Monday, September 6, 2010

4. It takes a long time to finish.

For reasons that are not entirely clear, it is taking longer and longer for students to earn graduate degrees (or undergraduate degrees, for that matter). The traditional model of a four-year bachelor degree, followed by two more years of study for a master’s degree, and finally an additional two years of study for a doctorate is long dead. The average time-to-degree for students in PhD programs is in many cases now in the neighborhood of ten years.

Ten years is a long time to remove yourself from the “real world.” As you are continuing to pursue higher education, your friends will be advancing in their careers, buying cars, taking out mortgages, and starting families while your quality of life will look a lot like it did when all of you were in college together. When you do finally earn your PhD, quite likely at some time in your thirties, you can start applying for jobs with starting salaries that your friends were earning when they were fresh out of college. The graphs that depict an increase in average earnings for increasing levels of education do not all take into account the years of income lost to earning those degrees. A decade is a substantial part of your life.



41 comments:

  1. Much of this blog seems to be anchored around two assumptions:

    1) Financial security and material possesions account for much of happiness.

    While money is important and having it eases a body's way through life (understatement), I fail to see how it replaces or makes up for a lack of professional interest/fulfillment. The blog writer seems to be operating under a false sense of entitlement; that is, he or she seems to be confusing how the world should work with how it does work. Certain careers do not pay what others do. Unless you live your life blindly naive or undauntedly stupid, you are aware of this long before you decide to attend grad school. You are agreeing to do what you love for a price. Decide for yourself whether it's worth it or not. Fight the unfairnesses within the system, certainly, but don't let them scare you out of engaging your life in something that really matters to you.

    2) Friendship and personal, social success depends upon "winning" or at least "tying" in a competition of material, familial advancement.

    Why is it necessary to start a family (assuming this is a goal of yours) at the same time as your friends start their families (assuming this is a goal of theirs)? I'm not certain the "real world" of do A - marry, then B - buy a car, then C - buy a house, then D - have a baby, is as "real" as this blogger implies. How often does life happen in that order? Why does graduate school necessarily prevent you from achieving these "real world" goals, and why would you feel left behind by peers who in this housing market are now strapped with the debt from a house they will never sell for the price they paid, whose entire salaries are devoted to paying for childcare, and who have been working the same job in the ten years since you graduated college and hating it more now than they did then? I'm not convinced that the ten years spent earning a PhD somehow exist in a vacuum apart from that very "real" world. Or, if they are, I'm not convinced that this is such a bad thing. I suppose it depends entirely upon your evaluation of what society expects of twenty-and-thirty-somethings and your willingness to either consent to or dissent from them.

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    1. I just want to address these points as people below don't seem to realize how they miss the point.

      1) The author of the blog is not saying that financial security equals or even accounts for much of happiness. The author is saying that *lack* of it *can* account for *un*happiness. And it is a common experience as a graduate student to be in a financially insecure position. The author is not making a point about financial security/happiness vs career satisfaction (Oct 29, 2010 02:58 PM: "replaces [..] a lack of professional interest/fulfillment"). When Jan 19, 2011 01:40 PM below comments that "Money is not an issue for me", he/she completely missing the author's point.

      2) The author is not saying that it is necessary to start a family at any particular time in order to be happy. The author is not saying that social or familial satisfaction is some kind of competition. What the author *is* saying is that, as a grad student, where it is entirely possible to be in a more financially insecure state, *it is going to be more difficult* to do these social and familial things, which lots of your peers will be doing. It will be harder for you to do them than your non-academe peers because you will have less money and less time.

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    2. Moreover, perhaps these things won't matter to you but they will matter to many people (easily over half) by the time they are in their late twenties. A carefree, bohemian life style is less appealing when broke, lacking health care and pushing forty.

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  2. I agree with you. But, presumably, the audience this thread seeks to address are those middle-of-the-road not-really-cut-out-for-academe types who may in fact find themselves several years into a substandard grad program that they foolishly paid for with loans before they realize that they really are that shallow...

