Why having a Ph.D is fun

09 May

I conducted a workshop, well actually it was more like a lecture and discussion than a workshop. for the sworn officers–read police–at my campus. There were about 17 individuals, one black woman, two black men, the rest all white men. We had a good time discussing cultural filters and how they impact our interactions with other people. We also talked about dominator and excluded identities, race, gender, socio-economic status, age, and finally education.

Some of the more lively discussion was during the education segment of the session. There was considerable opinion about the arrogance of Ph.D.s on campus. This is a normal part of the diversity classes. I often am told how Ph.Ds on campus want you to call them doctor all the time and how they get offended if you do not. The prevailing wisdom seems to be that folks holding a doctorate think they are better than people who do not. I am certain that that is true for some folks, but I think most people who have a doctorate have enough sense to realize the main reason most of us have doctorates is we like school and had enough money to hang around classrooms longer than most folks.

Getting a Ph.D. is fun. I highly recommend it for virtually anyone. I do admit I like it when people call me Dr., it makes me feel special. My mother was the secretary of the president of Wilberforce University when I was growing up and I was in awe of all the Dr This and Dr. That folks who came in and out of her office.I thought they were the most dignified, impressive people I had ever encountered. My father worshiped education, and one of my main regrets is that he died before I got my doctorate, he would have been so proud.

But you do not get a Ph.D. to be admired or to be made to feel special or important. You get a Ph.D. because there is a topic that engages you enough that you want to study it for four to five years, write about it, and add to the body of knowledge, at least a little bit, about the subject. At least that is why you should get a doctorate.

It is indulgent, there is no question about that. But, it is a fabulous opportunity. People who did not have a good school experience and do not think they like learning as a result probably would have a hard time understanding this, but if someone would pay for it I would still be in school working on a second or third Ph.D. Exploring a topic, attacking it like you are Sherlock Holmes on the trail of Moriarity, or Poirot trying to find out who committed a crime is exhilarating, especially when you find your culprit, or at least collect enough evidence to make a credible case.

My dissertation is on the achievement gap. I wanted to know why black kids are doing so badly in most cases in our public schools. I had my suspicions, chief among them that the teaching force has become overwhelmingly white, frequently made up of women who have never known a black person well, know nothing about black history or black culture and are subject to all of the stereotypes and misconceptions about blacks that exist in our society. So, I began my studies with that in mind, my final paper is entitled” Lessons in Black and White: White teacher questioning practices of Black and White Students. ” Fortunately for me my huge data set indicated that the white teachers observed were questioning black students far less than white students and when the questions were complex rather than simple they asked the white kids twice as many questions as the black kids. This, although my research was done in an urban, predominantly black district.

So I zoomed in on my problem–black kids not achieving academically as well as white kids, collected my data–hundreds of classroom observation hours–read the literature and wrote my paper. What is not to love? I was studying something I felt was interesting and important. All of my papers were about some aspect of the achievement gap, something that had puzzled me since it seems to be exacerbated following integration. Wasn’t integration supposed to make more opportunities possible for people of color, not fewer?

My point is this, if you are not interested in the achievement gap, or education or race, there is something that grabs your interest to the point that you research it ( you are researching if you are reading books, articles, watching television programs, discussing with others, research is widely misunderstood!) and you engage with it. Unless you are a truly rare individual you also draw certain conclusions based on your research. If you like it and it engages you then you can get a Ph.D. in it, at least almost always you can.

I always told my college classes to follow their bliss. Whatever you would do for free is what you want to do for a living. I like to read, study, write, talk about what I know or think I know. That is what I have always gotten paid to do. So, I have rarely felt like I was at work.It is what I would do for free. The only times I have had a negative experience has been when people dumber than me were my boss–or thought they were, and that was not about work, it was about annoyance of having to deal with them.  (Okay that sounds dreadful, but I try to tell the truth here!)

My best selling points for getting a Ph.D. are these; 1) you decide what to study 2) you become the expert quickly, after all it is your topic 3) there is nowhere else as an adult you can engage in thought and study and discussion for hours and be doing what you are supposed to be doing ( unless you already have a doctorate and are teaching).

I often tell people that when I was in my studies in an ethics class we once spent two hours discussing whether or not the universe is cloud-like or clock-like and how much I enjoyed it. People have one of two reactions, they sigh with envy or they start to sidle away, sure I am some variety of dangerous lunatic. But, let me ask you this, when else as an adult can you engage in such a discussion and be doing what you are supposed to be doing? Think about exercising your mind simply for exercise, not because you are required to come up with the solution to a problem, just engage in exploration of the question, formulate your answer and defend it.

Another discussion we held was on whether or not people should lie. Sissela Bok the author of the book “On Lying” comes down strong against it. I personally would not want to live in a world where people did not lie. If someone deadly boring invites you to dinner would Bok have you say ” Oh hell no, I would rather eat razor blades than spend an evening with you” ? Or the ever popular ” does this dress make me look fat?”,  ” what do you think of my haircut?”, ” Isn’t my daughter the cutest thing?”

Trust me, lying keeps us a peaceful society. Anybody want to take the other position and discuss it for a couple of hours? 🙂

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Posted by on May 9, 2011 in Uncategorized


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