Monday, January 17, 2011

43. Attitudes about graduate school are changing.

The Economist recently noted that “whining PhD students are nothing new,” and that is certainly true. Graduate students have been unhappy with their lot in life for generations. But the headline over that Economist article declaring that “doing a PhD is often a waste of time is something new. The difficult employment situation resulting from degree overproduction—the “glut” of PhDs—has been recognized and discussed in academic circles for a long time, but it is only rarely discussed outside of academe. For one thing, graduate programs hardly go out of their way to warn prospective students about the stark reality that will face them if and when they ever finish their degrees. But there seems to be a change in the air. Perhaps there are finally too many people trapped on the academic treadmill for the problem to be ignored any longer.

As the crisis in graduate education comes to light, cultural attitudes about grad school are taking a decidedly negative turn. Media outlets (most notably U.S. News & World Report) have benefited enormously from the graduate-school mania of the last few decades, which may help explain why systemic problems in higher education have not received more attention from the media. Job insecurity is at least partially to blame for the extreme reluctance of academics and administrators to criticize the system upon which their livelihoods depend.

However, in 2003, Professor William Pannapacker (writing under the pseudonym Thomas H. Benton) bravely published a piece entitled “So You Want to Go to Grad School?” in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the major trade journal of American academe. The Chronicle deserves credit for publishing that essay, and the series of Thomas H. Benton columns on the problems of graduate school that followed it. A recent installment was entitled “The Big Lie about the ‘Life of the Mind.’” The comments posted by readers of those columns reveal the heartbreak and disappointment of so many who are products of the graduate-school machine, as does this open letter to Thomas H. Benton. Over the past two years, attention has also turned to the stability of the higher education establishment itself, with academic insiders like Joseph Marr Cronin and Howard Horton and law professor Glenn Reynolds comparing the “bubble” in higher education to the hyper-inflated housing market before the real-estate bust (see Reason 27). Meanwhile, economist Richard Vedder has pointed out statistics that suggest that college has proven of little practical use to millions of college graduates, and has more recently considered graduate degrees.


There seems to be a new cultural awareness of the negative aspects of graduate school. Appearing in 2010 was Adam Ruben’s book, Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School. Generally speaking, the details of grad-student life have never been on the cultural radar, so the decision of a major publisher like Random House to publish the book is telling. Another cultural indicator is the Xtranormal viral video posted in October 2010 depicting an earnest undergraduate asking a professor for a letter of recommendation to accompany her graduate-school application. The professor tries vigorously to dissuade her. The video is humorous, but draws on the genuine pathos that permeates academe (and seems to have inspired a subgenre of similar videos). An even more recent video (produced commercially)—styling itself as an “honest” grad school ad—is a blunt and vulgar commentary on graduate school and graduate students that drips with derision. Its humor is of the mocking variety.


Perhaps not surprisingly, the writers of the Simpsons were ahead of the curve, pointing out some of the sad realities of graduate school (with a touch of mockery) years ago. If graduate school continues to get this kind of attention, maybe it will have the positive effect of reducing interest in graduate programs and eventually relieving some of the pressure on the PhD job market. On the other hand, it is hard enough to be a graduate student in a world that scarcely notices that graduate students exist (see Reason 30), and it will be far harder if the popular culture comes to perceive them as dupes. The zeitgeist seems headed in that direction.

69 comments:

  1. Back in 2003, when I was just finishing my M.A., smeone gave me a copy of that first Benton article. I didn't take the person (a professor in another department whom I barely knew) or the article seriously. Of course, I was the one out of five grad students who would beat the odds! Of course, that professor meant well, but he didn't know anything about me, didn't know just how special and brilliant and awesome I was! And, of course, just as Benton says in the article, I found plenty of advisors willing to tell me what I wanted to hear instead. Boy, was I stupid!

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  2. This is one of the most compelling reasons yet, mainly because it encapsulates several other better reasons. When both the job market and popular culture are telling you essentially the same thing, you should probably listen.

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    1. I always vowed after I got my masters AGES ago, that I would never go back to a place where a committee of academes with delusions of grandeur would arbitrarily hold your fate in their hands as you defended a dissertation. All the PhD candidates, I started grad school with were on the verge of a nervous breakdown before it was over (with a few notable exceptions). Most of us realized we could learn more practicing our science/art/ technique/profession /career/ fate, etc. than we could listening to those who liked to pontificate about it.

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    2. I also vowed the same after I did my M.A. and now, here I am in my second year of my PhD! Yup, it's hell! As a practicing artist working in THAT industry (the creative worker sector) previous to my entry into academe, my choice was between one hell and another (choosing a better option wasn't working out). I took my pick and now I am in hell # 2. But, it could be worse --I could be sick with a terminal disease, which, thankfully, I am not at this moment.