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    1. With all due respect, while I have decided against pursuing grad school for my STEM field, I disagree with the notion that I am "middle-of-the-road." I appreciated this blog until I got to the earlier entries, where people made claims that owning a home and having kids = adulthood (i.e. the be-all, end all of life), and that colleges are basically gatherings of circus clowns nowadays because we do not study Greek or Latin.

      As someone who earned a BA and wound up in tech, I have had to put up with English and Philosophy majors sneering at my career and aptitude in STEM ever since I entered the job market. My skills lie in math, science, and computer-related fields, but humanities people seem to race to see who can sneer at those talents the most. According to them, if your talents and passions don't lie in studying dead languages and deconstructing esoteric literature, if you write about AIDS research in simple, declarative sentences and design interfaces for high salaries (two things I have done), and above all, if your math and science grades are higher than your humanities grades, you're a stupid, illiterate, culturally bereft American, and part of the reason "other countries hate us."

      Academics aspire to intellectual freedom, but for many in the humanities, that freedom doesn't extend to people whose talents lie outside the humanities. To be fair, a lot of the flack I've gotten comes from over-educated humanities graduates working jobs that pay so little they can barely afford to live, so perhaps the author has a point after all about material comforts. Lack of them, or the ability to afford them, makes life difficult, and even people who have their basic needs met, but not much more, can grow very mean as they perceive what they're missing out on. How else would you explain someone getting snotty with me because I'm not great at spelling, or don't really like to read 17th-century British literature "for fun" – which to them, makes me a moron, even if they failed high-school algebra?

      Actually, now that I think about it some more, the author did point out the snobbish attitudes that higher ed in the humanities can cultivate. I am guessing he started out this blog with the financial pitfalls of earning a master's or PhD in the humanities because he assumed that those issues were more pressing to the majority of Americans than struggling with depression, confusion, and feelings of being stifled and locked out of various parts of life.

      There are no easy answers. I mentor younger people, and too many of them pursue humanities post-baccalaureate degrees because they fear the current job market. Rightfully so, I think – I've been in it for over a year, with all that much-vaunted experience and hard skill, and management experience to boot, and oftentimes, I find myself shut out of opportunities in favor of the 25-year-old who will work for peanuts and no health insurance.

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    2. Sometimes very bright, hardworking people find themselves part of substandard graduate programs. This can happen because, among other reasons:

      a) the department misrepresented itself;
      b) the student is geographically limited to that institution - it's "the only game in town";
      c) the student is changing careers and upon applying to programs in the field of interest does not receive the same consideration as students in that area of study;
      d) the institution is the 'low-cost option' or the only affordable option to the student;
      e) the institution houses the only program for which the employer will help cover expenses.

      Furthermore, loan amounts may be less a function of students' planned expenses as much as purposeful institutional mismanagement of students (commonplace at certain under-performing state universities where "milking" of both graduate and undergraduate students is an under-reported phenomenon, and misrepresented where it is observed. These institutions commonly have low reported 4-year graduation rates; for graduate programs there may be anecdotal evidence of unduly prolonged masters' degree programs.

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  3. I entered a three-year graduate program and finished in three years. Unlike most of my peers, I did not have a family, children, or the need to work full-time. Out of 17 people who entered the program with me, I'm one of 3 who finished on time and one of 3 (the same 3) who worked part-time and had no family responsibilities.

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  4. While money is important and having it eases a body's way through life (understatement), I fail to see how it replaces or makes up for a lack of professional interest/fulfillment.

    Imagine being 35, making less than $20K a year, having thousands if not tens of thousands in debt. You cannot support a family, own your house and can barely accumulate savings. Also, for argument sake, imagine that you have little job security, almost no health benefits and may even be turned away from entry level (but higher paying) jobs in other fields due to lack of experience. You may assume, if you like, that your actual job is wonderful, you are proficient at it, and any set of job conditions.

