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A friend (Dr. AP) reports, to my surprise, that she was rejected for several jobs because of her doctorate. The ostensible reason given was that she was "too academic" and would have a hard time relearning how to communicate clearly in an appropriate style for the customers; the actual reason, she thinks, is that her advanced degree intimidated or provoked envy in her interviewers. I have no reason to disbelieve her diagnosis.

Why fear a Ph.D. (or any other mark of distinction)? A doctorate from a decent school is one piece of evidence about a person. It suggests that its holder is at least somewhat persistent, reasonably intelligent, and can finish a moderately large project, but says relatively little about all the other crucial characteristics that a good person needs to have --- for instance, articulateness, breadth and depth of knowledge, collegiality, ability to learn, good humor, stability under pressure, sound judgment, and a host of interpersonal skills.

"Ph.D. envy unnecessary? Easy for you to say," some may reply. No, not really. Until I was well into grad school, my mental models of professors scarcely included any human elements. Faculty members were on pedestals, or some higher planes of existence. They suffered from no petty weaknesses, they made no mistakes, and they knew (or could find) all the answers. It wasn't until I saw brilliant academics making fools of themselves as persons --- jilting their spouses, fighting over money and perquisites, playing departmental politics --- that I began to understand that they were mortals too. And in the "real world" it took me another decade to begin to perceive that my bosses (and their bosses all the way up the pyramid) were the same. (OK, so I'm slow to notice.)

Hitherto I always assumed that somebody up there knew what was going on. Sorry, but I was wrong. The most senior managers may have responsibility and authority, but they don't necessarily have supernatural vision. And getting back to credentials: fancy degrees don't make a person any different, not in the long run. A title, an award, a medal, a laurel wreath? They're clues, and they may signify something about a person, something to check out --- but they're not worth worrying about, and certainly aren't appropriate objects of awe, fear, or jealousy.

Monday, January 03, 2000 at 05:55:57 (EST) = Datetag20000103

TopicPersonalHistory - TopicSociety - TopicOrganizations

There are PhD's, and then there are PHDS! Mark is a PhD of the second sort. I meet Mark in 1969 when I transferred into the same high school. Mark was Valedictorian of our class, and he and I both attended the University of Texas as freshman, but after a year there he moved up to bigger and better things at Rice and the Cal Tech.

I remember visiting him at Cal Tech in 1975, shortly after I joined the Air Force. He showed me this new and interesting thing called "The Arpa Net". I think Mark spent about four years at Cal Tech, maybe longer. I remember being both impressed and appalled that year after year he was plugging away there, working with the famous scientist, Kip Thorne.

I've know lots of PHDs in my time, but I never saw any of them work as hard for that distinction as Mark did for his.

- JimHoward

Thanks, Jim! --- not so much for embarrassing me, but for breaking the ice and posting here ... this ZhurnalWiki is a new experiment and isn't in most of the search engines or other gateways yet. I'm curious: did you find it via links from http://www.his.com/~z/ or via another path?

Coincidentally, your note appeared while I was in the process of doing a "Correl Oracle" version 0.2 run, to update the autogenerated cross-links at the bottom of most of the ZhurnalWiki pages ... but I took care not to disrupt the note you left here (I hope!). Please put in your $0.02 wherever the spirit moves you in this Wiki experiment. Tnx!

- MarkZimmermann

(correlates: CorrelationLog, 2008-08-02 - Catoctin 50k, Chess Is an Ocean, ...)