I was writing a brief Bio for this page (see sidebar) and realized that I had something important to say about the state of graduate education in the U.S.
I have a BS in Computer Information Systems and an MBA. The most obvious choice for a PhD field therefore either something to do with information systems or something to do with business. Since I was tired of computers being the center of my life and wanted them to be more of a tool, that left me talking to people about business. I had made the international honor society in business, which means that I was in the top 10% of the students who graduated from my school in that year. That’s a lot of people, so it wasn’t an entirely trivial accomplishment.
So I applied to the PhD program at the school where I got my Masters. I wanted to study management, specifically looking at how to manage remote knowledge-workers (a true web 2.0 topic). At that point, however, I came face to face with the utter LACK of progress that has been made on graduate education since, oh, the renaissance.
Graduate education remains mired in what can only be called the apprentice model. In order to get a PhD, you have to give up everything else about your life, commit yourself to poverty, “move in” with your master and perform slave labor for a period of years before they decide you are done. Specifically I was informed that if I wasn’t willing to quit my job entirely, they didn’t even want to talk to me.
Now, after 20 years of working, I had gotten used to at least a reasonable standard of living. We own a house. We have credit card debt. We had car payments. $12k/year in a graduate stipend wouldn’t even pay the utilities on the house. Quitting outright was NOT an option.
I do understand, to some extent, what the point of the exercise is. A big part of the academic life is networking, collaboration and spending time on this stuff. I’m sure the theory is that you can’t do that if you are also working somewhere else. And I’ll admit it has been a bit of a challenge. But not the barrier they made it sound like when I talked to the management faculty.
So I looked around at the university to find something that I could make a case for being passingly related to what I already knew and yet was more friendly to people who needed to maintain at least a part time job.
Setting aside the question of relationship to my prior knowledge, this was still an extraordinarily difficult task. It seems that almost EVERY department takes the same approach; give us your life for a few years and we’ll consider giving you a credential that might get you a job. The more I looked, the more aggravated I got.
I finally discovered that the only reasonable opportunity for education I was going to have was in the college of Education. Education attracts a lot of people for advanced degrees later in life, and is therefore far more friendly to adult learners.
Initially I wanted to study how to improve graduate education. The fact is that people are living longer and most people have multiple careers over the course of their lives. At the same time more people than ever are going to college. That means that, particularly in professional fields like business, there is a shortage of professors. I wanted to look at how to fix that.
Nothing ever works out the way you plan it though. The one professor in Higher Ed who I could conceivably have interested in this topic retired and I was rejected on my first application to the school. My adviser was my savior. He saw my resume and wanted my technical skills for his projects, so he got them to reconsider.
Like me, he had a career before he went back to get his PhD. He understands 1) that I am a professional, 2) that I can’t put everything else on hold and do nothing but school and 3) that I’m still motivated to make this happen. He has also helped me see that my prior professional knowledge is useful but that a connection isn’t actually required.
The point of this story is that I still believe something needs to change in how we educate our future professors. The typical graduate student is no longer straight out of their undergraduate education. More are older, have kids and/or spouses, responsibilities, bills and jobs. The process of moving from their old lives to their new lives is different from the process a 20-something goes through, and currently completely unaided.
This blog is my way of helping myself and others with the transition. But the problem remains. I still get emails about how there is a shortage of business professors, yet they continue to make the process of change impossible. The academic establishment needs to change it’s ideas about what becoming a scholar means and what parts of that process are non-negotiable in order to take advantage of all the potential intellectual ability that is out there.