PhD as union card?

Food for thought from Quanta Magazine:

Quanta: You became a professor at Cornell without ever having received a Ph.D. You seem almost proud of that fact.

Freeman Dyson: Oh, yes. I’m very proud of not having a Ph.D. I think the Ph.D. system is an abomination. It was invented as a system for educating German professors in the 19th century, and it works well under those conditions. It’s good for a very small number of people who are going to spend their lives being professors. But it has become now a kind of union card that you have to have in order to have a job, whether it’s being a professor or other things, and it’s quite inappropriate for that. It forces people to waste years and years of their lives sort of pretending to do research for which they’re not at all well-suited. In the end, they have this piece of paper which says they’re qualified, but it really doesn’t mean anything. The Ph.D. takes far too long and discourages women from becoming scientists, which I consider a great tragedy. So I have opposed it all my life without any success at all.

Read the full interview here.

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2 Responses to PhD as union card?

  1. ellscubed says:

    I agree that the current state of affairs is not ideal…but I’m not sure there is a way around it. The majority of my incoming cohort wasn’t sure whether they wanted to stay in academia post-PhD. That may be because most were entering grad school for the first time (e.g., no Masters).

    Should academia turn people away who aren’t yet sure what they want to do with their career? Perhaps there should be a vocational system…wherein those who wish to work in industry or government go one route and those who wish to remain in academia go another. Such a system is bound to come with its own problems…namely who chooses your track…and based on what criteria?

    Regardless, the primary issues the author cites remain: Its still quite a long commitment that imposes on interpersonal relationships and retards financial stability.

    And I am damn tired of hearing “well, you’re getting an education” in response to grad student complaints about skill-wage disparity. The fact is, much of what we learn as a grad students can be learned in other settings…and for far better pay.

    What are your thoughts on the topic, Becky?

  2. britdodson says:

    As someone who is not interested in a “traditional” career (in academia), I have struggled with this very topic quite a bit. After getting my undergraduate degree, I spent about four years working for a Department of Health lab before decided to enter into a Ph.D. program. So far, I have not questioned my decision. Though graduate school is delaying my entrance into the workforce and I’m earning little money, I am learning things about science and myself that I would have had a tough time doing otherwise.

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