Monday, March 7, 2011

About That Doctorate . . .

So Michelle and I went on a walk Sunday, and had a conversation revolving around maybe it’s time to bite the bullet and get into the technical communication doctorate program at Utah State.

Her premise (always a sound one) is this: Hopefully, she’ll be done with her masters program in a year. That gives us a little time to plan, a little more time for the economy to try to right itself and, perhaps, a little time for us to consider employment options in the Logan area or to explore, perhaps, some kind of agreement that would allow me to teach classes at BYU-Idaho in conjunction with taking classes either at Logan or via their online offerings in order to get started in the program.

Taken on its own, the program seems very daunting. Then again, back in 2006 when I was starting the masters program, that seemed daunting as well. A doctorate – and we might even enroll concurrently, which would add to the insanity – would be more daunting still, but less daunting now than it might have appeared in 2006.

This is a four-year program with a teaching component. I’d be in my mid-40s by the time I was done. And would that be bad? Aren’t we supposed to engage in a lifetime of learning anyway? Yes, we are.

So age isn’t a factor. Keeping a roof over our heads while raising three kids and not going crazy in the process is the biggest factor. But noting ventured, nothing gained, I say.

Thing is, this might be the ticket to better employment opportunities. Or it might not, given the state of the economy at the moment. But it feels better than doing nothing, since earning my masters degree back in 2009 has resulted in not much of an ado at all at my current workplace – I knew what that reaction would be before I signed up for the program, so no surprises there.

Yes, I could become, well, a professor of technical communication. Or a consultant. Or an unemployed bum living in a box hoping that one day I misdial my bookie and end up buying Cisco stock at the IPO. Either way, I’m golden.

Used under the fair use doctrine for commentary and educational purposes.

So that leads to the golden question: What could possibly be my dissertation topic? I’d have to come up with one, you know. This is one that’s been fomenting in my head since our Uncharted retreat this weekend:

Instead of trying to shoehorn an old economic model onto the Internet, why not create a new economic model that rewards efficient knowledge workers without economically penalizing those who need knowledge work performed?

This started kicking around in my head after a weekend discussion on the merits (and costs) between PHP and the Ruby on Rails computer languages. Ruby programmers are able to perform in a day what a PHP programmer can take weeks to accomplish. But unless a Ruby programmer charges outlandish fees – upwards of $100 to $150 an hour – he or she is going to fall behind the economic curve of the plodders writing in PHP. At the same time, those who need programming done are going to have to balance opportunity costs of having work done in Rails quickly but costing a higher per-hour fee when inevitable site maintenance comes up, versus having work done a bit more slowly by PHP workers who charge significantly less for their services (PHP workers in India, for example, can program for $3 an hour).

How can I apply this to technical communication? Still working on that part. But I’ve got an economic model in mind. It’ll never work, but at least I’ve got a model in mind.

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