Educated, Not Wise. True Stories Showing Degrees Don’t Teach Common Sense

College graduates, especially those with advanced degrees, sometimes look down on others and think they’re better than everyone else because they succeed in a rigorous program. 

Of course, master’s degrees and P.HDs can’t teach wisdom. Sometimes, people who achieve academic success lack common sense and even a basic understanding of how things work outside of their specialty, though they sometimes refuse to believe it. 

While scrolling through the R/askreddit community, I found a thread asking users to share examples of this phenomenon in real life. They quoted Richard Fenyman, saying, “Never confuse education for intelligence. You can have a Ph.D. and still be an idiot,” then asked users to share their stories where the statement rang true. 

Here are some of the best examples. 

I Know Everything

One user, who has a Ph.D., said the people they work with tend to think they know everything about everything due to their advanced credentials. 

A lot of them think that because they succeeded in one area, they are an expert in every other area of life. And they always have strong opinions about everything,” they shared, calling it a “Ph.D. Syndrome.”

Another said although they see the same, they don’t understand it. 

“One of the main benefits from my education was to teach me how much I don’t know. It’s baffling to me that people get confidence to speak on things they don’t know anything about just because they’re “educated,” they replied. 

Engineer Doesn’t Know How Bank Tubes Work

You’d think an engineer, of all people, would understand how things work. Their entire job is to design stuff that works. 

One user shared a ridiculous mistake a previous boss, who was an engineer, made at the bank. 

“I had a boss who was an engineer who put a couple hundred dollars in change in a bank’s hydraulic drive-through tube where it got stuck, and they had to use a jack hammer to get it out,” shared the user.  “He was upset that the bank was charging him for this because he didn’t know this would happen. They had large signs saying not to put change in the tubes, including on the tubes themselves.”

All the advanced degrees won’t help if you don’t read the instructions. 

Chemist Doesn’t Understand Sugar

Most people can’t be expected to understand the complex metabolic interactions our bodies use to process sugar. However, most of us know that people with diabetes shouldn’t have a lot of sugar. 

A chemist should have a better understanding, but one failed at the basics. 

One user shared a story about a family member, a chemist struggling with diabetes. 

“One night, he went to the ER because his blood sugar was dangerously high. He claimed he was eating well (he normally doesn’t), so there’s no reason why his blood sugar was high,” said the user. 

However, the culprit was soon discovered. “In his car was a 2-liter bottle of ginger ale mixed in with grape juice.” 

The chemist claimed that couldn’t be the problem. “He said that the two canceled their sugars out, and we didn’t know what we were talking about because he was a chemist, and he knows how to combine things.”

Apparently, chemistry works how we want it to work, not how it really works. 

Lack of Common Sense

Numerous users shared stories of how the smartest people they know do the stupidest things. Most of it boiled down to a lack of common sense, that innate instinct that helps us fix minor problems when they arise. 

“A girl I dated blew the engine in her car because she kept driving even though there was smoke billowing from under the hood and it was making lots of engine failing noises. She went on to med school at the University of Chicago,” shared one user. 

Another user described a long-time friend as one of the most brilliant people they’d ever met but added that the “guy couldn’t pack a suitcase, wouldn’t know how to book a flight. Was making boxed Mac-n-cheese and couldn’t figure out why it was so watery. Ya, he didn’t drain the water after the pasta was cooked.”

Can’t Figure Out How Things Work

Another common thread is that Ph.D.s struggle to work simple things, like technology and machinery. 

“I had a professor for higher mathematics who had real difficulties figuring out how to extract a cup of coffee from the vending machine. Bless him,” replied one user. 

“I once had the privilege of telling a $300/hour IT consultant that the reason his presentation screen wasn’t working was that he’d unplugged it to charge his laptop,” laughed another. 

A third added, “I once watched my Ph.D.’d professor try and fail to plug in a slide projector. Was painful to watch. Eventually, some very nice woman did it for him.”

No Spatial Intelligence

There are lots of different types of intelligence. Ph. D.s may be academically inclined but sometimes lack mechanical or spatial intelligence, as one user’s story highlights. 

“My college roommate, smartest person I’ve ever met, spent nearly an hour trying to shove a desk back into the corner of our room at an angle. She wouldn’t listen to me because, in her words, she “got this,” they shared. 

“After she finally gave up, I walked over. Pulled the desk out completely and straightened it with the wall, and pushed it back in. One movement, no struggle.”

Need Hand Holding

People who are super focused and intelligent in one subject often need hand-holding in everything else. One user described their experience working as a team lead for a tech company. 

“One of our team members was a Ph.D. in astrophysics. He would ping me constantly for how to do things that we had well documented. How to install certain programs, how to gain access to servers or code repositories. Literally we would sit in Zoom calls together and I would just read the instructions out loud and watch him do them,” they explained, adding, “I was utterly confused as to how he could breathe by himself.”

Education Helps, but It Isn’t Everything

This thread showcases that there are different types of intelligence, and the one needed to earn a Ph.D. is only one of them. Although getting the credential does take hard work and perseverance, it doesn’t mean the person is smarter than everyone else. They’re only more educated in their specific subject. 

Do you know any advanced degree holders that lack wisdom in other areas?

This post was inspired by a Reddit thread and doesn’t necessarily reflect the views of Partners in Fire.