Doctor of Philosophy and Being the Bee

After switching offices this past year I am finally getting around to the more final details of sorting out what to do with what.  In a box with framed photos and other sundries in a place of semi-respect settled on top of a mid-sized file cabinet, I have my PhD diploma.  In looking at it the other day, I was reminded of a student comment after she saw it in my old office.  She said, “Wow I didn’t realize your doctorate was in Philosophy and not in Communication Sciences and Disorders.”  At the time I pointed out to her that PhD that the Ph in PhD stands for Philosophy but that it applies to study across a large number of fields leading to original research.  Ultimately it is a degree to prepare one to conduct research and is different from a medical degree, (MD or DO), an AuD (Doctorate of Audiology), or other professional doctorate.  I think my read of the student’s reaction was a mix of embarrassment and “well that’s the stupiest thing I’ve ever heard!”

Given that mixed reaction, and with the belief that when despite of very reasonable explanation something just doesn’t quite seem to track, I have been thinking about what it means to have a PhD and my role in research as someone who is also interested in direct clinical issues as well.  I’m not sure if I ever considered myself a philosopher.  What I know from Socrates is that confidence in knowledge was not generally related to wisdom.  My dabbling in philosophical readings and outside courses was always intellectually stimulating, but I wondered where I fit in within the realm of philosophy.  I had a piece of paper with the suggestion that I did fit in somewhere, so I explored the idea.

I have two quotes on my website that I think sum up my “philosophy” on the “Ph” in PhD for me.  These aren’t meant to be guidelines for anyone else.  They are just meant to help explain how I reconciled what was at the heart of my student’s question.  To what extent am I a philosopher?

The first quote is by Francis Bacon

“Those who have handled sciences have either been men of experiment or men of dogmas. The men of experiment are like the ant; they only collect and use; the reasoners resemble spiders, who make cobwebs out of their own substance. But the bee takes the middle course; it gathers its material from the flowers of the garden and of the field, but transforms and digests by a power of its own. Not unlike this is the true business of philosophy.”

I remember finding this quote after listening to a course in philosophy from the Teaching Company.  At the time I was relatively new in my research career and was interested in the history of Higher Education.  I liked Bacon for his zeal in challenging established models of thinking and tradition.  I think characteristically my goals “to change the world” involved what were in my mind novel approaches.  Beyond the challenge to tradition in Bacon’s writings, what I think I most liked about the quote was how it exemplified the kind of balance I was trying to achieve with my research.  I wanted something that was practical yet informed.  My friends comments (and even what I recalled were my own perspectives in graduate school) about the “Ivory Tower” were still fresh in my mind.  I resolved that I wouldn’t lose touch and become the reasoner spinning my cobwebs without application.  Similarly, I didn’t want to be the ant who coldly built up tiny pieces with no connection to people.  In the end I wanted to be the bee.  I wanted to be transformative.  I wanted my research to distill what I saw in the field (double meaning intended) with what I learned in my studies.  I don’t know the extent to which I have achieved that, but I suppose the fact that I am asking myself that is positive in the least.

I have another quote on my website.  It is a reminder to me to not take things too seriously…

“Mmmm unexplained bacon…” –Homer Simpson

In my pursuit of wisdom (see origins of word philosophy) there is discipline, deliberation, application and a reminder to slap your head and say D’Oh occasionally when you deserve or need it.

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