I have heard many professors warn students not to get a doctorate. They include English language instructors, who remember high debt and poor job prospects, and public policy makers, who argue that you can create more social change in government or nonprofit jobs. lucrative that do not require advanced degrees. And, in many ways, I understand. You want the best for your students and you know how difficult and exhausting the process of pursuing a PhD can be. You may know what it’s like to pay off debt, or maybe you’ve been frustrated that your work is buried in academic journals that few people read.
For some students, the advice not to get a doctorate. is guaranteed. The process is long and means years of lost income and potential debt. Many students may not know what a Ph.D. is. requires or what we can actually provide them in the context of their career. If students aren’t quite sure what they’re getting into or aren’t ready to make a decision, professors can steer them toward research assistant jobs that can prepare them to decide if a college job might be right for them.
But when professors make such statements about not getting a doctorate in front of a whole class of students, they’re not just talking to the students who see the doctorate. as a choice in a world of seemingly limitless possibilities. They also cater to students from marginalized backgrounds who might see a PhD. like a reach too far when in fact it may be the perfect path for them. And it is precisely the students who most need the help of their professors just to navigate the process.
Less than 5% of the US population currently holds a Ph.D. While diversity among PhD students. holders has increased in recent years, 76% of doctorate holders. graduates were white in 2017. Statistics for other minority groups with doctorates are less clear, but students with disabilities, those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, or with other marginalized identities may struggle to find a doctoral mentor. When a student who identifies with one of these groups seeks advice on the Ph.D. programs, they need to know that they can talk to the professors who teach their classes.
During my own doctorate. application cycle, I relied on mentors from my college to help me navigate the process. I didn’t know what to put in a personal statement, how to search for professors in academic journals, or that I should contact potential mentors before applying. All these unspoken rules in my field were essential to gain access to a competitive doctorate. program where I could get funding – another important issue that mentors can help students deal with. But such rules are not obvious to students who were not brought up at the academy. They also vary widely by discipline, which can make it difficult to seek advice on the internet or through mentors in different fields.
Looking back, I believe most of the professors who spoke to my classes didn’t get a doctorate. would have helped me if I had approached them. But their public warning against getting a degree made me feel like I couldn’t ask them about the process or let them know I intended to apply. For students whose parents or immediate family members are in the US Ph.D. 5%. holders, orientation becomes easier to find without having to seek help from the students’ teachers. But for those not from this group, professors might be the only links to academia they have. These students need to be able to consult with their professors about the process and they need to be comfortable enough to ask for help. When a professor announces that he doesn’t think students should get a doctorate, he closes that door on students who might ask for advice. Therefore, students from educated families may pursue doctoral studies with the help of outside mentors, while other students without these supports will refuse to graduate. This widening of the gap between people with access to doctoral training is unacceptable.
Allow for demographic differences in the doctorate. tenures to expand is not only harmful to individual students, but also to the future of academia and even our nation. Doctoral graduates become the academics who produce what society calls knowledge. Although academic research may seem buried in journals, it is also becoming the science we are told to trust. When policy makers and practitioners turn to this science to learn how society should be governed, they trust the researchers who design the scientific studies.
The lack of diversity in the academy and the types of knowledge it produces are not new issues, and academic institutions are working to broaden the types of voices represented in higher education. But we’ve seen major constructs in the social sciences called out for their failure to account for minority experiences, and we’ve seen those same constructs widely disseminated in nonprofits, government agencies, and educational institutions. When people from diverse backgrounds have a say in the development of research, we can better ensure that research takes into account experiences outside of dominant groups.
Yet, this cannot happen if various students do not obtain doctorates. So if you’re a professor, rather than making sweeping statements discouraging entire classes of students from pursuing doctoral studies, consider inviting individual students to speak one-on-one. one during office hours. Find out why a student wants a PhD. and, if they aren’t quite sure yet, equip them with the tools and information they need to make an informed decision. Remember that a student’s lack of knowledge on how to navigate the process or define their interests does not translate into a bad candidate for a PhD. program. This may very well mean that the student in front of you is the one the academy needs most at the table, and your guidance may help them claim their rightful place.