Friday, May 14, 2010

Big brother type surveys--no thank you!

Allegedly, graduating doctoral students are required to complete the government's Survey for Earned Doctorates (SED). This document started with seemingly benign questions about my matriculation date, research discipline, university, etc. However, as I progressed to the later pages, this questionnaire began to ask, what I thought, were ridiculously personal questions.

For example, the SED asked how much personal debt you would have at the time of graduation from either undergraduate or graduate education. Then the SED began to probe the nature of your employment status following graduation. Simply asking what sector you would be working in was not enough, the survey went further when it asked what company hired you, where you would be located, and it even had the gall to ask the exact salary you would be receiving for your position. Now, for bashful survey takers (because this was not anonymous) the survey was generous enough to provide an alternative method to answer this question, where you could select narrow salary rangest.

Now, you may ask whether the government survey ended here? Shockingly, it did not. To conclude, the SED asked for the last 4 digits of one's social security number, place of birth and birth date, as well as personal contact information in case the need should arise to communicate with me regarding my answers on this survey.

As a responsible citizen, I understand the need to statistically analyze the work force. It does provide a snapshot about the health of the nation, as well as enable future projections of the economy. Furthermore, much like the national census, I see how it is historically interesting to record trends in the demographics. One day, I may be a data point that historians note was the time where young women with doctoral degrees began outnumbering men.

What I do object to however, is the disturbingly intrusive nature of this governmental SED questionnaire. Now, the majority of graduating students probably willingly provided all of the requested information without blinking an eye. But what concerns me the most is that there may have been many other students that begrudgingly supplied this private personal information despite a feeling of apprehension because of the mandate that this survey be turned in to the registrar's office for completion of one's degree.

My hope is that these fellow students arrived at the same conclusion that I did, which was to leave the intrusive sections blank. Whether it's a government survey, or a private solicitation of personal information, you have the right to not participate. So, don't be pressured to comply when your gut says no, especially when it is not anonymous.

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