So, this is the week when all of the hard work, by so many students is rewarded with the award of degree certificates. Proud parents, siblings and partners watch on as graduands receive their degrees, whilst draped in regalia that most will never wear again. In a blaze of colour Bachelors, Masters and PhD degrees are awarded; the paperwork that specifies courses taken, research done and mission accomplished. Hang on, what exactly is the mission that has been accomplished?
Does the degree obtained provide a ticket to employment? (Perhaps in a small number of cases ‘yes’, but in many cases ‘no’.)
Does the degree obtained provide a marker of knowledge/skills/abilities?
Is the degree obtained a sample of commodified education?
One thing a degree is not, is a marker of capability/employability that demarcates the degree holder from their peer group. Degrees are all but a right of passage, whether they be Bachelors or Masters. Indeed PhDs are becoming increasingly common. Hardly, surprising then that when I recently mentioned to someone that I had come across a cohort of people who were training to become Airline pilots surprise was expressed that they did not evidence a degree between the lot of them. Indeed the majority of the cohort were aged 18/19. How could this be? People training to become Airline pilots, a well-paid, respected, high status profession without the need for a degree?
Trainee Airline pilots need the aptitude, skill set and commitment to develop into professional pilots. They go through tough practical training and even tougher book based learning. They need significant commitment and capability to get through the course (and of course access to about £140,000).
Your degree represents whatever you want it to, it is up to you to gain from it what you want – be that academic currency, evidence of learning, the keys to a job or profession or anything else. Meantime please do enjoy the moment of accomplishment when you learn that you have your PhD, and can don your cap and gown and a flattering day of being the focus of attention to whose who supported you along the way.