Why I chose not to get a PhD

I got to spend some time with a friend recently that decided some time ago to restart her PhD work.  She is already ABD, but is starting the dissertation over from scratch.  My question was “Why?” She is a well-respected professional, and within the her field a PhD will likely be of limited benefit professionally compared to the mountain of work ahead of her, not to mention the expense involved.

In the course of the conversation I was reflecting on my own choice to not get a PhD and thinking that it might provide food for thought for a larger audience. Not to mention the pitfalls of getting to attached to getting one.

When I started my graduate work in anthropology, I had the same expectations as most people: I thought I would wind up teaching at a university or maybe in some kind of think tank. Rather than going directly into a PhD program (I already had a B.A and MS.Ed in other areas), I chose what was then a terminal master’s program at the University of South Carolina. I thought at the time, doing a MA first would enable me to get into a better PhD program, in reality I don’t think it makes a difference either way. Future graduate students should also take note USC now has a full-fledged PhD program that started several years after I finished my M.A.  Well, as time went by, my interests and goals evolved.  Not an unexpected thing to happen as you spend a couple of years learning about the in’s and out’s of a discipline. Looking back, I believe that one of the most significant course changes was when I decided that I was more interested in applied work rather than working in academia. I won’t mince words, once it got around the department that I was not planning on pursuing an academic path, it felt like I was pretty much dropped like a hot rock as far as most of the professors were concerned.  One professor [to remain nameless] didn’t mince words either, she told me flatly that any student that was not planning on a professional academic career as an anthropologist should not expect any interest on the part of the instructors. My thesis advisers promptly dropped any interest in my thesis work as well, and it shows. Before you think it was awful, I am talking about significant small moments in time that occurred during my grad work, not the entire school experience. I got an excellent education, I had some great instructors and I would go back to South Carolina again.  At that time, quite simply, applied anthropology as looked down on as well as only getting an MA. Things have become considerably more enlightened in the discipline overall since then.

Compounding the issue of being primarily interested in applied work, my research interests in two divergent areas were not seen as worthy of anthropology: One was the area of intentional violence. My graduate thesis was based on intensive research with a prison population, and that evolved into interest in two areas: terrorism on the one hand and serial homicide on that other. Both of which I was curious to see if they could be studied almost as a cultural language or the semiology of the acts. The second was in a totally different area; due to my long-standing technology interests (I had always put myself through school as a computer jock) I was becoming much more interested in the intersection of culture and technology. It turns out that the latter interest would serve me very well later in ways I never imagined.

But given all that, I STILL wanted that PhD.  Why?Well, as it has and had for so many others it became for me the difference between success and failure.  I was $150,000 in debt and looking at more, I had years of education behind me and more to go.  To me, getting those three little letters was the difference between being a legitimate scholarly person and a nobody.  I got so nutty about it that I wouldn’t even date someone that was not getting some advanced degree (That stupid arrogance likely cost me some excellent relationships.). A PhD was a ticket too studying the topics I wanted, a life of scholarship and (the applied part) once I got the ticket, I would be able to pursue applied endeavors at will.  Yes, I was indeed blind to how the life of a university professor really looks.

So what happened? Shatteringly, but in reality lucky for me in the long run, I did not get into my first two choices for a PhD program, but was accepted to the applied PhD program at the University of South Florida. Given my interests were then more fringe topics, there was no one there that was doing work even remotely related and I was concerned I would be suffering from a real lack of mentor-ship.  Also, the connections you make in your PhD program can be very important when job hunting, having dissertation advisers that can make introductions later was a concern.

Then, the proverbial last straws. I went to a AAA meeting and on the job board were four or five lonely looking position announcements for very low paying positions (as they usually are), seeking scholars of a few countries in Africa. The next factor was watching from a distance as the USC anthropology department was fielding applications for a new position. There were not dozens of applications – there were hundreds, and from people with long publishing histories, all from the top tier programs at the time.