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  3. What is the punchline about loans till you are 47? I can't understand what she says. There are some solid reasons in this post that should make people reconsider going to grad school.

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  4. @mOOm, I think she says, "47? Let's aim for dead." At the rate people are taking out student loans, you have got to believe that some of them will never be able to pay back what they owe.

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  5. Although one can pick and choose, my pick of the day is me. I staggered through college as one who intended only to get a degree only to be able to say that I had one. I graduated with a degree in history and got a job that I did not enjoy. After a couple of years, I went to a trade school (in drafting) on a lark and discovered that I really enjoyed working in that field. I returned to grad-school in architecture, got my Master of Architecture degree, became a registered architect, and have spent many years in a thoroughly enjoyable profession. One thing that made getting an education work as it did was "work." From my second semester on, essentially full-time jobs accompanied my mostly full time student role. When one or the other had to be cut back, the full time student profile was the first to go. So, at the end of seven years of higher education, I was exactly zero dollars in debt. And, if one thinks it can't be done, ask my wife who went to college for eight years in order to get two B.A. degrees in totally different fields while owing nothing also. That's fifteen years of college for the two of us with no loans.
    Choices folks. One makes choices.
    Woody

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  6. I loved graduate school and am very happy I went. I decided I needed a break from real life, wanted more time to enjoy my twenties and graduate school delivered. I had no debt left from my undergraduate degree, went into a technical (not English!) field, so I was paid for plus a stipend to live on (did have to put up with complaining undergraduates, but that's what they paid me for), took my time (worked full time Summers), left not only without debt but with a PhD and a little nest-egg to get started raising the family with the husband I met during grad school (20 years married now!). The value of the PhD in and of itself? Pretty worthless. The time I spent relaxing and being young? Priceless. I'm sure that I ended up giving more work and effort than I got paid for (the stipend was under $1k/month) but it was enough for food, and a roof, and really terrific memories, few of which have to do with academics.

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    1. I do not know how you survived on 1000 a month but most people can not. I make 2200 a month at my PhD position I am in now. I am getting my degree in a hot field, evolutionary microbiology, and have an applicable project that will get me a good job after I graduate. I still want to quit. The expectations for the amount of money are high and I do not know what kind of free time you had but most PhD's work all the time. I find it hard to do anything with my measly salary. I will stay maybe because I do not know what else to do but I think academia is a joke. Science PhD's are a joke and the professors who run them are assholes and most often abuse their workers. 20 years ago maybe things were different but now they are terrible. Terrible working conditions, terrible pay, and little to no benefits.

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    2. Evolutionary microbiology, hot field? I think you've been in academia too long and need to enter the real world. I'm not trying to burst your bubble, but that sounds like genomics and bioinformatics. The dime-a-dozen modern version of "molecular biologist" in the late 90's-early naughties. I don't blame you for not being able to see the forest from inside where academia stares at its own trees and pronounces them significant, but you're in for a rather rude awakening once you're done with your PhD...and several post docs, after which you might have a chance at a crappy low level academic position teaching or researching "evolutionary microbiology".
      Sorry to be the bearer of such news, and I'm not trying to be cynical, but your academic institution cannot face telling you the truth. Indeed, the whole premise of their existence relies on selling significance, even when it's not very much so, and no one else in the real world outside academia cares (or pays much for) your sub-, sub-discipline.

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    3. "20 years married now" ... ah, it all makes sense. I am someone who worked 40+ hrs/week during his entire Engineering undergrad (graduated a few years back), and while that covered living expenses, tuition was still a problem. If you have $0 in bills perhaps it's one thing, but if you are paying rent, car insurance, etc. you're unlikely to have the savings for the astronomical tuition that exists these days. Paying to "relax and be young" is not very smart in general, especially if you're paying 10s of thousands of dollars for the privilege.

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  7. About fifteen years ago I had a prof with a couple PhD and a handful of MAs, and she had just started another. When the class questioned her about it, she said she had over $150,000 loans and no hope in ever paying them back, so her strategy was to stay in school until she kicked the bucket. That way she would never have to make any payments on all her loans.

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  8. Graduate school is just a means of digging a deeper student loan debt hole for those putting off the responsibility of getting on with their lives.

    And the Studelt Loan Programs are nothing more than a way for the Federal Gov't to pass lots of taxpayer money to academia, and leave the students as the primary debtor. The tuition costs escalate faster than the loan limits.

