You should rethink doing that PhD


Maybe this is more of a note to self than anything else. This economist article from 2016 argues doing a PhD is generally a waste of time.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

63 thoughts on “You should rethink doing that PhD

  1. john zande says:

    Depends on what the discipline is, but it’s true, US institutions have really diluted the whole import of a Ph.D by encouraging ridiculous numbers of candidates ($$$), and lowering the standard by accepting paper subjects that are, at best, Masters material, and conferring the title to work that simply doesn’t deserve it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • makagutu says:

      In engineering, architecture and technology fields, a PhD doesn’t add much value for a practitioner unless you are in academia.
      I think you are right about American degrees. They have those funny theological colleges conferring degrees.

      Liked by 3 people

      • john zande says:

        Bible schools aside, it’s their general (for profit) universities which have done the damage.

        Liked by 1 person

        • makagutu says:

          In general, I think it is the problem of neoliberalism. Education for money. So if you can pay, you are good

          Liked by 3 people

          • john zande says:

            Ed shouldn’t be for profit. Our priorities are all wrong. Said it before, but teachers should earn more than CEO’s.

            Liked by 2 people

            • makagutu says:

              How do we change this since it appears the American way seems to be taking over every where.

              Liked by 1 person

                • jim- says:

                  I don’t mean to party poop. I agree it’s all been dumbed down to a trade—I’m living proof of that. Now the software I use makes me an engineer and an architect—And the heads at the building departments use the same calcs and the same software I use. So much of it is automated you don’t have to know much. I can build high rises on my computer with minimal intense training, and all I’ve done before this is build a few houses. Granted there are always a few questions for the real engineers, but finding one with applicable knowledge is getting even trickier. It’s all book work now. They know the math and the formulas but have never actually built anything in the field

                  Liked by 1 person

                  • makagutu says:

                    This is a different question but totally interesting too.
                    What should the university teach? So depending on who you ask, you will likely get a different answer.

                    Liked by 1 person

                    • jim- says:

                      I don’t really know. The bigger the institutions get, the more difficult to maintain excellence. The liberal arts schools generally offered one expansive area of study. I don’t know if that is what we need in this society of specialists, but it sure made for well rounded people. Now, the conversation is limited too narrowly to be interesting.

                      Like

                    • makagutu says:

                      There is argument that we should not as a society concentrate only in STEM subjects but there is need to develop the arts too. To create thinkers and all rounded individuals.

                      Like

                    • jim- says:

                      Part of the problem is the focus on careerism and money. It doesn’t make one smarter or more interesting, but it sells tuition. I think imprinting the desire to learn, and learning how to learn is enough. Like you ( me as well) most everything I’ve learned in my own. That is the desire I got from college in the early 80s. Now I can do anything I want to. Become an expert and go get a job. People today are more limited to their fields.

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                    • makagutu says:

                      Money is a good in abstract & the world is now set up in a way that if you don’t have some paper unless you are really lucky, no job.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Barry says:

                      One of our prominent business entrepreneurs once said that he would never hire graduates of business studies – the disciplines of their study closed their minds other possibilities. He hired only arts graduates because they were encouraged to imagine and think beyond what is commonly referred to as knowledge.

                      I’m a firm believer that there should be a distinction between universities and institutions that issue qualifications for specific industries, trades and professions, Likewise, I believe that not all research should be for the purpose of seeking specific predefined outcomes.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • jim- says:

                      I agree. One other thing lacking is experiences that are useful between professions. For instance, if you can build a house you can do a host of other professions without even trying. I’d be in favor of getting some experience that is of interest during the formative years to develop some common senses. The apprenticeship programs of the past put skill and knowledge within reach that carried a lot of benefits elsewhere.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Barry says:

                      Apprenticeships are making a comeback in this country – not before time. Some things can’t be taught solely from a textbook.

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • makagutu says:

                      Apprenticeships are important. Technical skills are mostly learnt on the job

                      Liked by 1 person

              • Sucks, doesn’t it cause my country, IMO, is a world-wide embarrassment to me. Why, oh why, does the rest of the world wanna be more like us?

