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A PhD does not mean someone is brilliant or even that someone is capable March 19, 2017

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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Over the years, I have met many, many people who possess a PhD in one field or another. I also have travelled to different nations where the attitudes about someone with one are vastly different than in the US.

First, a PhD is an advanced degree, so it usually is preceded by gaining a bachelors degree or the equivalent in whatever nation the person’s education is done in. A bachelor’s degree in many fields only means you learn well enough to remember things – facts, how to solve certain math or science or engineering problems. Advanced degrees often are just very focused study and research – either in libraries and archives or a laboratory. The topic is a small, but advanced, topic. A person can be very knowledgable or adept in that one small area. (Mine was in a few very arcane areas of chromatography and the only interest I know of was in one of the topics because it might be useful in separating isotopes of lighter elements.)

This does not mean the person is adept at even the whole field of study (like chromatography in my case), let alone the field (chemistry for me). It means the research was done and acceptable to meet the standards of that university’s criteria for a doctorate. Only that.

Thus, there are a wide range of PhDs in general and in a field like chemistry or biology or history or any other. Some are brilliant eventually, but that usually takes a few years of independence with study and research on one’s own. But like in many things, there is a spectrum and the top quarter or tenth or whatever are different that the bottom quarter or tenth or whatever.

In some nations, due to cultural role expectations and history, having a PhD changes your status. As soon as it become known, you are always addressed as “Doctor”. You are exalted and expected to be very capable. I guess some of this is a result of many areas having been European colonies because this attitude was the norm in Europe a century or more ago.

But because of the spectrum of talent, this assumption is not true. There are bumbling PhDs with only bits and pieces of knowledge and only limited abilities in knitting these together into understanding.

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