    At the rate the economy is going, it is equivalent to indentured servitude. Most students will lose their leverage in job hunting and be forced to take low paying jobs just in order to make their loan payments. And those debts can't be discharged in bankruptcy!

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  9. I got my MA back in 1973 and it never really paid off for me. I think the academic gravy train ended in 1971. I pulled the plug with my MA, but I knew others who got Phd's who ended up teaching sixth grade, freeway gypsies teaching part time at Southern California Community college, and others who went back and got Special Ed. Credentials.

    What was especially galling was the "I'm All Right, Jack" attitude among the tenured faculty. It has taken along time but they are about to get their's, so to speak. Big Time. Well deserved.

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  10. This grad school drop out is here via Instapundit.
    Grad schools were in Stuff White People Like:
    http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/03/04/81-graduate-school/

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  11. Actually, why stop with grad school? Bill Gates, dropout. Larry Ellison, dropout. Steve Jobs, dropout. Now, Mark Zuckerberg, dropout. If you want to be a big hitter, don't even go to college. Or that seems to be reasoning here.

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    1. Whether or not you want to be a "big hitter" has nothing to do with your actually being one. Genius and luck are the only factors there. Those people would have done what they did no matter how much school they attended, and others will fail completely whether they get a GED or a Ph.D.

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    2. More to the point, not everyone has the resources to back dropping out from Harvard (or even Reed, for that matter). In fact, I'd say very few people have that kind of family backing (Gates), or even the kind of associates from which you can build billion-dollar empires (Gates, Zuckerberg, Jobs).

      Larry Ellison might be the exception, but here you've got a college drop-out with a little exposure to computer systems in the 1960s consulting for major corporations (Amdahl, Ampex, the CIA). Wouldn't happen today, because the opportunities just aren't there.

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  12. Haha yea grad school is like the prescribed path for a self-motivated, interested individual, where as a startup for highly motivated, non-school oriented people who are still extremely smart. Seems like school is what holds people back.

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  13. @Sekhar:
    Those are the exceptions to the rule. The .00000001%. Drive around a city or suburbs and talk to the mid-20s people manning registers and restocking groceries. Dropout, dropout, graduate, dropout, graduate...

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  14. GREAT...mockery aimed at us graduate students. This makes my already bleak existence even bleaker. But for me, at least, it does help in making a bit more bitter sweet.

    This is because I'm just about to finish my MA. I'm about $57,000 deep from the undergrad loans though.

    What am I doing when I'm done, you ask? (Oh, that age old question!)

    Paradoxically, my plan is to delve into a slightly delusional state for the sake of sanity. Once I'm completely done I'm going to delude myself into believing that I spent the money on a fancy lexus and exotic vacation except that while I was away on this ‘vacation’ thoroughly enjoying this fictitious lovely life I somehow manage to completely trash the lexus without insurance. (WOW..I just got to say right now that even my fantasies seem to be suffering from the same lack of positivity and creativity that characterizes my grad school experience).

    Anyway (and this applies to both the fantasy and my real life) I guess I trashed the very expensive means that I thought that I was going to use to get ahead in the world. Now what? For one, I guess I should be happy that I got out with my life because I know a few others who haven't been so lucky. Second, I did get to go places...even if this was only the barren theoretical permafrost of some obscure scholar, or the new city for a conference, or to those crazy places that I escaped to in my mind while trying to successfully getting through this eye-opening experience.

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  15. Grad School, like college itself, is a financial bubble.

    http://www.alternativeright.com/main/blogs/exit-strategies/the-academic-bubble/

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  16. I find the general "poor life of the grad student" vibe sort of endearing. It's almost like a joke, but it's real!

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  17. This is my first visit here, and I have a question: Why do people follow this blog? And why would you base such a decision, in part, off a video from CollegeHumor.com?

    While these clips are certainly amusing...

    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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  18. Um, I think there may be a little audience confusion here. My sense is that this blog is aimed at people who are planning to go to/currently attending grad school in the humanities (or maybe social sciences) with the primary goal -- although they may not have thought it through fully -- of getting a Ph.D. and becoming professors.

    So, if you're in architecture or engineering or one of the sciences and working your way through to a job that ultimately doesn't involve working at a university, or even if you're just getting a terminal M.A. in some humanities field in order to get a better publishing job.....well, this blog probably doesn't apply a whole lot to you.

    Personally, I value reading about your experiences, because they tend to provide such a good contrast to the experiences of those of us who went to grad school with the aim of becoming professors. But, really, it's not the same game at all, as I see it. If you didn't go to grad school to "live the life of the mind" and become a professor, be proud of your choices. You get to move on with your lives.

