!! Book Review !! PhD: An Uncommon Guide – Nuts and Bolds of Surviving Academia !
I finished several books this week as part of my Unschooled Master of Theology Program. You can check them all out here. One of the books I finished was PhD: An Uncommon Guide by James Hayton.
This was a book I picked up in hopes of getting a better understanding of what it’s like in grad school, beyond the cursory exposure I had with two semesters before I dropped out. This book’s author chose to get his PhD in a hard science, then left academia for the self-employed teaching and lecture circuit, where he now coaches other PhD candidates on how to finish their studies (interesting).
I came away with shabby notes, but a little better perspective on what it could be like going for a terminal degree. It certainly cemented (along with many other anecdotal evidences) how right I was to drop out of grad school when I did, before I wasted a bunch of money and time.
But, let’s take a closer look and see what it could have been like….
Love What You Do, If You Can Afford It
For a long time I struggled with the question of why them. Why was Aristotle or Socrates or Bacon or Darwin or Pasteur able to devote their lives to pure research? How were they able to survive, make money, afford a living when I’ve spent most of my life scraping to get by?
Answer? They were rich.
Or, a more accurate answer, they were funded. Socrates had an inheritance and a retirement. Darwin was born into wealth. Aristotle’s family has political connections. Bacon was a politician and Pasteur was entrenched in academia.
The list goes on. Most of those who made great strides in society, in business, in academia are those who are either exceptionally gifted (and are awarded scholarships) or are already wealthy (and have free time). The rest of the world, either because of human necessity or by intentional design, must slave for a meager wage, struggling to make ends meet, rarely getting ahead, while the affluent persistently dangle before the masses vice after vice to, well, keep the peasants in line, while enriching themselves even more in the process.
Today is no different, though some of the vices have changed. Instead of alcohol (which is now a societal staple) the elites have dangled education, promising status, money, fame, with really no intention of delivering.
My Bachelor’s degree is worthless. An expensive piece of paper. My Associates degree means less than my High School Diploma. My most recent job (that I’ve had going on five years now) wanted a medical degree, but I got the job because I knew how to use a computer, how to manipulate data (which kind of surprises me how few people actually know how to use a spreadsheet even today).
It’s now been over ten years since I got my Bachelor’s degree and I’m amazed at the erosion that has happened in the job market. Those jobs I was promised (if I got my Master’s degree) are gone or have become part-time, no benefits, contract jobs. Low pay. No security. Insult upon insult. It was the best thing I could have done for myself, jumping ship and start paddling away from everyone else.
Luckily, I ended up on a deserted island while everyone else seemed content with going down with the ship. I got to shore, coughed up a lung while paying off the $25,000 I had already amassed in grad school student loans, and got to work.
Well, not really. I floundered. But, that floundering got me to where I am today. Not yet 45 years old and only working two days a week with mad cash in the bank (much less than what you would think, but just enough to make it work). No responsibilities. Seriously considering either a move to a Pacific Northwest lakefront paradise, or I just might sell everything I have and move to Hawaii.
I’m still not sure how I ended up in this situation, but the circumstances I find myself in have allowed me (finally) the leisure time I’ve long wanted to engage with some research questions.
This is why, after discovering my newfound freedom, I started my uThM program. You might ask why I didn’t just jump back into academia, go back to grad school. Honest answer? Modern education is a scam. There are no jobs anymore. At least, none that are worth having. A job that pays anything requires 80-90 hour work weeks. On top of that, you have to shoulder a huge amount of stress to go along with it, plus people in general are a nightmare to deal with in the workplace.
I prefer Thoreau’s or Socrates’ solution. Don’t try to make more money to support your stuff. Try to get rid of the stuff so you don’t have to support it.
So, now with the free time secured, I can, like Darwin or Pasteur or Bacon, devote my time to the questions I really want to answer, without the scams the elites are so desperate to push.
