Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why you should NOT get a PhD

So The Atlantic Wire published a post about whether it's worth getting into debt to go to Yale(Thanks Charles for the tip!), and concluded that YES - Yale is worth the money you pay to go in, even if you have to go into debt!

Strange, don't you think, how schools and universities have become so commercialized that people don't judge it by the content that it provides to students, but by the network and branding of the school. Similarly, many people, when employed, are not judged by their potential and abilities, but by that piece of paper stating which school you've graduated from.

How many of us buy into this "school branding" theory? Does graduating from a good university (or even graduating at all) really speak of the quality of a person? Why should it? Why do so many people spend years pursuing this 'paper chase', in order to land a comfortable job? I've even heard of this guy who keeps taking degree after degree, just to add to that (already) long string of letters after his name...

Then again, HR people would say that they have just too many applicants, and the fastest way of sorting them out would be to first look at the paper qualifications of a person. But I say - If you're willing to spend so many extra years of your prime chasing after a piece of paper, you can't be that smart :P In fact, a professor of mine used to say that PhD stands for Permanent Head Damage, and I think that, in some ways, that's quite true! (PHD students, please don't kill me!) Let me substantiate why:

The academic world is very different from the working world. Unless you intend to be a professor of sorts and forever stay within the academic world, a PhD would be useless. Why? Because if you intend to step into the reality of the working world, there's so much more than 'just having knowledge'. After all, in today's day and age, there's Google. And Wikipedia. With just a few taps on the keyboard, everyone knows everything.

On the other hand, there's being street smart. And the successful execution of ideas. Without these, ideas - no matter how brilliant - are useless. How many researchers have managed to arrive at great technologies, only to find that they do not have the skills to bring these ideas into the market? (I'm not saying it's bad to be a researcher, by the way - I'm just trying to show how being locked up in a academic environment might not be so healthy for people. So researchers, please keep researching! You're doing great work! Just remember to step outside your lab once in a while to get a fresh breath of air :P)

Higher education also tends to lock people's minds into a certain way of thinking. Granted, these thoughts have been proven to work over the years, but these thoughts are also what tends to place people 'in the box'. To me, schools are like factory outlets: Everyone comes out looking like they've been imprinted with roughly the same circuit board, with a few tweaks to suit the current environment.

But back to university branding. Is going to Yale so important for your career? What if, by going to an obscure university, you learn far more in terms of content and applicability than what you get from going to a branded university? Would you go to that university? Why do we perceive Ivy League schools to be of such high value (and pay obscene sums of money to get there), when what we really get out of it is really the same (or maybe even worse) than what you might get out of a humble local university? Granted, these schools are prestigious because being accepted means you have a certain level of intelligence, but then the value added to a person is no credit to the universities anyway.

Is getting a piece of paper from a prestigious school really that great?

[random thoughts] And what of church branding? Do we need to have a great music team, comfy seats and a first class sound system to package the church and attract people to come? Isn't the core essence of church, God? And shouldn't the key focus of a church be spent on nurturing and rooting people in God's will? Why all this glitz and glamour surrounding churches then? Wouldn't this money be better spent in outreach and fostering the growth of its people? [/random thoughts]

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