    You may not notice this, but this is not sustainable. For anyone. Ever. You will not be able to retire in any reasonable fashion, and you will have to scrape by for years. This is reality of some individuals with PhDs in the arts and sciences. You can add whatever commentary you like to this, but don't deny the facts.

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  5. @Anonymous Sophist October 29, 2010 2:58 PM

    Way to go with the false dichotomies! Are you an admissions officer, or grad school director? You sure lie like one!

    “Certain careers do not pay what others do. Unless you live your life blindly naive or undauntedly stupid, you are aware of this long before you decide to attend grad school. You are agreeing to do what you love for a price. Decide for yourself whether it's worth it or not. Fight the unfairnesses within the system, certainly, but don't let them scare you out of engaging your life in something that really matters to you.”

    You imply that graduate school involves a tradeoff, i.e., you sacrifice one thing, in return for another. False! Most people attending grad school in the humanities or social sciences, certainly most white, heterosexual, non-communist men, are sacrificing their freedom and ability to earn a living, in return for which they will gain … nothing!

    They will not be able to do what they love, because academia is a totalitarian institution. Since they may not say what they believe to be true, their vow of poverty was in vain.

    And they will not even get relatively lower-paying careers than their friends; they will get no careers. To the degree that the white, heterosexual, non-communist man gets to teach, it will be as an adjunct, for below subsistence wages, with no benefits or job security, and under abusive (racist, sexist, etc.) working conditions. He can and will be fired for anything and everything. Meanwhile, he will watch as one racist, sexist moron after another gets hired to a tenure-track job, or as a department head, and have to listen as administrators and tenured faculty lavish these frauds with praise.

    “Fight the unfairnesses within the system, certainly, but don't let them scare you out of engaging your life in something that really matters to you.”

    How does one possibly “Fight the unfairnesses within the system” from the inside? It’s impossible! The only people who have had any success fighting the system, like Alan Kors and David Horowitz, have done so from the outside, via organizations they founded. Kors, a conservative libertarian now hitting 70, was first a prestigious historian, but virtually no conservative white men get hired to tenure-track positions as history profs anymore.

    “Why is it necessary to start a family (assuming this is a goal of yours) at the same time as your friends start their families (assuming this is a goal of theirs)?”

    A family? Who said that someone treading this path will ever be able to start a family? A white, heterosexual, non-communist man will be surrounded by racist, sexist tenured women who will never so much as say hello to him. These feminist harridans hate men, but the ones who are heterosexual will only marry the well-to-do. They consider you losers, as do civilian women who may not hate men.

    Women who stay in academia have much better professional prospects than men, but the majority of them will see all their eggs die off, before they have a chance to start a family, and they have adopted a sexually hostile (not to mention, anti-intellectual) attitude, either due to personal neurosis/wickedness or professional necessity that makes most of them unmarriageable.

    Grad school exists, in order to justify the existence of tenured frauds who are paying their kids’ way through accounting school. That is why they have heaped requirements upon requirements, thereby making grad school take longer and longer to finish.

    Nicholas Stix

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  6. This is my first visit here, and I have a question: Why do people follow this blog?

    I've spent the last two years completing my master's degree. (I actually just finished!) And, I happen to agree with Anonymous Sophist October 29, 2010 who Nicholas Stix felt the need to rail against here.

    Certainly there are reasons for individuals not to go to graduate school, but are those universal? Do those reasons mean noone should go to graduate school?

    I worked toward my MA in English while employed full-time for a publishing company, and I did so for myself. Money is not an issue for me. But having money does not equate to my happiness. Also, I got married last June (in between my fall and spring semesters), while my now husband was finishing his MS in accounting (also while employed!). Together, through both working and schooling, we are building a foundation for our family, which we plan to start in the next 2-3 years. (By the way, we're 23 and 24, respectively.)

    In order to succeed with a higher-ed degree, yes, you need real life skills (shocker!). No, you cannot blindly enter grad school thinking that it is the answer to your problems. However, the only thing this blog successfully accomplishes is making people feel badly about (1) the educational system in our country and (2) their life choices (if applicable).

