Monday, August 28, 2006

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The ultimate Nth year

Anyone getting a Ph.D. knows about nth years. These are graduate students who have been around so long that no other student possess the institutional memory to know when they entered the doctoral program. Nth years serve the very useful purpose of scaring the living crap out of the other graduate students, motivating them to finish their dissertations before they unwittingly morph into an nth year themselves.

There are nth years, and at the University of Chicago, there are nth years:

After a long and fruitful career, 79-year-old master’s degree graduate Herbert Baum has returned to the University of Chicago to earn his Ph.D. The oldest person ever to be awarded a doctorate by the University, Baum will receive the degree in economics Friday, Aug. 25.

When he left the University in 1951 to become a government agricultural economist in Washington, D.C., Baum had a master’s degree and was just short of writing his dissertation to earn a doctorate.

His dissertation contributes to agricultural economics by examining how to measure the impact of fees charged producers for commodity promotion and research. The thesis, based on a case study of the strawberry industry in California in which he was a leader, developed a model for researchers to understand the long-term value of the fees assessed growers. The model shows how the policies of the state strawberry commission, which supported research into improved varieties, improved production per acre and grower profitability.

James Heckman, the Henry Scultz Distinguished Service Professor in Economics at the University of Chicago and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 2000, was a member of a committee that also included two other Nobel Prizes. Heckman said of Baum’s work, “Herb Baum’s Ph. D. thesis is a well executed study of an industry partially monopolized by government authority. His application of basic price theory to understand the consequences of this policy is in the best tradition of empirical price theory at Chicago. He combines theory with evidence in a convincing way in a serious piece of research on a major agricultural industry.”

Quite the dissertation committee:
[Milton] Friedman, the Snowden Russell Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus in Economics, was one of the faculty members who approved granting Baum a Ph.D. Joining Friedman on the committee were Nobel Prize-winning economists Gary Becker, University Professor in Economics, and committee chair James Heckman. Roger Myerson, the William C. Norby Professor in Economics, also served on the committee.

Baum based his dissertation on his life’s work and titled it: “Quest for the Perfect Strawberry; A Case Study of the California Strawberry Commission and the Strawberry Industry: A Descriptive Model for Marketing Order Evaluation”.

To be fair soon-to-be-Dr. Baum, he's not a true nth year, since he left the university an accomplished something.

Academic readers are invited to share any horror stories they know about nth years.

posted by Dan on 08.28.06 at 05:05 PM


My deparment, like many others, has a picture board of the faculty, grad students and staff. Pictures of a few PhD students on the board are in black and white...

posted by: MK on 08.28.06 at 05:05 PM [permalink]

atta boy Dr. Baum

posted by: save_the_rustbelt on 08.28.06 at 05:05 PM [permalink]

Hits far too close to our darkest fears for current graduate students like me, I suspect.

posted by: Ray on 08.28.06 at 05:05 PM [permalink]

I thought the term was "tenured graduate student", as defined in the Hacker's Dictionary:

posted by: Espen on 08.28.06 at 05:05 PM [permalink]

I was a very happy nth (10.5) year grad student until they forced me to graduate this year. In my defense, I was making 2X my grad school stipend by doing a few weeks of consulting on the side. Also, I had a real job before grad school and wasn't eager to do that again. Thankfully, I've got myself a sugar-momma to carry me for a few more years of underachieving bliss. That's Dr. Slack-ass, thank you very much!

posted by: Dude on 08.28.06 at 05:05 PM [permalink]

im just about finished with a dissertation at a respectable political science department (after 4 years of grad school) and close to getting a non-academic job in washington...the rest of the committee likes my project and is pretty laid back, but my advisor seems to think there is something intrinsically worthwhile about taking a long time to finish...he cited some chinese allegory (not chinese himself) where he is a "buddhist monk" and i am an eager "martial arts student" ... help! what should i do?

posted by: jv on 08.28.06 at 05:05 PM [permalink]

...he cited some chinese allegory (not chinese himself) where he is a "buddhist monk" and i am an eager "martial arts student" ... help! what should i do?

Sprinkle zen koans throughout your project- the more obscure, the better.

posted by: rosignol on 08.28.06 at 05:05 PM [permalink]

I read that if you hammer your hands into hard objects over and over again, your bone density increases and you end up with...fists of steel! Then your adviser will probably be more agreeable.

posted by: srp on 08.28.06 at 05:05 PM [permalink]

Don't some Nth year doctoral candidates deliberately avoid completing dissertations in order to: 1) protect access to discount prices for "student rate" services and activities, 2) wreck their resume with an obscure over-qualification, 3) have an aliby to read books and brush off spouses' demands to do perform menial chores?

posted by: jkoch on 08.28.06 at 05:05 PM [permalink]

I have an 80 yr old history grad student working in my building right now. When he returned to school he received a notice that he wasn't registered for the draft. He pointed out them that he was in the Navy Armed Guard on merchant ships in World War 2, and had been torpedoed in the Atlantic and bombed in the Pacific.

posted by: rmark on 08.28.06 at 05:05 PM [permalink]

Isn't the title of your post an oxymoron?

posted by: anon on 08.28.06 at 05:05 PM [permalink]

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