Questions on Academia

 Posted by on 9 July 2010 at 7:00 am  Academia, FormSpring
Jul 092010

Some FormSpring Questions and Answers on academia:

Congrats, you’ve earned a phd, now i’d like to ask: Couldn’t you have gained the same level of understanding by simply reading a series of books and performing exercises in said books with out interacting with professors and paying exorbitantly high fees?

In some respects, I could have learned far more on my own. I could have spent more time reading classic texts, for example.

However, some aspects of philosophy are part of an oral tradition, so that I definitely benefited from classes. Part of that oral tradition is methodology; that’s a mixed bag. More important is knowing the seminal texts and standard interpretations thereof. You can’t rely on secondary sources for that, as they almost always suck. Also, I had to take classes to get feedback from professors in class and on papers. Undoubtedly, I matured as a philosopher because of that.

Also, you don’t have “exercises” in philosophy books like you would in mathematics. You read, talk, and then write papers. You need guidance and feedback from a knowledgeable person on that. You can’t check your answers in the back of the text.

Also, graduate school was cheap for me, because CU Boulder is a state school. Mostly though, I paid no tuition because I was working as a TA, instructor, or on fellowship. (That’s standard.)

Was changing careers and getting the degree worth it? Would you recommend it to someone else?

It was definitely worth it to me, but the process was also grueling like nothing else I’ve ever done. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone else without knowing the particulars of their situation.

Were you surprised by the other academics you discovered at College? I went in expecting them all to be monsters, and while most hold (to some degree or another) laughable beliefs, they were friendly, engaging people, willing to listen to a good argument.

Yes, I liked most of my professors in grad school, as well as the graduate students. (Some of the die-hard feminists were an exception.) I was somewhat surprised by that, but not entirely, as my undergraduate experience in philosophy at WashU was quite good too.

Based on your knowledge and experience, would it be possible for a student to bypass formal undergraduacy and apply directly to a graduate program, assuming he had all of the intellectual capacities to do so, and have a chance in hell of being accepted?

He would have no chance of being accepted. If a person is that smart and super-educated, he should be able to skip grades of high school, as well as years of college. By doing that, he could enter graduate school at age 18 or so.

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