Concentrated knowledge

I read an article today  saying that of the 20,000 people who obtained a doctoral degree in Canada between 2001 and 2006, 25% were came from another country. Add to this the fact that the skilled workers’ immigration system rewards those applicants with a PhD, and one can say that Canada is on the receiving end of a brain drainer (and not the one being drained).

Maybe it’s a reflection on the level of social accomplishment of a country that it can boast of having so many so highly educated people. But even that high level of social accomplishment has its down sides. The number of people I know who have a PhD and find themselves unemployable is distressingly high. The country has a surplus of PhD holders, and a shortage of construction workers (often labelled “unskilled” workers, though they seem to be much more skilled than I when it comes to making houses. And hell, to attain that level of usefulness to society after I get my PhD is my highest ambition).

Maybe it’s a good thing for me that I was never quite eligible to apply for permanent resident status in Canada (those are easier to get here than in other countries, but still not that easy). That forces me to return home to Brazil, where hopefully I’ll be more useful (and employable). 

Granted, there was a time that my ineligility made me resentful. And to be fair, I must say that in the last year or two the process has changed enough to mean that if I wanted, maybe now I’d have a much better chance. But when I see so many so highly qualified people — including those who did get their permanent residency, or those who were Canadian nationals in the first place — in a state of total anxiety as they job hunt for one, two, three or more years after finishing the PhD (and all the temp positions they get, which is a catch-22 in itself, making it impossible for them to publish enough to get a tenure-track job) — gosh, I almost feel that not being eligible to stay (or at least without having to go through a major bureaucratic ordeal) is a blessing in disguise.

Now, you say maybe my unemployed PhD friends are just too picky. Well, maybe they are. But it doesn’t help that the system is setup in such a funnel that universities (and maybe colleges, but only as a worst-case scenario type of deal) are often considered the only places dignified enough for a PhD holder.

When I tell people that after my PhD I would like to teach at high school level, they frown. “But you’re too good for that!” Well, if I am so good, then there was probably some goodness in me back when I was a high school student, no? And I vividly remember how angry it made me that teachers, and administrators, and the system in general, treated us high school kids as if we were good for nothing, as if we would only start developing the first glimpses of intelligence when and if we got into university.

So there. Some high schoolers do have enough intelligence to notice that they’re not being well-provided for. And their memories have been well trained enough for them to remember this fact when they grow up. And when they do, they are told that to care about high school now that they’re proved to be so intelligent is beneath them. Does this make any sense?

According to the principle of entropy, concentrated things naturally tend to difuse into uniform disarray. A related notion is the idea that nature abhors vacuum. And yet, it is interesting how some things such as recognized knowledge tend to become so highly concentrated to the point of actually resisting dispersion, be it at the global or at the local level.  (Of course non-recognized knowledge is everywhere. It’s just not acknowledged. Interesting, no?)

Now, I remember learning about this entropy business back in my high school physics class, back in Brazil. Isn’t that some evidence that you do not have to be a PhD holder in a wealthy country to generate interesting knowledge?


7 responses to “Concentrated knowledge

  1. Hmmm…. Interesting how things work. Current main heading at Yahoo! Canada says:

    “Degree-holding immigrants less likely to find work than native-born Canadians: study”

    For full story, check:

  2. stop being picky and put your degree papers to good work soaking up the oil in those fries at the fastfood joint!

  3. Nothing wrong with working in fastfood joints (well, other than poor nutritional value). But sometimes one can’t get even that.

    Two years ago international students were not eligible to apply for a work permit: they couldn’t do the fast food thing if they wanted, at least not legally.

    Things have changed considerably in the last couple of years: first we were able to get work permits simultaneously with our student permits (but still restricted to our field of study, which makes it quite hard to find work if your field is Ancient Greek Philosophy)

    And now as of a couple of months ago international students are eligible to apply for work permits with no restriction as to field of study. That’s enormous progress.

    So now that the legal impediment is out of the way, the question is: say a foreign student doing a PhD in Ancient Greek Philosophy would be willing to work at a fastfood joint for minimum wage. Would any such joint actually take her? Hard to say.

  4. A couple of interesting articles on these two topics:

    1) On unemployed PhD’s:

    2) On making the immigration process easier for international students:

  5. Another one on making immigration easier for international students:

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