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.