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What’s in a PhD?

By Murray Hunter - posted Thursday, 5 September 2019

Doctoral study can be extremely stressful; the dropout rate is around 40 percent. Those who do quit end up with nothing. Being a mature person with experience is an advantage for PhD students, but this also depends upon family commitments and responsibilities.

If you are pursuing a PhD for the love of research (and many do), then look at alternatives such as writing a book, which provides wider latitudes than the set dissertation format within the PhD process.

For employers, a PhD doesn't guarantee a top achiever, brilliance, creativity, a good communicator or team player. A PhD shows that someone has self-discipline and is prepared to do the hard work of a long-haul project. The irony is that most dissertations may only ever be read by a select few people.


Universities within the Southeast Asian region are short-changing themselves with their requirement to employ only PhDs in undergraduate and post graduate teaching roles, where the job really requires a person with versatility and wide knowledge across the field in which they will be teaching.

The key to seeing out the distance on such a commitment is passion for the subject and the motivation to carry one through the setbacks through the process. A PhD is still a good apprenticeship for a research career, although there are many outstanding thinkers, scientists, and professors who had successful careers without a PhD.

There is a risk in the future that institutional requirements for PhDs will prevent people like Robin MilnerSimon Peyton JonesLynn ConwayWalter Russell MeadFreeman DysonWalter PittsErnest RutherfordRobert PoundRobert FloydJane RichardsonSatyendra Nath BoseTheodosius Dobzhansky, and Tu Youyou, emerging into excellence in their respective fields.

Throughout the history of saluting the PhD for its high scholarship, public reverence has been premised on the belief that the person accorded the title is a learned sage, expert, and member of the professoriate. Those were the days, though, when awarding this honor was more stringently observed. When, as today, too many fake or below-standard awards are certified by degree mills or bona fide institutions for commercial reasons, then it is time society reexamines the academic worth of the holder of the title rather than accepting the title alone.

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Article edited by Margaret-Ann Williams.
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This article originally appeared in the Asia Sentinel.

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Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis.

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