The value of a PhD

When I went to Berkeley in 2004, I already had a masters degree in Anthropology. For the first three years, I felt like I learned a few useful things, particularly in my narratology and new historicism classes. It was also good to go through the Poetic Edda. Preparing for my oral exams was also intersting. Then in 2007, I went to Iceland to start my PhD research, and did that all the way until 2010. It was a frustrating and lonely experience, and it wasn't until the last summer I was there that I really got any kind of valuable data. Between 2010 and 2012, I wrote and revised and wrote and revised, and read a lot of theory, and finished. It felt good to have it done.

The job I have now does not actually require a PhD, although it did help me get noticed. Other jobs I've looked at and applied for would utilize my PhD even less. For some of them, especially in the museum field, the PhD is a hindrance - I don't especially want to leave it off my resume, although I suppose I could if I had to.

The thing is, getting a PhD is a totally artificial experience that has nothing at all to do with most people's workaday lives. Even professors don't really need a PhD, unless they are doing nothing but pure research.

A PhD is a process by which one bares, over and over again, one's thought process to one's advisor. The advisor does not reciprocate to any measurable degree the intellectual investment in the chosen topic. That topic is usually highly specific and personal to the person getting the PhD, and although the advisor does read and respond, the level and detail of feedback is not at all extensive or comprehensive. But I did get a sense of my own thinking, which is worth something.

So I must say, I like working better. Having a job requires the development of a full range of skills, and is about fully engaging with the people, place, and stories around you. It is a messy, emotional, complex thing to be working out in the big real world, rather than quietly writing a PhD.

I've been working for two years now full time, and I feel my confidence rising every day. My sense that I can contribute in ways both large and small to something outside of myself. It's a nice feeling and I'm really so glad to no longer be in graduate school.


Jono said…
It seems to me that I was at my best when working full time and going to school half time. The two disciplines enhanced my abilities, but didn't leave time for anything else. Unfortunately, I still need to sleep.

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