Networking Would Have Killed Me
I remember the first day of classes when I started school at my local community college. I had been home for the summer since my enlistment had ended. I had already made a mess of my life. I had no idea what I was doing, and I was following the direction of everyone else around me, regardless of what I really felt inside.
But, those first several years would go on to be lackluster, to say the least. I really did not care for school. Undergrad is basically a repeat of High School all over again. Just a little less hostility, a little less in peer pressure. Same old crap, though. A lot of empty promises. And I couldn’t shake the persistent, nagging feeling that I was wasting my time. The questions I had, that I really wanted to answer I had to work at on my own time, if at all. The stuff in school was drivel.
Not a single person ever told me what the purpose of college was, or what grad school was actually for.
I had no idea. I was told you needed to learn. You needed to get a degree. And, with that, you would get a good paying job. Little did I know it mattered what school you went to. It mattered who you went to school with. It mattered what zip code you came from, because my zip code was non-existent. No one told me the truth in college or grad school, because it was not the plan of those in power to equip me for a job. There was no job. I didn’t need to network because I had no shot. The jobs would go to those who already had money, already had influence, who were born to privilege.
The real plot was to separate me from the little bit of money I had. Worse than that, since I didn’t actually have any money, they wanted to separate me from the money I hadn’t even earned yet!
And the solution is not free college. That is a joke. This will only render college as worthless as the diploma. Then it will only matter where you’re from, who you’re born to, and what your zip code is. Instead of everyone receiving an education and a degree, everyone will receive a worthless piece of paper.
Don’t bother networking. You’re just wasting your time.
The Realities of Research
The reality is, and this was made pretty clear in the book, getting a PhD is a game. It’s a game for faculty, for administrators, for those who have the jobs you want and for the students who are trying to get ahead.
And a game I’m not interested in. Not in the least. I learned this pretty quickly my second semester of grad school. I didn’t want to play a game. I wanted to learn something. I wanted to ask questions. I wanted to explore the body of knowledge we have before us.
But, there are questions you can’t ask. There are statements you can’t make in academia. You have to play the game and if you’re not willing to do that, you’re gone.
Thankfully, I now have better teachers. It took me awhile to de-program myself from the machine. In fact, it took a divorce and being homeless living in a broken down van before I realized the crap people pass off as society, and how everything is pretty much rigged against you and the system wants you passive, compliant and enslaved.
I first found, through my own deprogramming, real teachers in the third century Egypt. The Desert Fathers. The hermitic expression of a faith that predates the modern Christian religion that itself is nothing but a self-deluded game. Then I found a teacher in Joe Dominquez, who showed me minimalism is the escape from the system. And then a teacher in Thoreau, who taught me the wilderness is the escape. And then Socrates, who taught me emptiness and simplicity are sacred and the capitalist ideal is broken.
Have you noticed I haven’t mentioned the PhD Uncommon book much if at all in this review? It’s because there isn’t much to mention. I went back and reviewed my notes and realized the bulk of them were notes about other things I thought of while reading the book instead of actual notes from the book.
There’s really no substance there. Especially not for the independent researcher (not that the author ever advertised such). It was mostly a record of the author’s specific process in the hard sciences as he worked through his dissertation.
That’s fine and good, but the book really seems to work more as an advertisement for his subsequent PhD mentoring business than how to conduct effective research. It’s great he went through his defense and had no corrections. It’s great that he got a book published about his experience. It’s also great that he chose not to continue in academia, but went out on his own and is teaching other people how to get through academia.
But it just serves, in the end, to support my personal theory, that college and grad school – the entire educational system – is nothing other than a manufactured system of indoctrination to keep the masses in check, while the rich and wealthy and elite continue distancing themselves from the commoners.
I do not support what is happening in the streets today in America or around the world. But, I can’t say I’m all too surprised to see it. And, of course, the likelihood that rioting and protests will accomplish anything is very, very slim. The ruling class will simply do what they do best, scam, swindle, and placate, and the masses will bow the knee to whatever knew carrot their kings and queens hoist up before them to worship. It is the way of the world. It is human nature.
