A Hospital for Those Infected with Ph.D.

A Hospital for Those Infected with Ph.D. July 19, 2010

Most of my advisors tell me something to the effect that they don’t know any PhD grad who doesn’t get 5 years out and hate their dissertation, think the opposite of what they wrote, etc. In BYU Religious Education, this takes an interesting form. While it is true that there is a major concern on the part of those who are thinking about a job in RelEd over whether they will lose all touch with their field, research agenda, etc., there is also an explicit attitude expressed by members of the search committees with regard to the influence of the PhD experience. I have heard from more than one source that people on the hiring committees routinely ask something like the following of potential candidates coming out of PhD programs (i.e., non-CES-track hires): “Robert J. Matthews [of blessed memory] used to say that it takes seven years for people to get the PhD out of their system. What do you think he meant by that?”

For me, the major difference between my advisors’ statements about the degree/my own feelings about it, and what I’ve heard from my sources about certain BYU RelEd faculty, is the overt pathological language: While I might think that the PhD is a stepping stone, an activity wherein the process is the important thing and not necessarily the finished product, the BYU RelEd attitude seems to be that the PhD is something you “recover from” or “get over” as you would a serious illness. It is like Chemotherapy: necessary but sickening nearly to death. Or, alternatively, it is a result of substance abuse: After the PhD you have to sober up from Dissertating Under the Influence. Serious counseling and behavior modification is necessary if the victim is to be fully integrated into healthy, normal society.

What do you think he meant?

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