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Stubborn and stupid

Posted: February 14, 2012 10:35 a.m.
Updated: February 15, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Many people believe what is necessary to gain a Ph.D. is superior intelligence. Such a belief is certainly a fallacy. What a person requires is two items: obstinacy and stupidity. As a person who has washed a rather large wooden house with a rag, water, and scouring powder; cut front and back yards, when yards really were yards, with a pair of scissors; and dressed a half a hog, chitterlings and all -- I know. These examples occurred in my youth, and, seemingly, I gathered only worn and blistered hands as my lessons. I did learn from an admonition from my mother, “Just remember, if you start something, you have to finish.”

When my professors urged me to enter the Ph.D. program, bypassing the M.A. degree, I had no idea what I was going to have to endure. No one told me getting a Ph.D. and having a full-time job were not possible, so I did both, a necessity. As a result, I slept less than two hours a night. Once in, however, I remembered, “…if you start something, you have to finish.” I had no idea that the academic requirements were only a start; the professors’ main jobs were to give their students impossible and daunting tasks.

The major professor first assigned me to seek a specific reference. Only after I had spent weeks and had to return to tell her I could find no such reference, did she, with a smile, say, “Oh, that’s probably right; it may be ______.” The next idiocy assigned me was to bring her the next week “the history of the English language.” I replied, “The history of the English language,” knowing full well that libraries have floors of the history of the English language. She said, “You don’t think you can do it?” Right then, a smart person would have said, “No, and you could not either.” Fool that I was, I went home and every waking hour researched and compressed the history of the English language into 17 typed pages. (Remember this was in the time when computers and word processors were not available to households and my typewriter had no correction feature. I was also my own typist for my and my husband’s degrees with no errors or corrections accepted.) When I returned and gave her my “manuscript,” she said with a rather amused look, “What is this?” I replied, “The history of the English language.” I shall never forget her next words: “I thought so; who told you to do this?” Never missing a beat and not showing my fury, I answered, “You did.” No one would ever believe her next words: “Then take it out (of the dissertation).” When I got home, my husband, who had seen how hard I had worked, asked me what had happened; he said, “What are you going to do now?” I said, “What do you mean?” He replied, “I know you told her to go to hell and are now out of the program.” I assured him, “Oh, no, I have not yet gotten what I want (finished what I started).”

After a few more asinine encounters with her humor, she looked at me and asked, “If you had to choose between your husband and family or your Ph.D., which would you choose?” -- a loaded question to say the least. Realizing what a dangerous situation I had encountered, I replied, “Oh, I will never have to face that problem since my family would not make me choose.” She smiled and said, "Nothing fazes you, does it?” I returned her smile and stated, “Oh, yes,” and showed my bitten-to-the-bone fingernails, “but, ‘you never let them see you sweat.’”

This professor once read a portion of my dissertation to her class, and while she did not exactly say she wrote it, she implied so. My daughter was a member of her class and told me, after hearing the accolades of her class members without a word acknowledging the author from the professor, that she started to say, “Yes, it is really good. My mama wrote it.” I know she would have paid for her disclosure if she had been so foolish.

After that, she must have turned to another object of her torture. I do know that she told another seeker of enlightenment, after the individual had done all the work, that she was not Ph.D. material. A friend of mine, who shared this professor, became so enraged that she dropped out of U.S.C. and got her doctorate from another university. She had the obstinacy but not the stupidity. As illustrated by these true experiences, intelligence is not really important; stupidity and obstinacy are.

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