I realized quickly after that I could not justify continuing on with more graduate school. The math was fairly stark: Endure additional crushing debt load, to take that fairly small chance that I might get job I want, at a salary that would barely cover my debt, rent and food, in an environment that I really didn’t like all that much.

Understand, I was never much for the publish or perish game, or the nasty politics that can emerge in academic departments, so I was ill suited to the profession anyway.  But that is not the reality I was thinking about at the time. I remember the moment I knew I was going to quit pursuing the quest for a PhD.  It was devastating.  I called up a friend of mine that had made the same choice after going ABD and bawled my eyes out.  “It has all been a complete waste,” I told her, “All the years, all the work, all the money has all been flushed down a toilet and I have nothing to show for it.” I don’t remember what she said to be honest.  I am sure it was supportive and reassuring and none of what I was thinking was true.

I can tell you this much: all of the thoughts I had about not getting my PhD equaling failure were and are utter bullshit. Why do I say that? Here is what happened once my head cleared, I got the emotional cobwebs out and started assess what I wanted to do.

I wanted to keep studying culture, I wanted to be involved in technology and I wanted to get my hands dirty using anthropology to actually do something. First I got a job working full-time at the university as a computer jock, and I started by regaining my life: I got involved in the local old-time and Irish music scene in the area, I made friends that had nothing to do with anthropology, I worked with a friend leading canoe trips on the local river and started rock climbing and generally having a pretty happy life.

And I also did research, lots of research into the life I wanted. I scanned journals and periodicals, professional trade journals looking for any connections of people working in anthropology or social science and technical fields.  Design Anthropology was in its infancy then, and I was lucky enough to find an article about some anthropologists combining anthropology and technology skills to help companies develop new products. Then by coincidence, another graduate student appeared in my office and showed me an article about the very same company and said “I think I found your job.” She was right of course, after that it was just about the job hunt (another long post). Was all my education and training a waste? Hardly. I was a trained anthropologist, with extensive technical expertise, had years of experience watching how people interact with technology, and had a couple of years’ experience in a consulting environment from my previous graduate degree. Those were all qualifications people were looking for. Once I cracked the code of what I wanted to do, and where it was valued, I was fielding multiple offers precisely due to all the effort I initially thought I had wasted by not getting the PhD.

For me, it was far and away the best choice then and is now. I have had a great career, multiple actually, and for all of them that MA in anthropology has been a major factor in my getting those positions. At this point, I really don’t have a personal or professional need for a PhD, and a vanity PhD seems like a waste of everyone’s time on already strained university budgets.

So, that’s why I didn’t get a PhD.

 

27 Responses to “Why I chose not to get a PhD”

  1. This is a great post – thanks for sharing your experience so openly!

  2. [...] A thoughtful and emotion-laden post by Mark Dawson entitled Why I Chose Not to Get a PhD. [...]

  3. Well said… you can imagine my similar experience when I told folks at an AAA meeting that I was retired US military, wanting to finish a PhD in Anthropology.

  4. Dylan says:

    Isn’t the author the same guy with connections to the HTT debacle? Isn’t he also the same guy who attacked the main body representing anthropologists in the USA? Isn’t he also someone who has been criticised by a vast majority of anthropologists who have come across his experiences and story of working with the military?

    Read in that light his story feels, IMHO, less authentic – dare i say honest – than it might. That said I do not disagree with his advice. A phd isn’t needed or desired by everyone who wants to make anthropology a career.

  5. mark says:

    Ah yes, the old debating tactic: stating facts as a question to manufacture a false air of suspicion, also I might add it is a debating tool popular with creationists. (Also a tactic, notice how I lumped Dylan in with a group, creationists, that are hostile towards much of anthropology? Another common creationist strategy, for example they often tie Hitler with evolution). I rarely reply to comments, but this is a classic “Teaching Moment” as I dislike lazy arguments.
    Lets dive in:

    Point 1
    “Isn’t the author the same guy with connections to the HTT debacle?”
    Might I suggest “Google?” It is an established fact that I worked in the Human Terrain system program for a year. I have written about my experiences on this site, I have spoken about those experiences at several universities and it is written in the introduction to my chapter in the book “Anthropologists in the SecurityScape.” (Great for gift giving, please buy a few copies.) There is no question that I worked in a controversial program and continue to work with the military. Not sure how it relates to the post given that my choice not to get a PhD occurred nearly 15 years prior to the HTS program even existing.

