Is a PhD Worth a Toss?

This is another of those posts I thought I’d never write but various things have come together to get me thinking about the worth of PhDs, especially the one that I worked like hell to ‘achieve.’

While there was enormous satisfaction in undertaking original research into the social and economic experiences of people with significant physical disabilities in Ireland, I wonder if the fact of having a PhD to one’s name is a drawback when it comes to securing employment.

Huge emphasis is placed on educational qualifications, especially by government, and it is certainly implied that a PhD is like a passport to work.  However, the reality seems to be different and a PhD can be perceived as a threat, over-qualification or to quote one potential employer as signifying that one is ‘an academic headcase.’

As I took full advantage of the beautiful weather today and went walking with puppy, Stan, on the magnificent coastal path in Dunmore East, I could only smile about the ‘academic headcase’ bit but decided to seek your opinions about PhDs and the ever-increasing emphasis on educational qualifications.

So is a PhD worth a toss?

Author: socialbridge

I am a sociologist and writer from Ireland. I have worked as a social researcher for 30 years and have had a lifelong passion for writing. My main research interests relate to health care and I love to write both non-fiction and poetry.

15 thoughts on “Is a PhD Worth a Toss?”

  1. Most definitely… I have never ever regretted my PhD even though I have been told many, many times that I was “over qualified” or even an “academic” implying “not practical”… Those employers who invested in me have – over time – benefited from the “critical thinking” that I brought to all assignments… from the easy routine to the atypical, exceptional, uncommon, dire, intractable, obstinate, complex, problems that – all too often face industry and government… Just remember who is telling you that…
    Reminds me of a folk tale about the crow and the canary… Sitting on branch, the crow challenged the canary to a song contest… to determine who sings better! The judge was to be the first animal they met as they sauntered down the road… Guess what! They met a pig… told him of the contest and asked him to judge… The pig agreed…
    The canary sang melodiously… and the crow cawed… and the pig listened…and decided that the crow sang better.
    Returning to the branch, the canary was weeping… The crow teased the canary and called him a “bad loser”… But the canary retorted that he was not weeping because he had lost the contest but because the pig was the judge!
    As they say in French…. “Il faut du courage… il faut etre patient”

    1. Hello Sam, many thanks for your most interesting comment.
      I simply love the folk tale about the crow and the canary. I’d never come across it before and it is certainly lends perspective to this question and, indeed, many others.

      Like you, I don’t have an ounce of regret about doing my PhD and undoubtedly the greatest satisfaction I’ve derived during my career is seeing recommendations that I’ve made, as a result of research, being implemented in very practical ways.

      What saddens and frustrates me, however, is the extent to which research tends to be dropped in recessionary periods. I see research and the sort of critical thinking that PhD study develops, as being vital in recessionary times when new ideas and insights are badly needed to help in turning things around. Also, in the social policy field, a lack of ongoing research has the effect of dumbing down social issues and essentially sweeping them under the carpet.

  2. The question is being asked – about tertiary education generally – more and more. We’ve all seen for years so many excellent new graduates, full of hope, be reduced to scrabbling around for any sort of work. My children were fortunate though Emma, the brightest of young women, had to battle for many months before landing a position which will be useful towards her chosen career.

    Parents are asking the question about whether forking out for university fees actually confers any benefit on their children? Might not many be better off grabbing anything they can now and at least have experience to offer in three years when their contemporaries come onto the market?

    I took the unpopular decision in 1971 not to go to uni and have never regretted it.

    Jean I can’t speak on academic research and its effects on the real world. I’m sure it is necessary and I hope it is still adequately funded by industry.

    1. Hi Roy, thanks for your insightful response.
      Interesting how your decision not to go to university in 1971 was ‘unpopular.’ I get the impression that the questioning of the value of university education and especially postgraduate qualifications remains pretty unpopular in 2014!

      Given the recession, especially, I agree that proper experience in the world of work may be what is most valuable when it comes to securing employment. I suppose this is where the age old discussions about supply and demand really come into play!

  3. I didn’t attend university when I should have. I let the pleasure of a paycheque determine my future. I often feel “less than” because of it, however (though I bring 30 years experience into any job!). I know I’m not less intelligent than someone who has but I still feel lacking!
    I know it’s never too late but at 50… ugh! I don’t know how much I reallly want it (though I am 3 courses in for a certificate!)

    1. Dale, thanks for sharing this insight. It seems awful that not going to university, BUT, having 30 years work experience, could leave you with a ‘less than’ feeling.
      Sound like you’re edging your way nicely towards rectifying that situation!

  4. Is a PhD worth a toss ? Now that is a harsh question. My eldest son has letters after his name, does he use them no only when absolutely necessary. What does my husband think…… No he always found that people who entered the workplace with PhDs and other such titles were often extremely intelligent but often had no social or down to earth people skills. personally I believe everyone is different . Take yourself you are, from what I can see here, a well rounded empathic and social person. I say let’s judge each owner of a PhD on their own merits. I hope that is not a cop out. 😉 xxx

  5. A good question. I’ve been pondering education in general from the perspective of Christopher Lasch’s book “The Culture of Narcissism.” It seems in Canada that education is not immune to behaving narcissistically. It used to be that one was superior for having graduated high school (pre university, publicly provided education). Then it was that one was superior for having a university degree. Now it appears as if a master’s degree is required.

    Socially, having a Ph.D. is only worth a toss if one is narcissistic. Educationally or professionally, however, it may well be a different matter.

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