Let me, today, address the thorny issue of Doctor of Philosophy degrees (PhDs) – a topic that has been making the headlines in Ghana in recent times (e.g., the recent controversies around gospel singer Sonnie Badu). The first point everyone has to acknowledge is that there are (1) real PhDs, there are (2) honorary doctorate degrees (often referred to as Doctor of Letters; I won’t call them PhDs), and there are (3) fake examples of these two (especially PhDs).
A PhD, or its equivalent such as DSc or D.Litt., is the highest academic degree anyone can hope for, and earning it from an established and accredited university can be such a fulfilling feat. However, in our Ghanaian context, where excessive value is placed on higher degrees and titles, there is always the uncontrollable temptation to find dubious and unfair ways to get a PhD.
First of all, real PhDs usually take a minimum of 3 years to accomplish, but very hardworking candidates can get it done in two or three months less this minimum time. For many, because of all kinds of crises and impediments they might encounter on the journey, they’re able to accomplish it after 4, 5, or even 6 years. Many also never really get to finish and therefore abandon it along the way. This is just to let you appreciate how challenging it can be. And so let me be categorical here – if anyone tells you they have a PhD which they completed in 2yrs or less, you should be out rightly suspicious of the degree.
They may have obtained it from an unaccredited institution after paying huge amounts of money for the award. Many of such suspicious PhDs are also, these days, obtained after pursuing online programmes. While not all online PhD programmes are fake, many of them are, and even those that are credible cannot be as good and rigorous as PhDs traditionally signed up for on a university campus. Is it any wonder that the institutions that offer online PhDs hardly recruit students who they award such PhDs to join their academic staff?
The other thing is that most of these fake PhDs are often obtained from institutions that have no physical presence anywhere, or at best, they have one tall building sitting in the heart of a city somewhere, while everything they do is accomplished virtually (via electronic modes). The point is that such institutions are unaccredited, they lack the required expertise and faculty to get the job done, and above all their fundamental ‘quality’ or ‘attribute’, unfortunately, is the marketization or commodification of PhDs. You cannot be proud to be associated with their degrees. If someone asked you: ‘where did you get your PhD from?’, you might feel very uncomfortable naming the institution.
Finally, a word around the honorary doctorate (‘honoris causa’). If you understand what its conferment seeks to do, you will never call yourself a ‘Dr’ after receiving one. It does not make you a PhD holder. It is not awarded because you have accomplished some academic requirements, but to honor you (and Latin for honoris causa means ‘for the sake of the honor’). Most people receiving this often have no previous link with the awarding institution. The institution gives you such an award because they recognise the sterling or outstanding contribution of your work in a particular area, and how it is impacting society positively. It thus cannot be a substitute for an academic PhD. An example of a person who has received several honorary doctorates is Bill Gates. Have you ever heard anyone call him ‘Dr. Bill Gates’?
The last point I wish to make is that a PhD is not for everyone, but everyone can attempt to pursue it. My view is that it is primarily for people with a passion to pursue academic and intellectual careers. It is, in fact, a fundamental requirement in this field, as you need it to be properly ushered into the academic research enterprise. If in the future you decide to switch to another profession, it then becomes an added advantage. You can do very well in any profession outside academia without a PhD, and so do not try to use a by-hook-or-by-crook means to claim a PhD – it can actually embarrass you, you know.. hahaha.
I should end by saying that I’m a proud PhD, obtaining it within a record period of 3 years, in a renowned UK university (Lancaster University), from a department of Linguistics and English Language that constantly ranks among the top 15 in the world. Why should I not be proud of it?