What a PhD really means

Let me preface this by saying, I do not have a PhD. I don’t particularly have an ambition to earn a PhD. I mean, I guess Dr. Gingermermaid sounds pretty cool and everything, but I think I’ll manage just fine without the title as I do currently without the title Princess Gingermermaid. Both hold about the same stock of meaning to me anyway.

I’ve mentioned before that I work chiefly with academics. Some are fabulous leaders in their field, know their information, and have an open mind to boot! But the key word in that last sentence is “some.” See, most are not any of those things.

A PhD doesn’t equal intelligence, it equals hard work. I give lots of credit to those who earn their PhD because they do have a fabulous work ethic, or enough of one to get through the arduous process, and lots of tenacity. It’s not easy to get a PhD, but not for lack of smarts, for lack of heart.

Perhaps this is unfair of me. Since I have never gone forward to attempt a PhD, maybe I am out of touch. But just going through the motions and doing the work doesn’t guarantee a quality outcome, and this is what I am writing about.

Aside from my own collegiate experiences, in which I blindly trusted my professors and felt they were gods of intellect or some sort, I realize now, some were but most were not. They were human and made/make mistakes much like I do (well, at the pre-bachelor’s level, let’s be honest, most of my mistakes were drunken, youthful, and way beyond stupid—for another post). I also didn’t realize that most professors are less inclined to be teachers than they are to be researchers and publishers of their own works. That idea seems backwards to me since I’m paying many a dollar for an education to be taught by someone who would rather forward their own career than assist in developing my future one.

Part of the fault lies within the university system. In order for professors to get jobs, earn tenure, survive in academia, they have to do a lot of BS (and I don’t mean Bachelor’s of Science). If they don’t publish enough, they aren’t marketable. If they don’t get grants for their research, they have nothing to show but their PhD certificate. If they don’t conform to the political correctness and ideals of the university, they are cast out. It doesn’t matter if the school is Ivy League or in the middle-of-nowhere Wyoming (no offense, Wyoming).

Still, regardless of what the standards of conformity are in the academic world, I get a taste of the kind of people who decorate its many institutions on a daily basis.

What shocks me most about interacting with professors and independent scholars (what is that even?) is the lack of attention to detail, the ignorance of common courtesy, the forsaking of all things grammatical in correspondence, and the inability to follow directions. To top it all off, an ego that is difficult to maneuver around.

At times I’m shocked, that me, a lowly college graduate with just a BA must conduct a paint-by-numbers outline of instructions of a fairly intuitive process that practically conducts itself. Is it the use of technology? Is it the fact that these folks are so “important” and “busy” they have no time to go through trivial steps to complete a mundane task? Or do they expect anyone less than them to deal with these sorts of matters, thus are not troubled to read and follow instructions?

Each year I assist in a fellowship with 30 to 35 professors. I have to say, a lot of these folks are quite down-to-earth and even, dare I say it—fun? However, put them all together in a room to be instructed (the role reversal is not well-received) or to discuss intellectual but challenging matters, and the egos, commentary, ignorance, and spouts of achievements projectile vomits itself into fragile ears (chiefly, mine—the others are used to this kind of rhetoric).

It’s as if you can’t teach a teacher because they feel they have acquired all knowledge. That PhD, if anything, should give you the access of knowledge to go farther, ask more questions, and continue to learn more. We never stop learning because we can never know everything—expert or no expert. If you ask me, if there is a god, I doubt he’s all that omniscient and perfect (have you seen the craziness this world is in?) which means that a lowly professor is even less so.

So, dear PhDs, professors, academics, kindlers of knowledge, please remember a few things:

  • Be respectful of your colleagues and those who have only so high an education, it doesn’t mean they are dumb, it means their life goes a different way than yours.
  • Be humble because it is impossible to know everything and closing your mind only exacerbates the ignorance in education and society.
  • Take your position as educator seriously. You may want to write a book, you may want to research 23 of the 24 hours, but remember, you are also a teacher and your responsibility is to arm students with knowledge to go out in the world and assist in its development, not its demise.
  • Follow goddamn instructions. You are not above reading and performing them.
  • If you expect your students and colleagues to write emails with proper grammar, you should do the same. Capitalize the first letter of every sentence, use exclamation points responsibly, and don’t forget your punctuation!
  • You earned a PhD and this is nothing to sneeze at, but it isn’t your identity and people are only mildly impressed.
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