    This blog, as I see it, is theraputic for those of us who have to make up for lost (wasted?) time, and it is hopefully persuasive enough to convince others about to head out on the same path not to make the same mistakes.

    BTW Anonymous 1:43, I don't think too many people are laughing. It's not really funny at all, except maybe through a certain kind of gallows humor, to find yourself in your mid 30s with a mountain of debt and ten years of your life sunk into a profession that offers you nothing but underpaid permatemp work as an adjunct. Talking about it is at least a small step towards changing a seriously f#&ked up system. No one talked about it enough when I was in grad school, and I wish they had.

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  19. I was talking to my favorite professor the other day - also director of graduate studies at my (top 25) school - and explained that since I'm not independently wealthy and not married to someone who is, I need a full-time job when I leave school, so I'm not going for a PhD and won't even consider it in the future unless one of the above criteria is met. The professor (who, again, has tenure and is in charge of a well-respected doctoral program and therefore is presumably recruiting graduate students) nodded and said that that was a very good decision, that there are way too many people in graduate school and not enough jobs for them when they get out.

    This seems to me like a step in the right direction.

    Also, Anonymous 1:43 - as Recent PhD said, that's not the kind of graduate school this blog means, which if you keep reading you'll probably realize. People who go to graduate school while working (some, like my father, even get their PhDs paid for by their employers and then a promotion and raise when they finish) or who have a job actually guaranteed are fine and probably quite happy as their earning potential goes up. But PhD programs in the humanities are professional school for professors, and not all (very few) of them are going to get full-time jobs.

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  20. While anonymous 1:43 is setting pot to boil so it can be morally considered and rescued, the grad students have smoked theirs.

    What is this affect called "college" anyway? What is its purpose? What is a publishing career? A trade. Accounting? A trade. Both are specialized and meaningful to the requisite employer environment, not the academic environment. Both are vocations that do not even remotely approach the skill and intellectual acumen of a master machinist.

    The skill trades operate the materiality of a sophisticated knowledgebase, unlike the clerical trades which process the artifacts of the superior processes and products created thereby. And you will seldom find universities on the leading edge. The trade schools are not quite as bad but they too are well behind the curve of dynamic industry.

    The elephant is the room is USURY. Every American Citizen should be able to borrow money interest free directly from our US Treasury for tuition to develop their skills and knowledge.

    Include with that the right to refinance existing debt, interest free.

    Tuition-sharking must end.

    Enabling the predatory racket of student loans coupled with the grant racketeering and serial duplicity and predatory condescensions that dominate the internal culture of academia has rotted the academy from within.

    These fetid institutions have become little more that front end of a massive ponzi scheme to bleed trillions in usurous interest payments from American households.

    And what about these academic accreditation associations that participate in rituals of legitimacy to justify the tuition and mandate the hours of servitude remain inflated to amplify the indenturedness and debt of students?

    The system is sick. We complain about the public schools being a mess. The universities are the reason they are that way.

    Time to put some grand juries to work in a few RICO inquiries. Especially as it involves those families with members in Congress who are also in the student loan business.

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  21. Check out what this blog inspired on David Zondy's blog:

    "If I needed one word to sum up my twenty years in academe, I'd use 'disillusionment'. I went in expecting a mind-expanding world of study, argument and hard work pulling back the veils of ignorance and instead I encountered a nightmare of time-wasting, egomania, empire building, totalitarianism, political posturing, featherbedding, corruption, graft, sexual misconduct, intimidation, exploitation, and toadyism."

    Read the whole thing:

    http://davidszondy.blogspot.com/2011/01/is-graduate-school-good-idea.html

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    1. perfectly stated!

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    2. My M.S. program in a nutshell.

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  22. I always say that the biggest beneficiaries of law schools are NEVER the law graduates, but the law firms and other employers of law graduates.

    Another beneficiary of law schools is the faculty and the administration running the law schools.

    In this capitalistic society, why would the law school industry in general make the law graduates the biggest beneficiaries, when the people running the law industry are law firms, employers of law graduates, and the faculty??

    As a corollary, college education in the US mainly benefits corporate America, who are the employers of college graduates. Education in America produces workers for corporate America, not citizens for the society.

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    1. Well said. This is the essence of the issue, and this is the reason why academia (whether it is undergrad OR grad level) acts as more of a FILTERING mechanism than anything else. That is, one of the main purposes of the system is to weed out those who can't endure the amount of work, stress, b.s., etc. (while at the same time milking everyone - but those who can stick it out AND those who quit). Ultimately, the ones who stick it out get exploited by the system and THEN enter the exploitative environment of the corporate world - where they are now conditioned to accept the exploitative nature of the system.

