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Iranian-American Woman Doctoral Student Essay, PHDs and the Quest to Better Humanity

All societies, no matter how primitive or developed, have recognized experts among them; and this has been especially pronounced in the areas of health and religion. Since the Middle Ages, these experts have gradually come to be recognized throughout most of the civilized world by the term PhD which comes from the Latin Philosophiae Doctor. In the original Greek, the term philosophy suggested “love of wisdom” or the “pursuit of in-depth knowledge”. Today the meaning has most to do with those thinkers whose reflections and research result in new knowledge. PhDs, then, are knowledge creators, not just lovers of knowledge.

The Doctor of Philosophy PhD is a terminal degree, as high as one goes, the pinnacle of expertise. What distinguishes the PHD from other degrees is the fact that it is only awarded based on an original contribution to our body of knowledge, generally referred to as ‘the literature’ and generally vetted in a process of peer review. The doctorate was first introduced at Berlin University in Germany. While the PhD varies greatly from country to country, it generally involves the submission of a written thesis that is successfully argued in front of one’s faculty. The thesis or dissertation in question must be deemed worthy of publication in peer-reviewed journals. The candidate is then expected to defend his work before a panel of experts (their number varies greatly across countries), in a process known as the “Viva” (Latin from Viva voce), i.e. “by live voice. A good PhD student should not assume that this is the end of the story for, ultimately, a PhD is merely a professional qualification.


The PhD is also a qualification that certifies aptitude to practice in one’s field of expertise. Thus, rather than an end, earning the PhD is usually just the beginning of one’s career. The PhD holder is admitted to a special club and has earned a license to practice. His or her opinion is generally respected both by his or her peers as well as the society at large.

I had the privilege of being raised by scientists, growing up in heavily research-oriented family. In fact, I spent the first 5 years of my life in graduate student housing on campus. I can remember going on Easter egg hunts at this university. All of my family and friends are either PhDs or Mds. My social life has taught me a great deal as well, since I have partied with highly successful scientists in a variety of areas, from astronauts to professors and physicians. I have gotten to know many people who appear to me to be running after titles primarily because they want money; on the other hand, I have also gotten to know many people in higher education who deeply cherish humanitarian values of community service and contribution. My father works for NASA, and when the space shuttle blew up my heart was broken; but we remember their contribution to science. My church has always been on campus and I have always prayed to God alongside PHDs. I have seen some PHDs who did not have happy lives. Those who do live to a ripe old age and die happy are those who live for their work, contribution to society, colleagues and academic community, putting the interests of their students and patients above their own.


 I have seen some missionary PhDs as well, those who take off for the Developing World and invest years of their lives struggling to help the less fortunate, when they could have stayed home in the lap of luxury with an enviable amount of leisure time. These are the PhDs that I admire most.

The PhD is not, of course, for everyone. Independence, self-drive, persistence, adaptability, brightness, commitment, motivation, reliability, discipline, creativity, these are only some of the key traits that make for a successful PhD student. A good PhD student isn’t a person who can memorize 1000 pages in a month or two or a person who knows all the techniques of a certain process or discipline through and through. A PhD is a person who can distinguish between right and wrong, a leader with sound ethical virtues that can produce results for the benefit of society. A good PhD student must think independently because it is ultimately his or her job to correct the mistakes of his or her teachers, to go further, taking the frontier of knowledge another step, advancing the literature through peer review.


A good PhD student is one who completely turns over her mind and soul to her PhD. She is patient and cultivates an open mind, nimble, able to switch directions, adapt, take advantage of novel opportunities as they present themselves. Never a perfectionist, a PhD must always be professional. He should be scrupulous, careful and accurate, always seeking to learn from classmates as well as teachers Oral and written communication skills are the central keys that open doors for PhDs. Respectful, mannerly, orderly, the PhD often seeks to rise above politics and strife, seeking instead to explore and discover in a never-ending search for the benefit of society. The PhD should not use science to acquire power for power’s sake, or primarily in one’s own self interest. A good scientist will have many opportunities to sell himself for money but he should always do the right thing, that which results in the greatest benefit for all. Humanity and honesty should be the priority in all aspects of decision making by PhDs. She should appreciate the resources that are given to her and not take them as they are granted. She should be grateful for the opportunity which has been given her and show profound appreciation for the investment that is being made in her, especially with respect to her thesis advisor. Most of all, she should be creative and a team player. If her colleagues or classmates move one step forward as a result of a piece of your information that should make you happy because you helped advance the entire system one step forward as a whole. The process is rarely smooth; along the way one is likely to learn a great deal about how not to do research as well as about how to do it effectively. 

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