    Please tell me: How does such defamation of a profession (of higher education) and the personal decision to attend graduate school help students make better decisions? Or, for that matter, how does it help to improve the educational system in our country? In my humble opinion, it worstens it.

    If you saw a pot of water boiling over on a stovetop, would you just sit there and watch? Or say, that's gonna make a mess? Or, would you go turn the stove down?

    Do I think the higher-ed system in America is perfect? No. Absolutely not. But do we need more properly educated individuals in this country? Absolutely.

    So, if you see the system hurting, get off you ass and do something about it. Don't just sit there laughing as the pot boils over.

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    1. "So, if you see the system hurting, get off you ass and do something about it. Don't just sit there laughing as the pot boils over."

      You did an MA in English in 2 years, and that was the extent of your grad school experience. You already had a job while you were a student, and you also felt the need to brag to us that you're a married person with plans to start a family soon. So young, eager, and determined.

      You do seem like the kind of person who would take pleasure in telling someone who's put an interesting little project together to "get off their ass and do something" - the cry of the reactionary person who doesn't respect that people approach problems in different ways. This blog provides people with information that's not readily available, and allows them to do what they will with that information.

      I'd like to see your list of ways in which we can improve higher education - because presumably you're working on a project of your own, and not just coming here to insult another person's work. I mean, this isn't grad school.

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    2. As a PhD student in Biophysics, I would emphasize: 1) The MA Anon. got is a complete joke compared to a PhD. 2) When it comes to doing research, English is a joke compared to Science. 3) Nature, perhaps the most respected scientific journal, has not only been running a spate of articles on how the entire global Academic system is broken, but has also failed to publish anything that amounts to proposed solutions.

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    3. You don't get papers in English literature, language or pedagogy comparing methods of quantifying methane produced by cow flatulence, discussions of how wild ducks might engage in homosexual necrophilia, or six-figure, taxpayer-funded parties involving Japanese quail and cocaine. That's "science."

      As far as "don't just sit there laughing as the pot boils over" goes, the whole house is already burning down and the whole neighborhood is going up in smoke. Time to get the popcorn out and enjoy the show.

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    4. So there you have it. If money is not an issue to you. If you already have a job. If you already have a romantic relationship and prospective spouse lined up. Then go ahead and do a couple of years of graduate school without thinking much of the future consequences. If you don't have all these pieces together to the extent you would like, then pay close attention to what this blog has to offer.

      It's interesting how people can make the most vehement criticisms of the blog when they have little experience or knowledge of the problem. If you already have the world licked, then you can spend your free time however you want. This blog serves people who don't have such easy choices.

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  7. To Jan 19, 2011, 1:40pm:

    I think that you are conflating the remarks made by people with the blog itself. The blogger is only giving some reasons not to do something, and acknowledges that it might not apply to everyone, and might not change the mind of readers.

    I got a PhD in math a long time ago, and I did it knowing that it might not be economically useful, but I wanted to keep studying. However, I would not have done it if I had had to go deeply into debt, and it did mean that I got married quite a bit later than I might have otherwise. These were all things I considered beforehand, but a lot of the people in my cohort in grad school had not considered them, and found what followed quite unpleasant. And the situation in liberal arts today is much more difficult than it was in math 30 years ago (although at the time there were almost no non-academic jobs in math, and very few academic ones - non-academic employment has changed tremendously since then).

    There is an academic bubble that has been forming for some time, and when it bursts, the demand for advanced degrees for higher education will decline greatly (and even now, in some fields there is an oversupply). This blogger IS trying to do something, by at least getting people to think about why they are doing something by listing some reasons why they might want to NOT do it.

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  8. I am 40 years old and enrolled in a Phd program a couple of years ago. I currently have a job that I am planning to keep and I do not expect the Phd will affect my career as do not expect to find a job related to the research I am doing. Having said this, I would not trade this experience for nothing in the world. Having a topic that you find interesting in doing research with is priceless. The soul also needs to be feeded.

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    1. "Feeded"?