    Okay, point 2
    Isn’t he also the same guy who attacked the main body representing anthropologists in the USA?
    Again, Google is your friend: I have been and remain critical of the AAA and you can find those criticisms here and elsewhere on the net. Oh, I also criticize AAA in my book chapter in “Anthropologists in the SecurityScape.” (Have I mentioned it is a great book, and you really need to buy a few copies?). Hardly a new revelation. Again I am unsure how it relates to my post. Well, unless you want to buy a really great book.

    Point 3
    Isn’t he also someone who has been criticized by a vast majority of anthropologists who have come across his experiences and story of working with the military?
    Ok, in this case I am going to have to recommend H. Russell Bernard’s book “Research Methods in Anthropology: Qualitative and Quantitative Approaches” to get a handle on your basic use of statistics. I was unaware that the AAA had commissioned a poll as to my personal career choices. What constitutes a “vast majority of anthropologists?” In this case, it is a subjective description of a difficult to quantify number. To keep life simple, let us say that “vast majority” is 51%. Recent AAA press releases states an “average annual membership of more than 10,000.” Has anyone in the profession noticed 5,000 anthropologists (or to localize it, 1/2 the anthropology faculty, staff and students in your local department) talking about little ole me, rending their clothes and writing fiery essays about my work in the HTS? No? I have to admit, I have not noticed it either. If 5,000 people in the profession has even heard of me, much less care about my life and professional choice, I would humbly submit it would make me one to the most influential anthropologists around. Guess what, I’m not. Really, get Russ Bernard’s book, it will help you do a better job with quantitative arguments. My only criticism of his book is that he neglects to mention my book chapter in “Anthropologists in the SecurityScape.”.

    I am still unsure how the comment relates to a post about a choice made in the mid-90’s of the last century.

  6. This post has generated a great debate. Congratulations. Good symptom. I agree not all the anthropologists need the Phd. I think the most important thing is the anthropological reasearch on our areas of interest.

  7. [...] Some thoughts; via. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

  8. Josh Nadeau says:

    Well, I guess “go Bulls” is in order? Congrats to following your desires instead of everyone else’s expectations! I am on final approach to my own Phony Doctorate, and I often wonder about my choices…thanks for sharing this.
    Oh, and point 3 in your reply above may be some of the funniest citation work I have ever seen…BZ :)

  9. [...] Is it ok to bail, and take another path? For you, too, we at Ethnography.com have.  Check out “Why I chose not to get a PhD” by one of our more erudite [...]

  10. Bill says:

    Appreciate this insight. I’m an M.A. in anthropology working at a good job as an archaeologist and resource program manager for a federal agency and I’ve been debating whether to go for a Ph.D. in anth. I think this kind of helps answer my question. I do tons of research, mainly ethnohistorical on local First Nations groups historically associated w/ the land management unit I help manage and of course… there’s a lot of archaeological work going on as as well. I publish regularly in local journals and have a couple monograph ideas I’m putting together w/ some of my other gov’t arch colleagues.. all “merely” M.A.s. I also provide tons of internship work for both undergrad and grad-level anthropology students from two local universities… and have been doing so for the last 16 years of gov’t service. The funny thing is when I do go to conferences I see all these Ph.D. students or newly minted Ph.Ds w/ their low-income entry level jobs and all that debt piled up, and most simply won’t get jobs at all after all that effort, or jobs worth said effort in the end. What’s more is most anthro programs in my area don’t have faculty that even does local research anymore. It’s all “over-seas” exotica crap so it isn’t even relevant to the tax-payers who support the puplic university sytems.. or subsidize the corportations that do anyway..