      George Carlin said it best in his monologue "The American Dream" :

      http://youtu.be/acLW1vFO-2Q

      Personally, I was so appalled by my undergrad experience at one of the top schools (the higher the caliber of school the stronger the indoctrination process) that I woke up fast to what a mess the situation was, and thus was more skeptical about deciding to attend graduate school. Luckily I followed my gut and didn't waste the time/energy. I am glad to see that some people are making blogs like this to awaken the public and prevent more people from entering the grinder.

      Keep up the good work!

      JOIN THE RESISTANCE!
      http://www.facebook.com/StudentLoanResistanceOfAmerica

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    2. "...college education in the US mainly benefits corporate America, who are the employers of college graduates. Education in America produces workers for corporate America, not citizens for the society."

      Actually, education in America doesn't do any of these.

      High-population mass societies have little incentive to produce effective workers or educated citizens.

      Rather than contemplate the aspiration of America (i.e. free, informed, industrious and employed citizens participating in a constitutional republic), consider that maybe America is heading toward a future that looks much more like India and China (effective one-party rule, vast income disparities, large state bureaucracies, no rule of law, widespread poverty, news media largely serves the governing class, high costs of multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies, lots of propaganda and vocational training masquerading as 'education' actually designed to fleece the masses and occupy their energies and attention, very little income mobility largely tied to party membership).

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  23. @recent Ph.D

    You are right on. There are people making a living in academia (someone should with the billions of dollars funneled there).

    The old reason of going to college to learn is being destroyed with the advent of alternative learning avenues.

    The unprofitability of higher ed degrees is becoming more apparent and even admitted by those in the system. The going reason to attend now is for self-satisfaction and "smugness".

    Both are poor reasons to pursue a 100,000 piece of paper.

    Apparently, graduate degrees make people feel important. To each his own.
    http://nomoredegrees.com/reasons/201

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  24. I am so happy to have found this excellent blog. I hope you get a huge book deal and help spread the word.

    Here's a response to that it's-funny-because-it's-true video:

    http://chronicle.com/blogs/brainstorm/so-you-want-to-get-a-ph-d-in-the-humanities-nine-years-later/31402

    All my best wishes to you and your readers,

    "Thomas H. Benton"

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  25. The College Humor video actually has the opposite point from the other videos, since it still sees grad school as a cushy existence (except for the brief mention of student loans, but even there the point of the mumbled punchline seems to be that the student has no intention of ever repaying.)

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  26. James K., it just goes to show that you can't win. You get to grad school and discover how awful it is. It's not easy, it's not fun, it's not relaxing, and it's really hard to leave once you start. Looking out at the real world, you see people making money, building careers, and starting families while you feel completely stuck.

    The College Humor video is the view from the outside looking in. You're just some person who can't hack it in the real world, so you're taking the easy way out and staying in school. So, while you're exhausted, anxious, and poor, the world looks at you and sees you as lazy and entitled.

    The message of all three of those videos is that grad students are dumb, either for making such a poor choice with their lives, or because they're "not good at life." Being told that you're dumb by pop culture (of all things) when you've forgone money and a traditional career to follow intellectual pursuits is a sad, ironic twist.

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  27. Attitudes are definitely changing. Check out this video which you might have missed (not to mention the blog in itself)

    Enjoy!

    http://fucknogradschool.tumblr.com/post/2899688530/inherited-someone-elses-research-project-and-got#notes

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  28. Life in the "hard sciences" side of grad school is not a guarantee to good jobs once graduated. In fact, the most disturbing trend is that grad school is fast descending into "sweatshop" territory, and it's being promoted by the so-called "professional" organizations. Let me explain.

    National professional organizations such as ACS (American Chemical Society) and AIChE (American Institute of Chemical Engineers) are becoming run by academics, and as such as lobbying organizations to get the federal government to funnel more "research" dollars to universities.

    This allows the professional academics to expand their grad programs, and build their individual prestige. Industry now works with the universities and has learned that it is far less expensive to have the academics do the research through the almost slave labor of grad students.

    What is the problem? First, there are not enough academic jobs to go around. Second, industry has no need for newly minted PhD when the academy is doing all of the research. Third, there is dilution in the marketplace with many PhDs and fewer jobs to go around.

    It has gotten so bad, that the academics write research proposals to NSF so as to capitalize on the latest fad. A few years ago, I went to a conference with a session on "Fluid Particle Interactions". The first THREE papers were about modeling the movement of a single strand of DNA through a capillary tube. All by competing research groups at different universities. Each on the 4th or 5th order refinement of the basic model.