      Also, it is nearly impossible to complete a PhD while working full time, at least if you want to do so in a reasonable length of time.

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  9. What depresses me about the standard of modern PhD programs is that they admit students who write "feeded".

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    1. How do you know the person isn't from a non-English speaking country? I think the use of incorrect English grammar is trivial compared to research and critical thinking skills. I am not a PhD nor do I intend to get one, I just think this is a callous comment.

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    2. Also the person is 40 and just entered a PhD program, you have no clue about the quality of their early English education, or their accessibility to one.

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    3. "I think the use of incorrect English grammar is trivial compared to research and critical thinking skills" Agree so deep English grammar not need communicate research imaginings thinkings benefit all! US student not serious not needed perfect saying make point flunk anyway I teach no teach no one care. Publish important creatively department hire "RA" make do.

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    4. "I think the use of incorrect English grammar is trivial compared to research and critical thinking skills."

      This explains why I didn't get in to any graduate programs last year despite having an 800 verbal GRE score (and a 770 quantitative score). I guess those universities know I just can't compete with Wo Haomei and Jagdish Ramalamadingdong in critical thinking and research.

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  10. Yeah, a PhD program is a very long, hard slog and definitely not worth it financially. You just have to decide what matters to you most - money or scholarship. I quit with just an MA but I still think that extraordinarily talented people can justify going on for a doctorate, both for personal satisfaction, as well as feeling a commitment to advance knowledge.

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  11. there are so many make it or break it moments in grad school. that is a corollary to this "reason" regarding the time commitment. you could feasibly get 3 yrs in to a phd, not get external/competitive funding and have to do shorter, half-assed research for your diss. then you are at an extreme disadvantage for the job market. when we start we tend to look at the most successful colleague and think that his/her experience is the standard. the strugglers usually hide on the periphery. our advisors say, "be like so and so!" and we buy it when we are just starting down the path. i'd say unless you are willing to stick it out no matter what, can handle many unforeseen setbacks, and/or you can settle for just getting the degree for experience-sake, then don't go.

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  12. This argument is only really an extension of your general belief that doing a PhD at all is a bad thing. You assume everyone wants the 'normal' timeline of jobs, mortgage, kids... If you are enjoying your research and don't want to own a house or have children, it would simply fall the other way - it taking a long time could be seen as a good thing.

    Clearly, systems vary around the world but my Bachelors was 3 years, my Masters 1 and my PhD is 1 (MRes research training) + 3 (=8, not 10). I'm fairly sure that without any higher education, my job and career prospects would not be looking especially rosy 8 years out of high school...

    p.s. writing your blog is taking a long time, don't you think?

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  13. The person who wrote this blog is a frustrated loser who never achieved nothing in school. That is why he (but I think it is a "she") writes all of this.

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    1. "Never achieved nothing"? Way to go with the double negatives.

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    2. Good discovery of a trivial person!

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  14. I dont know, having a family, a house, and a good paying job is pretty awesome. If you have a spouse who will support you and kids who are teenagers than going through the Ph.d. program is going to be an awesome experience. Even if you dont get a job at the end its great. If this doesnt exist for you, you might want to consider living in the real world, its awesome.

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  15. The important thing to take from this blog is to take time and think about what you really want out of life before deciding on continuing your academic career. I completed my undergraduate degree and by nature of my chosen profession was required to complete a Masters. Instead of immediately jumping into it, I took some time, got some work experience in the field and made sure it was what I wanted in a career. On the recommendation of my boss I chose to pay extra to complete my Masters overseas in the UK because their programmes are only a year in length. I can say that this year has been a fantastic experience, and while I did have to take a loan out to complete it I consider that debt to be well worth it. I was offered a job even before finishing my dissertation. I realise that the Canadian/UK experience may be different than the US one, but with careful forethought you are less likely to regret the decision to complete a Masters or PhD if you choose to make that choice.

    My MA is in archaeology and my BA in history, neither considered to be highly sought after degrees by employers. My BA is from a no-name uni, my MA from a top ten. Just like your post-grad job hunt and your uni experience - you get what you put into it.

