Professors Too Incompetent to Know They’re Incompetent

There are some things in life that I just have difficulty wrapping my brain around, and one of those is how some people can be so incompetent that they don’t know they’re incompetent.

Let’s take the example of people earning doctorates. You’d think that would be a pretty select crowd, right?

From 1960 – 69, about 16,ooo Ph.D.’s were awarded  annually in the United States

From 1990-99, there were about 40,000 annual Ph.D graduates.

That seems like a pretty steep jump in 30 years, but maybe science, technology, etc. was increasing at a rapid rate, we were in a race to space, make up whatever explanation you want because, are you ready for this  …. in 2013, we awarded over 125% of the number of degrees a mere 14 years ago- and  that is following on pretty steep trends up to that decade.

There has been a dramatic increase in the number of institutions awarding doctorates.

So, here is a question for you …. who are the people educating all of these doctoral students?

At the risk of sounding like an old curmudgeon, even more than usual, I’d like to point out that it used to be that a professor supervised only a few doctoral students at a time. You worked closely with that person on your research for a year or two. Prior to that, you had 3-5 years of coursework, often with only a dozen or fewer students in a class. When I enrolled in the doctoral program, I had to agree not to work more than 20 hours a week during the term because being a doctoral student was a full-time job.  All but two of my statistics courses were six hours a week, a three-hour lecture and a three-hour lab. One of the two that didn’t have a lab, structural equation modeling, you were just expected to spend that lab time figuring it out on your own, and believe me, it took more than an extra three hours.

When I look at what doctoral students are required to know in most institutions, I wonder – who is going to replace the people who are retiring?

If someone poses a statistical problem to me – say, determining whether three groups receiving different treatments improved from pretest to post-test, I can perform all of the steps required to answer the problem – pose the relevant hypotheses and post hoc tests, evaluate the reliability and validity of the measures used, clean the data in preparation for analysis. Not only can I lay out the research design and necessary steps, but I can code it, in SAS preferably but in SPSS or Stata if someone prefers. Everyone I knew in graduate school was expected to be able to do this, it wasn’t the special AnnMaria program.

Now, many people use consultants. I have friends that make their living full time consulting on dissertations for doctoral students.

This leads me to the question, “What are their advisors doing if these students need a consultant?”

Isn’t that what your professors in your program are supposed to be doing, consulting with you?

The fact is that the vast majority of professors now are adjuncts, teaching a course here or there. I’m not bashing adjuncts per se. I teach as an adjunct now and then myself, and it is fine if you need a course on say, programming or statistics, but if that is all you get, is courses taught by someone tangentially tied to the university, you are missing out on the in-depth research and study that used to be required for a Ph.D.

The really alarming thing to me is that now we have whole waves of students who are being educated by people who don’t know any other system. So, we have people who cannot conduct a complete research project on their own, who have only vague concepts of what a ‘mixed model’ is – and they are teaching doctoral students!  Now, if you are in French literature or something, maybe that’s cool and mixed models aren’t very applicable. That’s not my point.

My point is this whole cutting costs by reducing full-time faculty to a tiny fraction has resulted in people who are poorly educated and don’t even know it! They don’t know what they don’t know and now they are passing their ignorance on to the next generation.

I came out of my Ph.D. program knowing one hell of a lot, simply because, if I wanted to graduate, there was no other option. The University of California didn’t give a damn if I had three kids (I did), or needed to work (I did) or that it costs one hell of a lot to provide that level of individual supervision (it did). The powers that be figured you needed this body of knowledge to get a Ph.D. and that was that. And now, that isn’t that. That worries me.

 

local_offerevent_note March 26, 2016

account_box AnnMaria De Mars

5 thoughts on “Professors Too Incompetent to Know They’re Incompetent”

  • I wish you would post this on FaceBook. I come from a highly educated family & I had no clue this was happening (or not happening). People need to be made aware.

  • The 16,284 number from the paper referenced is the “Average Number of PhDs Awarded Annually” and not the total number of PhDs awarded annually. *phew* It’s still a big increase to the number awarded in 2013, but at least it wasn’t as many doctorates as awarded in an entire decade.

  • In our department adjuncts/visitors essentially only teach lower division undergraduate courses. Only full time professors and the occasional recently-retired-but-still-active-professor teach graduate courses.

    I agree that the prevalence of adjuncts/visitors likely diminishes the quality of the education the undergraduates receive, but in our department, at least, it hasn’t affected the graduate students.

  • When I was an undergraduate, many years ago, about the only courses taught by adjuncts – who were almost always doctoral students – were lower division courses. Now, I know university departments, some at quite well-respected universities, that have no more than one or two full-time faculty. Most of their courses are taught by adjuncts and most committee members are adjuncts. It’s much cheaper for the universities and they are riding on the reputations built decades earlier. What concerns me is that students don’t know any better and don’t realize they are getting a substandard education. Well, maybe substandard is the wrong word, since this appears to be the new standard.

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