Here’s what completing a real PhD involves

On Monday I receive my doctorate from the University of Victoria. It represents four-and-a-half years of hard work, frustration and triumph, and after nearly 11 years of post-secondary education, it led to my first permanent job - a coveted t


by Adam Gaudry

On Monday I receive my doctorate from the University of Victoria. It represents four-and-a-half years of hard work, frustration and triumph, and after nearly 11 years of post-secondary education, it led to my first permanent job – a coveted tenure track position at a major research university.

A PhD is a lot of work, and rightfully so. It represents the highest level of intellectual qualification, and is as much a trial of endurance as it is a measure of intelligence. Having so recently given over years of my life to this pursuit, I laughed out loud when I came across the story of a senior Yukon civil servant who could have done as little work as reading six books and writing a 60-page paper to be granted an unaccredited “doctorate.”

The PhD poorly-understood animal, so perhaps a basic description of general PhD program requirements will allow those less familiar to appreciate why this is a laugh-out-loud kind of situation.

To understand the PhD one needs to appreciate that the university is basically an 800-year-old medieval guild system. The doctorate is the final test, which turns the apprentice into the master. In accredited (read real) North American universities, we follow a fairly standard format for doctoral education, none of which is reflected in the program described by the Newburgh Theological Seminary & College of the Bible.

In most accredited universities, first year PhD students enroll in a four to seven year program. Beginning with a first year of coursework requiring somewhere between four and six seminar courses, these classes are taught by faculty members who themselves have PhDs. In most social science and humanities disciplines, these courses involve significant amounts of reading, engaged debate with peers, and a large research paper tying it all together.

Assuming my graduate seminar, with six assigned books, represents an average course, first year PhD students could expect to read anywhere between 24 and 36 books in their first year alone. Since the Newburgh “PhD” program has six required books total, it hardly meets the threshold for a single graduate seminar, let alone an actual year of coursework.

Newburgh’s so-called PhD program also lacks comprehensive exams. In credible North America programs, the second phase of the degree program consists of reading for a student’s “comps.” These reading lists are anywhere from 80-300 total readings, which contain the most important books in the student’s field of study. The student is then tested on these readings in both written and oral exams.

This is a vital component of most PhD programs, as it requires familiarization with a very large body of information, turning student into expert, and functions to separate the determined from the not-so-determined students.

After one’s comps are passed, students spend the next two to five years researching and writing their dissertations, a document measuring hundreds of pages (or for scientists, hundreds of hours of research) of original research that “advances human knowledge.”

While Newburgh’s program requires a 60-page paper referring to at least 20 sources, this much shorter than most dissertations. In my experience the average social science dissertation is over 200 pages, with more than a hundred individual sources consulted during the research. My dissertation, for example, is 394 pages long (too long) and my bibliography numbers 10 page. To be frank, I know of no credible PhD program that would set the dissertation bar as low as Newburgh’s.

While I have no way of knowing if Albert Trask went above and beyond the paltry requirements of this bible college program, what I can say for certain is that this college can’t confer accredited PhDs for a reason. Six book summaries don’t come close to demonstrating one’s mastery of a concept, nor would a graduate-level course be approved without significant intellectual analysis of these sources. Nor would any accredited university take a $175 bribe-like payment for the student to skip out on a class or reading.

If Trask enrolled in Newburgh Bible College in good faith to obtain a credible PhD, he was scammed. He paid a lot of money – almost $3,000 – for a degree that is literally not worth the paper it is printed on.

And he can’t even call himself “Dr.” While I don’t think there is anything illegal about adopting the title (unless it involves practising medicine). There are longstanding and commonly accepted norms for its usage. Basically to use the title “Dr.” you need a specific professional or research degree – like a PhD or an MD.

Of course, only accredited programs can issue recognized degrees, so unaccredited degrees don’t pass on the privilege of the title. Even honourary degree recipients are restricted in their use of the prefix “Dr.,” usable only on the honourary-degree granting university’s campus.

Universities are accredited for a reason, to prevent this precise scenario from occurring, and if we were to accept all PhDs as valid, we wouldn’t need accreditation to begin with. When individuals create dubious institutions that allow their “students” to believe that is possible to side-step a massive amount of work and still get the degree, it undermines the whole university system.

These questionable degree programs are increasingly common, more so at the master’s level than the PhD. If you are interested in pursuing a graduate or professional degree, do the research beforehand, make sure it’s provincially accredited and that the university is well-regarded. Protect yourself, and if you want to go to grad school, be prepared to do the work.

Adam Gaudry is an assistant professor with the University of Saskatchewan’s Department of Native Studies.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Crystal Schick/Yukon News
Calvin Delwisch poses for a photo inside his DIY sauna at Marsh Lake on Feb. 18.
Yukoners turning up the heat with unique DIY sauna builds

Do-it-yourselfers say a sauna built with salvaged materials is a great winter project

Wyatt’s World

Wyatt’s World for March 5, 2021.

Yukonomist: School competition ramps up in the Yukon

It’s common to see an upstart automaker trying to grab share from… Continue reading

The Yukon government responded to a petition calling the SCAN Act “draconian” on Feb. 19. (Yukon News file)
Yukon government accuses SCAN petitioner of mischaracterizing her eviction

A response to the Jan. 7 petition was filed to court on Feb. 19

City councillor Samson Hartland in Whitehorse on Dec. 3, 2018. Hartland has announced his plans to run for mayor in the Oct. 21 municipal election. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillor sets sights on mayor’s chair

Hartland declares election plans

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley receives his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine from Public Health Nurse Angie Bartelen at the Yukon Convention Centre Clinic in Whitehorse on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
State of emergency extended for another 90 days

“Now we’re in a situation where we see the finish line.”

The Yukon government says it is working towards finding a solution for Dawson area miners who may be impacted by City of Dawson plans and regulations. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Miner expresses frustration over town plan

Designation of claims changed to future planning

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been postponed indefinitely. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
2022 Arctic Winter Games postponed indefinitely

Wood Buffalo, Alta., Host Society committed to rescheduling at a later date

Housing construction continues in the Whistle Bend subdivision in Whitehorse on Oct. 29, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Bureau of Statistics reports rising rents for Yukoners, falling revenues for businesses

The bureau has published several reports on the rental market and businesses affected by COVID-19

Council of Yukon First Nations grand chief Peter Johnston at the Yukon Forum in Whitehorse on Feb. 14, 2019. Johnston and Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn announced changes to the implementation of the Yukon First Nations Procurement Policy on March 3. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Third phase added to procurement policy implementation

Additional time added to prep for two provisions

Crews work to clear the South Klondike Highway after an avalanche earlier this week. (Submitted)
South Klondike Highway remains closed due to avalanches

Yukon Avalanche Association recommending backcountry recreators remain vigilant

RCMP Online Crime Reporting website in Whitehorse on March 5. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Whitehorse RCMP launch online crime reporting

Both a website and Whitehorse RCMP app are now available

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is preparing for a pandemic-era election this October with a number of measures proposed to address COVID-19 restrictions. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City gets set for Oct. 21 municipal election

Elections procedures bylaw comes forward

Most Read