A Man Called Phud
“Hi”, said the stranger. “My name is Allen Owen Phud.”
“Phud”, I thought. That’s an unusual name.
We were at a corporate reception. It was the usual cast of manager types and specialists in various fields, everything from computer software to team dynamics. I was the team dynamics guy. Music was playing. There were drinks. People were eating tiny things on sticks.
That was when the penny dropped.
“Do you mean… Allen Owen, Ph.D?”, I ventured.
“That’s what I said”, replied Phud, looking a little bit miffed.
Suddenly I was miles away, thinking of some of the brilliant people in whose shadow I’ve had the privilege to stand over a very lucky and varied career. A mathematician – one of the most gifted number theorists of his generation. Another mathematician – the head of a classified Government research institute that is literally only for geniuses, the real place that recruited the fictional Will Hunting. A neuropsychologist at UCLA who is helping to rewrite the book on everything we know about team cognition. A psychiatrist and academic who specializes in insider espionage and has testified at every significant spy trial of the last decade. The head of the large Psychology department at Montgomery College, a noted expert on human sexuality. A woman who ran part of the legendary Lockheed Martin Skunk Works team, and is now Vice-Chancellor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
And not a single one of them introduced themselves as “Phud”.
These are some of the most modest, self-effacing, ego-free individuals I’ve met. They are the definitive folks who speak to the janitor and the President of the United States in exactly the same way. Do they have the highest qualifications from the best institutions in the land? Certainly. But they also have a shared understanding that an advanced degree is a qualification for a lifetime spent in inquiry and research, not a ticket to self-promotion and ascendancy over others. It’s a Ph.D, not a Ph.ME.
But Phud was still looking at me. And there I was, with a glass of house Chardonnay in my hand. I’m fairly sure I was supposed to be impressed.
“Well, okay, thanks, nice to meet you, Phud.” I called him Phud for the rest of the night. He seemed upset.
And what about me? Am I just bitter? Do I have any advanced degrees myself? Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve clean forgotten. (Clint Eastwood. Dirty Harry. Great movie.)
But either way, my mother named me John, and that’s good enough for me.