MARKETABLE DOCTORATES

Perhaps I was among the believers who thought that those who finish their PhDs are no cleverer than those who do not. I wonder how many of us would have done PhD if it was not a requirement to hold an academic or scientific position. Many of us do PhD as a stop gap arrangement, because there is nothing better to do. Many of us register for doctorate so that we can continue availing the facilities in an institute that are extended to a student. The time is primarily “utilised” for the preparation of other competitive exams, or pursuing other vocations. This kind of “surplus schooling” often is quite unproductive. In some countries the number of PhDs is more than their demand. Such “disposable academics” are considered “the ugly underbelly of academia” by some, because many of them are either underemployed or are not suitably employed. More than the number, the quality of PhDs produced is important. One way of improving the quality is to revise the reward and recognition structure.

The journal Nature in one of its issues a few years ago suggested some approaches to shake up the “hallowed foundations of academia”. Maybe some kind of “academic birth control” is necessary in some countries. We must recognise that the fruits of research are meant for everyone, but research is not for everyone. Some think that the time taken for the completion of a PhD is too long. In one survey IIT students mentioned several reasons for not doing PhD in India. Among the reasons assigned were too much time, too many pre-PhD courses, low market value, and uninspiring supervisors. Some supervisors, however, are too ‘inspiring’; they don’t hesitate to supervise more than a dozen students at a time. “PhD programmes in the sciences still overemphasise the academic track and actively devalue other career paths,” writes Nature. There is a need to change this trend.

Many PhD holders are poor team workers. They are less adept at dealing with changing challenges. Developing independence is a crucial step to becoming an investigator. In other words, many recommend some non-academic training for PhDs. They believe courses in marketing, communication and leadership are useful for a scientist alongside academic acumen of critical thinking and analysis. An issue that needs consideration is to “trample the boundary” among scientific disciplines because of the trans-disciplinary nature of science and technology.

It is now 45 years since I graduated from ‘abcderian’ to ‘doctoral’ ignorance. But as they say ignorance is often bliss.