The solution to the PhD problem.

Posted on August 30, 2011


The average PhD has gone from 1 year to complete and 6 pages to about 9 years for a PhD in archaeology (US and Canada) (actually 8 but it has increased by one year every decade and it has been a decade since then so assumed 9 years) from the completion of a BA. This is a inefficient use of many things time, resources, ………. people’s lives. What PhD has ever changed the world? None that I can think of. Yes, some have led to further research that has change the world but the PhD research never has. Which means people spend 9 years for something that has almost no impact. I think we can all agree that is not the best use of time.

Of course Someone will say, “oh yeah but they are completing research,  intellectual stimulation, (insert any number of reasons) etc. etc.” It doesn’t matter what the excuse is because none of them are grounded in reality.

The reality is that everything is grounded in deadlines. To do anything you must meet deadlines. Professors and researchers, the holy grail of intellectual curiosity jobs, have to meet deadlines all of the time from deadlines for grant reports to grading papers.   Yes, you could say I want to spend the rest of my life dedicated to the study of X with out any deadlines. If you are supper rich then yes you can do that but you do not need a PhD to do that. If you need intellectual stimulation then take the $40,000 you would spend every year on a degree and pay a professor to talk to you. The average PhD student spends an hour or two every week with their adviser you can buy that ($40,000 / 52 = $770 per hour). I don’t know many professors who wouldn’t give up an hour a week for $800 to have intellectual conversation.

I digress, the point I am making is that a PhD is meant to prepare someone for a future. That future is going to involve deadlines and lots of them, ask anyone who has a job. Doesn’t matter if you get a degree in 8th century mosaics and end up a trader on Wall Street, where ever you go there will be deadlines.

Yet, with PhD’s we somehow excuse that fact and let people train to be “experts” in a field no matter how long it takes. We grade dissertations on the final product only but not the time or budget it took to get there. The real world doesn’t work that way; people want stuff delivered on time and according to a certain level of completion, not necessarily to perfection either. (this excludes the few outliers like the Edinburgh Tram system)

A better PhD program would be to say you have 2-3 years to deliver x, y, and z. Do it or you don’t get your PhD*, just like in the real world. Is it going to be perfect, no but you can demand close to perfection. It will be a much better life and teachable experience then the current system that lets you waste your time.

“what if not everyone can do that?” Well then not everyone can get a PhD, I don’t see a problem with that.

*extended of course for situations outside of someone’s control e.g. gets cancer or Zombie Apocalypse.