There’s an interesting thread on IT Forum regarding the purpose of doctoral education. I figured as long as I was answering the “what’s the purpose” question I may as well post it here as well.
I am very much in the “steward of the discipline” camp. To me, the notion of stewardship implies a sacred trust. It is a responsibilty to take the work, sacrifice, and dedication of generations before that we have been so fortuante to freely inherit, and to treasure, preserve, and most importantly, extend this work to continue to benefit humanity and bless mankind. It is no small thing to be a steward of a field like education, biology, chemistry, literature, art, and even military science. Hundreds and thousands of people have worn out their lives to bring to light one or two small contributions to these great bodies of expertise and knowledge.
While those who know me will agree that on the surface I am very easy going and informal, deep down I have a great reverence for the opportunity to serve (and I do consider it service) in this stewardship capacity, and (as sappy as it may sound) I feel a great responsibility and desire every day to use this opportunity to benefit those around me. I just hope to make my contribution or two before my life is worn away, and I hope that someone treats my efforts with the
Perhaps my thinking is summed up in the language of the signs seen outside so many campgrounds: Leave it better than you found it.
I guess my answer to the question “what is the purpose of doctoral education?” is that it involves the enculturation of stewards into an ever rotating collection of people who reverence their responsibility to their fields and the rest of humanity in this way. Will we get this out of all of our students? Definitely not. Will we see this attitude in 1 out of 100? Probably not. Most will just get their paper and go on to take that academic appointment or professional job it qualifies them for. But a precious few will catch the vision, and so long as one or two do, then all the rest of our work is justified.