The Repurposed Ph.D.

The New York Times posted an interesting article titled “The Repurposed Ph.D.” I myself have gone back and forth about pursuing my doctorate. I was a Mellon Mays Fellow as an undergraduate. So, getting a doctorate has been on my mind more or less since I was nineteen.

As much as I love English, by the time I graduated someone couldn’t pay me to write another paper. When I got my Master’s in English Education four years later (with a one year break between undergrad and grad school), I truly enjoyed the program. I didn’t feel as anti-writing a paper as I did by the graduate program’s close as I had when an undergrad.

When I went to turn in my final paper, my favorite grad school professor asked me flat out, “You know you need to get your doctorate, right?” I looked at him and said, “I know.” I attended three different information sessions before I left the States, but I never even bought a GRE test prep book. My heart, in some ways, just still isn’t in it.

This article gets at some of my same hesitations with pursuing a doctorate. One, I don’t enjoy traditional research. Two, I have no desire to add something new and profound to the “body of knowledge.” I think there’s plenty out there for me to learn as it is. Three, I’m not interested in becoming a tenure-track professor.

Yet, I absolutely adore the life of the mind when it’s rooted in some practical application. One of my mentors in college, for instance, never intended to become a traditional professor with her Ph.D. Rather, she’s a community activist.

It’ll be interesting to see if or when Ph.D. programs (and expectations) get restructured how higher education overall will be impacted.



4 thoughts on “The Repurposed Ph.D.

  1. Hi! I just found your blog via a comment you left on the boobjob article in the NYT and I must say I’m very glad I clicked on the link! I’m a Venezuelan that just started a PhD in Education in the UK. Reading this article, I just want to say you definitely seem to be on the right track not pursuing one! Having said that, I’m not sure I understand why traditional research is the only way these days to get into teaching at university level. I get the whole part about empirical and systematic and everything else that characterises traditional approaches that makes research all the more reliable, and the role of the university as a generator of knowledge and all that, but I find it a bit despicable that achieving an academic career (in UK at least) can only be done strictly through a PhD programme and subsequent publications – both, unavoidably, at least for most academic fields.

    In my (admittedly not-so-educated) opinion, publication, involvement and solid practical application of a career should have just as much value to the field and the body of knowledge than just carrying out research project after research project. For example, I recently translated a conference paper for a Venezuelan psychotherapist whom I know holds no PhD and no shocking amount of publications anywhere. He’s simply an accomplished professional in his field that had very interesting insights and a valuable amount of patient experience that translated into something new and very interesting to say.

    I hope you’re enjoying Venezuela and staying safe, and that Valencia is treating you well. I’ve only been there a few times and I never managed to enjoy it! Maybe I disliked Maracay enough before that, and both feel too much alike 😉

    • I’m glad you dropped by the blog! Thanks for the positive feedback too. You raise a great point about research vs. experience when entering into academia. It’s more or less the same in the States. People who choose to work at a research university are expected to produce research and articles in order to climb the tenure-track ladder.

      I completely agree with you. I think having hands on experience–the visceral, emotional, and PRACTICAL experience–should be given as much weight as other areas of academia. If I do ever pursue a PhD it would be in Education because I would be able to use my classroom experience to inform my work.

      That’s so nice that you translated a psychotherapist’s work! At least he is able to reach a broader audience now, thanks to you.

      Venezuela, all in all, has been good to me. I am doing my best to stay safe and enjoy my time while here.

      Best of luck with your continued academic pursuits!

  2. I’ve just recently finished my PhD and now I’m working as a waitress. Still don’t regret it, but ask me again in a few months.

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