Monday, July 4, 2011

63. Your friends pass you by.

For graduate students, nothing drives home the fact that graduate school delays adulthood (see Reason 12) more clearly than observing friends who choose a different path. You may enter graduate school with the belief that an extra degree or two will give you an advantage in life, but while you are concentrating on gaining an advantage, your friends are concentrating on life. They may never turn into millionaires—though that is far more likely in the real world than in the academic one—but they probably will pass you by. While you sit in a cramped living space working on your dissertation year after year, your friends will be working hard, too, but they will be earning salaries. They will also be buying cars and houses, getting married, and having children (see Reason 15). They may even take an expensive vacation or two. It can be hard to relate to old friends who live in a world increasingly different from your own, and even harder to make new ones (see Reason 50).

This is about more than keeping up with the Joneses—or counting on catching up with them after you finish your education. The lives of your friends are reminders of the true costs of graduate school, which can be much higher than you anticipate. More than a quarter of women in their early forties with graduate or professional degrees are childless. After years of graduate school, will what you have gained be worth what you have missed?


  1. A great feature of this blog is how much of it is applicable to studying the liberal arts in undergrad. The personal cost can be enormous.

    I did a liberal arts undergrad. Immediately got a business MS after, hoping to become minimally marketable. That took 15 months. It still took me 15 months after that to get a job.

    All the while, during that 2.5 year period, friends were busy wrapping up their first positions and applying for their second, getting married and buying homes, having children, etc.

    And due to the fact that I had blown 4 years of undergrad studying material no more useful than regular consumption of the nightly news, I needed to waste 2.5 years just trying to get that first, real job.

    1. @anonymous (4 July 2011, 7:42 AM):

      < >.

      That mentioned, you may like to find out what iain martin stated about the role of a Bachelor of Arts (BA) NOW compared to "30,40 years ago".

    2. P.S. His middle name is "gregory".

  2. Many people I knew in high school and college now work in the corporate world, or they are doctors, lawyers, journalists, architects, gallery curators, counsellors, teachers, etc. They have had over a decade to establish their careers, while I am still in school, barely making enough money to get by. It is hard to relate to friends who married young and now have several kids, while I am still a student living in a rented room. Yes, I also have many friends who are also in graduate school. What is depressing is when they even pass me by, and I find out that people who began graduate school after I did are completing their degrees.

  3. This striking contrast stares me in the face every day in the office where I now work. My boss and I graduated with a B.A. in the same subject around the same time. My boss had seriously considered going on for a Ph.D. -- "seriously considered" to the point of applying and being accepted to programs. But instead of going to graduate school, he went to work in the "real world," first as an intern and then from one progressively more responsible position to another. Now, he is the VP of a national organization, and I am his secretary.

    I am also the only person working in this office with a Ph.D., but I am the lowliest and lowest paid. True, I could have continued working in academe, but my salary as an adjunct was considerably less than my salary as a secretary -- I quit both on principle (it's disgraceful that a secretary earns more than a college instructor) and because I could literally no longer support myself once I was no longer "still a student."

    I don't expect to be in this position for too long and am also lucky to have landed in an organization where my boss and coworkers at least have respect for my academic background. But, really? I am reminded daily of how people my own age who had the same opportunities I had but made different choices have gotten on with their lives and passed me by.

    If you're considering graduate school, think seriously if that's where you want to be a decade from now.

  4. This is yet another really good reason for not attending grad school that 1) absolutely never comes up when talking as an undergraduate with professors and potential advisors and 2) isn't really thought about by folks in their early 20s. The world is a much, MUCH different place when you're 21 versus when you're 28. Sure, you have plenty of friends in school when you're doing your undergrad but you might lose touch with those same friends when you're a grad student and they have non-academic jobs (which usually pay better, have more free time, and better work-life balance)

  5. So, so, so true. I'm an eighth year grad student and now officially ALL of my pre-grad school friends are engaged/married/with kids. At first when they were all settling down and being "conventional" I liked that I was doing my own thing, but now as this continues to drag on...

    My only quibble is with the last point. Haven't we established here already that kids (and why just for women?? I get the whole "biological clock" thing, but come on) don't necessarily equate to personal fulfillment for everyone?

    1. My friends had kids in high school. My, but you're really behind. And me too for that fact.

      Not really. I went to a small high school and no one I knew got pregnant during high school. Though I heard of one girl from a different grade.

  6. Hear hear. I don't like children. Don't have 'em. Never will. But, what I can say from observation is that people I know who didn't postpone and had children while in grad school? Just dragged out the process even longer. Most ended up dropping out 8, 10, and, in one case, 12 years in. Their friends weren't passing them by in this respect, but it's hard to support yourself on a TA or adjunct salary, much less children. They dropped out after that huge investment of time and effort not because they didn't want to finish but because they couldn't afford to.

  7. Most people I know who had children while in grad school still finished, but wound up having to put their kids on Medicaid or to take food stamps/WIC during school. It seemed to be doable for the people I knew, but it was tough and most of them were embarrassed at having to get assistance.

