Monday, February 14, 2011

46. You may not finish.

Presumably, very few people start graduate school with the intention of dropping out, but graduate school attrition rates are depressingly high. In the humanities, they are painfully high. A study by the Council of Graduate Schools found that only 49 percent of those who start PhD programs in the humanities finish within ten years. (The best numbers are in engineering, where 64 percent finish in ten years.) A fraction of graduate students take longer than a decade to finish their degrees, but the vast majority of those who haven’t finished within ten years never will finish. So, even in the fields with the lowest drop-out rates, one third of those who start a PhD program never complete it.

Graduate school is difficult (see Reason 9), and some of this attrition is the result of students being unable to pass their exams or write acceptable theses. Their inability to do so may have as much to do with their work obligations (see Reasons 7 and 41) as with their academic potential. Some graduate students crack under the pressure of demanding professors (see Reason 44), while others cannot muster adequate self-discipline under the supervision of lenient advisers (see Reason 45). In many cases, money becomes an issue, and it is arguably much wiser to drop out of a program than it is to go into debt. Life simply gets in the way sometimes. For all sorts of reasons, spending the better part of a decade in a state of financial insecurity (see Reason 17) and prolonged “youth” (see Reason 12) proves untenable for many people. Unfortunately, there is a cost to be paid for quitting (see Reason 11). Anyone considering graduate school should consider the attrition statistics soberly, and then consider the bleak job prospects for those who finish despite the odds.



16 comments:

  1. Something that I read somewhere (comment on this blog?) was that in industry, any experience is beneficial. If you can say on your resume that you've spent two years working on a particular project or in a certain environment, that's great. In academia, unless you have that degree in hand, your experience doesn't count. Two years of a PhD without finishing is as good as nothing. Perhaps the notion of completion being the only desirable goal made sense in the past, but now it's not only outdated but can also be harmful to grad students' job prospects.

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  2. Back in the day, there were 2 notable "non-finishers" in my department (Chem E).

    The first simply found that hammering nails was more satisfying than finishing his thesis - he was ABD (All But Dissertation) and he was there for 8 years.

    The second had fantastic grades (something like a 3.8/4.0) throughout his BS program and he continued on in the same school. He got straight Cs his first year. Seems he was very good at coasting off the coattails of his more gifted colleagues. When his aid was cut off, he left.

    A lesson for those of you still willing to tough it out. One guy in my research group was there for 5 years. He was asked to present to the group at the weekly meeting, where results were shared. When our advisor told him to write it up, the guy was pissed that he worked to present and was not allowed to. The adviser was sending the signal that he thought the student was done.

    Moral of the story is that YOU need to tell your adviser when you have completed the project and it's time to move on with your life.

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  3. Good post! Interesting facts especially the info from the study conducted by the Council of Graduate Schools which "found that only 49 percent of those who start PhD programs in the humanities finish within ten years." Wow!

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  4. It is nice to know i am not alone.
    Sometimes i really envy people that had done well in their research and it makes me feel really inferior.
    After 3 years, i have lost the curiosity in my topic and feel that i cannot internalize/instill into my mind things that i read up.
    i BELIEVE in research and it makes our world better!
    So clever people, you have not done your best yet!
    And normal people like me (not you), let's make our contribution!

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    Replies
    1. I just successfully defended today - one thing that really struck me from your post was topic exhaustion - one thing that kept me engaged through the whole process was finding small research projects throughout the process to keep me engaged in research. I too became more than bored with my topic but finding an outlet for my 'curious mind' helped me step away and then refocus my energy on my own area. Good luck!!!! Research is what makes our lives better!!!

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  5. Reminds me of the 'Life in Hell' comic strip showing the world's most bitter person: A graduate student drop-out.

    Link to an image of comic (see lower left corner): http://www.futurama-area.de/LiH/OComics/16.gif

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  6. Unaccredited Law Student, former Cooley Kid, starting my own unaccredited Scam Blog, need help. Here is my first post. Would love a link, and your thoughts on how I can improve. You are one of my hero's! Keep fighting the ABA man!


    http://abanoway.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/

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  7. I just recently dropped out of grad. school. It was the best decision I could have made. I actually get a normal amount of sleep, am no longer depressed, don't have anxiety attacks, and have found that just working a steady job (with real days off) has made me the happiest person around. When I left I said I would finish my MA, but now I think that I won't. I don't want to go through all of grad. school again, and if I ever do, it will be in a different field.

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  8. I have a legitimate question: is there a stigma against going for two years on a PhD program and then dropping out once you get your master's? I want to get an MA but don't want to pay for that shit. Would that black-ball you from the academic community forever?

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  9. The graduation rate for many masters in speech language pathology programs are well into the 80-90 percent range.

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    1. Students in such programs are not the target audience ("Its focus is on the humanities and social sciences").

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    2. They may not be the target audience. Are their concerns discussed here? They are. Is the blog name '100 Reasons Not to Go to Graduate School' or '100 Reasons Not to Go to Graduate School In the Liberal Arts or Humanities?' It is the former.
      Seeing as so MANY of the readers are/were humanities graduate students looking for a way into something else, I think it something of a public service to demonstrate that many of the problems discussed apply elsewhere as well.

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  10. I didn't finish after 3 years! I felt like I wasn't getting anything out of it anymore, & I wasn't graduating in time!! I've had enough w/school at this point! It's not giving up b/c I realized I just needed to work and not feel like I'm in school ALL the time just doing one thing!! :(

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  11. Is the subject connected with your professional field or perhaps is it more about your hobbies and ways to spend your leisure time?

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  12. Educating oneself is necessary. If you have been blessed with the means and opportunity, there is no excuse for not doing so.

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  13. A credible Ph.D program is no bed of roses.

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