    Who really thinks that such "research" actually adds to the body of knowledge? And why do you think they used DNA? HINT: it was because they could qualify for biotech funding.

    In short, the system is broken, and is soon to implode.

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  29. Matt Groenig's School is Hell cartoon, "Grad School, Some People Never Learn" says it all:
    http://grassformyfeet.blogspot.com/2010/06/grad-school-some-people-never-learn.html

    READ THE CARTOON, NOT THE BLOG!!!

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  30. Anyone seen Jorge Cham's PhD comics? Hilarious but true cartoons about the real life of grad students

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  31. Of course some people in the humanities are funded 35,000+ a year plus. In Canada, I will finish my PhD, with my fellowship being enough to pay off my UG student loans. Fellowships really do make the PhD a good option, or at least one that has a neutral outcome

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  32. MOST GRADUATE DEGREES HAVE NO VALUE, HIRING MANAGERS NEED TO WAKE UP AND EVEN QUESTION THE INTELLEGENE OF THOSE WITH GRADUATE DEGREES

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  33. Yes, graduate school is utterly worthless. I will be sending my MA and PhD degrees back forthwith. I will also return the book residuals, consulting fees, and teaching money I've earned from having them. My bad...

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    1. Wow Dr. Darin, I guess your success changes everything for the rest of us. Too bad they couldn't cure you of your narcissism.

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  34. Learning is a dead end. Every high school students know it, and I have learned it from teaching to them (with a Harvard PhD, of course, from a department that disowned me as soon as they knew that I had been booted out of academia).

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  35. Yeah it's not much better for grad students in the sciences, especially if you go to a state school and not an Ivy League program. At first it doesn't seem so bad, as you get paid during grad school and get a full tuition waiver, but you come out with basically the same options: with a CV full of papers, conferences, and TA experience, you're most qualified to become a professor. Almost everyone I knew in grad school in the sciences never did an internship because they were too busy teaching/researching over the summers. So in the end, you apply to academic jobs and face the same problems described in this blog, or you try to find "non-academic" jobs, but you have no actual work experience and the PhD makes you overqualified for most entry-level positions. Oh sure, you could work at one of the research labs! Yeah good luck with that. Those jobs are just as competitive as tenure-track positions. If you can swallow your pride enough, you can apply to the same entry-level positions that 22-year-olds fresh out of college are applying to. They'd probably rather hire the 22-year-old, though, who will work for lesser pay and almost surely not quit to go back to academia (these are real concerns when employers see a PhD on your resume).

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  36. The anonymous poster above me tells it like it is. Today, a PhD in science could possibly hurt you more than it helps you... and that is AFTER you get the degree. En route to their PhDs, suffering grad students are typically overworked by their PIs for little more than pocket change ("stipend")... not to mention that there are no labor laws protecting students from research advisors who abuse their power, power that extends well beyond the PhD period. Try getting a job without a stellar letter of recommendation from your PI! In my opinion, PIs have waaaaay too much power over the lives and future of their students.

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  37. Grad school is used to pick up girls or to ride out the economic crisis, or to fill gaps in your resume.... nothing else.

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  38. The decision to go to grad school is related to funding. I turned down an offer of about $15K in funding after tuition because I knew I would have to take out about $10K a year in loans on top of that to live. My goal is to only have to take out about $5K a year - X 5 years is about $25K, added to my ~25K for my BA and MA I can handle. Or get funded with $22K+.

    But to go to grad school and self-fund? Yes, a terrible, TERRIBLE decision. I would rather adjunct 4 years - send out 10 apps a year and hope 1 out of those 40 gives me funding then take an acceptance without funding.

    What people need to realize is that without funding, a PhD is not worth it. But with funding? If you love your subject, you should go for it.

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  39. Hello:

    In my case, I lucked out in grad school. I am doing a dual degree in Public Health and Social Work. I am still living with my family and they're helping me pay for school. I also have a part-time job. I have no intention on getting a PhD or writing a thesis (both programs offer other options thankfully). Researching the job prospects of those who have PhDs just turned me off. I'm sticking with my dual masters since I do want to work, be married, and start a family one day.

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  40. Very interesting! Thank you very much for sharing this blog. I love reading blog that is worth my time. I'm so looking forward to your next blog. God bless! =)

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  41. I went to grad school - MBA - in the 70s. While I was there, I remembered what my undergrad advisor - MBA, Stanford - told me. "Go to a top 10 school for your MBA or just buy the damn thing, you won't learn anything new. Oh, and you won't learn anything new at a top 10 school either, but you'll make great contacts."

