Book By: Peggy Hawley
Review By: Kurt Xyst, M.Ed.
Undergraduate Advising
University of Washington

Hawley has produced a concise, unadorned, and street-wise primer for the doctoral process. Without some working knowledge of, or exposure to, the trials and tribulations of doctoral study, advisors may be at a disadvantage when discussing the value of undergraduate education, especially the liberal arts, with students who express interest in continuing their education.

The guiding theme of Hawley’s book is that attrition within Ph.D. programs is not indicative of academic preparation or capacity. That is, those who graduate with a doctorate are not necessarily the most gifted or the most promising; rather, they are those who successfully navigate the process.  Hawley argues that doctoral study is fraught with traditional and political obstacles that must be successfully navigated. Her guidance is intended to ameliorate the more cumbersome and potentially terminal difficulties students may encounter. To that end, Hawley touches upon major stages of study including such topics as: choosing a dissertation topic, forming a committee, crafting a proposal, and defending the dissertation.

Though written from an academic perspective, it is unclear if students will find Hawley’s book useful. The context of doctoral study is addressed only briefly in three short paragraphs that provide the reasoning behind undertaking doctoral study and the ramifications of obtaining the degree. There is scant attention paid to the reasons for not pursing the Ph.D. although significant research has been done in this area. For instance, Hawley mentions the work on doctoral attrition conducted by Dr. Maresi Nerad and Dr. Joseph Cerny at the University of Berkeley from the late 1980s, but does not discuss the ongoing work being conducted by Dr. Nerad at the Center for Innovation and Research in Graduate Education, part of which focuses on the shortcomings of U.S. doctoral programs. Additionally, although Hawley cites research on underrepresented students, minority students and their unique situations, they are mentioned only briefly in the opening chapter never to be returned to again, thus maintaining the white, middle-class hegemony of higher education.

Being Bright is Not Enough is a cursory overview of the stages within doctoral study. Though written for students, Hawley’s text pays little attention to the overall context of doctoral study before and after the Ph.D. Cleanly written and efficient, Hawley’s text is useful for those needing an introduction to the process of doctoral study but unnecessary for anyone actually involved in it.


[1] Nerad, M. (2003). The PhD in the US: Criticisms, Facts, and Remedies. (Online), Retrieved August 10, 2004, from http://www.educ.washington.edu/COEWebSite/Cirge/pdfs%20for%20web/Twente_revised.pdf

Being Bright is Not Enough: The Unwritten Rules of Doctoral Study(2nded.). (2003). Book by Hawley, Peggy. Review by Kurt Xyst. Springfield: Charles C. Thomas Publisher. 178 pp. $58.95. ISBN 0-398-07439-9.
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