Reading Gary Taubes post this weekend got me thinking of the first time I worked with a bunch of PhD's. I used to work at a mega-company known for its research. In my department, there were a few, but then there was this other whole building of them. Chemists mostly. Tons of them, all walking around in their lab coats in nice hallways and better offices. They had their own library. They even had better pens than we did.
One thing I learned pretty quickly is that many of these chemists thought that when they got their fancy diploma, God had also included a key to all universal knowledge and wisdom. And I also learned pretty quickly that I had better behave as if they were gods themselves, or my career would be about as terminal as my degree.
One day I went on an interview for a job in another division. I was led into the office of the big VP. He was a chemist and he had a PhD. After the hello's, I started right in.
"Oh, you have a PhD", I gushed, "I'll bet you are really smart". The VP answered,
"Not really. Just persevering"
I thought, hey, I could work here! At that moment, thousands of Canadian geese started flying around the building and they all landed right by the lake outside the VP's window. We both decided that it was a delightful birdy omen. I started work there the very next day.
One of the things I learned while working at the birdy place is that there are some very smart people who don't feel the need to tell everyone about it all the time. They just quietly do their work and get things done, and through other people mostly. I have been able to meet and work with others like this throughout my career, and it is such a pleasure.
Now, its not all PhD's who think they are such hot stuff, but many do. And, some think that because they are from those fine institutions, they are smarter than all the others. So here's what I have to say about that. First, PhD's think they are the cream of the crop, but really they are only the top percentage out of all the people who apply. Not a good representative sample of the entire population, I think. Now maybe it is different in chemistry, but in my field, the only people who went along to higher learning right away were the dorks who couldn't get either a decent date or a decent job. The rest of us (the smart, cute ones) were going off, getting married, making money. So, if they were in the top 10 percent of the people who tried to continue on to grad school, well, they were still uglier than me and good luck with that.
Second, there was sure lots of crap talk on Guyenet's and others' blogs about the fact that Taubes doesn't have a PhD. But really, the only advantage anymore to getting an education at some fine institution is that someone is checking your work and grading your papers. There is quite a bit of interesting and challenging research work done in the private sector, and just because it doesn't get handed in to the agreed-upon professor for grading doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile. In fact, it may be more worthwhile. In addition, the people who did the work usually were adequately compensated for their work.
Taubes can read and research all he wants on the internet. If he wants someone to grade his papers, he can join any number of clubs and groups on Facebook and elsewhere or pop an e-mail to just about anyone. It's not rocket science.
One other thing I eventually learned about working at the birdy place is that I was brought in exactly because I knew absolutely nothing about what had gone on before. It was my job to figure it out. No need to be too smart for that, just persevering. They already had alot of smart people, just that not enough were looking for the right things.
Gosh, someone needs to figure out this obesity mess! Why not the rocket scientist?
And to end, here's another interesting take on rocket science here. Enjoy!