    In the intervening 35 years, I've surveyed my fellow executives in a variety of fields. I've asked probably 250 of them if they learned anything new or practically usable when they got their MBA. I have yet to have ONE say yes.

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  42. I'm doing a PhD now and have my Masters. I have been to the most exotic places that most people don't get to go, and despite that I am exhausted and stressed, I LOVE LEARNING!! Plus, I really care about the research topic, and have no plans on going into academia when I am done. I had plenty of adventure and life experiences in between (and plan to continue), though I haven't married or had children and I am in my late 30's. But I don't blame that on my education! Not having children was my choice. To me, getting my PhD isn't something I HAVE to do to get something at the end of the rainbow. No, it's a wonderful challenge, intellectually and personally. The journey is a fabulous one and I am just grateful to be doing a PhD. How could you not want to learn as much as possible in life? During the time I was on hiatus between my degrees, I didn't feel nearly as challenged or fulfilled. That's just me. I've learned that it is determination and getting a lot of different experiences that carry you further than anything else. I would say that it is the hardest thing I have ever done. And I am always stressed, overworked and tired. But I love it!

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  43. This is crazy. I am about to finish PhD in engineering now and I am not even sure if I can find a job after I finish it.

    When I was about to finish my engineering master I got at least two or three calls per week. Now I got ZERO calls. Not from Industry, not from University.

    PhD is really a terrible, terrible SCAM.

    PS:

    I am doing EE PhD with a very good institution in a VERY HOT domain, BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING...FOR FUCK SAKE!

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  44. I am so glad to have found this blog. One of my favourite English literature professors shared it on Facebook. I used to dream about graduate school-- my original goal was to work for a year or two after obtaining my BA in English, and then returning to pursue my MA. However, after two years with a degree and only a few temporary administrative jobs, I realize that education was not worth the investment. I majored in English because I love writing and reading, but I could have done what I love without getting in debt. Of course, it could have been much worse-- I could have realized this after obtaining my MA. Thank goodness I opened my eyes on time. Here is something I wrote over a year ago.

    Here's something I wrote on the uselessness of my BA: http://larosenoire1984.blogspot.com/2010/12/was-my-ba-in-english-so-completely.html

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  45. Yeah, this is some disheartening shit. But, really, I think the main reason people go to graduate school has little to do with hopes of making it financially, or of believing that there's a dream job out there. It's because the alternatives are in their minds much worse: slave away in a cubicle, never be able to pick up a book and discuss it deeply again, be a cog in some asshole's money-making machine, never have the opportunity to be engaged in what one does with one's entire, interested mind. BUt, as not ever having money for those rare moments of freedom erodes at our self-esteem and ability to enjoy life (not to mention the loneliness of the graduate life, esp. for the MA/MS ppl who aren't around long enough to find someone), the debt on top of it all really becomes too much to handle. Fuck it.

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  46. I went to grad school. I got myself an MA in history in 2 years at about $5000/yr. I'm totally happy with my decision. I would never have gone for a Ph.D. Five years out of the job market, reading 200 books a term, is not worth it. Furthermore, as my goal in life was to teach high school, I would have shot myself in the foot - Ph.Ds are typically not hired in K-12 education, whereas people with MAs are easily hired. I was.

    I'm currently considering finishing an MA in education. I'd be in the program for 1 year and it would cost me about $6000. The units from that would push me to the furthest payscale for teaching, resulting in a "raise" of a few thousand a year. I'd say it's worth it. BUT my field is one of the few where it would be.

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  47. or you could move to France and get a MA for 250Euros/year or a PhD for 350Euros/year (at a public institution), sit in small understaffed libraries that have 10% of the texts you need (and no way to get others without paying for them yourself), or go to class in buildings that remind one of calcutta after the monsoon, read books about the present-ness of the present that are both brilliant and navelgazing, and then have no job opportunities.

    but on the bright side, all the debt you'll have will be the living expenses +30% USD to Euro conversion and all the holiday trips to the alps.

    and you'll end up with a much richer appreciation of wine.

    actually I'm realising my life ain't so bad...

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  48. I have noted this fact in the Arts and Sciences for years: true academic degrees are not needed in the modern world (in my opinion it will be to society's detriment in the long run.) When I was an undergraduate in the University of Pittsburgh's Classics Department I noted that many of the grad students there seemed to be there in perpetuity. Now five years later many of them are still there.

    When the recession hit in '08 I saw many many people thinking that grad school would be the way to wait out the hard times, but if these people had been able to look at the big picture they would have seen that it is not merely a matter of economics but of a larger cultural down shift from the post-WWII era (in which many more people than in the past were able to go to college.) However the truth is many many people going to "college" today are not really "college material."

