Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Times change

A few years ago (more than a few, now that I think about it), a sociology professor told me that, back in the Sixties, Texas Instruments would accept any Ph.D. as qualification to work there, regardless of what area the degree was in. I never had a chance to ask someone from TI about this but I recently came across a kind of confirmation in a crime novel of all places.

The Thief Who Couldn't Sleep, was Lawrence Block's first attempt at a continuing character and, unlike his other series, this and the books that followed are now mainly well-written period pieces of the mid-Sixties. The books are an odd mix of Ambler and Fleming centered around Even Tanner, an eccentric radical-at-large who actively supports every fringe group he can find ranging from left-wing separatists to a society dedicated to returning the House of Stuart to the British Throne.

To support this unusual lifestyle, Tanner supports himself writing theses for anyone with a few hundred to spare (the story behind that career choice would take too long to recount here). Most of his clients are business types looking to build their resumes. As he puts it:

Industry considers a bachelor's degree indispensable, and, by a curious extension, regards master's and doctorates as a way of separating the men from the boys. I don't understand this. Why should a Ph.D. awarded for an extended essay on color symbolism in the poetry of Pushkin have anything to do with a man's competence to develop a sales promotion campaign for a manufacturer of ladies underwear?
It would be nice to have some numbers to back up the anecdotes, but can you imagine anyone today saying, even in a work of fiction, that the way to get ahead in business is to get a doctorate in Russian literature?

(for a point of comparison, check out this post from YoungFemaleScientist)

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