F O R U M O N P H Y S I C S & S O C I E
Volume 31, Number 3
by Jeff Schmidt
(Rowman and Littlefield, ISBN: 0-8476-9364-3, $26.95, hardcover)
The title, like the book, represents the double-edged sword of professional training. Does one’s mind become more disciplined in graduate school -- more focused, more devoted to one’s subfield? Or is the mind of a graduate student disciplined into obeying the structure and hierarchy unique to one’s field of study? In his book, author Jeff Schmidt explores the development of a professional and highlights those factors which he believes perpetuate the insular nature of the professional world.
The book begins with the development and behavior of a professional. Schmidt argues that a basic distinction must be made between a professional and a non-professional: the use of political skills (p. 41). A professional, by his definition, is a person that an institution entrusts to maintain the ideologies of that institution. They have been trained to perpetuate the image of the institution.
This kind of professionalism comes at a price. In order to perpetuate the institution’s ideologies, the human mind has two options: to genuinely believe in those ideologies -- on the clock and off, or only to believe in them when the clock is ticking. Most people do not enter an institution in full agreement with every aspect of that institution’s ideologies, so there is some break-in period for novitiates. Schmidt talks about this in the context of graduate school as a “boot camp,” where ideals are homogenized into the broth of the institutional soup.
That is, there is an inherent sacrifice of one’s own role in the creative progress of the professional field while one is a drone. The example that he describes in much detail is the plight of the graduate student, who must sacrifice time, energy and income for the sake of the doctoral degree. Schmidt believes that the sacrificial nature of graduate school is necessary in order to prepare the student for the transition into a hierarchical system.
Drawing upon his personal experience as a physics graduate student at University of California-Irvine and stories of other students, Jeff Schmidt’s book is an exploration into the developmental stages of a young professional. It is, at times, hard to read his book without sensing his bitterness towards his graduate school days leaking through. Perhaps it is necessary for us to be exposed to this bitterness in order to understand the effects that such clashes with bureaucracy can have on an individual.
D. Elizabeth Pugel
University of Illinois
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