                Like

            • judyt54 says:

              Some years ago (this is also a very small town) at a town meeting one of the articles to be voted on was teacher salaries. It had been suggested that a pay raise of $50 a year would be useful. The younger teachers held two jobs: one of them dug graves at the cemetery, their spouses all worked, full time, just to keep them from starving–the debate was hot and acrimonious, and the standard {well, hell, they get all summer off, lazing around in the sun…) was bandied about. In the end the teachers didn’t get the pay raise.
              The next article on the warrant was “should we appropriate X number of hundred thousand dollars on a new firetruck?” Passed, not a murmur.

              So what we got every year was older teachers retiring, and freshly waxed new teachers coming in, using us as a starter school, for practice. One or two would stay, but most moved on to better paying places after a few years. When you have a wife and a new baby, your dream of helping kids learn math or english for minimum wage pay seems a lot less noble than it did.

              Liked by 1 person

              • john zande says:

                Appalling.

                About 5 years ago I was working on a sports-ed type documentary (famous Brazilian athletes travelling around the country to encourage team sports in the remote areas) and we featured a teacher whose school was visited. This woman was paid in-part with rice every month. It’s criminal.

                Like

                • makagutu says:

                  This is beyond criminal. But it’s the way of the world. People who do essential jobs are fucked world over.

                  Like

                  • john zande says:

                    Unfortunately.

                    It was only after living in Brazil for some time did I really begin to appreciate just how important universal service-provision is, like it is in Australia. The education and quality of teachers is the same in Alice Springs or Kununurra as it is in Brisbane or Sydney.

                    Like

              • makagutu says:

                I think this is the real irony of the world we live in. You can bet some of those who voted down the raise had been moulded in their younger days by some of these teachers

                Like

    • HEY!!! My country resembles that remark!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Tish Farrell says:

    I have a vested interest in this, Mak. Other half did his PhD on the hoof while running an agri-project at KARI. I got to be the assistant with the clipboard (and the camera) which meant I also got to wander round the small farms around Limuru and meet the (mostly) women who did the work. My best time ever actually 🙂

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  3. judyt54 says:

    I see people get PhD’s as a status thing: a woman I know finally got her doctorate in something, at the age of 75. i mean, what’s the point? Her husband, to be fair, bullied her into it, and he was more pleased than she was. She died two years later.
    It seems that now PhDs are the new Master’s, easier to get, more accessible, and really not all that impressive unless you have a specific goal for one.

    There was a time when kids could go to highschool or work, and if they graduated at all, it was often (as was my mother’s case, and my MIL as well) not until they were twenty. Many people never got past 8th grade, but in those not so distant days, it was what you did, and how well you did it, not how well you could parse a sentence.

    Now they have kindergarten graduations (oh please) and highschool ceremonies that involve parties, extensive speeches, and all sorts of things. And the kicker: you HAVE to go to college. The only jobs readily available for high school diplomas are in the food industry, or in construction jobs. maybe farming.
    And only recently a Bachelor’s degree was starting to be considered the bottom rung of the education ladder, if you don’t get that masters, sonny, you don’t get that raise…

    What is truly ridiculous, when you are submitting writng, poetry, prose, whatever, to be published, and you are asked where you got your MFA, if you say, er, I didn’t, the work gets handed back to you, unread. No joke. An MFA does not a writer make, but the schools get paid well for the privilege.

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    • makagutu says:

      I know people who get a master degree so they can earn a promotion. If they could the promotion without it, I don’t think they would bother with it. On that score you are right.
      Getting a PhD at 75 is something else. Maybe they wanted to be in the Guiness book of records or something. Again some of things we do are really for status. We build a big house because of the status it accords us in society so it is with academy.
      I find those kindergarten graduations a pain in all the wrong places and for some reason I can’t explain, some parents have copied those things from TV and now they happen here too.

