21st Sep 2012Posted in: Blog 0
In Defense of Not Having a Ph.D
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
I have a bunch of degrees. A B.A in psychology, a B.A in fine arts, a B.A in education (in progress) and a Master's degree in Art Therapy. When you put all my degrees together you get ba, ba, ba, ma and you sound like my 9 month old son or a sheep maybe. I don't tell you all this so you'll think i am genius but i tell you because i want you to know why i don't have a Ph.D. I know you were thinking it. I know you were saying to yourself, well why didn't you just get a Ph.D and command a higher salary and more respect? After all, Ph.D's are at the height of the decision making hierarchy of our knowledge based economy.  Ph.D's stand at the commanding heights of our scientific thought and cultivate our culture through education in universities where they have some of the best employment conditions available. So why am i looking to devote 14 years to post secondary education just so i can call myself a Master of Arts? On the surface, an M.A is so much smaller than a Ph.D. When both degrees are sitting in a room, we expect and in fact encourage the latter to hold the talking stick just a little more. We address questions and eye contact to the latter with increased frequency and when they answer, we expect their words to be the closest approximation of the truth possible. So why would i not just put in the hours, get the Ph.D in art or psychology or art therapy or education or something like that? Well here is the answer: I am a generalist. Most art therapists are. We take bits from the arts and bits from psychology and like a bunch of artists, we create a new field of understanding out of the mix. Ph.D's are specialists. They know a lot about one thing, say biology, neurology, mathematics, physics etc. Generalists know significantly less about each of a more diverse cross section of subjects. The amount of study and years of education may be the same at the end of it all but the specialist and the generalist have very different kinds of knowledge. When a bunch of specialists are in a room together, i suppose they can share knowledge and derive some new understanding out of the pool. For example technologists can  join up with pretty much any other specialist and find novel solutions to problems. X-rays and CAT scans are a perfect example of what happens when a specialist in technology hooks up with a specialist of medicine. The only areas where it seems less likely to find specialists are to be found in the social so called sciences. Sure  psychologists have Ph.D's but that is usually in a given area such as research, cognitive behavioural, applied or something like that. They are not generalists in the study of human behaviour as far as i can tell. They do not necessarily understand culture and the role of art in human evolution. Cognitive behavioural specialists do not necessarily understand psychodynamics and so on. In fact, the human condition seems so diverse and unique to each person that i don't believe we have any specialists in the study of that particular area. This is why the term social science is a bit of a misnomer. What is social is not likely to be science. Although, maybe some day...

We inherently conclude that the specialist is bringing something extra to the table when we need an answer to a serious question. When we are preoccupied with a medical issue, we tend to want a specialist for that. When our cars break down, we don't want to see a guy who knows a little about cars and a little about Greek and a little about history. No, we want to see a mechanic and hopefully one who is specialized with the exact make and model of car we are driving. However, when that which we seek concerns us all, then we may require the services of generalists. We may wish to consult people who have experience across a broader ranger of areas because they are ultimately specialists of experience. We don't live as specialists in our day to day lives. We adapt and learn as we evolve and we end up knowing a bit about a great many things by the time we are done on this earth. Generalists approach their education in this manner as well and as a result, they may be best suited to addressing certain kinds of issues related to our spiritual or psychological human  conditions.

The idea that we value the specialist over the generalist is not new. In fact, we can sometimes here the saying that generalists are ''jacks of all trades but masters of none''. There was a time when we greatly valued a generalist like Socrates because he spent time thinking about many things and in doing this, excelled at quite a few of them. So, before this post runs on too long, let me say that i plan to continue studying so long as academia has something to teach me. If necessary, i will be the person with the greatest number of the least significant levels of degrees that you know. At a time when we may be moving to understand the complexity and inter relatedness of the the problems we face, we may find ourselves turning to generalists ever more. Art therapists may be betting the farm on it. I know I am.

Leave a Reply