]

    If anything, I hope these diagrams spur an awareness of the need to invest in research and education.

    Non-academics need to realize that every almost every scrap of human knowledge was paid for by decades of education, and then years of blood, sweat and tears.

    And, this is true even in an era when studying physics is no longer punishable with death by fire.

    The sobering point is that if we as a species want measurable progress, we must be prepared to offer bright young minds by the millions to that effort.

    The circle grows, epsilon by epsilon, through the tireless effort of unthanked masses that gave the best years of their life to make their dent.

    A final point: Many with a Ph.D. have contacted me to let me know that the bump is actually drawn too large.

    And, of course it is: were the final circle the Earth, Everest would be smaller than a pixel.

    Thanks again,

    Matt (Please, “Dr. Might” conveys more respect for authority than I can stomach.)

    P.S. One correction–I’m a pre-tenure *Assistant* Professor, though I have no idea whom I’m assisting.

    As to your conjecture that I think a Ph.D. has to be smart, I’d be curious to know what you think of my assertion otherwise:

    • Hi Matt. Thanks for stopping by and offering some comments. Let’s see if I can reply in a way that does them justice.

      My fondest dream would be that the anti-intellectual movement adopts them as their banner.

      Can you imagine fundamentalists marching through the streets waving the “Boob of Knowledge” on their placards as they demand cuts to NSF funding?

      That’s gratuitous, but awfully funny.

      Non-academics need to realize that every almost every scrap of human knowledge was paid for by decades of education, and then years of blood, sweat and tears.

      The mystification of a process is a double-edged sword. If you’re doing it right, you use the arcana to engender respect for this thing that those people up in that tower are doing, and that respect hopefully buys you time and resources and whatever else you need to contribute to human knowledge. The flip side, though, is that ignorance can breed beliefs and reactions that aren’t good for you at all. This is why I mention Stephenson in that earlier comment. As is the case with most of his books, Anathem addresses some peripheral issues in ways that are extremely illuminating. This is one of them.

      The sobering point is that if we as a species want measurable progress, we must be prepared to offer bright young minds by the millions to that effort.

      Right. I’ve written about this before in my periodic bitches about how we underfund education. A society that gives every bright mind a chance to contribute is going to outperform a society that reserves those opportunities for only its economic elites. It’s a basic math question.

      As to your conjecture that I think a Ph.D. has to be smart, I’d be curious to know what you think of my assertion otherwise:

      Thoughtful piece, and I’d encourage everybody here to read it. I’d argue that you undersell smarts in a particular way that reminds me of Gladwell’s discussion in Outliers about “good enough.” He argues that to succeed at a thing – anything, really – you need a certain amount of talent (and here he gets into the 10,000 hours standard). Once you’re good enough, he says, it doesn’t necessarily matter how far past that standard you go. It’s kind of a diminishing returns argument in a way.

      There are plenty of PhDs out there that I think are idiots. Compared to me, that is, and compared to many of my colleagues. But compared to population at large, most of them are pretty bright. Misguided maybe, but their SAT scores are going to be well above average. So in this way, I’d argue that smart matters a great deal.

      The keys, though, lie in your discussion about the importance of other qualities – tenacity and perseverance were the hallmarks of my success, for sure. Although “tenacity” is probably too nice a word for me – in my case it was blind country mule-ass stubbornness that saved me. I was NOT going to admit that the rest of the class was smarter than me, all evidence to the contrary. I was going to figure out their secret language and by god I was going to make it. And I did, in large part due to the qualities you discuss.

      Thanks for both starting and advancing a really helpful conversation here. I hope you’ll find time to drop back by.

  10. I’m reading Chris Hedges Empire of Illusion. His chapter 3 on elite education is absolutely devestating.

    I have respect for folks with PhDs, mostly because I know how hard it is to get the thesis done. That said, I have very little respect for the education system, including the tertiary education system. I judge it by the people it produces who run the country and I condemn it.