      Like

  4. basenjibrian says:

    You know….this discussion brings up a case where I question the standard “lefty” trope: Free Higher Education. All that will do, in my view, will ratchet up the credentialism. Most jobs really don’t need a “college degree” but as so many people have them, pretty soon an MBA will be needed to be the Assistant Shift Manager at Burger King. If everyone goes to college, the “dumbing down” will be accelerated, especially if, as is the lefty wont, program success is measured according to various ethnicities and sexualities and class backgrounds. “We are sorry, MIT. You need to change your graduation requirements for a Masters in Particle Physics because our data demonstrates that first generation third world immigrant lesbians of color do not graduate at the same rate as the children of bank presidents.

    This may be politically incorrect, but this is how it would evolve.

    Like

    • makagutu says:

      We could have free higher education but have high admission requirements so not everyone goes to university (I have seen some argue that everyone should go to university). This would work in a place that is highly developed like the states. But where literacy levels are low, it is good practice to make education in the lower level free or highly subsidized to reduce the level of illiteracy in the population. Then higher education can be paid for. My two cents

      Liked by 1 person

      • basenjibrian says:

        Makes sense, maka. Basic literacy is a requirement for participation in modern society. Not everyone needs a Masters’ Degree, though.

        Especially when so much of the money seems to go to compliance and administration and luxury-resort level amenities.

        Like

        • makagutu says:

          You are right. Not everyone needs a master’s degree. But they need to be literate. A lot of money in unis I think goes into administration and filling administrative forms. And all that nonsense instead of research

          Like

  5. basenjibrian says:

    I would also riff off judy….there is a huge, profitable industry extracting rent from the need for a college degree. Someone’s investment portfolio does very well off those college loans. without really lifting a finger in real work.

    Like

  6. renudepride says:

    That probably all depends on the individual involved. Not everyone is identically educated. And, there are some who are hopelessly ignorant, regardless of their education! 🙂 Naked hugs!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. judyt54 says:

    You start at the bottom. You make sure those kids who can’t read are identified and taught to read before it becomes a pride thing. Follow those non reading kids all the way up the ladder, and you will find them in college, for god’s sake, with a football scholarship and a remedial reading class.
    and the emphasis is on football scholarship. He can’t read, he can barely add, but he can play football, by jesus, so we gotta have him.

    The lady who got her doctorate at 75 was doing it to please her husband, who had nagged her into it. He was a naggy old thing, had to run stuff, and he ran her. So she got her PhD, he died, and then she died not long after. Seems an incredible waste of time, and energy, and resources.

    Not everyone is suited for college, hell, some of them are barely suited for highschool, and with the new laws, they have to ride it out until 18 or graduation, no matter how much they want to work, and they can’t work either because they aren’t 18. We’re doing everyone a disservice.

    oh, make me shut up. This is one of my major peeves with the educatonal system in this country. Hell, I’d scrape it off the table and into the trash and start over. But hey, what do I know. I don’t have a Degree.

    Liked by 1 person

    • makagutu says:

      So she got her PhD, he died, and then she died not long after. Seems an incredible waste of time, and energy, and resources.

      and a life. She would have spent that time doing something else.

      Not everyone is suited for college, hell, some of them are barely suited for high school, and with the new laws, they have to ride it out until 18 or graduation, no matter how much they want to work, and they can’t work either because they aren’t 18. We’re doing everyone a disservice.

      this too is true. but some have said it is usually not a question of ability but access to resources

      Like

      • basenjibrian says:

        “this too is true. but some have said it is usually not a question of ability but access to resources”

        Is this true, though? I have a lot of concerns about this theme, which is held very strongly among the educated and white collar classes.

        first, it ignores the reality that people are very different in their interests, skills, and passions. Does the artisan woodworker really need a college education when he or she could be studying in an apprenticeship program with a master in his or her field? And, riffing off your question and its assumptions-SHOULD a society be spending ITS resources to push all people into academic fields?

        Second, this also assumes the innate value of credentialed, white collar “schooled” careers (and lives). I don’t think you are advocating this at all, really, but the American idea seems to devalue to some extent the manual fields. Myself, I am utterly helpless when it comes to car repair, or building a house. I am IN AWE of great craftsmen. Our society should not be trying to push everyone into white collar jobs. We should be developing the “blue collar” professions and respecting them.

