A starting point for looking into what exactly is a Ph.D. It is more than just the highest degree awarded by or a doctor of philosophy. It’s also more than the more cynical definition offered as “Piled Higher and Deeper,” although the picture of understanding the heights and the lows a specific topic can be helpful and seems to be almost a ubiquitous as a description of the acronym. Bronner (1990) even titled his book Piled Higher and Deeper: The Folklore of Campus Life. The Ph.D. Is more than the ability to add the credentials after your name or the title of “Dr.” to the beginning of your name.

In my estimation, the Ph.D. is a starting place for the scholar’s future career. While we might already be practicing in the field we will be diving into (and potentially feeling a bit like we are drowning versus just being submerged). It is a way of staking out some ground that we can demonstrate that we have gained expertise in this field of study as demonstrated by both the evidence of our work (e.g. our dissertation) and the approval from other experts in that field (e.g. our committee).

The discussion of this evidence leads us to describe what the dissertation is. While a dissertation is described as a written manuscript or a book (although from looking in the library at CIIS during my recent visit it can be other things as well). It seems to be a process that we go through to help develop an original contribution to our field of study.

The California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS, 2017) describes the dissertation include a committee. The dissertation committee includes a committee chair (a core faculty member), internal committee member (a faculty who is from CIIS), and an external committee member (who would be from another institution). The scholar/researcher goes through their process to answer their research question wherein the end they submit a completed draft, participate in a dissertation defense, obtain participation and approval from the committee, complete a final review and approval, and end up with a final publication.

The creation of an original contribution to our field of study is only possible by understanding the knowledge base of our field and where it’s limit are. As we push forward into our field of study and learn these limits are, we are better equipped to pull our field to have a new way of understanding added. Montuori (2010) describes the problem solving that we engage in as a part of our creative inquiry as “engaging the unknown, the messy, the complicated, the complex, and attempting to understand and make sense out of it.” Our original contribution gives us the privilege of trying to share how that unknown makes sense back with our fields of practice. My background is in social work, where one of the identified competencies that we are supposed to take up is the twofold task of having research-informed practice and practice-informed research (Council on Social Work Education, 2015). This idea of saying how can we move our professions and others in our field forward is really a privilege. It is that privilege that we can help to make some of the unknown more known.


Bronner, S. J. (1990) Piled higher and deeper: The folklore of campus life. Little Rock: August House Publishers

California Institute of Integral Studies. (2017, May 8). Thesis and dissertation policies. Retrieved from https://www.ciis.edu/Student%20Affairs/Student%20Affairs%20Documents/PhD%20Dissertation/Thesis%20and%20Dissertation%20Policies.pdf

Council on Social Work Education. (2015). Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards for Baccalaureate and Master’s Social Work Programs. Alexandria, VA. Retrieved from http://www.cswe.org/File.aspx?id=81660

Montuori, A. (2010). Transdisciplinarity and Creative Inquiry in Transformative Education: Researching the Research Degree. In M. Maldonato & R. Pietrobon (Eds.), Research on scientific research: A transdisciplinary study (pp. 110–135). Portland: Sussex Academic Press.

Author Note

This essay was originally posted as a discussion topic for TSD 8005: Introduction to Transformative Studies.