    It was funny when I started grad-school 10 years ago, we had to go to this orientation. At one point we were all asked to introduce ourselves and as one end of the room began it was… “hi, I’m so-and-so and I’m going for my Ph.D. in such-and-such. When it got to me, I just said, I’m Bill and I’m an archaeologist for the U.S. Gov’t and will be when I leave here w/ my piece of paper, and maybe I’ll hire a few of you as sole-source contractors when you find out there’s no jobs in the White Tower and you can’t bring yourself to go back to bar-tending..

    I think I’ll pass on the spendy self-esteem boost. I work for the gov’t.. we don’t have self-esteem to begin with.

  11. Tony says:

    Bill,
    I get your reasoning–particularly that involving salaries. MAs in Anthropology and other fields can certainly make more money than a PhD. For that matter, so can a good contractor with a loyal dog who has dropped out of high school, and operates out of a pick-up truck!

    But what PhDs do when properly utilized is different than what a PhD does. As a federal employee, I am sure you are aware of the warehouses/museums/computers full of unanalyzed uncharismatic artifacts and data lying around the country. Heritage laws are great at requiring preservation, but have done much less to take our mania for accumulation to the next logical step, which is analysis. If you want to continue serving this somewhat mindless accumulation–continue what you are doing. If you want to figure out a way to evaluate at least a portion of what has been accumulated, I would urge you to go for a PhD, hopefully while keeping your day job.

    Such analysis is what PhD dissertations (and the later work of PhDs) can be about, but is not. This imbalance strikes me as being a consequence of poorly crafted policy making in the heritage field. Perhaps a PhD in Public Policy might be as appropriate for you as Anthro?

    I also disagree with your over-generalization that overseas work is “exotica crap” for a variety of reasons–but that’s another story. Anyway, I hope that I’ve moved you a bit back toward re-considering the PhD. program.

  12. Bill says:

    Good points. And I must apologize for the over-seas comment.

    I work(ed) for both NPS and U.S. Forest Service on several management units. One of which was many millions of acres with thousands of archaeological sites from many chronological periods and cultures. This particular unit has had its own back-country, heritage resource crew for the last 20+ years doing compliance surveys and very limited site evaluations, plus a few full-on mitigation excavations, and I can fit the entire artifact collection from all that work in a 20×15 ft. room (come to think of it.. I actually did fit it into said room). Now, I realize there are enormous artifact collections out there from massive excavation initiatives done in the name of preservation law, but I wouldn’t be generalizing that to the whole. It’s simply not the case with many land management units.

    (By the way, between my fellow federal arch colleagues we’ve been “throwing” MA students at several federal arch-sites in our area for thesis work for some time now… it’s part of my job to make those partnerships happen).

    As far as getting Ph.D. in a program that would allow me to do analysis on local sites, that’s the point I was trying to make w/ my out-of-line “exotica crap” comment. There are fewer and fewer institutions that focus at the Ph.D. level on local archaeology. Take my state, our “main” land grant university anthro department just hired a small crew of archs that focus on early hominid sites in Africa, Europe and the Levant and they let the only local-focused arch professor retire w/out back-filling his position w/ another Precontact archaeologist w/ a the same local emphasis. That’s reekin’ National-Geographic-NSF-sexy “funding grab” instead of doing what’s right. There has been a “local” arch-prof in that department for almost, if not over, a century and now that’s done. We have two state universities w/, I’d have to say rather “vibrant” CRM-based graduate degree programs w/ lot of local emphasis… but they’re all terminal MA programs. I went for an MA at the “big school” in a similar “terminal MA” CRM program but now there’s no real local emphasis anymore and they didn’t let us even do thesis work. I was already a gov’t arch by that time w/ a marriage, a house and a newborn child and that program was supposed to be for “professionals” w/ no time on their hands to be in residence or do long-winded research, which to me, was ridiculous. I felt a bit, shall we say, “cheated” by the whole thing but did it anyway because we weren’t moving around for grad-school since I already had good employment and we had a family to support. Beggars can’t be “choosers” as the old truism goes.

