PHD Plethora

PHD Dilemma. Lenin Nightingale  (2013)

By late 1923, the Weimar Republic of Germany was issuing two-trillion Mark banknotes: Nowadays, the value of university degrees are undergoing a similar process of inflation, wherein the higher denomination of degree becomes almost worthless as a consequence of their over-production. Academic departments have an economic incentive to enroll graduate students. It also rewards those departments that persuade M.A. students to go into the Ph.D. program. The impetus of this market force is one that can be compared to encouraging the third class passengers on the Titanic to upgrade to second class, then encouraging a further upgrade to first class, the once spacious abode of aristocrats, or, in terms of a Ph.D. analogy, of the academic elite, which is of little worth as it becomes crowded.

In the same way that a first class cabin on one ship may only be equal to a second class one another, not all Ph.D.s are equal: What happens to graduates with Ph.D.s issued by Notasgood University? They go straight into colleges (if they are lucky), competing with hundreds of others to do something that was once the province of the BA/Bsc. holder.

What psychological imperative is served by entering a saturated degree market? That is, what psychological imperative is exploited by academic departments driven by economic considerations? Gary North’s comments (within an American context) are perhaps more widely apt:

‘Ph.D. students are a lot like gamblers. They expect to beat the odds. The gambler personifies odds-beating as Lady Luck. The Ph.D. student instead looks within. “I am really smart. These other people in the program aren’t as smart as I am. I will get that tenure-track job. I will make the cut. I will be a beneficiary of the system.”

Why does any Ph.D. student at any but the top graduate schools believe that he will get tenure at any university? The odds are so far against him, and have been for a generation, than he ought to realize that he is about to waste his most precious resource — time — on a long-shot. Investing five or more years beyond the B.A. degree, except in a field where industry hires people with advanced degrees, is economic stupidity that boggles the imagination.

Earning a Ph.D. may pay off if your goal is status, although I don’t understand why anyone regards a Ph.D. as a status symbol that is worth giving up five to ten years of your earning power in your youth, when every dime saved can multiply because of compounding. If the public understood the economics of earning a Ph.D., people would think “naïve economic loser” whenever they hear “Ph.D.”

Jim Sheng’s overview:

Academic Inflation is inflation in academic qualifications and inflation of the minimum job requirement where too many college education individuals compete for too few jobs requiring these qualifications. This condition leads to an intensified race for higher qualification where a bachelors degree of today is no longer good enough to gain employment, and an inflation in the minimum degree requirements to the level of masters degrees, Phd’s, and post-doctoral levels, particularly in areas where advanced degree knowledge is completely unnecessary to perform the required job. You can find Master degrees in hairdressing and it is not uncommon that the minimum job requirement for a secretary is a BA degree today.

The institutionalizing of professional education has resulted in fewer and fewer opportunities for young people to work their way up from artisan to professional status (eg. as an engineer) by ‘learning on the job. Academic Inflation leads employers to put more and more faith into certificates and diplomas awarded. And we have become so used to inflation that we think it is a good thing and use the percentage of people with a university degree to measure the quality of workforce.

Looking back to the appointment policies of university lectureship earlier this century, and to compare them with those of today. We have forgotten, perhaps, that the PhD was brought to Britain only after the First World War and to China after the Great Culture Revolution in 1970s. Until then, scientists were trained up to Bachelar level. University lecturers were usually appointed after their first degree, in their early twenties. It is worth recalling that a PhD is not essential; even today there are a number of highly distinguished scientists who do not have one, and the great scientists of the past seemed to have coped happily without any equivalent.

This pattern was common until quite recently. Promising graduates were often appointed to lectureships before they had submitted their PhD theses, which they then completed as members of staff. One problem with this system was that performance as an undergraduate does not always correlate well with performance in research. The next step was to require PhD submission before appointment, allowing some assess ment to be made of a candidate’s research potential – and incidentally bringing the age of a new lecturer up into the middle or late twenties.

But this was not enough. As competition for permanent positions increased, academic inflation began to set in. Departments were able to insist not only on a completed PhD, but also upon a substantial period of post-doctoral research. This brings our story up to the present day: most lecturers are being appointed in their early to middle thirties! Newly graduated PhDs find that it is very difficult for them to find an academic job in universities without post-doctoral experience and some of them begin to enter colleges and even middle schools to secure a perminant job. If this has not yet happened in U.K., at least it is happenning in biggest cities in China where competition for permanent positions in higher education is very severe.

Probably now it’s the time to think again about why we require so many years of study before offering a proper job, some of which are completely unnecessary for the required work. Do we really need our hairdresser to have a MSc degree?


Jim Sheng n.d. hubpages


From the nurse’s mouth

These links present perspectives of student nurses and newly qualified nurses. For example, “all adverts for nurses ask for experience– so few jobs for newly qualified”. UK ones are hard to find interestingly.

Point is- agree or disagree- nurses you need to talk, and humour helps in some cases.