    For decades we have perpetuated the myth that a college education is the key to middle class success, instead of just a key. As American society has shifted from an Industrial to a Consumer based economy the value of education, as something unique, has slid down the tubes.

    Which is why, even though I write an education column at the examiner.com, I discourage young people from taking on the necessitated debt of school. Especially if the degree has a job title after it's name. In the past degrees with job titles like "Social Work", "Medical Lab Technician", even some engineering and most business degrees were two year associates programs at technical schools with the rest of the "training" (as differentiated from real education) down in industry with the employer fronting the cost for their employees' job preparation. But after WWII Industry saw fit with to outsource their training to the Universities with lots of "cheap" government money.

    In fact now some academic programs in the University are not taking on Master's students, and requiring grad students to go whole hog with Ph.Ds:
    http://www.examiner.com/classical-antiquity-in-pittsburgh/diminishing-returns-the-university

    http://www.examiner.com/classical-antiquity-in-pittsburgh/seamus-esparza

    -Seamus Esparza

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    1. Grad school is an initiation ritual for a certain class of very diverse individuals, those who are rich, those who are hardworking, and those who can follow instructions-- That's why our grad schools are full of those yearning masses struggling to breathe freedom -- Asians & Indians & other versions of the class described above with some sort of cultural, numeric advantage.

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  49. This entire post seems like a rant for someone that is sad with their academic experience and personal prospects and so chooses to paint all graduate school experience with uselessness and depression. I'm sorry for what you've gone through, but please realize that for many passionate, hardworking people, grad school is the only practical way to get a strong academic and research experience to pursue future professional careers. There is nothing unsuccessful about completing a Master's degree, followed by an M.D. to become a physician or surgeon. I don't see that as useless. And there are many people who read and read and read science textbooks and to apply that knowledge to helping people when they sick or injured. I don't see grad school as a waste for such growing professionals. And I feel these kinds of postings are geared towards dissuading many people from pursuing advanced degrees so that there is less competition, and so that you can keep your priviledged status all to yourself.

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    1. quote "grad... the only way ... to pursue... careers". Here we go again. Study to get status. To get status, career, riches, fame. How ghastly. How petit-bourgois, narrow-minded.

      If your post mentioned at least once "grad... for the sake of learning, the pusuit of Truth" then that would have been redeeming. Your post confirms what you're trying to deny, that the overwhemling motivation for graduation nowadays is... climbing the class ladder.

      As for the grandiloquent, idealistic "...apply that knowledge to 'help' people", well at $200 a consultation of course.


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  50. Motivation is first, before purpose, etc. If you study at all, study for the love of it - to actually LEARN things. Not to get a diploma to get a career to get you status/riches/fame. If you study to get status, well then, may God pity your soul...

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  51. The problem with grad school or any other high stakes professional degree is the survival of the strongest mentality. It's not a pleasant process. It's ugly and arduous. It's inhumane basically. Read Disciplined Minds by Jeff Shmidt.

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  52. I was in a PhD program in a social science discipline at a top-20 school. I hated every minute of it. I used to have stress induced nightmares nearly every night where I would dream about not completing assignments, etc. The best decision I ever made was leaving and it was initially not an easy one. The culture is similar to a cult where the early exit process is extended out so that you are almost publically shamed into making your decision to leave. As soon as I did leave, I had a brief stint of unemployment and a handful of really bad interviews with potential employers who could tell I would be bored with the work they demanded of the said position. Eventually, I was hired in the field of finance and started making way more money my first year than anyone else I knew who left the same graduate program early! There is life after graduate school. A very good life indeed. Get the MA degree, especially if your program is paying for it, and go out and make real money!

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  53. I am sixty. I have a BA from the University of Wisconsin in Bacteriology. I have a Certificate in Financial Planning from the College for Financial Planning. I have the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist designation from the University of Pennsylvania. I've been self-employed for 30 years. I always wanted an MBA and did not want to spend the money. I am enrolled in a regionally accredited MBA program that I ADORE and that you have not heard of. I will owe $30000 in student loans. I could pay it off, but why? I can use the money for advertising for my business and triple my money, get a 20 percent tuition tax credit each year, and use the degree in accounting to pass the CPA and charge $120 an hour as an adjunct to my other business. I thought I was going to do a PHD in Economics. Today I read an Economics Forecast from a leading newly hired California State University professor who naturally has stunning credentials. But he can't write clearly. His references are unclear. I decided I don't need the PHD to do my own investment subscription letter. I can write just as poorly without a PHD.

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