Julia Ayuso

The Doctorate is Useless

Image: Gift card collection, where, if we look closely, we can probably find some PhD.

Doctoral degrees are useless. Diébédo Francis Kéré doesn’t have one; architecture professors still don’t need them. Why do we have them?

The first reason is that doctoral programs are a source of cheap labour: doctoral students do anything their supervisors want them to do for very little money (or free).

The second reason is that no one likes competition. The PhD requirement adds a bottleneck for academic job applicants. 10 master’s and 25 bachelor’s degrees are awarded for every PhD in the US. No one wants 10X or 25X more competition, so the PhD stays. It’s all a matter of inertia.

PhD is not so different from a medieval apprenticeship. The apprentice works as an enslaved person for the master for 3-5 years and then is accepted as a full member of the guild of blacksmiths, carpenters… whatever. Despite getting their’ qualification, most PhD graduates are not hired as academics.

New professorships only absorb a tiny percentage of recent PhDs. And it’s not like PhDs can say, ‘Screw it, I’m going to get a non-academic job’. 3 to 5 years of doing a PhD means 3 to 5 years of lost work experience. Many employers prefer work experience.

The era of the thinker is over. No one is interested in critical analyses, literature reviews, or arguments about research methods that inevitably influence the interpretation of researchers’ results and claims. Today, people are content to take some “statistics” from anywhere, regardless of how they arrived, and pin them to their cartwheel as if they were the evidence. The truth no longer matters. What matters now is an image, influence, and headlines. People get caught up in short articles promising “Three things you need to know to succeed with your architecture firm” and all sorts of slogans worthy of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition.

Scatterbrained thinking is throwing everything about everything at your prospective clients and customers, hoping that something will stick. A PhD doesn’t help this: the people who succeed are those who are disciplined enough to spot a small part of the action environment where there might be an opportunity, study it well, come to understand it as well as anyone could, and then stay focused entirely on that part, keeping only a supervisory eye on any other aspect that could potentially influence their function.

So, to the person who is considering embarking on a PhD, I would say this: if you have a clear ambition to enter the ranks of the scientific community and have access to the world’s top scientists and laboratories, then you might have a chance. However, if you plan to pursue a career in the real world in almost every aspect, don’t waste your time: find a good company, but above all, find a good mentor and role model, and persevere.

Highly educated and trained critical thinkers to come free in bollycaos. Consequently, they (including this post) will have as much impact as a Hummer has on saving the environment.

Doctorates are useless. No one seems to know what they are for. However, in the next post, we’ll see why what you’ve read so far doesn’t make any sense. Or does it? What do you think, PhD?

(Elche, 1983) Como resultado de mi trabajo de investigación, hago labores de diseño y consultoría de espacios de trabajo centrados en las personas, que contribuyen a la mejora de su salud, bienestar y productividad. Soy Doctora Arquitecta y Project Manager especialista en cuantificar el beneficio económico que supone para las empresas la implementación de estrategias de diseño centrado en las personas, y actualmente dirijo People Lab en CBRE. No siempre quise ser arquitecta. Cuando era una niña pensaba que tal vez sería exploradora, o científica, o inventora. He viajado por todo el mundo para ver, tocar y sentir la arquitectura que me emociona. He vivido varios años en Japón, y lo que más me gusta de este país es su amor por lo bello y lo sutil (y el matcha).
  • Gareth Griffiths - 7 July, 2022, 11:19


    A super interesting text! Rightfully and suitably cynical! There are, of course, the high-flyers (e.g. Patrick Schumacker) who runs a multi-national architecture form and also has a PhD. In the Nordic countries, professors of architecture have traditionally been very practical profesionals, who got their positions in the university because they were successful architects (Indeed, they still run their own office while teaching). Until around 2000 the idea of an PhD in architecture was virtually unheard of. Why were they “invented”? Because the university’s judge “academic success” by research, which in turn is judged by the number of PhDs. The University of Helsinki Department of Medicine turns out at least 150 PhDs each year (sometimes nearing 200)! (The Department of Architecture perhaps around 4) How do they do it? The Department of Medicine realised that more PhDs means more grants. So the professor will break one research idea into around 6 or more PhDs. But nowadays the Departments of Architecture want professors to be both resepcted architects AND have a PhD. Finding a qualified candidate can be very difficult.

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