The Way We Train Ph.D.s Drapes A Large, Cold, Wet Blanket Over Our Ability to Innovate Higher Education Infrastructure
Expecting a group of highly educated, culturally fixed Ph.Ds who are excellent researchers to run their own operation may have been fine 80 years ago when educational operations were run, staffed, and filled with very select collegiums of mainly white men. Today, nimbleness in the back end infrastructure for most higher education operations seems to be stuck with the operating rubrics circa 1979. Shared governance is a long standing concept and working model, but the way we train Ph.D.s to be Ph.D.s is antithetical to generating the magical nexus and synergy between efficiency and effectiveness within the organization itself.
The process of training highly qualified researchers works. Ph.D.s have been generating new knowledge and inventing new technology, well, for a very long time. However, the indoctrination of Ph.Ds - training them to be skeptics as well as good methodological research hounds - disables our ability to advance the back-end infrastructure, and some front line practices (such as the common lecture format for delivery of education).
I've known and know many Ph.Ds. A high percentage of them couldn't manage their way out of a paper bag. Don't get me wrong. These are some fantastically smart individuals, but they lack the street smarts to innovate in a way that isn't staid and overly burdened with the rhetoric justified by the myriad overarching disciplinary requirements that are generally rigid, and designed to accept only rigorously researched, empirically based advancements.
Also, at the larger research institutions that constitute the majority of Ph.D.s benevolently delivered every graduation cycle, rarely provide examples of innovative teaching that could improve the pedagogy in a much swifter fashion. My alma mater is not excluded. While I did receive a fantastic education and great training in research methodologies, completely absent from my training was any experiential or experimental teaching. I was, effectively, left to my own devices.
- Long standing tradition of acculturation
- Years of disciplinary isomorphic practices
- Lack of any managerial training
- Lack of much teaching experience that involves true innovative teaching styles
- An unwillingness of the industry to practice what it researches
I've been mulling this particular barrier over for a great long while. It's not fully formed, but I know there is something to it. The bigger question is, am I the only one thinking this? Am I crazy for suggesting this? And lastly, what's the real solution, as I believe that this is the front-end cause to what's really wrong with higher education as well as most every other educational operation out there.
Aaron, I was particularly interested in this topic and in the discussion surrounding it here. You make valid points about the need to reconfiguration. I was asked to address this topic recently in an annual keynote for the University of Kingston in Jamaica and I posted my 2-bits on a few considerations from where I sit here. http://www.brainleadersandlearners.com/multiple-intelligences/higher-edu...
In addition I will be helping to create a new online MBA program soon, because I wonderful young man I taught leadership to in his master program - went on to do a PhD and is now chair of the leadership program. It takes discourse like the exchange here, and it takes many talents to come together to make change happen in ways that are both meaningful and sustainable. Thanks for raising this topic and I’d love to see you add to it as you continue to reflect on the problems with solutions in mind! Think of the impact to an innovation generation, Aaron!
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I'm not following your logic and line of query. Let me see if I get you. My barrier is related to Ph.D.s integration into the postsecondary knowledge industrial complex known commonly as Higher Education. It's these enterprises to which I specifically refer, not management in general. I meant to suggest not that there are flaws with Ph.D. training more than I wanted to suggest that the way we train PhD.s make them ill equipped to innovate and foster management breakthroughs in the higher ed industry.
Based on the remainder of your build suggestion, either I made my points less plain, or you misinterpreted my meaning. Hopefully the above paragraph clarifies my view here. I wasn’t making the case that the Ph.D. is to be tied directly or indirectly to innovation, but suggest that Ph.D. training puts a damper on it (at least when it comes to management in higher education operations). That Ph.D.s innovate or can innovate isn’t the question, as some Ph.Ds are plowing some seriously fertile ground in a lot of scientific ways. In terms of management of their own operations, they are not open to change, it seems.
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Raj, thanks for adding your two or three cents. I've often said this, and because I have a Ph.D. I'm often the first to call the kettle black: Simply because you have a Ph.D. does not mean you are not a moron, and in fact, it may prove the point. I have four diplomas from some very good schools, but I know MBAs (people with two diplomas max) who make 4 and 10 times more than I do. Who's the fool?
Even so, the faculty lifestyle on many college campuses is savory and irresistible, which is why faculty members are first to jump in front of the change train to stop it. What's not to love about a two course per semester load (even better if there is only one prep) and office hours that are pliable? We all make the trade off to live the lifestyle, if you can get the gig (which may lead me to another barrier - the academic Catch 22 - how to get a research agenda going when you need a faculty job to activate one, but you can't get a faculty gig unless you have an active research agenda, but I digress).
Mat - thanks or your thoughtful points. I'll have to mull over your point three as it's very provocative. You may be on to something there. I'm very interested in your new framework. I've always said that if I were college president, I could possibly save about 30% in operating costs of a University without sacrificing jobs by doing two things: a) cutting out the bureaucratic waste, and b) demanding that people perform for the full 40hours per week they are required to work. Of course, this will probably get me pitch forks and torches at my door. I once had a colleague call me dangerous - as if I were a wolf with sheepskins on. I took it as a complement. But with the continuously inflating Higher Education bubble, it has to burst at some point, and your framework may rescue the operation.
That you are executing your new framework at for-profit settings is problematic for me as the for-profit higher education industry is using ethically flawed fiscal model akin to the check cashing centers that exploit the poor by charging them exhorbinant amounts to access their own money. Don't know if you have seen the Frontline episode titled "College, Inc," but they have a point. But I digress. What's the link to your framework? It's time to shed the light of day on it. I'm not afraid to see it.
