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PhD = Two years in Business Development

I've been off and on 48days.net for a bit now, and am a regular podcast listener.  I've always been particularly interested, as Dan frequently mentioned that during his graduate work he laid the foundation for what became his 48 days network.

I'm interested in that because it hits me personally every time - after working with Dave Ramsey for a few years, I returned home to Kansas to pursue a PhD.  I made this move in part to be back by my family, but in larger part because I'm a teacher at heart, and I also wanted to spend some time learning higher level techniques for analyzing and solving problems. 

What I found/felt at first was that academia - especially at the graduate level was not at all what I had thought it would be.  I still enjoyed it, but my initial thought was that many individuals in this world are stuck in a very antiquated way of doing things that has minimal relevance today.  Much of the experience of grad school seemed to be a process of doing things, like core coursework, a standard thesis, and comprehensive exams largely because "that's what your professors had to do..." - so, for my first year of grad school, I felt like I was going through the motions, only doing things because I was being told to, with little vision or direction in terms of my overall 'why'.

That has all drastically changed for me now - and not because the graduate school process has changed, but because my attitude toward it has shifted dramatically.  In the first place, I realized that I was being advised by folks who do see room for creative and innovative graduate level work that both breaks out of a traditional rut, and makes a lasting contribution to society.  But most importantly, this is what I realized - As I move into the final years of my PhD and am able to focus almost exclusively on my dissertation, I have an incredible opportunity that few will have: two years to spend writing, researching, producing, and creating something that will lay the foundation for my career and my contribution to society.  Sadly, many dissertations tacke questions that, while interesting to academics, sit gathering dust on bookshelves.  My graduate school career changed dramatically for the better when I decided that I refuse to take that direction.  I will create something that is creative, that breaks the mold of a standard 100+ page document that is never read, and that serves a huge number of people - anything less would be a waste of this amazing opportunity that I've been given.  I have the chance to revolutionize industries, interview hundreds of change makers and tell their stories, or engage in any other problem solving endeavor I may chose.  But the point is, I, like Dan, have come to see my thesis/dissertation as so much more than a means to a degree - it is rather the means by which I will fully engage my calling, and that has made all the difference on this journey.

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Comment by Josh Schukman on February 9, 2014 at 6:55pm

Hey Seth -

Thanks for sharing - I would agree that sometimes people do throw out the baby with the bathwater, and lose sight of the value that academia can add, but I still think a great deal is broken with academia, and that far too many - especially at the graduate level, are dragging their feet on making changes that will be necessary for graduate level work to remain relevant (e.g. why are social science students still exclusively directed to produce only a document for a dissertation when virtually all other arenas use other types of media to enhance such a project). 

As for the eagerness to learn, and the love of passing that along - I would agree with you, that was the largest draw to academia and teaching for me, but I also know that the same process occurs in many other arenas of life.  For example, I taught and engaged complex ideas every day at Dave Ramsey's, a job I had with 1800GOTJUNK, and even a job delivering pizzas... might sound like a stretch, but I'm convinced that opportunities for teaching, learning, and engaging ideas exist in every industry.  Academia has perhaps the most focus and established method, but that can be a blessing and a curse...

Having said all of that - I've certainly felt the self-doubt you're referring to...sometimes warranted and sometimes not, but I've felt it less lately, and I think that's because I truly feel like I've found my focus, and how I will turn this time that I'm fortunate to have into something that truly impacts a large number of people.  Also, I'm confident that engaging this community of teachers will challenge me to write, think, and talk about ideas in ways that I would not encounter in academia. 

Anyway, good to know I'm not the only one who feels the self-doubt from time to time... I'm hoping that Innovate, and getting more involved here will keep helping with that.

Comment by Seth Wilson on February 8, 2014 at 10:11am


Thank you so much for your encouraging post. I'm applying to Ph.D. programs in English as we speak--or rather, I'm anxiously awaiting decision letters. Like you, I'm a teacher at heart, and like you I've had intermittent doubts about the efficacy of graduate study. But after finishing my Master's degree back in 2008, I've been working in the "real world", and while I've achieved some small success, I've been more or less unhappy. What drew me to academia in the first place was exposure to some wonderful professors who taught well, challenged me to write and think, and spent time talking about ideas with me. It's that eagerness to learn that I want to pass on.

While I agree with you and Dan that there's a lot about academia that's antiquated and out of touch, I think many are throwing out a pretty large baby along with the bathwater. Like you, I've finally made the decision that graduate school is the life for me, and maybe an academic career afterwards, though with the changing landscape who can tell. Even having made this decision, though, I'm still occasionally plagued by self-doubt, fueled by society's perception of academics living in an ivory tower. Of course, it's going to be part of my life's work to try to shatter that misconception.

Best of luck with the dissertation, and thanks again for sharing your process!

Comment by Josh Schukman on February 7, 2014 at 6:58am

Thanks Dan!  Yep - at least that's my plan for now... doing both - but I, like you, will default to that second option if I feel too hemmed in by academia!  At any rate, I'll be at Innovate in March, and was hoping to use that event to really dig into this question.  Glad you can relate to the experience!


Group Leader
Comment by Dan Miller on February 6, 2014 at 8:42am

Josh - sounds like you've got a great perspective for completing your PhD program.  As you've probably heard me tell, when it came time for my dissertation for my doctoral program I look at two alternatives:

1.  Do the research, write in a "scholarly" fashion with footnotes and complete that document that only 4 old guys would read, who would then give me a piece of paper I could hang on my wall as my only compensation.

2.  Do the research, write a document at a 7th grade reading level that would have the potential to benefit thousands of people and open to the door to making me $1,000,000.  

And as you might suspect, I choose the second option - and that was the first version of 48 Days to the Work You Love.  While I've never regretted that decision it sounds like you may be electing to do both - an even better choice.  I never got the piece of paper so while I did all the doctoral studies you can't call me Dr. Dan.

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