        Third, I am not sure we even NEED more of many white collar professions. Heck, I would myself completely stop all government educational support for “business degrees”, which are in some cases actively pernicious w/r/t the overall health of our economy! And finance. Strictly limit the financial engineering degrees and the destructive nonsense it supports!

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        • makagutu says:

          Is this true, though? I have a lot of concerns about this theme, which is held very strongly among the educated and white collar classes.

          I don’t think so. People have different abilities and formal education is such that you either excel or you are fucked. Maybe the system should be such that it can meets the needs of every group but then those owners of nations will say it is expensive to do that so put all of them in one train carriage and whoever falls along the way, too bad.

          Second, this also assumes the innate value of credentialed, white collar “schooled” careers (and lives). I don’t think you are advocating this at all, really, but the American idea seems to devalue to some extent the manual fields.

          You make great point here. I don’t care of the person carving my mantelpiece had a degree or not as long as his work is good. The same is true for my plumber. As long as he can join pipes and ensure the gradient is sufficient for flow, we are in business.

          Heck, I would myself completely stop all government educational support for “business degrees”, which are in some cases actively pernicious w/r/t the overall health of our economy! And finance. Strictly limit the financial engineering degrees and the destructive nonsense it supports!

          I think i am with you on this.

          Like

  8. Getting a PhD is a tremendous personal accomplishment, in my opinion. It should be valued and encouraged apart from the practical – and often disappointing – realities of today’s sad economic priorities.

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    • makagutu says:

      It does seem economic benefits trumps today. It is the only consideration

      Like

    • basenjibrian says:

      I suppose. But if one has a passion for a field but has no interest in teaching or research, is there a real value to a PhD? It is a matter of personal choice, ultimately, but there are many ways of indulging that passion that don’t involve the rigidity and cost of a PhD program.

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      • It depends on what people value. Is making money the only consideration? Must we all be slaves to the economic system? Are not personal fulfillment and educational enrichment desirable goals? For me, my broad-based college and professional education made me a better person. I would still value that today even if it had not been financially rewarding.

        Like

        • basenjibrian says:

          But I didn’t focus at all on the “money” aspects on my comment. Nor did I dismiss the life of the mind. And I would acknowledge that a college education can help develop a broad based understanding of the world. I enjoyed my undergrad and masters’ programs, but eventually formal education is no longer the best approach to developing oneself. One cannot be a formal student forever, even if one remains intellectually curious.

          My point is that I am simply a skeptic about the fetish for formal education once one has reached a certain point. Like an ailing 75 year old woman whose husband pressured her into the effort. There are other, cheaper, more practical ways to develop education and skills and knowledge. If am not sure throwing oneself into a “research” program needed for a PhD is the only or best way. If anything, past a certain point a formal educational structure can be limiting as much as broadening.

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          • I never said nor implied that a formal education is the “only” or even the “best” path towards knowledge. I did say that a formal education should be valued and encouraged, and that the attainment of a PhD should be considered as a tremendous personal accomplishment.

            It has been my long experience that people who belittle formal education have a personal bias against it. Some people are just disinterested in learning. Some people are intellectually intimidated by it. Sometimes students perform poorly and flippantly reject the institution to soothe their bruised egos. Some people see education as a conflicting ideology such as religious fundamentalists. Authoritarians typically see comprehensive education of the public as a societal threat to be politically opposed. There are many other biases too. Regardless of the reason, such skepticism tells me a lot about the person.

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            • basenjibrian says:

              I would not disagree with a great deal of what you say. But I still think I made good points above. Formal education is not the best path for everyone and I don’t think as a matter of public policy we should be pushing it. It is EXPENSIVE in both time and money and other resources. And note that this is not only a matter of $$.

              Like

        • makagutu says:

          I would still value that today even if it had not been financially rewarding.

          Where earnings is dependent on credentials, one would feel kinda wasted if their studies didn’t earn them much. But i do get your bigger point. Education as a good/ end in itself

          Liked by 1 person

      • makagutu says:

        But if one has a passion for a field but has no interest in teaching or research, is there a real value to a PhD?

        I think yes. The PhD dissertation itself if published maybe a worthwhile contribution to knowledge and be subject of future research. So i think it can be an end in itself

        Liked by 1 person

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