28 May 2009

Why I Won’t Get a PhD: Exhibit 1A

by Freddy Tran Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango + PhD Conscientious Objector…

Since I love teaching and talking about marketing, friends often ask why I don’t get a PhD. I’ll think about it… and then I stumble upon an example of the actual work perpetrated by PhD’s in my field…

Witness this latest atrocity by an assistant professor at Harvard Business School: “Monopolistic Competition Between Differentiated Products With Demand For More Than One Variety”. If you think that title is tasty, wait till you devour the abstract:

“We analyze the existence of pure strategy symmetric price equilibria in a generalized version of Salop (1979)’s circular model of competition between differentiated products—namely, we allow consumers to purchase more than one brand. When consumers purchase all varieties from which they derive non-negative net utility, there is no competition, so that each firm behaves like an unconstrained monopolist. When each consumer is interested in purchasing an exogenously given number (n) of varieties, we show that there is no pure strategy symmetric price equilibrium in general (for n > 2 with linear transportation costs). In turn, if the limitation on the number of varieties consumers purchase comes from a budget constraint then we obtain a multiplicity of symmetric price equilibria, which can be indexed by the number of varieties consumers purchase in equilibrium.”

That’s the whole thing, unedited by me. Keep in mind that the abstract is supposed to be a bite-size, easy-to-swallow summary. I don’t know about you, but I’m still chewing and trying to swallow.

Hardcore academics often forget that marketing is fundamentally about “communications.” Sorry, Doc, but if you can’t handle that, then I don’t care how well you can crunch Salop (1979)’s circular model of competition between differentiated products. Your subject matter is shopping. If your goal is to share your wisdom with people who actually practice marketing, it shouldn’t sound like a formulaic analysis of jet fuel.

So, the question is, do I really want to devote at least five years of my life to in-depth study of subject matter and readings that irresistibly sexy, just so I can do pretty much what I’m doing now, but with more politics and less sunshine? Hmm, the temptation is there, but I’m just gonna have to say… oh hell no.

P.S. Mark C. Taylor, the chairman of the religion department at Columbia, wrote a great editorial in the New York Times, “End the University as We Know It”. Quote:

“Graduate education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).”

Amen, Prof. Taylor. And well said.

Update 6/4/10: The L.A. Times reports that, even if you get a PhD, your odds of finding a job in academia are very slim: “many graduates with doctoral degrees are finding themselves looking for jobs outside universities — jobs they probably could have gotten without five to six years of intense schooling and tens of thousands of dollars of education debt.”

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches graduate-level marketing communication courses at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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