What is the most useless Ph.D. you can acquire? - PhDData

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What is the most useless Ph.D. you can acquire?

October 2022

The “usefulness” of a Ph.D. (or any other qualification) is entirely subjective. Possible causes are:

  • You did the course for the “bragging rights.” Then its utility depends on how much you can impress your acquaintances by being called a “Doctor.”
  • You chose it to round off an academic progression: B-degree, M-degree, Doctorate. What next? Does it qualify for a better job? Maybe, or maybe not.
  • You intend to enter a career as an academic teacher or researcher. Then the Ph.D. is just one event along the way.

Every Ph.D. contributes to knowledge, enhances human understanding of the world, and increases the prestige of everyone associated with it. Examiners line up for the privilege of examining theses and not for the modest pecuniary incentives traditionally offered. Even for those few dissertations which fail, it is inevitable that the experience of writing, supervising, and examining makes everyone involved a better person; everybody learns valuable lessons.

According to some people, an “honorary doctorate” is probably the most useless Ph.D. you can acquire. A reputable university will sometimes give such a degree to someone already established as a leader in their profession, simply as a way to honor them. For example, Bill Gates was given a few honorary doctorates from famous universities like Cambridge, Harvard or even Tsinghua in China. He was already nearing the end of a highly distinguished career, and it is doubtful those honorary doctorates would open any new opportunities for him. In his case, perhaps it was nice that a reputable university recognized that his lifetime achievements were at least of a sufficient standard to justify a doctorate.

Honorary Ph. D.s are a nice gesture, but do they somehow diminish the work behind a Ph.D.? Interdisciplinary ones are odd too. Mainly because you end up not being a specialist in either discipline; if you do a Ph.D. in computer science and psychology, it might be okay, but the person won’t likely get an academic position in either department (just the way things are, traditional academia). The industry may be different, but again, you may end up with a Ph.D. in computer science but not be able to program.

Some people believe that the most useless PhDs are the ones you can order on the internet for a one-time fee from unaccredited “diploma mills” without coursework or dissertation requirements, usually based on “life experience.”

While all Ph.D. degrees are probably helpful, some people may look at the ability to utilize the degree in the chosen profession, the prestige associated with the degree, or the amount of money one makes based on the degree as essential criteria for determining usefulness. Therefore, a Ph.D. that you cannot utilize, does not offer prestige and does not help you acquire wealth would be the most useless. Which one depends on your point of view? Remember, a degree of any kind demonstrates successful completion of a rigorous program through an institution accredited by an outside agency to ensure the program meets acceptable standards. Therefore, to predict which degree might be useless is a fool’s journey. Knowledge, any knowledge, is helpful, but we do not know when, where, or why.

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