Interested in a PhD or ScD: Find your advisor - let the degree follow

Over the past several months I have spent time writing this blog, teaching classes, initiating projects in a wide set of areas to which, at least I think, I tend to bring a different perspective and a unifying view. There is no doubt that my background in physical therapy was foundational. But I have to say that my ScD has been the most enabling when it comes to the diversity of approaches with which I am equipped to dialogue. And to this I owe much to my advisor, Dr. Robert Karasek. He is now a Professor Emeritus at UMass Lowell (which means retired and not on campus any longer), and also from the University of Copenhagen, his bio can be found here. His book “Healthy Work” from 1992 is still in print and provides a fascinating read of integrative concepts well ahead of their time, people have still not caught up to him. And his theoretical connection between low social control and physiological deregulation (which my dissertation helped contribute to empirically) offers a promising explanatory framework for the social - psychological - biological phenomenon (aka the biopsychosocial perspective) that requires greater insight should we want to appropriately deal with the progression of chronic disease across several integrated body systems.

When I met Dr. Karasek I was planning to pursue my ScD in epidemiology, but the opportunity to work with and learn from him moved me into his area of the department of work environment (ergonomics). Though he was quite skilled in all areas of that department and I benefitted from his broad scope in vision, and his deep penetrating thought, logic and mastery of several fields. Every day the insights I try to bring to some area of study or some problem in the profession reminds me of some lesson learned from Dr. Karasek. He is a world class scholar in the true sense of the word. His focus on the ideas and ideals, his sharp mind and caring approach were all things I took for granted at times while working with him. But they have helped to shape me and as I continue to mold this blog into a book, and the concepts of the book into a curriculum, looking back at the diverse set of methods I have become familiar with, I felt I should comment on who is at least partly responsible for how I was formally trained to have such a perspective. It is difficult these days to be formally trained in a discipline, but come out with multi-disciplinary methods.

My message to those of you interested in pursuing an academic doctorate - don’t fret the degree, find an advisor; if you want to be a scholar, find an advisor that is a scholar; if you want to be multi-disciplinary scholar, find an advisor that is multi-disciplinary. Working with several advisors from different disciplines is ok, but packing that into a person provides valuable connections otherwise missed between people.

Leave a Comment