Yesterday all being well I graduated from Durham University with my PhD. I say all being well as I’m writing this in advance in order to have no excuse not to spend all but the time on holiday it takes to find some WiFi signal and post this with the husband.

It has taken a long time to reach this point. Not only was the degree itself a lengthy undertaking of four years but there was a break while I waited for my Viva date then another year to wait as I passed my Viva a couple of days after the registration for congregation closed. After all that (and I don’t even want to start on what it cost me financially), one has to wonder... was it worth it and what did it get me?

I’ve had a few comments from people who feel I’ve somehow wasted my PhD as I arguably do something wholly unrelated to my specialist field (although I feel the transferable skills have made a phenomenal impact). I’m not sure what they’d have me do, perhaps I should be banished to a dusty corner of a campus library and left to simply be intelligent? What I came to realise as I deflected these comments with the argument that I liked what I was doing and was happy (how very dare I?) was that for lots of people a PhD is a means to an end.

I don’t even use my title. I’ve been entitled to use it for a year now and just don’t feel the need (except when someone is being obnoxious and calls me Miss, in those instances I coldly reply “if you feel the need to address me by my title it’s Doctor”). I mean the husband is entitled to use some letters (he can’t remember what they are) for a professional qualification he holds in the field he actually works in but doesn’t so why would I use mine as I’m not working in academia?

Don’t get me wrong, I like knowing I can be called Doctor but it’s a bit like my tattoo. I like it and am happy to talk about it but I don’t want it out there all the time.

When I started my PhD I had aspirations of an academic career. From where I am now I’m glad I didn’t make it. As Alain de Botton said: ‘In another age, I might have been an academic in a university, if the university system had been different. So it’s all about trying to find the best fit between your talents and what the world can offer at that point in time.’ Although de Botton dropped out of his PhD (French Philosophy at Harvard) so he had to say something!

I’m glad it didn’t work out for me because I’ve come to realise I’m not great in institutions, I like to be in charge and it’s a long way and a number of funerals on ones way to a Deanship. Sure there’s a part of me that would have liked to be Professor rather than simply Dr Ashcroft but the beauty of business is that you can be the boss from day one.

The reason I don’t feel I’m wasting my PhD is because I fully appreciate everything I learned through the process. It was my doctorate that helped me find myself (to use that god awful phrase). It was my research that took me to Malaysia for a year, it was my interviewing that taught me how to hear what people are actually saying when they talk to you and once you’ve presented to academics you can talk to anyone (for those that watch Big Bang Theory, I’ve met plenty of Sheldon Cooper’s who have relished picking holes in my work to make themselves look smart).

I recently read an article on Mashable about The Connection Between Education, Money and Happiness. In it Thomas Katsouleas wrote that Richard Easterlin, an early economist in the econometrics of “happiness” had ‘found was that education was related to making a better living in that those with more education tended to have higher incomes. However, as a person’s income rose over time, their happiness did not. Yet, the bump up in happiness that began early in life for those with more than a high school education persisted throughout their lives. In essence, Easterlin dispelled any lingering notion of the old stereotype of “dumb and happy.” In fact, people with more education were happier than those with less.’

Katsouleas suggests the reason may lie in biology arguing that ‘Even lowly amoebas show evidence that boredom and unhappiness occur when subjected to repeated stimuli without new learning’ and of course* Socrates claimed that the purest form of happiness was sharing with someone else something you have learned. In closing Katsouleas’ talks about undergraduate classes in entrepreneurial skills and suggests that by doing this ‘students have the benefit of a broader setting in which to develop a perspective on what it means to be human and discover where they fit in the world. In so doing, they may not only come up with better ideas, they may also make better decisions. But by focusing on the shortest path to success students will fail to fully develop as people and ultimately short-change their own happiness.’

There lies the crux of the argument for me. Education helps you develop as a person and take a rounded view of what will make you happy. For me this was realised via a blend of my doctorate, travel and my need to adapt to some of the challenges I’ve faced (namely death and divorce). I’m happy because of what I’ve learned.

You don’t need a PhD to be happy but it certainly helped me. And nothing that brings you happiness can be a waste.

* Well it’s an of course for philosophy geeks like me.

7/2/2014 07:37:39 pm

The world is always changing around us. There is nothing anyone of us can do about the changes that happens. However, our ability to learn and our intellectual capacity are intangibles. Acquiring a good education can be your greatest asset to reinvent and update your knowledge.

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