May 15, 2014

got a PhD? so what?

Yes indeed.. For those who know the ways around it, it's really no big deal getting a PhD here.. As long as you have loads of money and/or the right 'connection', you can get a PhD, no problemo... You don't have to do real research work, cos you can either pay someone to do it for you or use the connection you have to apply pressure, and voila! A PhD degree at your doorstep..

One huge reason for this malady is the fact that people here often pursue the degree for (all) the wrong reasons. There are multitudes of reasons but rarely for the want to advance the research field or to contribute to the academia. Some are doing it because it is no longer brag-worthy as eMBA graduates are a dime a dozen these days.. Many did it or are doing it because they had to as their job/promotions depend on it.. Many are treating it as a job/chore, something to get over and done with.. Most of them want the prestige of being called 'Dr.' but not the real hard work that comes with it.

Universities here, and maybe everywhere else, are trying to 'improve' their research creed, especially now with all emphasis on world rankings and what-not. And what did the universities here do? Accept every Tina, Dick and Harry into the PhD program and force them to publish as part of graduation requirement.. So as long as they can pay the tuition and satisfied the barest minimum, just admit them.. At the same time ease the graduation criteria - no more qualification exams and less credits hours needed.  Any surprise that in the end, they attracted all the wrong people or people with the wrong type of mentalities?

When the only thing in the minds of these PhD students is 'How do I get the degree with the least amount of effort?', what do you get? Tons of 'research' papers published in dubious/shady journals. They will search for the most 'lenient' or 'payable' journals and try to get published there.. And these 'journals' will print whatever crap you write as long as you pay their hefty 'publication fee'. Yet some of the papers are so bad that even those journals rejected them. Most of the time, once published these papers will never be read/cited.

Seriously, what is the point of having so many PhD holders when most of them don't cut it? What is the benefit (to the society/country) of having so many such graduates? It only cheapens the value of a PhD and demoralized those whom really put great effort into their work. Once they get their PhD, many of these 'Dr' will never ever read much less write another research paper.. And for those faculty members, all they need is to publish until they get their tenure as professors, then they are 'secured' for life and can just 'cruise-along' until their retirement..

Though it is hardly a case of life and death, I don't think research is a field that should never tolerate mediocrity or sloppy work. Everyone should have the 'can do' and not 'can make do' attitude. We must never compromise, cut corners, steal other people's work or falsify data/results. Not all of us can be Porters, Maslows or Hofstedes nor can we all win Nobel prizes, but we must be willing to put in the effort required for good research.

PhD is no easy path..
I know that it is rare to find someone who really LOVE research or simply love to think, brain-storm, and then write about it. Although I did meet my fair share of phony scholars and pseudo researchers, I am/was very fortunate to have been taught by a few exemplary professors. They showed me how it is to be a conscientious and devoted scholar. In many ways, their passion and work ethics influenced me in wanting to be part of the academia. Unfortunately, what I've seen and heard here kinda dampened my interest in pursuing a future in the scholarly world.

Frankly, I don't count myself as being really passionate about research but I am going to do my best while I'm at it. I'm setting higher and more ambitious targets for myself because I know I can do it. I'm not saying that I will produce a masterpiece or be revered as a great researcher but at the very least it must be worthy to be referenced by other scholars. And I also believe that the things I learned along the way will be invaluable and as satisfying. I'm not saying that I am better than everyone, but I do think I am better than many of them.. Alas, to each their own.. if they can live with themselves, who am I to comment/judge? All I can do is do my best in my own ways and live up to my sets of work ethics.

I know by writing all these, I may have antagonize or offended many of my classmates and/or faculty members.. Yet I cannot NOT vent my frustration and disappointment.. After being in the PhD program for almost three years, I know the rules of the game.. I will play by the rules but I will do it my way on my conditions.. I will graduate when I feel that I'm well-equipped and qualified to be called 'Dr Goh'.