Flying over the cuckoo’s nest

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Real Carpio So

Real Carpio So

“I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.”
– J. Austen

I was told that there is romance.

There are a couple of reasons for sensible people joining a doctoral program. The textbook response is that they have a thirst for knowledge. Apparently, one is led to believe that students in the program possess a high degree of personal motivation that originates from their natural curiosity and love of intellectual pursuits.

According to one LinkedIn post, these students have an irrational love for research. This entails enduring boring scientific and scholarly articles. Most of the time, it requires costly and mind-numbing fieldwork. In theory, curiosity is the only thing that sustains them.


Before I entered the program, I was told that I would enjoy challenging assumptions. In one of our courses, the professor always expects us to demolish established theories. However, there’s a catch. We can only use other established theories as tools of demolition. Most of the time, it is required that we provide theoretical basis for ideas that can simply be inferred through common sense.

They tell me that I will be credited for an “invention”. The program requirements will compel me to “invent” a new idea. According to them, this will be my distinct contribution to the body of knowledge. Perhaps by “invention”, they mean trivial variations on the same theme.

They never told me that tragedy is a possibility.

On the average, a doctoral program takes four times as long as a master’s degree to complete. One mentor revealed that he completed the program in 10 years. He admonished us not to follow his steps, but strongly hinted that this could probably be our destiny. I have seen students from previous batches resigned to their fate. They try very hard to exhibit the same enthusiasm. But the blank stares betray them. Perhaps, perhaps, that elusive day will come when they will don that Chinese vendor’s cap.

According to United States statistics, only approximately 50 percent of doctoral students will complete their program within 10 years. The figures in this country may be lesser. One has to be unusually optimistic to believe that one will not eventually drop out.

Some cherish the idea that having a doctor’s degree will open doors for them in the academe. With the implementation of K-12, enrollment in higher education is expected to reduce significantly. Eventually, jobs in higher education will become scarce. And possible job openings in primary and secondary education may be beneath one’s consideration.

And granting that one fortunately lands a job in higher education, getting tenure can be elusive. There will definitely be a long line of aspirants ahead of you.

In the non-academic market, an academic doctor might not necessarily have a distinct advantage. Most firms perceive academics as bright but impractical, thrice removed from reality.

They say that having a doctor’s degree is not only a passport to a world of research and new knowledge. The belief is that it is also a valuable asset. It is a certificate that validates one’s abilities. It is an investment that increases one’s chances of earning higher in a job of one’s preference. And besides, there is always the prestige. Oh well!

Apparently, all of these are theories.

Real Carpio So lectures on strategy and human resource management at the Management and Organization Department of Ramon V. del Rosario College of Business of De La Salle University. He is also an entrepreneur and a management consultant. He welcomes comments at realwalksonwater@gmail.com. Archives can be accessed at realwalksonwater.wordpress.com. The views expressed above are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official position of DLSU, its faculty, and its administrators.

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