‘Be humble. Be open to new ways of learning. Be ready to unlearn some things.’ A professor repeated this mantra many times during the first few weeks of seminars. He reminded us that we were now the elites in the education system.
Behind his words I heard a challenge: would we behave like all other elites, and think that we got here just by sheer hard work, and are therefore entitled to all the benefits of being on top of the pyramid? Or would we remember how things are now stacked in our favour?
I have never belonged to an elite club. But I do belong to a point one per cent club – the illusive group of Black people who enjoy outdoor activities. Go ahead and roll your eyes, chuckle in disbelief. I am used to that reaction.
Thanks to starting the PhD, I have now joined an elite one per cent club. This is proportion of people who hold the advance degree in most countries. Some 25 per cent of Canadians are university graduates according to Statistics Canada 2013 National Graduate Survey. This is such a middle-class norm that it long ago ceased to have any meaning for me. Middle-class kids go to university, it is simple as that. Of course, it is a whole different game for working-class children, but that is another story. I had no idea that with a PhD I am now among the privileged of the privileged.
In Canada there are about 210,000 PhDs and about 4,000 joining the exclusive club each year. According to Statistics Canada, we need to produce double the number of PhDs to keep up with the USA and the rest of the developed countries.
The modern PhD started in Germany in the 1850s. The programme was so successful that it spread first to the rest of Europe, Canada and the USA, and then around the world. Is the PhD worth it?
Before applying for the PhD I interviewed six professors – I wanted to make sure that my idea was not full of lead. Most of them told me that my chance of getting an academic job at the end of it were about as good as turning ice into diamonds. Both are sparkly and shiny, but only one is a girl’s best friend.
It takes about ten years of study to get a PhD. From the Statistics Canada report a lot of PhD graduates will ride off into the sunset – of temporary, low-paying, part-time jobs, as academics for hire. Few of us will make it to be professors with benefits, high salaries, and each year a fresh crop of underlings to sing our praises (at least in front our faces).
The figures are sobering. A person with a bachelor’s degree earn a median income of $53,000. For a master’s it is $70,000. And for a doctorate, wait for it, it is a whopping $75,000. Four extra years in school for a fistful of extra dollars. A PhD is pretty much a waste of time financially, especially for those not working in academia.
So why am I doing it? Well, I don’t have the skills of a nurse, teacher or construction worker. They all earn more than a PhD after considerably less years in school.
I am not doing the PhD for bragging rights either. Okay, a little bit for that. I am doing it because I like to learn. It is a chance for me to research something that interests me. And I hope at the end of it that I will shift from the one per cent to the thirty per cent club – that is the number of PhD graduates who actually become academics.