Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Professor Dickinson is dead

David's supervisor, Professor Dickinson, was one of the leading academics in Britain in her field. She died tragically when David was at the end of his second year. His supervision was taken over by an experienced researcher whose range of concerns was different and who had only a general interest in David's topic. 

David did not think it necessary to tell his new supervisor in any detail what he was doing, having it clear in his mind that Professor Dickinson would have given her approval. He thus worked without supervision for a further 18 months. When he came to submit his thesis the examiners felt that he had suffered from lack of supervision, which in the circumstances should be taken into account, but that they could award him only an MPhil, not a PhD. He appealed, but in due course the university confirmed the decision.

From How not to get a PhD. Notice, if you will, that it is David's fault his new supervisor failed to provide adequate supervision, that his university failed to provide an adequate supervisor, that the university failed to supervise that supervision; it is almost as if it were David's fault that Professor Dickinson died. In this story are contained the two most important lessons that any PhD candidate can learn: whatever goes wrong, it will be your fault; whatever goes wrong, you will suffer the consequences. 

Every new candidate should be told the tale of Professor Dickinson's tragic death and David's tragic MPhil. To avoid future disappointment, the candidate should learn - as soon as possible after paying the first year's fees - that that he or she has reached the bottom of the heap. Everybody in the university, academics and  administrators alike, is of greater importance and has higher priorities than the PhD candidate.

The university's employees also are blissfully free of any responsibility for their actions. They can forget to do what they are paid to do, they can take holidays without ensuring that their work will be done by someone else, they can act with gross incompetence or gross moral turpitude; they can do all of the above in a single day, yet still they will not be held accountable.

Boy With Cat (Jean Bourgoint), by Christopher Wood, 1926; Kettle's Yard, Cambridge.

Haunted Luau, by Lyon.

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