The path to a Ph.D.: Too much knowledge to fit social skills?

The path to becoming a college professor is a long, tumultuous road. It takes them through their fair share of hoops and challenges en route to gaining that coveted title in front of their name. Those who graduate from a university with a Ph.D. are no doubt considered a specialist in whatever particular field they chose to study.

Moreover, you would be hard-pressed to be able to outsmart them on any topic that falls under their academic specialty.

According to stats compiled by the National Science Foundation in a recent New York Times article, the average student takes 8.1 years to finish a doctorate degree, usually doing so at the median age of 33. The dropout rate of students who enter doctoral programs is roughly 50 percent, and those who do finish graduate, on average, with $50,000 in debt. When numbers like these stack up against a person, it truly is a great achievement to earn those initials in front of one’s name.

Make no mistake: I personally am indebted to many college professors for giving me direction and skills to succeed in the realm of academia. In all honesty, I have never had a professor at YSU that I have not enjoyed, and I am truly thankful for that.

However, I have heard stories from friends, family and acquaintances of professors who just don’t teach or who expect the students to be experts the first day they walk into the class.

A survey by the Higher Education Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles surveyed 1,883 college students across the nation and found that a 35 percent difference existed between what students expected and what professors actually delivered in the context of the class. Furthermore, professors scored the best on skills of being confident and rational, but were worst at being inspirational. Now, it is of no fault of the professor if he or she cannot inspire the students in a class because, let’s face it, some students do not intend to become scholars in areas such as American history.

Where I find the problem is when professors walk into a class, lecture like it is all business and treat every student in the classroom as a scholar of the subject. In the depths of the many years they spent burying their nose in the research needed to attain the coveted doctorate, they became fact machines but forgot how to make the material fun and engaging. The fault in my mind lies with the doctoral programs that seem to stress the research component so strongly, which, of course, is a major part of being an academic. Of course, as a college professor, you are in the business of serving college students, so why not teach that, too?

Now, don’t get me wrong; I have run across many amazing professors in my academic career, and I am confident that a majority of professors would fall under those definitions. Unfortunately, some of the professors who go out of their way to help their students and make their classes engaging and entertaining are put under pressure to produce research, which then requires teaching to take a back burner in some cases. Again, I’d like to reiterate that I realize publishing scholarly work is part of the job description and a requirement for any professor to keep his or her job at said university. Therefore, research is necessary and certainly not a bad thing by any means, but it should not be the number one priority of a college professor.

Professors are given opportunities for sabbaticals, where they are given time off from teaching duties to focus on their research. This is a noble and welcome way of providing faculty the ability to get research done while not taking away from their classes. It seems, though, that the pressure is always there on faculty, and this pressure is felt not just by the professor but also by his or her students.

It appears as if the best solution is for the world of academics to primarily put the student’s education first and, within that, allow the professors to focus on teaching rather than heavily on research. The time for heavy research can be had during sabbaticals and any other agreements that can be made between the faculty member and his or her department chair. As for the professors who care little about their students and just focus on their research, I’m sure the work they do is fascinating and well worth their time and resources. But, if that’s the case, they don’t belong in the classroom, teaching America’s youth. 

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