UChicago Psychology Professor Authors Article on the Value of Ph.Ds.

“It’s a common perception that a PhD opens only one door — the ivory-covered one into the academy. But this thinking is wrong.”

By Isaac Troncoso

Last month, Sian Beilock, a professor in UChicago’s Department of Psychology authored a defense of the Ph.D. in her article, “Finding the Full Value of a Ph.D.”

Beilock frames her article as a response to the common criticism of the humanities’ lack of practicality, embodied in a statement she cites by Republican presidential candidate Senator Marco Rubio that “we need more welders and less philosophers.”

In her piece, Beilock argues that this perception of the humanities as a relatively impractical discipline is fundamentally flawed on a theoretical and practical level.

“While comments like these miss the usefulness of the humanities and other forms of inquiry, they are also based on a misunderstanding of the value that our society gets from its investment in higher education,” Beilock said.

Beilock was motivated to argue against these ideas by the work of her graduate students. “Seeing the amazing caliber of grad students on our campus and their successes as they go into varied career paths inspired me to write about the importance of Ph.D.s as a conduit for knowledge from the academy to the marketplace,” she said.

She centers her defense on praise for the Ph.D.’s versatility, arguing against the popular belief that it funnels its possessors into academic careers.

“It’s a common perception that a Ph.D. opens only one door — the ivory-covered one into the academy. But this thinking is wrong. While it is certainly the case that many students who pursue a Ph.D. will go on to be great researchers and teachers at universities and colleges around the world, these graduates can make vital contributions in many fields and industries,” Beilock said.

Beilock also argues that her praise for the Ph.D. applies to STEM, as doctorates in these fields tend to deviate from academia to an even greater extent than their humanities and social science counterparts.

“Looking at doctoral students whose education was supported by funded research and who received their degrees at major state universities, researchers found that almost 40 percent of students left the academy immediately upon graduation. Working in a cutting-edge neuroscience lab as a biological or social sciences Ph.D. has taught you how to work in a team setting towards a common goal and aided your ability to take in information and make reasonable judgments accordingly,” she said.

Beilock asserts that the possession of a Ph.D. enables students to fill invaluable roles in society as links between centers of education and developments in cutting edge research.

“When Ph.D.s go into the workforce, they infuse our industry with valuable knowledge and skills. They serve as a conduit for the transmission of knowledge from the academy into the economic marketplace. Whether you end up in the classroom or the boardroom, being able to write, communicate, and work with others effectively are important skills—skills that are further developed during advanced degrees,” Beilock said.