Doctoral programs can have a strong influence on the weak-minded

Daniel Drezner:

First, I cannot stress enough the cult-like powers of a PhD program. Doctoral programs can have a strong influence on the weak-minded. Even if you’re pretty sure what you want going into a program, that can change as you’re surrounded by peers who want something different. You might think you’re strong-willed, but day after day of hearing how a top-tier research university position is the be-all, end-all of life can have strange effects on your psyche.

I really do feel this is something we handle well at Wisconsin.  Our Ph.D. graduates go on to a wide variety of positions, some in primarily teaching colleges, some in research institutions, some in industry, some in government.  We do not consider the North American research university the be-all and end-all of life.  We are not just trying to produce clones of ourselves.  We really do strive to help each of our students get the best job among the jobs they want to get.  

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4 thoughts on “Doctoral programs can have a strong influence on the weak-minded

  1. Kevin says:

    Ironically, I went IN believing a top-tier research university position is the be-all, end-all of life, and left with a… broader view. I suspect the influence Drezner references is at least partially brought about by gung ho peers such as my former self.

    I think there’s only so much the university can do. At the end of the day, the only “older” (farther along professionally) people one regularly meets as a graduate student are those higher up on the academic research totem pole.

  2. JB says:

    I’m really curious about what Wisconsin does to encourage students to pursue what they want. A specific question: do you see it as a department wide effort, or has Wisconsin just hired the “right” faculty to create the kind of environment that accepts non-clones?

  3. Yohan says:

    “Even if you’re pretty sure what you want going into a program, that can change as you’re surrounded by peers who want something different. ”

    Interesting. Coming from a different country, I’ve had a very different take. It seems as if a lot of new grad students in the US think of themselves as customers rather than students. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. In neuroscience at least, people often enter the field with cartoonish notions of what the research will be like. It is virtually impossible for everyone to work on their dream projects. Most dream projects are half-baked anyhow.

    Can someone coming out of undergrad really know exactly what they want? And why should an institution indulge their whims? Surely it is good that their desires are modified in the face of practical reality? ‘When the facts change I change my mind’ and so on? Maybe it makes sense to keep one’s wildest ideas on the backburner, so you make sure you have the job security necessary to truly pursue them. The alternative is insisting that you know what you want to do, and then failing to get the opportunity to do anything at all.

  4. MD says:

    JB: I finished a PhD at Wisconsin and worked with the Number Theorists. I know do math modelling and software dev in finance. For me at least, Wisconsin faculty were very good about exposing interdisciplinary subjects (joint talks with CS for example) and pushing me to apply for internships. I also felt I wasn’t treated differently than the students going on to academic jobs, which is a big part of making people feel welcome.

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