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October 12, 2014 issue
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A Second Look at our PhD


A report from a developing country should alarm college professors: only 29% of its PhD holders had (co)authored journal articles and/or books according to the study of Wamala and Ssembatya (2013). This research performance among the highly qualified faculty members of colleges and universities reflects many similar milieus (Wamala and Ssembatya, 2013) which, the author believes, include own. I know of many doctors in different fields who- after earning the degree- only added a title to their sleeves but do not show concrete proofs of becoming better researchers or mentors. In one occasion, a doctor even asked me (a non-doctor at that time) to take him as co-author in a study where he expected that I will write the proposal so he can just have a free ride. That proposal for collaboration was too good for one party; of course I did not agree.

Like the case of many doctors, he did not author a single study after his dissertation. I wonder why the higher degree did not give him enough confidence in research. That experience is not isolated; I also see many other PhD faculty members who do not make waves after the degree when they are expected to be more productive in terms of publications in peer-reviewed journals. This confirms Jeremy Garwood's notion that the higher degree does not necessarily make a better academician. University leaders, however, mostly give a high regard for such doctors; although the probability is that the kind of PhD mostly earned from a local university has become, in many cases, a pony equivalent to real competence. These PhD holders who are not research-productive after the degree become neat containers of books and journals who cannot make an independent inquiry of their own. As universities give them teaching assignments in the graduate school, the PhD, then, has become a factory of academic artefacts multiplying the same scripts hallowed by tradition: their students after graduation become like them-they have nothing to write home about. Have we ever wondered why even with hundreds of doctors in universities, publication in the international level is quite rare? Many of the higher degree holders seem less incisive and productive than we expect and, maybe, one should look at any PhD as a convenient escape from the truth. Dupe me, should one believe that the degree itself makes a scholar or is already scholarship per se.

Even with reported chicanery in the process of earning the hotly-chased degree, I have observed that doctors still climbed the leadership pedestals so fast even in the setting where one can just hire a company in my previous milieu-Leganes, Iloilo; or a “henchman” somewhere with a hugger-mugger, to make their dissertations. University leaders disregard the short-cut made by those whom they elevate after earning the degree: they (controversial doctors) easily prepared a panel defense of their dissertations from works not made by the supposed doctoral students. On the other hand, university administrators continue to turn a blind eye to such odyssey of mad aspirants. If this is a mere hearsay, it would still disturb the community of academics who know that the alternative hypotheses to real performance are not yet eliminated- they are still at large, sneering. With the culture of charting the odyssey for the tarnished toga, we do not anymore wonder why a company offering a dissertation-for-a-fee services in Iloilo has continued to prosper for more than a decade. Believe it or not, ghost writers for dissertations seem to flourish everywhere, and I believe such henchmen could operate in Bohol.

Suppose the doctors who earned their degrees locally really wrote their dissertations, does this give them a ticket of esteem among colleagues? Maybe the less discerning ones may do the honors, but many brilliant professors know that dissertation outputs alone do not carry a ton. Note that they (dissertations) are for neophyte training in research. Many, after hurdling them, do not conduct researches outside the academic requirements. Lings (2011) emphasized in the book Research Methods in Management: …it is important to remember that they (dissertations) are of uncertain quality. For example, you do not know if the student who wrote the thesis did a good job or not; after all, you don't get the examiner's report on it. Also, most research degrees are seen as an apprenticeship piece, they will often contain mistakes… If many doctors cannot show proofs of productivity after the higher degree, is it not time to reflect: What is the value of locally obtained doctoral degrees? Since there is no convincing answer to this yet, the main criteria of performance for faculty members- research publications in refereed journals, and not any doctoral degree- remain the international standard for tenure and promotion of the academics which could have been applied by less discerning administrators. And I would like to underscore that they should be double-blind reviewed articles, not just published in journals run by the institutions where the PhD holders teach because schools, too, can be biased and politicized in terms of article selection.

Understand this truth: those who flaunt about having finished dissertations just learned the basics of kicking the ball; whereas, those who have published several times in reputable international refereed journals have competed in the Olympics. As I have discussed the PhD dilemma, we can begin to chart the course for our globally fledgling higher education with the help of the Commission on Higher Education, or celebrate like Hillary Clinton when asked about her achievements (personal communication, March 11, 2014): My proudest accomplishment in which I take the most pride, mostly because of the opposition it faced early on, you know… the remnants of prior situations and mindsets that were too narrowly focused in a manner whereby they may have overlooked the bigger picture… and I'm proud of that. Very proud. I would say that's a major accomplishment. In writing this article, the author declares that he does not have a conflict of interest. Lucell Larawan--a business management professor, cultural worker, and artist—was a main player of research in his erstwhile university. He received a Ph.D. in Social Science and Fine Arts (honoris-causa). He serves as editorial team member of the Journal of Finance and Bank Management, the Journal of Business Law and Ethics, and the International Journal of Social Sciences and Arts.

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