What Are PhDs?

Gaia Vasiliver-Shamis

A couple of weeks ago I came across Google Poems, apparently it’s a Reddit page with some quite hilarious poems, the ones generated by Google Instant, which is the official name for the “auto-suggest/ complete” feature that I’m sure you’re all familiar with when you start typing a search query in Google.  And so, one “poem” really caught my attention:





I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry, it’s clearly too late for me, but I did wonder what if I have googled this BEFORE applying to grad school? Would it change my course of action? Do people today Google this when considering going to grad school?

Now you have to understand, that autosuggest function is based on pulling data from the ginormous database of Google for what people type in the most! Which means the top four results above are based on the most typed in real queries.  And thus I decided to tackle each one individually:

PhDs are useless

Ahm…this is the toughest one. From the one hand, PhD is a prerequisite to stay in the ivy tower, but from the other hand, there aren’t that many prospects in academia these days, and from the third hand (if one existed), most of us don’t stay in academia anyway and fervor off-the bench jobs.  So if it’s not a true scientist job that we want, why spend 5-7yrs training to be one?

I’d argue that the skills you acquire might be worth it. While getting your PhD, you’ll (most likely) become good at:

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  • Problem solving and troubleshooting
  • Learning new topics FAST
  • Presenting, especially to not-necessarily friendly audience
  • Being grilled and not taking it personally


I know it’s hard to see that you actually have those skills, when you are surrounded by PhDs, but when you’re out in the “real world”, you’ll discover that most people are not so good at problem solving, public speaking and being criticized without bursting in tears. I’m not saying you need a PhD to have these skills, but you sure get them when you get your PhD. On a positive note, in 2011, 58% said a PhD is not a waste of time in a poll on The Economist.

Conclusion: Neh… we are NOT useless!


PhDs are doctors vs. PhDs are not real doctors

Technically and historically speaking, hell yeh! Of course we’re REAL doctors, “fake” doctors existed before medical doctors did. Unfortunately my thesis wasn’t titled “The Stems of the Public Misconception that only Medical Doctors are Real Doctors?”  (And this sounds like a humanistic PhD thesis topic anyway; and humanistic PhDs are not real doctors), and so I have to put my scientist hat down and admit – I don’t have a definite answer.

Speaking of real vs. fake doctors, I have a confession to make: my (then) 3.5yrs old son complained that his knee hurts and he needs to go to the doctor, I told him: “I’m a doctor and you’ll be fine”. His teacher then told him:  “your mom isn’t a real doctor”, and to that I say (in my passive aggressive way) – do you have a PhD? And if you don’t – don’t tell me I’m not a real doctor! I used to chart my son’s growth chart by myself since I didn’t trust his “real doctor”’s ability to accurately plot data.

Conclusion: it clearly depends what your PhD is in, but we are REAL doctors.


PhDs are arrogant

The following paragraph should be read in a British accent:

Arrogant? Pfff…of course we are….not! We just think we’re brilliant. Does that count as arrogant?

But if we can’t figure out how to change the display so we can start our presentation, change a lamp or order wine, please don’t use the fact we have a PhD against us!

Based on Google, the best answer for why PhDs act so arrogant is: “Who knows, they are not real doctors anyways”.!

My sassy response: I bet you’d be arrogant if you got a PhD

My classy response: I’m trained to look at things differently and critically, deal with it!

My Big Bang Theory response: Bazinga!

Conclusion: it depends who you ask


But you know, maybe we PhDs shouldn’t feel so bad about ourselves, after all, check out this poem (assuming googlers mean doctors are MDs):





Final conclusion I: I take useless and arrogant over evil and dangerous any time.

Final conclusion II: Google is out of suggestions when you type in “MDs PhDs are…” – so being Dr2 is a safe career bet. No prejudice there.

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  • Yes! This screenshot was taken on the day Google honored Dr. Schrodinger, as like Erwin Schrodinger, PhD. So maybe one should Google:  do PhDs have a higher chance of getting a doodle on Google? I leave this one up to you….
  • No! I have nothing against MDs. I swear!


Dr. Gaia Vasiliver-Shamis didn’t become a real doctor as she can’t stand seeing blood. She’s definitely not arrogant (most of the time) and aims to do at least one useful thing a day.

This post was originally published on BioCareers.com