I Don’t Have a PhD

I lost a training bid to teach technical writing to someone with a PhD.

I learned to write by writing. I’ve written something almost everyday for the past 10 years, have three books in print (and a fourth on the way), blog regularly, etc. My competition has a blog that hasn’t been updated in almost a year and has a total of six blog posts over the past two. As far as I know, their total book output is 0. Their online presence is pretty lame.

For several years, I worked for a wonderful nonprofit director. He had his PhD in English and in a prior life had taught college writing at a prestigious eastern establishment frequented by children of the elite. He often referred to himself as a “recovering academic.”

He regularly asked me to rewrite his academic prose and make it more “conversational.” We developed a nice rhythm of me doing rewrites and then, he’d review, offer a few edits, and we’d release our material.

Whenever he’d hand me something after marking it up with red chicken scratchings, he’d always qualify it by saying, “Baumer, remember; I taught college English.”

Prior to releasing my first book on Moxie, I had him read my manuscript. He returned it with a few suggestions, but what meant the most to me was his saying, “well-written” and that he “enjoyed reading it.” He reminded me that I had a very “conversational” writing style, which he meant in complementary way.

I learned a great deal from this man that went well beyond being a better writer.

Below is a short biographical snippet (from Wikipedia) on Ernest Hemingway. He didn’t have a PhD.

Hemingway was raised in Oak Park, Illinois. After high school he reported for a few months for The Kansas City Star, before leaving for the Italian Front to enlist with the World War I ambulance drivers. In 1918, he was seriously wounded and returned home. His wartime experiences formed the basis for his novel “A Farewell to Arms.” In 1921 he married Hadley Richardson, the first of his four wives. The couple moved to Paris, where he worked as a foreign correspondent, and fell under the influence of the modernist writers and artists of the 1920s “Lost Generation” expatriate community. “The Sun Also Rises,” Hemingway’s first novel, was published in 1926.

He ended up publishing seven novels, six short story collections, and two non-fiction works. An additional three novels, four collections of short stories, and three non-fiction works were published posthumously. Most of these are considered classics of American Literature.

Hemingway and many other great writers learned to write from experience and living life.

I learned this morning that Ben Hewitt, a Vermont agrarian writer who I admire, was a high school dropout. Ben has three books, and his blog is a welcome read that always prompts thoughtful reflection on life and whether our conventional mode of living is the best way.

I won’t ever have a PhD, but I’ll continue enhance my craft and grow as a writer. I’m OK with that.

Hemingway wrote about a life, lived.

Hemingway wrote about a life, lived.

2 thoughts on “I Don’t Have a PhD

  1. A new editor I’m working with has no experience editing, no hands-on experience in the topic the publication covers, and less writing experience than me. He has a degree. I didn’t apply for or want the job, which is great since I couldn’t have applied. I don’t have a degree. I’m a former magazine editor, columnist in three newspapers, avid blogger, teach a writing class, have extensive hands-on experience in the field, more qualified for the job than the person who has been hired, but no degree.

  2. Robin,

    You make some important points. How does this editor, with his degree, warrant greater consideration than you, with hands-on experience? Simply because our culture, and I might say, the HR community, has deemed that having a degree makes it easier for them to go through their check-off process relative to hiring. I think it’s also because there’s a financial incentive built into our current model, namely that colleges/universities benefit from taking your money so they can issue a piece of paper, which no longer delivers the same ROI that it once did.

    There’s some interesting research being done on credentials, like the report by Anthony Carnevale who happens to have grown up in Saco and attended Thornton Academy. This article is a good point of reference. Interestingly, if you read down further, the article shows a built-in gender bias in the credentialing process, however.

    I’m not a fan of this push being promoted by many organizations in Maine of encouraging everyone get a degree believing that it enhances our workforce. I am pleased to see the legislature supporting apprenticeships.

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