Most of my fellow doctoral students were a bit younger than I was. They figured out the path they were on a bit quicker than I did. I was back in school after several forays into and out of the real world. A few more years of work experience coupled with a certain orneriness toward authority came in handy as I got closer to finishing the process.
As you get closer to finishing the process, you have dealt with almost every possible gatekeeper. All the remains at the end is convincing your thesis committee that you are ready. The rite of passage here is that you can’t seek permission. You open the last gate for yourself by declaring yourself a peer, shedding the safety of being a consumer of knowledge to join the ranks of producers of new knowledge. The risk you run is that you will have the gate slammed in your face if you judge wrongly. But you have to make the first move.
This transition from consumer of knowledge to producer is no mean feat. A well-designed doctoral program can make this transition smoother. Knowing the existing literature, for example, is one way to ensure that you’re less likely to mistake your ignorance for new insight.
In a knowledge economy, we expect many more people to contribute by producing new ideas and new thinking. What we don’t have is the corresponding support environment and infrastructure to help apprentice knowledge workers navigate the transition from consuming to producing knowledge. We have no shortage of people with the self-confidence to assert that their claims represent new and fresh thinking. We do have a shortage of adult supervision; of people with the knowledge base to provide the guardrails while clever people develop a calibrated sense of their limits.