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Posts from 2018-02-28

Permanently Damaged Heads - PhD

Permanent Head Damage – PhD

The title of this piece of writing is a bit funny and weird. Apparently it is a distortion of the coveted PhD degree that now-a-days every professional is after. The number of people pursuing PhD has skyrocketed in the recent days. It is an unprecedented phenomenon in the academic and professional world. Traditionally doctors were the respected people in any community because of their expertize to cure you and restore your health. With a  tablet, with a few questions, a few taps, pats and observations they know what is the problem and which pill to take care of the pain or discomfort. Sure, they are respectable, knowledgeable people who saves lives. Then came along research and anyone who does much deep independent work was given the degree Doctor of Philosophy. They also put Dr. as a prefix confusing the general public. Now when you see Dr. in front of a name board, you wonder if it is a medical doctor who can help you or not. And of course quacks who practice medicine also put the same prefix for their names. And the trend gathered momentum over the years and it is an epidemic everywhere.

In general society, we are almost sure that every respectable person needs to have a PhD and so we assume that he or she is a Dr. It is funny that In meetings or conferences, almost everyone who is on the stage gets addressed by a Dr. prefix. In India, similar to what ‘Sir’ suffix attributes respect for anyone, ‘Dr.’ prefix attributes knowledge for anyone.

The other day I was part of a panel discussion on “The PhD journey”. There were few of us who completed the degree while there were several who are in various stages of their doctoral research. It was meant to be sharing of the experiences for the benefit of the number of people in the organization.

Towards the end of the discussion, one of the panelists asked a question about a slide which showed the knowledge circle. The question was simple: Imagine two people who work in the same field. One completed her PhD two years back and another is working towards his degree. Who will be more knowledgeable about the current developments in the field? The one with the degree or the one who is yet to get his? Someone in the audience replied without much hesitation “The one who is working towards the degree”.


It seemed everyone in the audience agreed.

I was alarmed. Really?

A person who was searching out current developments and reading all the journal articles couple of years back, is out of touch now and is deadwood? No more spark of inquisitiveness? No spirit of inquiry? No curiosity to find out what else others are doing in the field? No interest to find out who else built up further on your work? All the years of toil was to reach that final point of rest just like a 100 meter sprint? When you adorned the “cap and gown”, was it a signal to hang up your thinking cap? Was the ultimate purpose of four years of slogging, to take a picture of you in “cap and gown” with your loved ones and display the framed degree on your office wall?

The presumption is that a person who has got her PhD has completed a course and she moves on with regular life and there is no more need to search out new stuff. She knows it all. After all she is a ‘Dr.’, where as the person who is in pursuit of his degree is studying hard so that he will pass his examination, and hence will be in touch with the current developments in the field.

I tried to find out where is the logic coming from. These were possible reasons I came up with.

·      You primary reason for taking a PhD is because it is a needed to get promotion and increase in salary

·      Your understanding is that PhD is a degree like Masters where you complete certain set courses.

·      Just like you did your Masters or Bachelors, you pass the exams, and that is the end of the degree requirement.

·      You have not heard that most good universities insist that you need to continue to publish certain number of peer reviewed journal papers for further career advancement.

·      You did not know that PhD is not required for a teaching career, but is only needed when you plan to do research and have a quest for more knowledge.

·      One of the main reason for pursuing a doctoral degree is to add weight to your name with a Dr. prefix, or a PhD tail. Additionally the respectability is good to get around social circles including prominent seats on stage in meetings.

If, one or more of the above are the reasons that forced you to pursue a doctoral degree then there is a good chance that you will end up developing an inner phobia for journal articles, you tend to dismiss research done by others, you cultivate a puffed up and swollen ego that shows up often in the wrong places. That also means that you have ‘permanent head damage’. It may be a coincidence that the acronym is the same for ‘doctor of philosophy’. Since you already have a paper that says that a University has bestowed on you the degree after completing due processes and assessments, you can loiter around in any circle of researchers or conferences or meetings. In fact, if you know how to manipulate the right connections and is smart enough to be in the good books of the right people, you will gain a lot in life and be successful too. Because ‘Dr.’ is a good ladder for upward mobility.

When that is the expectation in the environment where you work, what can you possibly expect for yourself anyway? I am not at all surprised by the answer in the panel discussion, when the general perception is for anyone to pursue a doctoral degree for the above reasons.

India is a country with a messed up education system right from the KG to higher education.

·      You may get interviewed by the playschool principal if you want admission for your 3 year old child.

·      Government schools are a disgrace to education since a majority of them have run down physical infrastructure, empty classrooms, but overcrowded staff rooms. The staff are permanent staff whose have secure jobs with assured pension for life on retirement. There is no accountability and the staff come and go as they like. Most of the children of the teachers of government schools study in well organized English medium schools run by private organizations where the teachers may not have any job security but are under strict monitoring to keep standards.

·      You can get into professional colleges that offer medical degrees by paying hefty under-the-table-fees because every parent want their child to become a doctor. It is a business where anyone can get admission if you have enough money to pay as capitation fees. Aptitude or quality has no place.

·      People can go to any extend to manipulate to get their degree. An article that appeared in Times of India in February 2018 reveals that 75% of the doctorates in one of India’s respectable, old, public University have flouted procedures and norms. A well-oiled machinery is at work in University of Madras to award PhDs easily to those who pay or know the right people. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/75-of-madras-university-phd-theses-violated-procedures/articleshow/63061749.cms

So academic institutions are getting filled with PhDs most of which had any rigor or oversight of standards. It is a decorative title. So what happens if there is a group of ‘damaged heads’ in an organization and you are one of them?

·      You have a laid back attitude since you have reached the pinnacle and there is no place else to go but stay there. You are at the top of the knowledge mountain.

·      Your ego is so bloated that you stop listening to anyone else.

·      You tend to throw your weight around everywhere and insists that everyone listens to you

·      You have a sense of entitlement and will grumble, scream and block others’ paths, if they don’t follow your opinion as orders.

·      You look at other colleagues as lesser beings, at least in your mind. Your attitude raises it’s ugly head at times in meetings, discussions.


If you are a real PhD who went through the process to hone your inquisitiveness, and your curiosity is at a higher level now, you will be a loner. The real effect of pursuing a PhD should be that one gets to know more in-depth on a topic and have a curiosity that prompts you ask questions. You ask your questions and want to know more. So you move forward to  formulating studies and conducts them systematically to find answers. The outcome of the studies brings out more knowledge and adds to the database of information available for others who will take it forward with further questions. An organization that has such a group of PhDs will be alive and kicking. They will advance and contribute to human progress.  

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Others will remain permanently damaged, but will continue to claim scholarships and awards.


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