Jordan Weissman has again posted an excellent article – with good graphics – in the Atlantic. This one is titled “The Ph.D Bust: America’s Awful Market for Young Scientists—in 7 Charts” (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/02/the-phd-bust-americas-awful-market-for-young-scientists-in-7-charts/273339/). (He had a previous article about the cost of textbooks, which I reference in my post, http://www.inside-higher-ed.com/good-graph-on-…nd-some-advice/.
So, why aren’t these “Ph.D’s” getting jobs? If you look at my post http://www.inside-higher-ed.com/it-starts-in-18th-grade/ I talk briefly about universities giving Ph.D.’s for reasons other than that the student earned it (By the way, the student doesn’t always know that they didn’t earn the degree.) and the effects it has on all levels of education. Jordan Weissman’s article shows the effect this has on the Ph.D. recepient. In this short post, I will give just one true life example of how the system works.
Here is the story.
In a prestigious research university, the math department received a grant from the U. S. Dept of Education to help the country in an area of “national need”. Here is the description of the program. (From the website: http://www2.ed.gov/programs/gaann/index.html)
“This program provides fellowships… to assist graduate students with excellent records who demonstrate financial need and plan to pursue the highest degree available in their course study at the institution in a field designated as an area of national need.”
Here is a story of an American student who received their Ph.D. from the professor who received the grant.
This student, as they were nearing graduation, asked me two questions. Even if you don’t know math, you might find the first interesting and fun. Here it is.
If you are at the North Pole and go South one mile, then East one mile, then North one mile, you will be back where you started. Is there any other point on the globe where this is true?
The student had tried hard to figure it out, but couldn’t get the answer. I found that disturbing. (The problem was apparently from a college algebra text.)
For those of you with some calculus, you might find the other question even more disturbing. The student told me that there was a first year calculus problem they couldn’t get, though students sometimes asked about it. It was the following standard problem.
The problem has you do an integration by parts two different ways so that you get two different indefinite integrals. It then asked how this can be. The answer is simple. The two integrals differ by sin^2+cos^2 which is, of course, a constant.
This student clearly is not Ph.D material, but now has one. It is a disservice to the country, to this person’s students – and, in the long run, to this person. And it is important to note that this is not at all an isolated case.
(Added on 10/19/2013 If you want to read about a real life case where granting advanced degrees improperly made a difference in college education see my new post Professor Alfred Doesn’t Know What is Wrong with the Homework)
A final note on all this. This same math department that graduated this person has graduated some outstanding mathematicians who have done important research at the highest levels. The problem – and I believe it is not an isolated one – is that there is a combination of incentives and unaccountability that lead to universities advancing faculty who are more than willing to do whatever it takes. That needs to be changed. But it can only be changed when people understand what is really happening. I hope this blog can help.