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In Need for a Proper Rant

Rather random ranting on a rather aged economist article. The article is all about the value and purpose of the PhD degree, referring to value by increasing income, job chances etc. The first argument I had an issue with was the following:

Workers with “surplus schooling”—more education than a job requires—are likely to be less satisfied, less productive and more likely to say they are going to leave their jobs.

I have to utterly disagree with this statement, before getting into university, I undertook a three year long professional degree as business woman. This was split into three days at work and two days at college. Per definitionem the education was appropriate to the job, and I was bored out of my mind, counting down the days until I could leave this hell. Yeah, I know they wrote ‘likely’,  yet within the tone of the article this somehow seemed a potshot for pointlessness of undertaking a PhD.

The organisations that pay for research have realised that many PhDs find it tough to transfer their skills into the job market. Writing lab reports, giving academic presentations and conducting six-month literature reviews can be surprisingly unhelpful in a world where technical knowledge has to be assimilated quickly and presented simply to a wide audience.

In my opinion this depends largely on how one goes about their PhD. As a Postgrad student I am not a red ball in the sea, thrown about by waves. I have agency of my degree and my research. Most of the part-time jobs I took on, were jobs I consciously chose to develop professionalism next to the academic experiences. Would it have been easier to simply get a job as sales assistant, receptionist or admin for four years instead of spending a vast amount of time organising all my different pursuits? Sure! Yet, it would not have prepared me for a drastically changing job market and is at large against my ‘role up the sleeves and get cracking’ nature. Further, I had the chance to try out diverse job roles, project management and professions widening not only my experiences but also my employability.

Some universities are now offering their PhD students training in soft skills such as communication and teamwork that may be useful in the labour market. In Britain a four-year NewRoutePhD claims to develop just such skills in graduates.

Unknowingly these jobs also added to my soft skills – I have to admit the phrase ‘soft skills’ tends to trigger a theatrical eye role combined with no little amount of snorting. Initially I was intrigued by the concept of ‘soft skills’ until I realised that is the stuff you do anyway, at which point all intrigue vanished leaving behind a hole filled with disappointment and a new pet peeve: time management. I read an article once, which argued that time management is a waste of time, the ADD says: The heck it is! Spending days and days over-obsessing with colour coding, Gantt charts ***shudder***, and diaries just takes too much focus away from the actual tasks.

For me time management means: ‘Listen to Mum!’ In other words, make a To Do list, put the most urgent & significant items at the top, and tick them off as you go along. It also means, do NOT listen to the often given advice of NOT checking emails in the morning. People who give this advice must work in a very quiet and predictable work environment. If I would not check emails in the morning, I miss changes in appointments for the day, new appointments, books that just came in for me in the library,  international journal alerts,  etc et infinitum. Also the ADD says the ‘NOT checking emails or facebook in between’ advice is utter rubbish, because that is what keeps us sane!

Reading or proof reading a couple of sentences, or paragraphs, or if you are having a good day even pages, the mind starts packing up and wandering off to what ever realms it finds intriguing at the time, vice versa ADD gets so nervous and fidgety for being chained to the computer that only instant distraction will prevent an anxiety attack – quickly checking social networks, twitter, rss feeds, mails – 20 seconds to 5 minutes later mind got so distracted from wandering off, or has now more to do in the background, that anxiety is avoided, and it can focus again on the next sentences, paragraphs or pages.

However much I enjoy ranting about the implausible benefits of time management, there are indeed some aspects of the soft skills training that are an enjoyable experience. You can find these experiences in your local grad school, which I enjoyed thoroughly last year. If approached open minded the experiences made there can even lead to personal growth and some major insights. I for once began crying public yet again – Hurray! I had an epiphany and learning apparently hurts. Go figure!

Categories: Teaching

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Nathalie Sheridan

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