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Opinion > PhDs: Pathfinders or Pathbreakers?

Doctorates in the field of humanities or science or medicine working in the university research laboratories, in the college campus or in medical schools have been in the psychological whirlpool of confusion, helplessness or even pushing them what good the PhD has done to their career or position or social status.

Dr D S Sheriff
Dr D S Sheriff

With growing numbers of professionals, experts and qualified people in all segments of education, industry and universities it seems that PhDs are pushed to a corner. Whatever the field is — research centre, university departments, local professional colleges they remain victims of circumstances and scapegoats of shortsighted vision of some of the governing councils or bodies. Some are subjected to humiliation in the form of salaries — showing a gap between say a Doctor of Medicine and doctorates.

Years of experience and even number of publications (high impact or low) do not elevate them to a point of dignity and decency. Rather terminologies used are discriminatory and biased — say like medical or non-medical. These doctorates would have spent years of teaching to medical students making them become professional physicians or engineering students to make them engineers – yet all of a sudden they have become no-body at least in the field of medicine. The councils when they inspect treat them as fossils or make them feel unwanted or create an environment they will be flushed out with more acts and regulations.

PhDs — they already undergo like any other professional degrees hardships, victimization, sometimes years of study with no light at the end of tunnel but with more attempts and fine tuning they get to the point of getting their degrees. During their study period PhDs do not see barriers or divisions among different subjects with thin line dividing the subjects with more solid lines merging the subjects what they wish to attain in the form of data to analyse and present a dissertation for evaluation.

Like any other professional degrees they spend the best of their lives in pursing their education with a hope to carry forward their academic or research or teaching careers. Yet doctorates continue to live and go on with their lives. But some have travelled too long a road facing every year council inspection, getting approved to be a faculty, sometimes facing hardships in the form of a junior inspecting authority until the fag end of their career. Is it not enough to get approved by the council once as a faculty, which is stored in the council’s records? Is it necessary that every year they must be subjected to such an inspection giving a gap for a newer entrant into the field of education to evaluate you keeping the rules in hand? Yet with utmost dignity PhDs continue to do what they do best.

So let’s not forget they are part of you sharing the same space and field – give them or spare their space so that apart from teaching research could go on in the corridors of medical education.

How true it is to ponder over the reflection of an American perspective – “People who have trained at great length and expense to be researchers confront a dwindling number of academic jobs, and an industrial sector unable to take up the slack.”

A 2010 article in the Economist subtitled “Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time” is even more damning of doctorates. To be fair, that article targeted all PhDs, but the reporter made science doctorates seem particularly worthless, writing that she “slogged through a largely pointless PhD in theoretical ecology.” There have almost always been more doctorates than academic positions, and PhDs, unlike JDs and MDs, have a long history of pursuing a range of careers after their training. A science PhD is still an attractive credential outside of the university. According to a 2008 survey by the NSF (National Science Foundation), there were about 662,600 work-ready science PhDs in the United States, and only 11,400 of those people were unemployed. That’s an unemployment rate of 1.7 percent.

This argument is ridiculous. Since the PhD’s inception in the 18th century Germany, the product of a doctoral education has been a dissertation — a body of research that, in a small way, moves a field forward. There’s nothing wrong with contributing to science and then moving on. The work won’t disappear. Dissertations are published, and doctorates last a lifetime.

by Dr D S Sheriff

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