Zig-Zagging Towards a PhD — Part 4: University of Colorado at Denver

It was the summer of 1971. Carol and I, along with our friend, Shannon, drove to Denver to join an existing urban community. It didn’t take long to discover that the Denver community was not going to work, so we left for more conventional living arrangements. A few of the other refugees from the community moved to Twin Oaks.

Carol landed a job at Metropolitan State College teaching early childhood development and working in their child-care center (which gave hands on experience to the students). Through some inexplicable good fortune, I contacted Janis Driscoll, who was head of the physiological psychology program at the University of Colorado at Denver. Jan took me under her wing, offering me space in her lab to conduct additional research for my dissertation. (Jan is also the person who turned me on to Dungeness crab!)

I eventually got a course or two to teach, including the course in physiological psych that I taught backwards (see my earlier post, “Teaching to Learn”). In exchange for space, I assisted Jan in her research. And even though a good deal of that assistance was “technical” in an “engineering” sort of way, she was so much warmer and collegial than Herr Dr. Grossman at the University of Chicago, that I was happy to do it.

I built a new test apparatus and purchased more rats, thanks to a small stipend from UM, and collected more data. Now all I had to do was write it, get the draft approved, have it typed (long before word processing), and printed (the dawn of high resolution Xerox copying), bound (like a book), and submitted.

Nothing is ever easy. My committee members were scattered across the country and they all had busy schedules. None the less, we managed to go through a number of rough drafts, all of which contained all the essential information, but none of which seemed acceptable to one or more members of the committee. In order to reach some closure, I decided to go to Ann Arbor and make a pest of myself until I got a version that everyone could agree on. That is why Carol and I spent the summer of ’72 camped out in a tent a few miles North of Ann Arbor.

While Carol usually stayed at the campground (it was hot and mosquito infested), I drove in to campus (my office space was air conditioned) and made certain that I spoke to Ed Walker every day. I would ask him questions (that I already knew the answers to) just to keep him involved as I wrote. The committee finally approved a draft and the rest was turning the crank. I had only one moment of sheer terror when I spilled half a bottle of India ink on several of the illustrations I had made for the dissertation. I will be ever grateful to the inventors of Wite Out!

Part of the crank was finding an experienced typist with a good electric typewriter. (There were lots of rules governing precisely how dissertations were typed.) It turned out that most of them were on vacation. I ended up with a first-time dissertation typist using a Smith Corona portable electric. Thanks to the Xerox Corporation and dissertation-grade bond paper, the copies looked like a good clear original, so her smudges and typeovers did not require a total re-do.

During Carol’s days at the campground, she became friends with a young male black cat that we thought someone had probably abandoned. He seemed genuinely pleased to have found a true cat lover and adopted her immediately. He turned out to be a good traveler, mainly sleeping on the dashboard of our old Ford Econoline van on our drive back to Denver.

I scheduled my Oral Exam for a day in September, when Steve Glickman would be flying from New York back to Berkeley, with a stop over in DTW. I had flown to Ann Arbor the day before for the event. Steve is a sweet man, but not always on time. He missed his flight but vowed that he would be able to get to Ann Arbor later that afternoon. So I waited. To pass the time I bought a great “coffee table book” of M. C. Escher’s art.

Steve arrived around 4 pm and Ed Walker was able to convene the committee (well, all but the “outside” member) and we had “orals.” Since no one had apparently read my dissertation (so where did all the comments on my earlier drafts come from?), the main question was, “What is your dissertation all about?” I explained it all and everyone agreed that I passed.

With typing, printing, binding, and submitting the dissertation, and passing the oral exam, I had completed the requirements for a doctorate in psychology at the University of Michigan. Finally. Not a direct route, but interesting, in a zig-zaggy sort of way.

I still didn’t have a job, but there were hundreds of other recent PhDs in the same boat. And I still don’t have a bachelors or masters degree, but I’ll wager there aren’t very many other PhDs who can make that statement.


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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