    All that said, I do like what you’re saying and it is making me re-think the Ph.D. option. I appreciate the discussion.

  13. Tony says:

    Bill,
    I agree with you fully on the need for archaeologists/anthropologists with local focus, and the tendency of hiring committees to “go exotic” when writing up their positions requests. One way to deal with that is to write the Provost of the universities near you, with a copy to the Dean of the College, and Chair of the Department concerned.

    In the meantime, I will take a portion of your posting above, and post it to Ethnography.com later today. If you would prefer to write something on your own, please let me know, and I would be happy to post it.

    The warehouse comment comes from my informal experiences further afield in Tanzania and Germany. Still, wouldn’t it be a worthy endeavor to have an experienced PhD student committed to a year or two of evaluation on your collection rather than a Master’s student for a few months? This would apply even if your storeroom is 20 x 15, or ten times as large.

  14. [...] Dawson’s April 2012 post “Why I Chose not to Get a PhD” post has been one of the more popular postings at Ethnography.com.   There is also a good [...]

  15. Bill says:

    I think there’s enough research potential in federal curation facilities to fuel many a Ph.D. dissertation or an M.A. thesis. Probably generations. Cultural and arch.

    Again. My guess is it’s probably not sexy enough of a research domain to attract an appropriate level of funding – whether it’s a postmodernist solipsist “negotiating” an “unknowable” NEH grant or an anthropo-LOGIST with a bad case of hard science-envy beggin’ for scraps from the NSF table when the exoplanet-hunters and genome-chasers are done eating. If it ain’t exotic it ain’t nothin’. That’s what anthropology’s all about right?

  16. Tony says:

    Bill,
    Agreed. And I think that a letter to the Deans and Provosts concerned requesting students might help. Such subjects can be at lease as sexy as primate studies in exotic locales, phonetic/phonemic analysis of Tajik languages (ok I’ll stop before insulting anyone else–but you get the drift).

    My understanding of the CRM job market is that it is pretty good, too. That is also something that catches the eye of Deans and Provosts.

    You should mention also that the thesis itself is an important part of what you need–as opposed to the professional Masters which do not require much if any independent work.

    Tony

  17. Bill says:

    The gist of the non-thesis argument was that we were too busy doing our agency work and we did enough independent work for our agencies as it was. Apparently there was a whole slew of grad students, especially Ph.D.-chasers that never finished, and the school was getting tired of the “12 year Ph.D.” syndrome. I think that needs addressing as well as the professional degree issue.

    As far as the independent work, I’d have to say yea to that. We were doing a lot of our own stuff all the time and to be honest, research isn’t only carried out by Ph.D’s in arbitrary academic disciplines and institutions with playground assignments… “you be the Margret Meade this week and I’ll be Leslie White… if I shoot you, you have to die and go to Plato’s Cave for 5 minutes, then you can come back and join the game”… etc.

    I mean, look at the average journalist now-a-days. A lot of ‘em only have M.A.s and their sometimes, well-researched, books show up in all kinds of college course contexts. Look at post-modernists… the ones w/ Ph.D.s – that really exist outside of their minds – you really wanna call some of that quality, useful, research? I know people w B.A.s (and less debt) doing more valuable stuff – they just can’t get published in the average academic journal – those really important ones. You know, with the 5 specialist readership.

    Ph.D. isn’t a universal license to do quality research. At all. There’s no natural or cultural law out there that says that. It’s an arbitrary social mobility system that’s extremely fallible (especially when corporate funding is involved) and as imperfect as the next arbitrary social system that comes and goes.

    As will that one.

