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Thoughts of a beginning PhD

November 2, 2008

Here is the interview of a guy who is utilizing his PhD in ways outside the academia. I often wonder to myself whether I would like to be a professor at the end of the day. I  would love to be a scholar and doing a PhD is a way for me to move towards this goal since I am paid to do research in what I like as oppose to what people want me to do, as was my past (and of course, the credentialising helps make me more credible in this day and age of credentials). I am not discounting a position in academia since I would like to teach as well but I think I would prefer a less direct and less traditional route that does not leave me at the mercy of institutional politics.

Enjoy this interview in the website Way: Science, Remixed. The guy interviewed was trained as a philosopher

Also, there has been talk about doing graduate degrees online. To a certain degree, American universities are already utilizing the online concept by posting the syllabi and reading materials online, while also having their students post their responses to readings, or to send in assignments using this online engine. But, in these traditional universities, there is always the added element of face-to-class time, lab or library work. But I do wonder, is it possible to do part, if not all, of your graduate degree online? Given the many variables and factors involved, I am not sure how this can be done. Maybe it is possible if you’re living in the same country as the university that provides you with the option of doing your stuff online, but how will this work out if I am living in another country and wish to obtain a graduate degree somewhere else? One has not take into account the cultural factors.

However, as some of my cousins who are involved in twinning or collaborative learning institutions in my home country have shown, it is possible to do so if one could spend just some time in the physical location of the institution while doing most of the work at home. However, my cousins were only doing diploma and undergraduate degrees. For even to think of this at the graduate school level would require very strong technological capacity to simulate a real-time learning environment, as well as structural changes to the program. Also, easy access to library materials that are transformed into electronic versions (particularly important for humanities and social science scholars).  Does that mean mentoring would be mostly done electronically? (Well, in many cases, this is already done in traditional programs when the mentor moves to a different university or is away for extended leave).

Perhaps faculty and the university may appreciate the ability to cut cost while still providing good amenities and facilities to their distant learners who only need to be on campus at some point of the program (for fellowship with other graduate students?) But at the same time, if can also make graduate school an even more isolating experience than it is now. However, it is understandable that for students who already have families or are much established at their home countries, the need to have to move is not something they would want to do. I do know of friends back home who do graduate level work at an institution in another country (usually a first-world country) but spend most of their time back home for field work as they do not have courses to take, especially at the PhD level. Some managed to maintain positions back home while working on their PhD research or dissertation, something which is neigh impossible for me as the system I am under rigorously requires my physical presence and full-time commitment (of course, it pays me a bit of money to do that, but this is another issue).

At the end of the day, one has to requestion what learning means, what a graduate education means and the limitations of even the most sophisticated technology (that is still liable to Murphy’s Law).

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