Zig-Zagging Towards a PhD — Part 2: University of Chicago

When I learned in the spring of 1965 that I would not be completing my undergraduate studies with a degree by the end of summer, I called the Psychology Department at the University of Chicago to let them know, and to discuss the possibility of deferring beginning graduate studies until I finally got my bachelors degree. I commented that while I had enough credits to graduate, they didn’t match the course requirements for an engineering degree.

“Not to worry,” the people at Chicago replied. Chicago still had on its books a policy left over from World War II that allowed applicants to combine college credits with “life experiences” to meet the entrance requirements. Apparently the four-year hiatus in my undergraduate education qualified as “life experiences,” so I would be admitted to graduate school without an actual bachelors degree.

By this time I was engaged to a young woman I had met through my part time employment at the University of Illinois Neuropsychiatric Institute. In late 1963, Nahman Greenberg, the psychiatrist who headed the research project that employed me, delivered a speech to child-study majors at Vassar College. One of the students asked him a question that he couldn’t answer, so he invited her to come to Chicago for the summer and work in his lab. She did. We met. We dated. We fell in love. We both applied for, and were admitted to, graduate school at the University of Chicago. Carol applied to study Human Development; I, to study Physiological Psychology.

Throughout the summer of ’65, Carol would get various packets of information from the University of Chicago. I didn’t. We originally thought that our different programs handled admissions differently, and that I would get stuff later. When she continued to get information packets and I did not, I called the Psych Department. It took a while for them to figure out that I had not ACTUALLY been admitted. There was an additional requirement – successful completion of a “General Education Test” – about which they had failed to inform me.

Fortunately, the test was scheduled to be administered in about six weeks, in time to meet admission requirements. Unfortunately, the test was a “general education” test that consisted of art, music, history, and philosophy, and my undergraduate education focused on engineering. Fortunately, I had an early interest in art and music, and had recently taken two philosophy courses as part of my requirements at Northwestern. Unfortunately, I had only a few weeks to read and remember a whole lot of history.

About two weeks after taking the test, I hadn’t heard anything from the Psych Department, so I called. “Oh, don’t worry about that old test. As far as we’re concerned, all you had to do was sign your name correctly.” And so I was officially admitted to the Physiological Psychology program of the Department of Psychology Graduate School at the University of Chicago.

I should have interpreted this rough start as an omen of things to come. When I met Dr. Grossman, my advisor, for the first time, he greeted me with, “I’m glad you’re here. My previous engineer just graduated.”

I replied, naively, “I didn’t come here to be an engineer. I’m here to study psychology.”

He actually extended his arm and pointed to the door and barked, “Then get out of my laboratory.”

So I was fresh out of an advisor.

After scouting around the faculty, I found a professor to serve as my advisor, but later in the year, after second year funding had been settled, I discovered that my “advisor” had accepted a position at the University of California at La Jolla, and had not bothered to tell me or to seek support for me.

Chicago was so highly competitive that some students actually cut required articles from journals so other students couldn’t read them. Carol’s briefcase disappeared a week before mid-term exams, and mysteriously reappeared right after. I had formed a study group to deal with heavy reading assignments. I learned later that faculty considered study groups “subversive.” In short, Chicago at that time was a truly oppressive environment.

Carol was well ensconced in her program and her advisor, Lawrence Kohlberg, had ensured financial support for her second year. However, with no advisor and no financial support, I had no future at the University of Chicago.

We had become close friends with a couple in our married-student housing building. Both Barb and Thad had graduated from the University of Michigan and were never tired of extolling its virtues. Fortuitously, Steve Glickman, psych professor extraordinaire, had moved from Northwestern to Michigan and encouraged me to study with him. Carol was reluctant to leave Kohlberg’s program at Chicago, but discovered Martin Hoffman’s child-development program at Michigan and was content to move, as well.

In the spring of 1966, Carol and I moved from Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood to attend the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. I still had neither a Bachelors degree nor a Masters degree.


About Jesse

My name is Jesse Blatt. My first name is actually “Ramon,” but I haven’t used that name, except for official purposes, since 1970. I have a high school diploma and a PhD…nothing in between. I’ll get around to explaining that in a post sometime. From time to time I will be posting true stories from my past, though not in any special order. I’ve been fortunate to have had a dozen or so different careers, most of them very satisfying, some fairly frustrating, and none that I wish had never happened. In my many former lives, I have been a mail clerk, radio and TV engineer, radio announcer, electronics engineer, college instructor, psychologist, research consultant, Federal employee, supervisor of research professionals, computer programmer, web designer, instructional designer, construction site handyman, and carpenter, not necessarily in that order.
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