  11. I think Matt’s piece is very interesting and well-observed, but I think this comment thread is absolutely fascinating. It never fails to amaze me what will generate no comments at all and what unleashes the floodgates.


  12. Sam: S&R has been a marvel at teaching us lessons about what plays and what doesn’t. Stuff you’d think would get no comments at all blows up and things you expect to be barn-burners? Crickets. Same with traffic. Much of our very best and most important work gets very little readership, and some of our biggest hit-generators have been throwaways.

    Reagan’s people had it right. The public interest is what the public is interested in. Maybe we ought to make that our new motto….

  13. The single thing negative thing I keep hearing from my post-bachelor friends is that post-bachelor-land is the last refuge of the apprentice system, with all of the power relationship distortions that this implies.

    A musicologist got the old-style PhD. position: “here’s an office, here’s a typewriter, we do wine & cheese on Fridays, and we expect you to publish something in 2 years. ttfn!”. This is what my computer-oid friends expected and boy were they shocked. I personally have no interest in the process.


    • TW – I had the opportunity to get a PhD in EE and chose to stop at an MS instead for a simple reason: an EE PhD closes more doors than it opens, or at least it did over a decade ago. The perception is that most PhDs in engineering are so specialized that they can’t really work outside their specialty, and in my experience working with technical/science PhDs, the perception is largely accurate.

      Let me tell a story of a PhD I know. He was hired by the company and in his first few weeks of work, he was found not behind his computer designing models, but in the lab building electronics with a soldering iron, buying resistors off the Web, and hunting for a screwdriver and screws to put together a case he’d bought to hold his test electronics. He went around the lab and asked for help finding tools and the techs in the lab told him “You’re not like any PhD we’ve ever worked with.” His response was “Gee, thanks. Now, about that screwdriver….”

      This is another aspect of this discussion that we really haven’t talked about yet – how PhDs can be devalued for completely logical reasons in one aspect or another of the culture, like in electrical engineering outside of academia. Yes, education is devalued too much in general, and higher levels of education in particular, but in some specific cases that devaluing does have a rational basis.

  14. My PhD has been a massive boost to my professional abilities (I work in marketing, believe it or not), but there’s just about no way to explain HOW to people outside the academic world. And I have to deal with the bias against PhDs, so I really background it. If you look at my resume, you can find that I have a doc, but only if you read to the very bottom of the last page. And if the subject comes up, I tend to explain the program in ways that are … heavy on the spin? I have to find ways of leaving the listener with an approximation of the truth, but can’t use the facts to do it.

    Perhaps the most bizarre communication challenge of my life, when I think about it.

    • I’m not disputing your experience, Sam – how could I? I’m saying that in my field, the experience is a little different and there are good reasons why a PhD is devalued some. More than it should be, perhaps, but some amount of devaluing is logical in my field and in my industry. And that’s from someone who works at a very PhD-friendly company in a very PhD-friendly industry.

  15. Well as someone without even a BA (but who is far better educated than most folks with an MA) I can say that the bias against folks with a university education is pretty extreme as well, and concerns me more, since for the vast majority of jobs the evidence is that a BA is of no actual benefit to doing the job better, and leaves folks with huge student loans and in most cases, they’re still fundamentally uneducated, since most of them didn’t get anything close to a liberal arts education and were only at university so they could get a BA so they could apply for decent jobs, not because they were actually interested.

    I used to tutor university students (without having a BA myself.) It was pathetic how easy it was to game the system, how out of touch with their own students the TAs (let alone profs) were, and so on.

  16. Oh, I wasn’t criticizing your take. My guess is it can really vary from place to place. If you have a science PhD you’re probably less discriminated against on the whole, because I’m hard-pressed to think of cases where social and humanities docs are valued outside of academia at all. But that’s not a universal distinction by any means.

  17. Aero is the same way, Brian, as I’m sure you know. An MS is as far as you wanna go if you actually want a job. 🙂 Otherwise you’re “overqualified.” Whatever the hell that means.