Shortly after we moved to Denver in 1971, my then wife, Carol, took a job teaching child development at Metropolitan State College. As a new faculty member, she was invited to a number of social events and I was expected to accompany her. Anyone who knows me will understand that, in that situation, I tend to find a wall and lean on it, waiting patiently for the gathering to end.
Nearly from the beginning of the social season, I encountered another wall leaner and we found ourselves in fairly regular conversations. He introduced himself simply as “Jim,” but I learned later that he was the president of the college, James Palmer. He seemed to enjoy these gatherings about as much as I did.
We chatted mostly about the state of graduate education, doctoral requirements, dissertation committee chairs, and so on. These topics were seriously relevant to me, as I had submitted a draft of my dissertation to my committee a few months earlier. My chairman had been on sabbatical during the year I conducted my research and consequently knew next to nothing about it, so he gave my draft to a new faculty member to review. Note that I had never met this new faculty member, and he also knew next to nothing about my research. Notwithstanding his lack of familiarity with my research, he proclaimed that, “This is no dissertation!” (Did I mention that this man’s previous academic career had been spent at an undergraduate girls college, and that he had never supervised any doctoral students before?) My chairman passed on this wisdom to me and recommended that I could, perhaps, perform some additional research and resubmit.
Jim commiserated sagely, and commented that you don’t have to be very smart to get a Ph.D., but you do have to be extremely perseverant. He advised me to suck it up (probably not in those exact words) and just do what the committee chairman asked. It would be foolish to have gotten this far and have nothing to show for it.
That was probably the best advice anyone has ever given me. Well, that and that it’s stupid to drive for three days from DC to Denver when you can fly it in three hours.