But, as for me, I will continue down this road I’m already on. Taking advice from Socrates and Thoreau and those still quiet hermit monks from the desert.
Until my next assignment….
Please consider supporting my writing, my unschooled studies, and my hermitic lifestyle by purchasing one or more of my books. I’m not supported by academia or have a lucrative corporate job – I’m just a mystical modern-day hermit trying to live out the life I believe God has called me to. So, any support you choose to provide is GREATLY appreciated.
Excerpt from Our Daughter:
“Okay, mom,” Randy said.
“You behave yourself and be nice. You’re lucky to have company while you wait for the doctors.”
The woman turned and started back the way she came.
“The nurse said it would be twenty or thirty more minutes, so we’ll eat quick and be back up here before they take you in, okay?”
“Sorry for him,” the woman said to Katie as she walked by.
As the woman left, Katie noticed the boy moving around again on the bed. Before she realized what was happening, the tiny lump disappeared and she could hear the faint sound of bare hands and feet on the tile floor.
He was low crawling under the beds toward her.
A moment later, Randy popped his head out from under the nearest hospital bed, craning his neck around to look up at her.
“Hello, there,” Katie said.
Randy disappeared back under the bed, the bed sheet draping down almost to the floor. Katie could still see three little fingers pressed to the tile.
“What are you here for?” Katie asked, readjusting her seat in the chair, trying to get the ache in her chest to lessen.
For whatever reason, the wheelchair was really uncomfortable.
“Why are – ”
Randy’s voice trailed off for a moment as he looked around.
“Why are you here?”
“I’m getting my leg fixed,” Katie said. “See?”
Randy poked his head back out from under the bed and looked at the leg she was pointing to.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“The doctor said it’s broken,” Katie said. “Shattered.”
“Can you feel it?” Randy asked, able to stay out from his hiding place.
“I can feel it, but it’s not too bad,” Katie said, then tapped the IV in her arm. “This thing is giving me medicine of some kind for the pain. At least that’s what the nurses said.”
“Why are you – ”
Randy stopped mid-sentence.
He scooted out from under the bed entirely and slowly crept over to her on all fours.
“What are you, some kind of spider?” Katie asked, giggling a little.
“What are you?” Randy echoed.
He was now only about a foot away from her chair and sat there, his legs folded up under him, gawking up at her.
“What are you staring at me for?”
“I’ve never – ”
Randy put out a hesitant hand and ever so gently touched her arm.
“Are you some kind of ghost?”
He looked around again.
“Are you – ”
He leaned in, talking in a whisper.
“Are you dead?”
A nurse came around the corner and stopped abruptly, spotting the empty bed in the far corner where Randy should have been.
“Randy Andrews,” the nurse said, her hands now on her hips. “You get right back into the bed and you stop playing around, please. They are ready for you in surgery.”
Katie watched as Randy scrambled on all fours under the beds and back up onto his, pulling the sheet back over top of himself again.
She started to ask him about his question, but couldn’t get the words out before his parents appeared at the door.
Katie sat there quietly, watching Randy stare back at her from under his sheet. She glanced over at his parents and the nurse, noticed Randy’s dad had no hair on the top of his head.
Are you dead?
What kind of question was that?
The snap of the wheel locks being disengaged on Randy’s hospital bed jarred Katie out of the confusion she was in.
The doctor she’d first seen was now at the door, waiting for Randy.
He was his surgeon.
They wheeled Randy out of the room, his parents following right behind, disappearing to the left, heading for his operating room.
The pre-op room was empty again.
Are you dead?
What kind of crazy question was that?
The nurse came back through the double doors.
“It won’t be long now,” she said.
Katie tried not to think about the dull ache growing just behind her sternum.
The nurse disappeared around the corner as Katie watched the double doors to the operating rooms slowly shut.
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