Higher Education

Does Parnassus need a funicular?

Hey there Doubters! Remember me? No? What do you mean I’ve been conspicuously absent for months?

Ah, well, you see, I’m in the final throes of completing my dissertation. Why yes, that puddle over there does indeed consist entirely of tears, and not the fun kind you harvest from children to cast black magic. No, just the regular old “I’ve been working on this for years so why is this section not. done. yet.” variety.

Because I’m a total master of planning and time management, I just got back from a wonderful conference where I spent a week I couldn’t afford to spare listening to some great papers and socialising with the dozen or so people in the world who even remotely care what I spend my time doing. It was fabulous, really. In fact, in the grand scheme of things I think the morale boost it provided will end up being the thing that finally gets me over the last several hundred hurdles that exist between my current position and the very scary final submission deadline that is coming up in just under 34 days.

Thirty-four days. Thirty-four! That even sounds like a lot, in a weird way. People can accomplish so much in a month! Hell, Saint-Saëns wrote Carnival of the Animals over a holiday weekend, so surely I’ll be able to finish my own damn thing with plenty of time to spare, right?

Before I get any farther off-topic, let me get back to what brought me here in the first place. Because it was totally not work avoidance. No sir! I don’t have time for that, after all.

No, the thing is, the conference I just returned from was in the UK, and I’ve been thinking once again about the differences between European and North American PhD programmes. Put briefly: theirs are a whole lot shorter over there, and I’m wondering what the ideal length for a PhD really is. I mean, I’m glad we have seminars and teaching and all those other things that provide important background and professional skills, but I’ve been in grad school for eight years now, with the PhD accounting for the last six. And I’m not even particularly slow compared to our departmental norms!

(The fast ones, you see, squeak through in five)

That is a long-ass time. It’s taken me more time to become a doctor than it takes doctor doctors to be doctors. You know, those people who touch your organs with their fingers and prescribe powerful chemicals to alter your physiology. I guess they can’t generally sight-sing from 15th-century manuscripts, so I’ve got them there, but really even that is sometimes cold comfort.

So even though this isn’t a Pop Quiz ™, I have some questions for the audience:

Are PhD programmes too long in your discipline? If so, how do you think they could be streamlined?

Given that the academic job market is global, do you think we should be trying harder as an international community to ensure more continuity among programme requirements in different countries? I’ve heard from many places that shorter programmes are putting European PhDs at a disadvantage in the hiring process, even in their home countries.

Does someone want to take over my domestic responsibilities for the next month? I have tumbleweeds of cat hair going on here, and it’s not as romantic without a Morricone score.

Alright kids, I’m out–see you when I next come up for air!


Featured image: Cristiano Banti (1824-1904): Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition

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Dan holds a PhD in Music History from a major Canadian university and is now pursuing a M.Ed in Higher Education at another one, because he likes to collect very expensive paper. He performs stand-up comedy at venues all over Toronto when he's not busy playing JRPGs with his cat, Roy. You can follow him at @incontrariomotu, but he isn't going anywhere. You can also send him a tip on PayPal (paypal.me/dandonnelly) if you like his work!

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