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  16. Graduate school has a fair amount of chance built into it. Everyone who enters a (good) graduate program is smart, a hard worker, and has skills - that's why they were admitted. Everyone there "deserves" support from advisers and some kind of funding, two key factors in the graduate school experience that determine how soon they will finish. Not everyone will get these two vital supports, however - most grad programs have too few advisers for the number of students they admit, and certainly not enough funding to go around. Some people who go into grad school will get both the support and funding they need. These blessed few are the people who don't understand why others (the "unlucky" ones, who go through their program without funding or good academic support) have so much trouble with the graduate experience. Those who consistently receive this funding and support often do not realize how incredibly lucky they were - they simply believe they worked harder or were more dedicated than everyone else, and disparage those who are not as lucky. These lucky ones are the sort of students everyone in the grad program is told to emulate - even when these lucky students are in truth doing nothing different than everyone else in the program. When money and advisers' time is limited, this sort of situation will inevitably be the case, and can likely be found in the majority of grad programs. If you are able to finish your program rather quickly, with a decent level of financial security (for a grad student, at least) and consistent academic support and development from the professors throughout the process, then congratulations. But don't think that because you did it, this means everyone else can do it too if they just "work harder". You are not a better student, you were just lucky.

    Personally, I was one of those unlucky ones at my program on both fronts. After putting up with this situation for a few semesters (and watching previously "lucky" students join the ranks of the "unlucky" as budgets, teaching positions, and funding rapidly shrank with the onset of the recession), I left the school. I was thankfully able to finish the program from a distance - I was the lucky one, in this case, as many are not able to do this - and I have not regretted leaving the grad school environment once. Constantly being told you're a "failure" (either directly or subtly) because of your lack of funding, support, or progress - factors that for the most part are outside your control - creates a toxic environment. Even just a few weeks at a normal job outside of academia can remind you how arbitrary and silly the whole grad school system can sometimes be.

    I have seen "unlucky" students in my program both leave and remain. None of those who remain seem happy with their decision. Those who left do. Therefore, my advice to all you "unlucky" grad students out there is to not waste more time fighting against a system that's not accepting you. The system simply doesn't have the resources to accept everyone with funding and support - some students (and depending on the situation within the program, perhaps the majority of students) will be "rejected" by the program, even as the programs keeps taking their money and time. There is somewhere in the world where you can do something you enjoy and be appreciated for your efforts - if your current grad program is not that place, then leave. Leave soon. Talk with someone at the program and try to set up a plan to be able to complete your degree, if possible, outside of the school, but leave no matter what. The longer you remain an "unlucky" student in grad school, the harder it will be for you to find a place in life where you will be satisfied, happy, and financially-secure.

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    1. Uh oh, you just described my current situation perfectly...

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  17. I can't believe some are actually arguing against this reason explaining how it took them 1yr for completing a Masters program and 3yrs for a PhD in the UK or something. You people do not understand the issue at all. Most people here - top Canadian University - take 3yrs minimum if not more for completing a MS program, and no one in my lab seems to have graduated with a PhD in less than 6.5 years. Also, only full-time grad students are accepted which means you are working FULL TIME for 3-4 years towards a MS and 6-7 years towards a PhD. I must add that MS degrees are not terminal here like they seem to be in some US institutions. You have to EARN your MS degree here, and MS theses can sometimes be even better than some PhD theses. I believe this is also true US institutions such as the MIT in the sciences.

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  18. We're not arguing against it, just saying that there are alternative options, if you are concerned that taking 3 or 7 years to do a Masters or a PhD seems like too much then the UK/European equivalent may be something to think about. If you are already half way through your studies and hate it obviously this isn't going to help. And for the record, taught UK/European Masters are fundamentally different than North American ones as they don't have the same research component. Most employers are aware of this and obviously in some fields may not be recongised, but for those that are it's an enticing alternative, especially if you plan on returning to the private sector.

