Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Dr. Broad, I presume.

Well, yes, although nothing else about me changed between 11 AM and 1 PM on September 12th, 2008. I wasn't smarter than before, nor a better writer, researcher, or teacher, but I did emerge from my defense astoundingly more credentialed.

Anyway, I'm not even going to get into that. Rather, my immediate concern is to make an important distinction: I have a PhD now, but I should not be mistaken for an educated person. In my case, the completion of the dissertation involved nothing more than devoting several years to becoming the world's leading authority on a point of trivia. (I sag slightly when I consider that my career-path dictates that I spend several of the coming years to publishing about it.) I know something less than nothing about art, music, moral philosophy, epistemology, classics, theatre, poetry, comparative religion, life sciences, physical sciences, economics, and mathematics, not to mention African, Asian, Middle-Eastern, Latin-American, and great swaths of European history; I am poorly travelled and depressingly monolingual, and I still haven't read Northanger Abbey, but, hoo-boy, can I talk up a storm about the operations of the Consumer Branch of the Wartime Prices and Trade Board ca. 1943-1945. In terms of my intellectual development — and, more to the point, the development of my abilities as a teacher of history — I might as well have spent the last five years learning to speak Klingon.

As I indicated, the truly alarming thing is that almost no university would hire me as a professor if I did not have a PhD (or was not very near to completing one), even though nothing in the dissertation-writing phrase of the process contributed in any way to my ability to teach. except for the actual opportunity to teach while writing the dissertation, which was the one thing that I was repeatedly advised not to do. Of course, most university departments insist that's because they're hiring researchers first and teachers second, but academics who regard students as obstacles in the path of their research agenda need to remind themselves that in the absence of undergraduates their departments simply wouldn't exist to hire researchers in the first place.

Now that my dissertation is at long, long last complete, I look forward to the resumption of my education. I have an immense backlog of reading to catch up on, but the first and most urgent task is the conquest of a second language. In Quebec over the summer, I met a parrot whose French was better than mine, and everywhere I went I was embarrassed by my lack of facility in even the most basic of declarative phrases in a language other than my own. Fortunately, Quebec is, despite what some of the more prejudiced English Canadians believe, the only authentically bilingual province in Confederation, and everyone from cab drivers to waitstaff to ordinary people on the street, readily conversed in English for the benefit of people who grew up in such places as London, Ontario.

The purpose of an education is to expand the range of one's knowledge and to cultivate the ability to go on learning without teachers. In short, the goal is to get smarter. "Never let your schooling interfere with your education," Twain often told his audiences, and I would add that one should never assume that getting credentialed is the same as getting smarter.


Cmille said...

Congratulations Graham, enjoy your years of reminding your students (as one of my professors did in first year) that it's DR. Broad not Mr. Broad and I-didn't-spend-x-amount-of-years-in-grad-school-to-have-you-call-me-by-my-first-name-thankyouverymuch!

But seriously, it sounds like you've kept your perspective in the larger scheme of everything, and maybe that's probably the most important part of doing a PhD. As someone who is just starting his program, I'm getting ready to take the plunge for 4-6 years.

Good luck with learning French, I've managed to end up in Montreal, so I'm hoping my French immersion education will kick in after years of neglect now that I'm surrounded by French speakers. Here's hoping.

TJ said...

Congratuations, Graham!!

I knew you before this notable achievement and can attest that you did indeed begin your educational trek with ample mental acuteness, plus a coveted quick and dry wit.

Now that I labour in the field of research amongst the "eggheads," I can confirm that a Ph.D. does not in any way endow a modicum of intelligence upon anyone.

Way to break the mould!


amy said...

there's some protesting too much going on here, methinks.
Learning French is second though, right? After the article on women and consumption in the First World War?
congrats Graham