Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Perfection Stereotypes of PhD Students and Grads

"If you don't make mistakes, you're not working on hard enough problems.  And that's a big mistake."
Frank Wikzek, American physicist (1951 - )

I've made more mistakes than anyone has known to man.  So, what am I doing with a PhD? In my opinion, PhDs are like everyone else. They are not superheroes.  Most of them were not born prodigies,  nor are they currently searching for the cure for cancer while simultaneously finishing up their advanced level sudoku puzzle.  No, PhDs are individuals with imperfections.  And while I admit, I make mistakes, the stereotype that is hoisted upon us fellow PhDs is that of an individual who is perfect.

Working toward a PhD or having one, automatically has society pigeonholing you into the perfection stereotype.  You are now lifted up into an academic ivory tower of faultlessness.  This faux persona that I was bestowed was knocked down in this past year when I recognized the many mistakes I had made within my dissertation, which towards the end of my program, I revised many, many times.   This all but highlights a certain reality that most people aren't aware of:  PhDs make mistakes, they aren't perfect, and all of them have committed acts of "imperfection" from time to time.  Ask a PhD if they have ever made a mistake, and many will tell you that they have.

PhDs are specialists however, and that's where they should be respected, within their particular area of study. When I was an undergraduate in college, I often was upset when other classmates of mine disrespected professors while in class or behind their backs.  Sure, these professors may not be the best or most interesting speakers, but they took the time and worked they way up to become an expert within their field.  That aspect should be respected to say the least.

Overall, if you are pursuing a PhD, please please please don't think you have to be all-knowing, all-confident, or "perfect."  All you need is a passion for your subject area, the willingness to work hard, and the want to share your love of the topic with the rest of the world.  That I believe deserves  the most respect out of everything.

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