    As far as not understanding the issue, the blog is titled 'Reasons to NOT go to grad school' with the length of time being the highlighted problem in this entry. We put forward a way to go to grad school without the time commitment thereby allowing you to both have and eat the proverbial cake.

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  19. 10 Years is a LONG time, but not accurate as the average time to complete. Bachelor's 4 years, Masters 2 years, Ph. D. 4 years are the normal completion times for those degrees. It is a select few who actually complete the Ph. D. in 4 years... so realistically speaking, 10-12 yeas is common with 10 being a typical best case scenario for most people. Less than 10 is extremely rare.

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  20. If you love publishing academic work, you can do that outside of a program. By all means, it is important work. The humanities will value your insights a century after you're dead. You won't get a dollar for it.

    If you love teaching, by all means, teach.

    If you love educating yourself, don't forget the reason the Penguin Classics were established. Don't forget it isn't terribly expensive to buy a membership to academic databases.

    People forget they learn by reading the work of others as much as by writing about it. If you know a particular passage by Montesquieu, Chamfort, Franklin, or Namedrop-X, or the hundreds of sufficiently famous literary figures who have made the literary culture of Anglo-America, don't think that is without value, and don't think the time you spend reading it between shifts hasn't either saved you money on cable bills or kept you savvy for the largest questions in life. The 17th century discussed everything we discuss today (save identity formation), but with better form.

    The literature of the past is exceedingly valuable to anyone who has never felt they quite match the image of "the American." And there are practically infinite in-groups. Americans read Genet, they read Burroughs, they read Obama. Debt shouldn't come with it. The liberals of the early 20th century tried to get rid of all this class-based ignorance long ago.

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  21. On the initial statements of the blog post, I'd like to advance a number of reasonable non-exclusive hypotheses:
    1) Increased time-to-degree is occurring at the undergraduate level because post-graduation job marketplace education demands are changing faster and becoming more numerous (rather than more qualitative), which may incur more preparation time.
    2) Increased time-to-degree is occurring at the undergraduate level because of increased degree cost.
    3) Increased undergraduate time-to-degree is occurring because of the increasing inadequacy of undergraduate (and earlier) education.
    4) Increased undergraduate time-to-degree is occurring because of concomitant increased industry demands for specific prior experience.
    5) Increased undergraduate time-to-degree is occurring because of new graduate labor market conditions that have been deteriorating for over twenty years, alongside an absolute decrease in (other) job/career training opportunities.

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    1. On reflection I should have added:

      It is up to the reader to consider whether these hypotheses (or some close permutation of them) might not also apply to graduate school. For example, increased time-to-degree may also occur on the graduate level because of increased degree cost.

      Furthermore, I am now beginning to see more frequently that prior coursework is no longer considered over a certain time frame. In other words, more courses have expiration dates. For example, if I were to take partial differential equations as a prerequisite to, say, a masters' science or engineering program, more than five years previously, it wouldn't count, and I'd have to retake it. What's even worse is how these "recency" requirements stack up, so if I were to miss the window on PDEs, I conceivably would have to go all the way back to precalculus, losing an additional two years (and incurring two more years of tuition payments and time lost) in the bargain - with no opportunity to test in. One wonders whether this kind of policy is enacted to keep overall numbers down (thus giving the lie to the 'STEM shortage' myth), or perhaps just to weed out students on the basis of age/finances/continuity. However, the main point here is that this kind of policy is likely to increase time-to-degree unnecessarily, and also to increase related costs, on both undergraduate and graduate levels.

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  22. For undergrads, it's because many of them have to work and limit their course-load.

    For graduates, it seems that expectations are an inexorable inflationary spiral in terms of quantity, not quality. The sheer number of items that PhD students are expected to have on their CV is completely absurd.

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    1. See the second hypothesis above - why do the undergrads have to work? Because the degrees cost more. This increased cost tends to require increased paid employment which limits course loads and increases time-to-degree.

      On the first sentence of the second paragraph, see hypotheses 1 and 4. As for the bloated PhD CV, I blame American aping of the European standard.

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