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People have touched on this, including the parent article, but this needs stating in BIG SHOUTY CAPITALS:

PhDs are the last mediaeval guild apprenticeship standing, with all the ceremony and all the anachronism that implies.

Seriously. You're apprenticed to a master, you have to produce a meisterwerk, then they let you in. The entire thing is a historical accident. Remember that and everything else is... well, it's still crazy, but you can get the thread of it.

(yrs, PhD (Cantab) 2007 - http://www.lexical.org.uk/science/thesis/)




With a few words switched, I find this a pretty accurate description of the PhD and postdoc years:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Journeyman_years#Historic_roots


Aren't apprenticeships still quite common in a lot of fields? (Hairdressing, carpentry...)




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