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I have read your hack with the following criteria in mind:
- The need is to evolve out of Command & Control. Does the hack define an alternative?
- The alternative must be compelling. It must recognize the need to overcome the constraints of time, energy and motivation.
- An alternative without the use of technology is unlikely to succeed.
- The alternative must create a constructive collective by intrinsic means, i.e., desist from 'brain-washing' personnel for discipline and organization.
Your barrier highlights the problem with PhD training. I could not quite understand how the problem is related to the evolution of Management in general for raising innovation, and migration away from the Command & Control system in particular for enthusing the participation of personnel.
It is possible you see PhD's as potentially heavy contributors to innovation. I wish to make the following points:
- With all their focus and Research in an area of activity PhD's can at most have a link with invention. Innovation is a vastly different animal. It usually is a melding of multiple inventions brought together by a science. Even for inventions, Development is required. Perhaps the focus of a PhD program is pure Research, i.e., creation of Knowledge, and not its application.
- I do not think we can design education qualifications for innovation. Attitude, commitment and devotion are rather important considerations which cannot be incorporated in a degree. On the contrary, perhaps institutions can take on the responsibility of granting academic recognition to established innovators. This will enhance the exploitation of their expertise.
- I also do not think we should try to make a category like the PhD responsible for progressing innovation. They will presumably be paid for this expectation. This implies a lower expectation of innovation from the others. Not only would that be unhealthy but also insulting and rather unrealistic.
In conclusion it appears much more than just musing is needed to review the PhD program and the case to tie its future with innovation is rather weak.
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I am not an authority - only a dilletante who enjoys the possible and emergence of Reality.
Your barrier made sense. The institution of PhDs has been around for too long to smell of roses. There is something very mechanical about it now as though it is not meant to be intelligent. It is possible the thought invested was pioneering for an age that is now past. What time has left us is a cog in a wheel.
Take the concept of Knowledge Management for instance. It was exciting in the 90s era when frontiers were expanding in multiple directions. Anything seemed possible with technology including the elimination of mistakes: if human error could be tagged heaven would follow. It did not, though possibly 80% of the MNCs invested in the concept. Time taught that first there was the concept of Team Learning that had to be realized and then personnel had to develop the skill of going beyond the mistake to understanding its Symptoms and finally tracking back - often in time - to the Root Cause. Signposts created by Patterns helped in the tracking. Unfortunately, all this application of Knowledge is complex to understand in a trice. Managements find it easier to follow the fad of Knowledge Management. There is safety in numbers and in doing the obvious. It is much easier to swat the fly that zings about and get respite for a few minutes than analyze what attracted it and remove the cause.
I conclude: PhD is an easy starting point for catching a particular kind of talent. The concept may not imply progress in a particular direction as you probably wish it to but it does fit into the way of things. It may be waste of an excellent opportunity but wheels turn and everyone is happy.
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Thanks for posting this. You have very valid points. Let me add a few things to reiterate what you said.
1. Every degree has its place. In his book, Henry Mintzberg showcased that MBA programs don't create managers. But neither do PhD programs. Yet, we appoint PhDs to run universities. PhDs shouldn't run universities. They should do research, which is what their degrees are designed for and what they are trained to do.
2. PhD is a degree in philosophy. PhDs know how to come up with ideas but don't know how to implement them. After all, philosophy is about talking, not implementation.
3. Because the PhD program relies heavily on research based on hard data, it draws lots of extremely detail oriented people. Those who aren't detail oriented, either drop out of their programs, fail, or stretch as much as they can to become detail oriented. As the Kirkton Adaptive Innovative Inventory states, people can either be detail oriented or innovative, but not both. This implies that PhDs simply can't be innovative.
Our educational system is a great living proof of what you are talking about. My research shows that students forget 80% of what they learn in school and can only apply less than half of what they do remember. There are techniques to overcome these problems. These techniques have existed for fifty years. Yet, schools don't want to implement them. Why bother changing if students believe in the status quo?
We all like to be copycats. Harvard created a system we use today. Back than it didn't matter. People believed so much in the Harvard brand that no one considered the effectiveness of Harvard's model. Because everyone took Harvard for granted, other universities copied Harvard and run their programs the same way. Now, 100 years later, no one wants to change.
Here's something interesting... I put together a framework that teaches universities how to be more effective. I pitched this framework to a dozen or so universities. When I talk to admissions people (who have no PhDs), they love the idea and are thankful that someone finally put something together than makes their product (education) meaningful. They all understand that they "sell" services with little or no value. However, when I talk to professors, deans, or people that design programs, they push back with all kinds of excuses for why they can't implement my framework. The most typical excuse is that their university is too bureaucratic or the fact that their brand already sells and they have no reason to change. One person who happened to be a program director in charge of a Master's program in a tier-1 business school told me that he hopes no one ever finds out about my framework. He further asked that I never contact anyone in his school again. Let me re-phrase the meaning of what he said: "I know our program sucks, but I am happy no one knows this besides you and we'll make sure no one ever finds out."
I think the reason this is true is because universities are run by PhDs. If we were to appoint business people with P&L responsibilities, they would reinvent the entire industry once every decade, just like I am trying to reinvent it right now.
BTW, a thought crossed my mind that maybe professors don't talk to me because they think my framework is fluff. Fortunately corporate universities are interested in talking to me, which is yet another proof that you need the right people to take charge of learning.
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