Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Mere PhD

J.B. Handelsman ~ New Yorker Cartoonist

On our flight to England last week, the pilot made an announcement over the intercom that up 'til now I have heard only in the movies: "Ladies and gentlemen, if there is a doctor on board, or any other medical personnel who could help, please alert the crew or ring your call button." He spoke in a most reassuring tone, conveying no panic or even urgency. There was no rushing around, just a small cluster of people at the front of the plane tending to the distressed passenger, who was escorted from the plane, upon landing, by a team of EMTs.

As there was no sense of dire emergency, I think it's okay to admit what crossed my mind after the pilot's initial announcement. Gerry and I have a favorite cartoon: one person looking at another's name tag and asking, "Are you the kind of doctor who helps people, or just a mere PhD? Ever since our encounter with that cartoon (similar to the one above), we refer to ourselves as "mere PhDs." On the plane that night, all we could do was glance at each other silently, shake our heads and mouth the words: "Mere PhD."

Awhile back, all in fun, I described the cartoon to a friend who responded kindly, "I'm sure you help people, just not medically." One day on facebook, my niece Anna and I were discussing the fact that there is a National Doctor Day (March 30). Who knew? There are even cards for the occasion! Does it include mere PhDs? I don't think so. Is there a separate holiday for the mere PhDs? I don't think so! (ScienceBlogs and tvtropes take a somewhat more serious look at the distinction.)

Anna recommended the earnestly humorous YouTube video, "So you want a PhD in clinical psychology?" in which the student thinks "it's cool that people will call me doctor." "No," says her advisor, "your patients will call you by your first name and will not even know that you have a PhD . . . they will be confused that you are a doctor who cannot prescribe medication . . . your friends will laugh at you if you ask them to call you doctor . . . your mother will cry and ask you why you did not become a real doctor."

You can go to YouTube and enjoy numerous droll videos in this series. "Clinical psychology" is my favorite thus far, moreso than the one for majoring in English, which didn't strike me as quite as funny, though it too has its moments. For laughs in their area of specialization, Ben and Sam showed me "I want to work at [the] Goldman Sachs".

It's always good to keep one's sense of humor. Anna learned about "So you want a PhD in clinical psychology?" from "one of my favorite professors, who is a clinical psychologist and who shared it with my entire class a year ago!" I always have to laugh when the student in the video tells the professor that she wants to be a clinical psychologist because "my friends say that I give really good advice and I like to help people and tell them what they are doing wrong . . . I really just want to tell people that what they are doing is wrong based upon my gut reaction and because I feel that I have all the right anwers."

This line of reasoning reminds of the time in graduate school when I was supposed to pick a type of a literary criticism to use in a paper and explain why. I chose psychoanalytic (Freud & Lacan). Why? My line of reasoning was that all of the fictional characters were suffering from the Ache of Modernism. My professor expressed skepticism: "Do you think you can diagnose their problems?" "Yes!" "Do you think you can make them better? "Yes!" "Fictional characters?" "Yes!" Why? Because I just want to give them good advice and tell them that what they are doing is wrong based upon my gut reaction!

P.S. Connections of interest:

From my friend Beata: "Bibliotherapy"

From my friend Joe: "The Science of Storytelling"

From my friend Katie: "Can Reading Make You Happier?"

1 comment:

  1. Katie writes: "Beata, thanks for this great essay on "shelf help!" How great the BBC is launching a self-help column with books to be prescribed as medicine!"

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