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How Come PhDs Get A Bad Rap?

  1. Oct 26, 2008 #1
    Is there an origin to it that I'm missing? It seems like everyone I've come across gives PhDs a bad rap. You would almost have to concede from what I hear that PhDs are the least capable people of solving anything. So where does the negative rap come from?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 26, 2008 #2


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    Perhaps this is your perception?
    Maybe you do not KNOW that many PhDs?

    I am not aware of this.
  4. Oct 26, 2008 #3


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    I'm not aware of PhDs getting a bad rap in general, other than by crackpots.

  5. Oct 26, 2008 #4


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    I never heard of that. Getting a PhD is gold. You get paid well to study!
  6. Oct 26, 2008 #5
    Might not be true.

    I heard it from a college (not university) professor who came to our high school once in my grade 12. Most people who go for small diplomas just to make quick money might also have negative views about Phd people. I personally know many people who think staying in college beyond 4 years is waste of money and time. There are just too many people who have no interest in knowledge .... all they want is to make big bucks with less possible amount of work/effort.
  7. Oct 26, 2008 #6
    Just from my experience alone it seems like people lash out at people with PhDs, with some of them telling me little anecdotes about how one was the dumbest person in their office. I mean hell, if we go by this logic, why do people even bother graduating high school? It seems like more and more in America these days we're striving for less credentials.
  8. Oct 26, 2008 #7


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    Working for 5-7 years on a research topic under the guidance of some of the best experts in the field is hardly a negative rap.

    Many of the people I have met with a PhD are extremely knowledgeable about their field, and people who I, and many others, respect immensely. I don't understand why you think they get a negative rap?
  9. Oct 26, 2008 #8


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    I get paid well at my Master's and I think by my Ph.D, I will have like 50% more money. That's pretty darn good.
  10. Oct 26, 2008 #9


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    I don't do it for credentials.

    I do it to be surrounded by experts, like siddharth said, and do what I love.
  11. Oct 26, 2008 #10
    Academic people can have reputation as being too theoretical, and unable to deal with real life problems and applications.
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2008
  12. Oct 26, 2008 #11
    I know what LightBulbSun is talking about. There are some people that just despise those that work towards knowledge. My father absolutely hates PhD's. When visiting colleges he always had snide remarks to make about every professor. He isn't exactly thrilled that my sister is working towards a doctorate to say the least.

    Simply put he wasn't a good student and is jealous that people have excelled in an area he is weak in.
  13. Oct 26, 2008 #12
    Lets look at the people who go for PhDs:

    1) The professional grad school rejects (ie med and law rejects)
    2) Naive people who think they can be the next Einstein and follow a childish dream.

    When I worked for my friends dad I heard how they don't want PhDs because they ask for too much money and are arrogant. I'm not by any means saying they are idiots, but the smartest people out there aren't going for PhDs. They're doing med, law, or business because they realize school is an investment. If you really are committed to research in a field, I don't see why grad school should be the place to go. You'd be in school until your 30s... thats basically half your life gone and your productive years too. In this time you can more thoroughly learn the material from books and walk away with an understanding instead of becoming an encyclopedic drone grad schools seem to create. The great minds of antiquity weren't in school until 30s, they got their PhDs by their early 20s. The talent of today isn't likely to invest that many years to walk away with relatively nothing as compared to a more lucrative degree. So the calibre of students getting PhDs is much lower. That and grad students suck at practical stuff.
  14. Oct 26, 2008 #13
    That is exactly my take on this. I bet the majority that end up with a PHD are very very smart and as most people know, some people that are geniuses have trouble with social skills that everyday people take as them being stupid.
  15. Oct 26, 2008 #14
    I have not seen the attitude that LightbulbSun is describing but, if it exists, I wonder if SticksandStones has his finger on the root of it. My experience at school was frequently that some of the people with the best grades often had only the most shallow grasp of the subject and a couple of years later might have no retention at all of the material covered in a class they took with you.

    (Only some of them, of course; but good grades seemed to primarily represent, rather than necessarily any degree of brilliance or genuine academic acumen, a developed skill at and effort invested in working the system.)

    So if this attitude against PhDs exists, maybe people are extrapolating experiences like that with grade-earners to people with PhD's. It's always been my impression that experiences such as those are the reason why people use the term "the meritocracy" with derision.
  16. Oct 26, 2008 #15


    To be honest, that's pretty ignorant and immature answer but unfortunately, most people think like that :(.
  17. Oct 27, 2008 #16
    I think thats pretty much ridiculous. If you think med or law is more difficult than physics then I'm safe to assume you haven't had exposure to any of the three. They're all difficult in their own way.

    Just because we can't be "the next Einstein" doesn't mean we can't make a difference. SOMEONE has to discover the next big thing in physics, and I nearly guarantee you it won't be someone who never went to grad school and just self-taught. Not just because of the difficulty, but because of the lack of exposure to the field.

    As for the length of getting the PhD. Its different than 100 years ago because the system is different, not the people. In the USA its pretty much you start university at 17-18, add 4 years for bachelors, then you go get your phd, another 4 years. so 25-26 near a median.

    Remember too todays physics is very different. We have to learn what Einstein knew, and everything that has come after (Quantum Mech/FT, particle physics, etc) and there has been a LOT of advancement, many new research areas, and pretty much all of them require an expertise you would never gain from reading books on your own.

