triage, money, teaching - what is important

E. Wijsman wijsman at
Sun Sep 7 15:11:02 EST 1997

I just wanted to make a couple more comments on this thread.  (Sorry - I
am slow - life has been too busy lately for much newsgroup participation).

In response to Sarah Boomer - I would argue that a PhD is a degree that
shows your ability to ask independent, scholarly, questions, and to come
up with data, arguements, or whatever your particular field uses as
evidence to answer your questions.  In science that usually means
publishable research.  I do not mean to imply that this means a zillion
publications, so no, I don't think that this implies that the only thing
(long term) which is considered to be relevant is a long publication list.
But I do think that your ability to do research is what the degree means,
in pretty much any field which gives it.  Unlike the bachelor's or
master's degree, which come in both the "arts" and the "sciences" flavor,
there is only one PhD to cover all scholarly fields.  (There is also the
doctorate of fine arts, but that involves usually a *somewhat* different
kind of activity - creative, but not necessarily involving "proof" of some
sort).  If you have a bachelor's (master's) degree, you can usually get
another one in a different field since these are degrees certifying some
sort of "content knowledge".  But if you have a PhD, most institutions
won't give you a second one in a different field because what you have
already done by earning the first PhD is to demonstrate your ability to
ask and answer the above-mentioned independent questions. In other words,
the PhD demonstrates your ability to carry out a certain, very high level,
*process*, while a BS or MS demonstrates a certain level of knowledge of a
subject matter. 

Some, but not all, departments suggest or require that students get
teaching experience as part of the PhD training.  This is not universal,
but occurs where (a) there is a shortage of teaching manpower in a
department, (b) there is a shortage of support for students, or (c) there
is the recognition that lots of PhD graduates eventually earn their living
by teaching at a university or college.  This does not mean that teaching
necessarily has anything to do with the core PhD training, but is just a
pragmatic reflection of reality (although I certainly learned a lot by
teaching, so I hardly think it is a waste of time).  Except where teaching
is required, remember that there is no *requirement* that one accepts a TA
or RAship as part of your training!  If you happen to be independently
wealthy, or have a good outside job you can pay the tuition fees (which
certainly gets done in some fields which don't have the sort of support
we are used to in science).

Ellen M. Wijsman			Express mail address:
Research Professor			1914 N 34th St., suite 209
Div. of Medical Genetics and		Seattle, WA   98103
Dept. Biostatistics 			(Note:  do not mention the
BOX 357720, University of Washington 	 Univ. of Washington, and
Seattle, WA   98195-7720		 use this address only for	
phone:  (206) 543-8987			 express mail)
fax:    (206) 616-1973			email:  wijsman at

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