What do these letters mean? Ask those who tack these onto their names and you’ll get several answers.  Here’s one:


A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, is a terminal degree, the final educational certification, that some professional people earn before they die that suggests they’ve become experts who’ve gravely dug into some important things that are worth sharing.

Especially with some people…


     But let’s get to the skinny*.  Another way of saying it is that the letters stand for






But there’s got to be more.  For that punch the DOOR.





In short, under the guidance of other PhD’s, the new aspirant of a PhD (who’s survived college and, then usually earning a masters degree) takes some more complicated classes, finally ropes off a piece of geography for himself usually on somebody else’s land—that may seem too small to justify a fence. Nonetheless, without embarrassment he starts methodically digging holes. Into these he inserts fence posts and, creating a gate for privileged associates who know his password, he surrounds his space with barbed wire.

Inside he harrows and tills the ground, sometimes with a small tractor, other times with a trench shovel, sometimes with just a spoon. Then dropping certain seeds, he watches to see what happens to them. Other times though, he just watches what’s already happened inside his enclosure, observing it so closely with a fine eye, that uninitiated voyeurs beyond the barbwire may question whether or not he’s surrendered more than a keen eye and reasoning demands.

After many months of isolation, with guidance of the PhD’s who permitted and even encouraged this adventure, he reports what he’s learned in fancier words than these pedestrian examples illustrate:  (1) This investigator (“the digger”) has found that compound X definitely does not cure cancer or, on the other hand, the opposite may be true and definitely warrants further study. (2) This investigator has found that the effect of Y upon Z of “junk DNA” suggests that segment W isn’t junk at all. (3) T. I. has found that the unearthing of pottery fragments at V showing U suggest that the T people lived at S, a century earlier than generally thought. (4) T. I. h. f. t.  R, Q, and P are the primary factors that encourage breaking the law and poaching in the O.

While some of these barbed-off fields seem a bit odd, some are stranger than others…(My gifted associate editor has accused me of wordiness, though he admits I’m nearly on target–though he could have “said it all in a couple of sentences.” Further, he adds (1) I’ve neglected to explain why you get a PhD in subjects other than philosophy, and (2) and I’ve said nothing about the evolution of the PhD through history. So, after the blue  and green paragraphs, I’ll tack on from Wikipedia some (more) boring detail about that.)

Therefore (my) conclusion: the presumption of working on a PhD in nearly any area is that by intensely studying and learning small particulars in that area going beyond what is known, under the watchful eye of specialists, one (1) adds pieces of knowledge, no matter how small they may seem,  to the stockpile of what we know; (2) learns how to carefully do this, relating what is new to what’s already known; (3)  learns to document and interpret information, sorting good information from bad, and (4) how to share this all this with specialists and people who are more ordinary.

As to the history of the PhD–that would require another post or two that would use ganglier words and scare the rest of you off…

(Confession: I, your post-er, am one of them. My PhD from The Mallinson Institute at Western Michigan University, is in science education, with a dissertation titled, “The Effect of Annotating Articles on Biochemistry from Scientific American on Student Understanding.” How then did I survive as a long-time tenured full professor of English at State University of New York (SUNY-Oswego)? Ask a Darwinist about how “accidents and mutations” can lead to radical change, or a theologian about miracles. My tracks are still out there. Check the used book sales this summer for the once best-selling science text series, Science: Understanding Your Environment pub. by Silver Burdett. My name–John Knapp II–is on the back cover.)

[Now…at urging…here’s a monotonos denouement from Wikipedia.


PhD students are often motivated to pursue the PhD by the desire for further education beyond the undergraduate level, scientific and humanistic curiosity, the desire to contribute to the academic community, service to others, or personal development. A career in academia generally requires a PhD, though in some countries, it is possible to reach relatively high positions without a doctorate. The motivation may also include increased salary, but in many cases this is not the result. Research by Casey suggests that, over all subjects, PhDs provide an earnings premium of 26%, but notes that masters degrees provide a premium of 23% already. While this is a small return to the individual…there are significant benefits to society for the extra research training. (end of Wiki)

So outside of academia, how much money do PhD’s make, considering the 5 or 6 years or so of study beyond an undergraduate degree? The numbers are all over the place, depending on the area the PhD is in. In many cases, the salary is slightly more, if not similar to, a well-positioned public school teacher. This varies, however a great deal. [Certain freedoms and satisfactions in going deep into a particular area of study are positive factors hard for some to ignore.]


* skinny – the confidential inside information about something.