EducationHigher EducationSecondary Education

It Takes a Village to Make a Doctor

I defended my dissertation Wednesday, which now makes me technically-officially Dr. Dan. Please update your Rolodexes accordingly.

It also got me thinking about the long, meandering, and sometimes arduous path followed by those of us who do end up receiving doctorates, and just how many mentors are required along the way–even from some of the earliest times in our educations.

In my case, for example, I would never have gotten into music at all had it not been for the beginning winds class at my middle school, and subsequent experiences in my high school band. I might never have declared a music major in the first place had it not been for the undergraduate music profs who drew me into the department, and I probably wouldn’t have seriously considered becoming a musicologist without my experiences studying abroad or working closely with my undergraduate advisor in my last year there.

And that year abroad would surely not have happened without the interest in foreign languages that was awakened in me through my experience at summer camp for Latin (yes, I was that kid), and fostered by my high school Italian teacher (who also taught me German). Not to mention the good fortune to attend an undergraduate institution with excellent instruction in Italian and wonderful and supportive faculty to guide me through that major as well.

And then there were my graduate advisors, without whose support, feedback, and encouragement I could never have made it through the last eight years (yeesh!). Not to mention all the other faculty in our department and elsewhere, my wonderful friends and fellow-students, and of course my beloved conference friends, whom I have the good fortune to see once or twice a year to catch up on work and life.

So how many people does it take to make a PhD? By my count, it seems to be at least several dozen. But for me–and here’s the important part–it was a path that I was able to start on because we had support for the arts in my local public schools.

I recently heard through the grapevine that my high school band director was finally forced out of his job by a hostile administration, who had been gunning for him ever since the school went charter. Music, after all, doesn’t affect their testing numbers when it comes time for the charter renewal.

So I guess the moral of the story is, support arts and language in public schools! You never know what it might make possible down the road.

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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 ( if you like his work!


  1. November 24, 2014 at 1:25 am —

    Congratulations, Dan! I just defended my dissertation about a week before you did, and if you’re anything like me, I can imagine the relief you’re feeling. I think for me it’s still sinking in that it’s finally over. Before I started grad school I anticipated that there’d be a greater sense of accomplishment at this point… But over the last several years I’ve watched enough of my friends finish and defend their dissertations that I’m not surprised now that the dominant emotion is just relief.

    It is a nice chance to reflect on all the people who have helped along the way. I really do feel like my Ph.D. isn’t mine alone, but something that has been meaningfully contributed to by dozens or hundreds of people. I’m sorry to hear about your high school music teacher. My degree is in the sciences, so my field isn’t under assault in quite the same way, but my intellectual growth was certainly assisted by teachers and friends in the arts and humanities as well. The current obsessive focus on STEM at the expense of arts and humanities in primary and secondary education will in the long run be bad for all academic fields, including the sciences.

    • November 24, 2014 at 9:59 am —

      Congratulations to you too Dr Biogeo! Relief is definitely the order of the day, although by this point one has normally adapted to a permanent sense of panic…

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