Ph.D. -- 10/29/06

I've thought about getting a Ph.D. a number of times during my life... in fact, I was enrolled in the English Ph.D. program at SUNY/Binghamton (which hadn't yet decided back in those days that "Binghamton University" sounded classier). I started in that program in 1970 (remember that date; it will come up again later in this entry).

I'd fled that program screaming two years later... well, not quite screaming, but I had decided that the program was not what I wanted and that I had made a mistake in applying there, so I climbed the fence and ran for the real world. (Well, it kind of felt that way.)

A decade or so later, after I had completed a master's degree there (in systems science) I again thought I was finished with graduate school. Silly me. Over the next quarter century I was to take graduate courses from three other universities (not to mention a variety of undergraduate and continuing education courses, plus, of course, a large number of corporate training courses in various technical areas).

Nancy and I took some grad courses together from Syracuse University. They had a classroom location in the Endicott, NY area because of the large number of IBMers in that area -- Nancy was working in IBM's Glendale Programming Laboratory at the time and I was one of the token non-IBMers taking Syracuse courses (I was with Link Flight Simulation at the time). The courses were master's level courses in the information systems managment area and I gave some serious thought to applying to their doctoral program. However, Link was exceedingly cheap about covering employee tuition costs and very, very rigid about adjusting schedules (the Syracuse courses we were taking were afternoon courses -- I had to leave work two hours early to attend them and had to immediately come back to work to make up those two hours the same day or charge them to vacation time -- but Nancy and most of the other IBMers in the classes were attending on company time. Money was a concern because Adam was in college at the time which didn't leave much room in the budget to pay the tuition at a private school like Syracuse. (Needless to say, this would be part-time enrollment; I was not some twenty-five year old single guy who could live on a graduate teaching assistant grant.) Should I also mention that most of the courses would be in Syracuse, a long commute from Binghamton during the average fifteen months of winter weather every year. (Okay, I exaggerate a little.). So, forget about Syracuse.

I had not considered the program at Binghamton even though we had completed our M.S. degrees there because I felt the interests of most of the faculty were either more towards engineering (actual hardware) or computer science (such as finite automata theory) -- but then they announced a computer doctorate in conjunction with the School of Management (the M.B.A. guys). That did sound interesting but then Nancy wanted to get a master's in education (which required that she cut back her hours at work because of things like student teaching) and then we began to think about moving from the Binghamton area.

For the past eleven years I have been living just a few miles from a university that has a number of graduate programs. I did take a graduate course in adult education from URI (ten years ago!) and liked both the course and the professor but the adult education program was only at a master's level. The Ph.D. in education program seemed to me to be designed for turning out future superintendents of schools (note to non-U.S. readers: that's the typical job title for the top position in most U.S. school systems). Besides which, I was doing too much business travel and would have missed too many classes. Then, when I switched over into my current job role and eliminated most business travel except for one technical conference each year, Nancy and I talked about entering the education Ph.D. program together. Hey, we did an M.S. degree together, why not a Ph.D.? However, she couldn't do that while working on her National Board Certification.

Saturday morning we attended an information session on the Ph.D. program in education at URI.

I must admit that it sounds very interesting...

There are a few drawbacks...

They require the Graduate Record Exam. In the first paragraph of this entry I asked you to remember a date... Yes, 1970. I took the GRE exam in the spring of 1970. (For those of you who have not had the pleasure, the GREs are sort of like the SATs on steroids.) I did quite well back then. That was back then. Other than grocery store level arithmetic, I haven't dealt with real math since that M.S. degree (that is, a quarter century ago).

If you've already taken the GRE, you can just submit that score -- as long as it was taken within the past five years. I guess I come up a few years over that limit.

They want letters of recommendation with specific attention to reasons why you would excell in the area of doctoral study. For most applicants that would be a mix of former professors and (assuming they are currently teachers) school officials such as department chairs or building principals. In my case, that would be mostly people who are long since retired (assuming they are still alive). Amazingly, the guy who chaired my thesis committee is still affiliated with the university (although this must be some kind of part-time arrangement because he must be in his mid-seventies).

But mostly, although of course we all know that age discrimination is illegal and nasty and something to be avoided by all who are pure of heart and in favor of diversity, yada, yada, yada, we also know that when they come to pick twelve or fourteen people to enter the program out of perhaps seventy-five or a hundred applicants, they aren't going to select the guy who will turn 64 a few weeks after the letters go out.

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