26 October 2010

The value of a PhD (or, The value of a PhD in Japan)

Well, as my thoughts flitter around about potentials and I look at job postings in Japan, some things become clear very quickly, if you can read the air appropriately:

1. A PhD, though not essential, puts you at the top of the list. You will be considered first.
2. Japanese ability is important.
3. Experience is essential.
4. Research abilities and publications are important.
5. Teaching is important.

Looking at these postings, it’s clear that at this point, pulling a good job, even potentially tenured at a small university, is quite possible. And, given 5 or 6 more years working, someone like me would be in a very good place to get tenure at a good university, provided I keep on the path that I am. This doesn’t say much about me except that the skills I have cultivated make me a very good candidate for a job at a university in Japan, which I suppose shouldn’t surprise me as that was my goal for about five years. in 2012, I would have the key skills at the level they are needed: particularly, and uniquely, Japanese ability AND a PhD.

The PhD’d foreigner in Japan is still rare and will probably continue to be rare. Most teachers come to Japan as younger folk (22 or 23) and initially don’t do much professional development. You might marry a Japanese and realise, in your late twenties, early thirties, that you need more education to stay gainfully employed. So you get an MA, and that usually takes maybe 3 or 4 years. It also takes a lot of time, energy, and money, and by the time you finish, you are heavy in experience and probably have a good job near where you want to settle, so the PhD and the 5 or 6 years more of part-time study it requires, along with the financial cost and lack of immediate pay-off, is unappealing. You are unlikely to move anyway.

The workload of a PhD may change in coming years as some schools are looking into modular PhDs which don’t require a thesis, but I doubt that those will be taken as seriously in Japan. The Japanese universities, I suspect, will still want you to prove that you have spent some time on campus (if not completely on campus) and have a thesis that you published or published out of. Plus, although easier than a non-modular (I won’t say ‘real’) PhD, they will cost the same and still be a hell of a lot of trouble to complete, not really adding to their appeal.

Although foreigners with PhDs might try to go to Japan, the problem with them is that they lack any Japanese experience and can’t speak the language. They are well-qualified, but in the wrong ways.

So perhaps I should try to fit into the puzzle that I fit into.