Trying to articulate the value of your PhD is complicated by the fact that debates about the value of education (at any level) are dominated by an instrumentalist, employment preparation discourse.
I recall having a conversation with a friend back in the early 1990s in which she told me that her 6 year old son’s teacher had told him that he’d “never get a job” if he didn’t improve his handwriting. We agreed that the point of education at that age should not be about getting a job.
And yet, almost everything any politician has said about education in the last 20 years suggests that this is all it is about.
Add in the fact that “academic” in everyday speech is practically a synonym for “irrelevant”…
And a right-wing political discourse that values gut-feelings over research evidence …
Is it any wonder your own gut ties itself in knots whenever you hear that dreaded question “What are you going to do with that?”
If that’s all it’s good for, why bother?
Is the job you get after an undergraduate education really the only thing of value from the 16 years of education it took to get you there? That seems like a pretty poor return on investment to me.
Put like that, it probably looks like a pretty poor return on investment to most other people.
The truth is, we value a lot of things about education.
It’s time we started to talk about them.
Not defensively. That would give too much power to the “it’s all about employment” crowd.
But we do need to start saying things out loud. As if the things we value are valuable to others. (Not least because they are.)
We can then start to think about how we bring that value into teaching, research, knowledge mobilization, and other aspects of our work in education.
This post was edited July 9, 2015.