    Centuries ago it was monks that were arbitrarily slated to do the “scholaring” and centuries from now it will be what? Some other arbitrary schoolyard hierarchy game (with the usual haves and have-nots to keep the tension going). Hierarchy-construction and negotiation is what primates do when there’s no rocks to knap or monkey bars to play on, not to mention climate to radically alter. The White Tower is just one of many currently available for “higher” apes to participate in. There are others: politics, the military (and old fun one for me), federal gov’t, corporations of all kinds, just pick one and stay entertained for 70-80 years then find that hole or urn to crawl in and no matter what piece of fancy paper you got awarded to you after winning the Big Race.. it won’t really matter.

  18. Tony says:

    Speaking as an academic, I don’t think agency work replaces thesis work. Agency work has goals directed by the agency. Thesis work is a free exploration of a topic by the student. Certainly, they can overlap, but they are not the same thing–both have their places.

    As you point out, there is a real problem with too many uncompleted theses and dissertations. Ultimate responsibility for this goes to faculty who create programs which do not prepare students for the types of theses/dissertations they ultimately expect. Secondary responsibility goes to students who prioritize their day-to-day job/family requirements over the two or three months of disciplined attention finishing a thesis typically requires.

    Conversations between agencies like the USFS/NPS which have similar goals in research need to occur. These conversations need to be pushed a bit by a Dean or Provost. The Chair of the Anthro Department is the key figure, but to be honest he/she is probably not the best person to initiate the conversation; the chair does not have ultimate control over which hires get funded or not, the provost/dean does.

  19. Bill says:

    Speaking as an agency person. Yep. Exactly. It’s not.

    Conversations about research “under contract” need to occur. And I can surmise from personal experience that resource managers and other land management agency officers will be “key figures” as well. Very key. Both in creating the need for research, procuring the funding,developing the research, and riding herd on the researcher to stay focused on what the agency’s contract requirements are, not to mention bringing the deliverables in on time (no small feat I’ve come to realize). That would mean not doing any “free exploration” of anything except what the researcher is explicitly bound by contract with the gov’t “to explore”. Or that researcher will be doing it for free… and for the last time for the gov’t.

  20. Tony says:

    Yeah, I remember the word “deliverable” from a contract I worked on. Pretty squishy in the world of academic research, but very concrete in the world of contracting.

  21. Bill says:

    I’d have to say the same for “due date”.

  22. Tony says:

    Yep. Academics are notorious for not respecting “due dates.” In our world it sometimes squishy deadlines can make for higher quality work, though in my opinion, not always. Anyway, another reason to not use agency work as a substitute for a MA Thesis!

  23. Bill says:

    I had one blow a deadline by roughly a year or so but it was one of the best arch research projects I’ve ever seen.

    I would have been nice if adviser had a similar opinion about the value of thesis work that you have. But.. we had to do as we were told by the department guru… he “knew best” I guess. Anyway, I do have to say the extra coursework in other sub-fields of historic preservation we had to take in lieu of a thesis, was somewhat worth sacrificing the thesis for. I learned a lot about preserving and maintaining historic buildings from the “extra” architecture coursework (and 12 years as a carpenter) and ended up running a small historic building preservation program on the same Forest were I was employed as public archaeologist. I suppose I could have learned how to do that job “in the gutter” w/out the coursework but it would have taken a much longer time to get up to speed on program management.

  24. Bill says:

    Come to think of it, the “late” contractor I mentioned above is an instructive example. He’s and archaeologist and ethnohistorian that specializes subfield of the academically non-exotic topic known as North American history. Been at it for many years. What’s intriguing, even to my non-thesis simple-mindedness, is he’s pretty much considered The Expert and the most published guy I’ve seen in his sub-field. Just recently he decided to get an MA in anthropology. This guy is published in conference paper compendiums and archaeology journals and has been doing it all these years w/ a BA. He’s also one of the most prolific Pre-contact archaeologists in the region I live and work in. What’s even more interesting is he and I took some of our first anthro classes from a professor who is one of these now-extinct “local experts” in the “big school” land grant university I went to and just found out not too long ago, this guy only had an MA as well. Come to think a lot of the architecture “profs” in the department I took “extra courses” from instead of boosting my self-esteem w/ a thesis were M.S/M.A.s as well. I know I’m an idiot non-thesis M.A. but can one see a bit of a pattern there?