    We're not learning the basics for another 5 years in grad school, we're honing our skills in individual research areas in order to actually be able to contribute.
  18. Oct 27, 2008 #17
    I agree with this completely. I have always gone through school completely unconcerned with my grades and more focused on learning the material. This lead to only 3.4 ish GPAs, but I feel I have an intuitive grasp on everything we've learned that others seem to lack. Even in late undergrad and now in grad school I've seen students solve a problem, and when I ask why they did a certain step they either don't know or they got it from a book.
    I'd rather turn in an incomplete homework and get a 50% grade on it because I couldn't come up with my own answer than use untaught techniques and information I do not understand to complete it.
    I hope this doesn't hurt me in the future...
  19. Oct 27, 2008 #18

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    khemix posted his pile of **** twenty minutes before your post, so you should have seen that attitude at work.

    For all of you who do not know what the "bad rap against PhDs" is, I suggest you look up the terms egghead, nerd, geek, bookworm, highbrow, know-it-all, longhair, bluestocking, brainbox, ...

    The US has always had a bit of an anti-intellectual streak to it. That pile of **** that khemix posted, and the derogatory words I posted, exemplify that streak. It's there and its real. That the current economic situation is being blamed by some on "Nobel-caliper physicists" is more evidence of the same.
  20. Oct 27, 2008 #19


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    This is complete and utter nonsense. Frankly, I think you don't have a clue on why people do their PhD. Perhaps you could actually try visiting a lab in a university, see the type of research work which goes on, and talk to the grad students. I believe you will find reality to be very different from what you think it is.

    Again, I don't think you've spoken to many graduate students. Most people with a PhD are obviously not the dull, socially inept stereotype as portrayed on TV.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2008
  21. Oct 27, 2008 #20
    I dont think they are more difficult at all. In fact, I bet physics is harder due to its abstract nature which requires heavy thinking, whereas the other two are more about reciting facts. I think its much harder to get into med or law because you are competing with the countries best pool.

    You misunderstood my post as well as the original. This thread is about why people think PhDs are dolts, not why they are nerds and socially intept which would in fact show the contrary.

    Maybe I am inexperienced. I just find this is the case with bio and all the pre-meds that change route which fill the ranks of the bio doctorates. And I only know my TAs as being grad students. Again, they aren't stupid but they are also nowhere near the cream of the crop. Perhaps you can enlighten me, who do people go for PhDs?

    With a better answer maybe I can stop the bad rep, atleast at work.
  22. Oct 27, 2008 #21


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    Sure. People can join a graduate program for a number of reasons.

    * They might think that an undergraduate education only superficially covered certain areas, and they might have a desire to learn more and in detail to really understand a subject.

    * They might want to participate in original research and contribute to existing knowledge in some field. There are plenty of incredibly smart people doing work which can have tremendous impact. For a simple example from engineering, the pinch design for heat integration invented by Linhoff as part of his PhD thesis has directly led to large energy savings in almost all chemical plants.

    * They might also enjoy the academic atmosphere in a university. Research can be great fun with the right type of people.

    * A PhD is a very rigorous program and gives you expertise in an area which might be a prerequisite for certain jobs one is interested in. Like R&D Labs, etc

    They can be various other reasons. The right thing to do would be to talk to graduate students. I don't know how you define "cream of the crop", but graduate students are no intellectual slouches, and include some of the smartest people around.
  23. Oct 27, 2008 #22
    What you're describing there isn't what khemix and I were describing, though. I'm not saying that I agree with khemix, but we were each talking about people who have managed to earn some credential of being exceptionally smart - the high grades or the PhD - without necessarily being exceptionally smart. That's not anti-intellectualism, it's deriding the "all hat and no cattle" shallow intellectual poseur.

    (I don't know whether either of these concepts are what LightbulbSun was talking about but in my comment you responded to, the examples of people who had high grades with no grasp of the subject are not describing intellectuals.)
  24. Oct 27, 2008 #23
    Come to think of it, here's another possible source of something like this: the earliest point in each of our lives when we associated with a large group of PhD's, for most of us, is probably when we go to college: the professors. And I can remember some college professors I was pretty unimpressed with at the time, who I'm still pretty unimpressed with today in retrospect. (Though conversely, there are some professors who I was mind-blowingly impressed with and still am.) Perhaps that's the source of any negative view of PhD's, experiences with college professors.

    That could roll right into a derision of "the meritocracy", if one believes that there's a group of people whose only accomplishment in life is having earned gold stars from the academic establishment. (I still don't think that this would be the same thing as anti-intellectualism, though... intellectualism has at most an overlap with academia.)
  25. Oct 27, 2008 #24
    A Ph. D is gold .. as JasonROx said, specially if you live near your University , that's really a lottery :) but i know people who got .

    I am paid (unfortunately i must go 600 km far away from my home) 1200 Euro per month for performing a thesis, this is the highest-paid job i have ever had in my life, also i work only 7-8 hours.
  26. Oct 27, 2008 #25

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    Getting into a top med school is very competitive. Then again, so is getting into a top physics school. You are making several leaps of judgement in the statement "you are competing with the countries (sic) best pool." First and foremost, you are assuming that those who aspire to be medical doctors or ambulance chasers are the "best". What exactly is your metric for "best"?

    Secondly, you are assuming that those who don't make the cut throw away their aspirations for doctoring or ambulance chasing for some lesser aspiration such as "Ph D". Those who aspire to a PhD in one of the hard sciences or engineering tend to do so from the onset, not as a second choice.

    Thirdly, you are assuming that the winnowing-out process uniformly occurs at med school / law school / grad school application. That might be true for medical school and law school. It is not for physics and engineering, where the winnowing-out process starts in the freshman year.

    I did not say they PhDs are any of those derogatory terms. I said that some people think they are, and that enough people think so so as to make for a slew of derogatory terms thrown at them.

    In short, you are applying the association fallacy.
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