Friday, September 7, 2012

The Value of a Ph.D. & The Mind

The value of higher education is hotly debated in this country. Particularly the worth of doctoral degrees in philosophy is highly questioned. Only a week ago, that is on Aug. 31, the Slate published Daniel Lametti's post, posing the question in the title "Is a Science Ph.D. a Waste of Time?"

Dr. Lindemann's Ph.D. certificate.
The other day, I happened upon the document shown above. In the document, Dean Carl Blomeyer of the University of Jena awards Curt Lindemann the Ph.D.-degree in law cum laude. Its Latin phrasing on heavy-weight paper and simple design remind us of the university's founding in the 16th century, portraying a great academic culture long past and somewhat missed. Particularly, however, the date of issue, Oct. 1, 1932, caught my eye.

Dr. Lindemann was born into a Jewish family in the small Thueringian town of Arnstadt. In Wolfgang Tittelbach-Helmrich's town history with the title "Arnstadt's Jewish Citizens", Dr. Lindemann's birth year is listed as 1909.

If that birth year is correct, Dr. Lindemann was bestowed doctoral honors at the tender age of 23. Any German doctorate requires completed course work, exams, a dissertation (thesis), and a defense to this day. The short time he needed to successfully complete his doctorate represents an astounding accomplishment.

Roughly half a century later, German doctoral certificates have changed drastically. The heavy paper, the gothic font Latin, and the mention of ancient benefactors are long gone. Most importantly, it took this modern-day student until the ripe age of 31 to cross the finish line, that is almost a decade more than Dr. Lindemann. Caps off for Dr. Lindemann!

In1939, Dr. Lindemann was forced to leave Germany because of Nazi persecution. He emigrated to the United States, joining a torrent of hundreds of thousands of highly educated, talented, hard-working Europeans who had to flee the continent because of their political convictions, believes, or ethnicity. The immigrants would help the United States in no small fashion to emerge from the Great Depression, defeat the fascist menace and prevail in the Cold War, propelling the nation in less than two decades to the world's highest standard of living.

According to the List of Nobel Laureates by Country, Germany has garnered 102 of the 853 Nobel Prizes awarded. Almost half, that is 45, were won before the end of World War II. By contrast, the United States has claimed 331 prizes, of which 304 were won after the end of that war. What other proof do we need?

  • Today the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to John B. Gurdon from Great Britain and Shinya Yamanaka from Japan for their successes in converting differentiated cells into pluripotent stem cells, a keystone of regenerative medicine on which discussed on this site (10/08/2012).
  • This year's Nobel Prize in Physics went to Serge Haroche from France and David Wineland from the US for their pivotal contributions to quantum mechanics (10/09/2012).
  • This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Robert Lefkowitz and Brian Kobilka, both from the US, for their work on G-protein-coupled receptors. These metabotropic receptors loom large in the development of targeted drug-treatments of mental disorders discussed on this site (10/10/2012).
  • This year's Nobel Prize in Literature goes to Mo Yan from China (10/11/2012).
  • Today, finishing up this year's round the Nobel Prize in Economics was award to Alvin Roth and Lloyd Shapley, both from the US, for their work on market design and matching theory (10/15/2012).
In sum, five of the nine prizes were won by scientists and scholars from the United States! Related Posts