    This also brings to mind pretty much every regional specialist I can think of, as far as archaeology in my region which includes at least 6 states. They’re almost all agency archs (state or fed) w/ MAs, some thesis, some not. I can only think of one w/ a Ph.D. B.A.s and M.A.s holding down the research field? That’s gotta be a bit of a profanity to the Learned Classes isn’t it? Can you imagine the riff-raff at some conference? They’d be good wait staff though I’m sure.

    This whole discussion is makin me think the White Tower is looking more like a analog for a casino in terms of how one spends one’s money. Or values it. Reminds me of what Chomsky occassionally insinuates in some of his writings – kind of a naked emperor in the end.

    Since there’s few High Priests that aren’t busy studying the kulture of lesbian pottery-makers in Lithuania during the first years of the Napoleonic Era, or hominid lithic scatters in what’s now know as Africa (did I spell that right?), my non-thesis-writing, crippled intellect’s gotta be one of the local experts in archaeology and history in this region. No one else is gonna step up to the droll, non-exotic “plate”. That and I still gotta manage public lands.. and do so w/out a natural resource degree… with a thesis. I know.. what’s the world coming to? Barbarians at the gate again.

    Fortunately I don’t need a thesis to open a beer at the end of the day.

  25. Bill says:

    I think in the end, outside of the sciences, the academy is more or less a social mobility con game. And a spendy one at that. Especially in these the days of permanently declining economy. I realize I horrendously paraphrase Chomsky but I’m sure I read somewhere in his work that outside of the sciences most of what passes for academic research is easily comprehensible to someone w/ an 8th grade education. It’s all fairly obvious stuff… especially in the humanities and social sciences. (when I was in geology we used to joke about doing a second major in either a social science or humanities-discipline so we could bring our tattered GPAs back up from the beating they took in general chem, physics or the dread calc sequence – I had one fellow student swear all you had to do was just say “exogamous” or “moeity” once in any anth seminar and you’ll get an A). Of course that’s once you strip away the obfuscatory jargon which is very useful for creating that necessary air of aloof mysteriousness, and the sense of exclusivity that only comes w/ people creating research domains out of thin air.. not to mention jobs and academic fields.

    I think what a Ph.D. means is that someone had low enough self-esteem, (not to mention a disposable income.. most likely not his/her own) or possessed the eye-bleeding obedience or sycophantic demeanor necessary to play the grade game well enough to climb the ladder to Arbitrary Greatness. The cushiness at the end of the trials and tribulations… the instant social status gratification at parties when one says “I have a Ph.D.”… is gotta be something incredible to feel. What a drug that must be – and certainly not a cheap one. Kind of like the rush we used to get out of saying we were paratroopers in some of those off-post bars we’d hang in back in my Army days (however jumpschool, not to mention basic training and a couple years in an airborne unit were vastly beyond any challenge I had to deal with in the academy). Maybe that’s why I’m not all that impressed. It’s just takes way too much hubris to get there. More than I got time or energy for.

    Appreciate the discussion. It really helped me form my decision. Hope everyone gets as much out of this blog as I have. See ya.

  26. [...] Dawson’s April 2012 post “Why I Chose not to Get a PhD” post has been one of the more popular postings at Ethnography.com.   There is also a good [...]

  27. Tony Waters says:

    Bill,
    Not sure what you mean when you say that Math and Geology don’t have jargon–they seem to have at least as much jargon as any other field. (Doesn’t jargon in effect define a field?). So does archaeology for that matter have jargon too–I remember getting a lecture from my archaeologist son about the difference between sherds and shards (and have since managed to forget that one)!

    Good luck with the Heritage management work. It is good and important work, and I hope that you can get your local anthro departments to pay more attention to what is going on in the local area.

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