Is a Ph.D. degree worth it? The 21st century will be a century where professors’ value will depend on how much knowledge they make available on the internet, how accessible they make knowledge to a general population

Updated : 2014-06-22 16:33

Is a Ph.D. degree worth it?

Akli Hadid
Until the late 1990s and the popularization of the personal computer, people with Ph.D.s had a certain amount of prestige. They were the only experts available in the field, the only ones who knew the tools to carry out quantitative, qualitative or historical research. There was no MS Excel for the average person to carry out quantitative research, no Google to conduct reviews of literature.
Ph.D. holders were invited on television to clarify events. They were the ones who read all the books, who went to all the conferences and who knew almost everything about their field. When policy makers needed expert opinions, they relied on people with Ph.D.s to orient them on what decision would be more beneficial.
Today, Wikipedia and Google have replaced the Ph.D. in terms of knowledge. People predicted that machines would replace factory workers, but who would have thought they would replace academics and scholars? Technology stole even society’s most knowledgeable people’s jobs.
Universities in Korea and around the world now use professors as disposable objects. Fewer professors are on the tenure track, more professors are on precarious one-year contracts. Some are on even more precarious contracts and are paid by the hour, and are not paid during vacations. Universities have become convinced that if knowledge is available for free on the internet, it should be cheap in academia.
One might ask, why do a Ph.D. then? Ph.D. students either go through debt to pay their tuition, or get scholarships where they make less money than construction workers. They spend day in and day out conducting reviews of literature, conducting and analyzing surveys, interviews or experiments. Who would have predicted that a construction worker building a house would be more valued by society in terms of wages than a Ph.D. student conducting studies that push knowledge forward?
Still, I am personally enjoying studying for a Ph.D. even though job prospects are rather bleak. During the latter part of the 20th century fewer and fewer babies were born, and universities have finding students. Last year I was applying for academic jobs and I found 150 universities advertising for jobs in my area. This year, I have only seen a handful, perhaps 10 or 15 universities advertising job positions.
Why do I enjoy studying for a Ph.D.? I gained the knowledge of research techniques, and theoretical knowledge in my field. I am also aware that in the 21st century the future of scholars depends on how much they democratize knowledge and education. We are past the era where professors simply got tenure and kept their jobs until retirement, repeatedly teaching the same courses again and again until they retired.
The 21st century will be a century where professors’ value will depend on how much knowledge they make available on the internet, how many Massive Open Online Courses they make available, how accessible they make knowledge to a general population.
Few professors are adapting to this change. On the contrary, many researchers are making their research more and more complicated instead of simplifying it. While more and more conferences call for papers that use as little jargon as possible, more and more researchers are overusing jargon.
Technology is also being overused when providing lectures. To me, the best way to learn is to turn a lecture on while cooking, cleaning my room or driving a car. But more and more online courses use visual effects and handouts that don’t increase people’s knowledge on the subject.
The 21st century will be difficult for Ph.D. students. It will be a century where we will have to learn skills like how to explain complicated concepts in simple ways, how to constantly update the contents of our lecture and how to accept that what we learned 1 year ago is already obsolete. It will be a century of constant discoveries and updating of knowledge, a century where what was valid last year is no longer valid this year.
Having grown up with the internet all my life, I feel rather comfortable with these new challenges. The era where professors used to design one syllabus and teach it the rest of their lives is over. Also, the era of lecturing for three hours without being interrupted is over. With the internet 2.0, scholars have to accept that student questions are important, and that sometimes the students may know more than the scholar due to their personal experiences.
Unfortunately, many are not accepting this revolution and are stuck in a past where everything was easier and more predictable. Ph.D. students will have to accept that they will have to create knowledge without the traditional guarantee by an institution that they will keep their jobs for life.
Akli Hadid is a Ph.D. candidate at the Academy of Korean Studies. Hisemail addressis hadid.


About bambooinnovator
KB Kee is the Managing Editor of the Moat Report Asia (, a research service focused exclusively on highlighting undervalued wide-moat businesses in Asia; subscribers from North America, Europe, the Oceania and Asia include professional value investors with over $20 billion in asset under management in equities, some of the world’s biggest secretive global hedge fund giants, and savvy private individual investors who are lifelong learners in the art of value investing. KB has been rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as an analyst in Asian capital markets. He was head of research and fund manager at a Singapore-based value investment firm. As a member of the investment committee, he helped the firm’s Asia-focused equity funds significantly outperform the benchmark index. He was previously the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. KB has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy, value investing, macroeconomic and industry trends, and detecting accounting frauds in Singapore, HK and China. KB was a faculty (accounting) at SMU teaching accounting courses. KB is currently the Chief Investment Officer at an ASX-listed investment holdings company since September 2015, helping to manage the listed Asian equities investments in the Hidden Champions Fund. Disclaimer: This article is for discussion purposes only and does not constitute an offer, recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any investments, securities, futures or options. All articles in the website reflect the personal opinions of the writer.

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