Life Experience

Is a doctoral degree the equivalent of life experience? Is it better than life experience? Can you learn in a university what you cannot learn  or have not learned in life?

If you are in a profession like singing, which involves doing something very specific, can you learn that in classes and from books? If you are trying to find out how human beings sing should you be required to know things that are helpful, information-wise, but do not help you make better sounds?

What happens if you have many degrees from prestigious universities or conservatories but your colleagues think you “can’t sing”? Does that matter at all? [It certainly happens. I have seen it more times than I care to mention.]

To me, it matters a lot. I think having a terminal degree is great but I have seen over and over people who have doctoral degrees in singing (or pedagogy, or a related field) who cannot sing well and don’t teach well either. Are they to be excused from demonstrating good singing because they passed specific requirements at a university?

I wonder, given that obtaining a doctorate takes anywhere from 3 to 5 years, maybe even more, and that you have to present yourself and your work to multiple people while working towards the degree, when you are given a document for reasons that do not have anything to do with excellence but with expedience, is that useful?

I know of a specific instance where the doctoral dissertation presented “research” that was absolutely bogus. The document contained statements like “the ear is an organ” and “faulty breathing causes nodules”. The “protocol” for the research consisted of 3 subjects listening to pre-recorded examples on an iPod and then “correcting themselves” in terms of how they practiced singing. There were only 3 participants, all college students. Their self-proclaimed evaluations stated either that they “improved” in their singing or they “did not” improve. That’s it. The doctoral dissertation was about this and only this. The “examples” were based on the work of a French voice doctor who has a following here in the USA but no one at this university was a scholar in the doctor’s work.

No one checked on the frequency range that you hear on earbuds, no one checked on the made-up examples (created by the doctoral candidate) the students heard, and the larger work upon which this was based is, in the first place, considered questionable by the scientific community at large. Nevertheless, the mentor of this student, who was a “beloved” professor who had been teaching at the university for decades was retiring and no one wanted to give the student a “hard time” lest the professor be upset at the end of her tenure.


There is, out there somewhere, Dr. X, who presented a document to get her doctorate to a committee who knew nothing about acoustics, scientific evaluation of data, or the doctor’s work upon which the dissertation was based.

I only bumped into this document by accident, but when I saw it, I was astounded, as I happen to be familiar with that doctor’s work upon which the doctoral student happened to be basing her study and it had little to nothing to do with what he discovered. When I queried, “How can you judge this person’s research on Dr. Y’s work, when none of you here are experts in his work, or even know about it?” I was ignored. The politics were more important that anything else.

So, if someone were to apply for a job and that someone can really sing, and sing well, and the person was also experienced in performing since she had had a long and prestigious career, but does not have a doctorate, she would not be hired at a conservatory that requires a doctoral degree, even though the person applying who does have one might have done her doctoral work on something that is virtual worthless or in a way that was absolutely unfounded.

There’s something wrong in a community (at large) when life experience — successful, long-term life experience — and the ability to communicate effectively about a skill that is also an art is regarded as being less important and having less significance than a piece of paper. I say, shame on everyone who supports that attitude.

If you are an encyclopedia of vocal pedagogy and voice science information but your singing is awful, and your doctorate is in applied voice and you are going to teach singers, you should have been denied the document until and unless your singing got better. The courses you took might be sufficient if all you will teach is those courses but once you have to work with a student who is looking to you to help them sound wonderful, sing freely and be happy as an accomplished vocalist, you need to sound very good while you sing and be able to convey that effectively to others. Period.

I know, yet another rant about something which isn’t going to change any time soon. Still, I have to say it.

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