    As to your friends passing you by, yes. I've been in grad school for quite a few years, and ultimately wound up getting a part-time job for my last few years so that I could make ends meet. Simply put, I got tired of my friends and family being able to afford simple things like weekends out of town or a nice dinner out without going into debt.

    It's true that not too many people will strike it rich in their twenties or land a high-paying entry-level job out of college. But grad school wages, in my experience, tend to be so low that you have trouble paying for even small luxuries that your regular-job-working friends will take for granted.

    I'd argue that anyone who doesn't have outside support in terms of a wealthy spouse or supportive family SERIOUSLY think about this before going to grad school. It might not be a big deal to make a low wage at 22, but once you're 28 you may feel differently.

  8. What are "friends"?

  9. "Who said anything about personal fulfillment? It is simply a fact that most people like children."

    Hmm...most people HAVE children. It might be overstating matters to assert that most people "like" them. Child abuse statistics, deadbeat dads, some regretful moms who lack true reproductive freedom due to religious/political/legal restrictions or domestic violence situations--all tell a different tale.

    The issue is whether a) female academics have a higher rate of childlessness than other highly educated professionals (female attorneys/judges, MDs, etc.) b) how female academics with kids fare professionally relative to the other three categories (females without kids, males with kids, males without kids). I don't have data on this, but anecdotally it appears that academic moms get the big screw in any number of ways (as do folks caring for aging relatives).

  10. Okay, I don't want kids myself right now, but I think it's perfectly fine to note that most people will have children at some point in their lives. It's simply a fact.

    Let's not let the pro/anti children debate distract from what is an excellent point about the consequences of the time and money sacrifices you will make if you choose to go after a Ph.D.

  11. If asked about the ramifications of Reason 63, here's what I'm fairly sure people in my grad program would say:

    Question: Your friends are finding spouses and partners to share their lives with. Don't you feel like you're missing out on love and companionship? ?

    Grad students say: I don't want to get MARRIED! Marriage is a corrupt institution. You're so dyadic and traditionalist. I'm poly(amorous)!

    Translation: I'm humping my married advisor. Besides, if I ever meet anyone who can tolerate my narcissism full time, we'll make up an elaborate story explaining why OUR marriage is all right--we're getting married for insurance reasons.

    Question: Do you think you might want to have kids some day like the rest of your friends? How will that dovetail with your job search?

    Grad students say: (Arrogant sniff). The nuclear family is a social construction. Besides, I have a cat.

    Translation: My out-of-state parents care for "my" cat. I don't send them money for food or vet care or boarding when they go on vacation. But I'll be first to complain if they don't care for MY cat the way I want. You better hope I don't have kids.

    Question: I hear many of your friends are buying homes. What about your lifetime earning potential and your ability to save for retirement?

    Grad students say: (Grimace). Your concerns are so bourgeois. I'm working on dismantling the establishment here, not trying to buy into it.

    Translation: My radical Marxist advisor has parlayed a career of writing about "the revolution" into a posh 4 bedroom Spanish colonial in the hills. I'm delusional enough to believe that I too can champion the rights of the little people while gazing down at them from my hillside estate.

  12. "The world is a much, MUCH different place when you're 21 versus when you're 28."

    This is very true. I started grad school at 21. Back then it was all about having this grand, cross-country academic adventure, with a chance to teach and live in a different part of the country. I lived alone in a 300 sq ft apartment, and it was grand.

    Then I met someone, and we decided to get married. We wanted to own a home. In order to pay for a mortgage, I'd need to get a full-time job. Once I got a full-time job, I couldn't keep up my studies full time, and decided to just finish my MA (which took a very long time as I was only doing it part-time) and not do a PhD. The prospect of doing a PhD part-time sounded horrendous to me, and I just wasn't willing to try it. By the time I finished my MA I was 27, and I was so, so glad I went the full-time job route and didn't pass up my job offer to instead start a PhD program. I have friends who went for the latter option instead and now they feel that they can't get a full time job because they're working on the PhD they don't really want, and they can't quit the PhD because in their mind quitting makes them a loser. It seems to be a harder decision to make as one gets older: damned if you do, damned if you don't.

  13. I "followed my heart" through creative career 1. After that fizzled, I went to college (undergrad) for the first time in late 20s and fell in love with learning. Actually thought grad school--> academic career was a smart, responsible path to take. Now I'm in my early 40s with no income or career. Not sure if it's dumber to stay and finish or quit, or if I'm just so screwed at this point that it really doesn't even matter.

    Oh god, Oh god, Oh god. I am stupid X2.

  14. It's not childLESS, it's childFREE!! Well, at least it is for those people who actually choose to not have children. I realize that many graduate students end up paying a biological price for getting their degree and in those cases it would be correct to use the term "childless". But may I ask, if it was such a priority for these "childless" people to have children, why didn't they just put your education on hold for awhile in order to have them?? I don't get it? It's called choices and priorities. You can chose to have children, or you can choose grad school or if you're a superhero you can do both at the same time OR for something completely different you can do an advanced degree later on in life after you have children.

    Also, this post reeks of pronatalism like the rest of our baby-crazed society. It seems to imply that if you don't have children then you're missing out in life. Perhaps this is true for many but some people simply don't share these sentiments.

    Personally, I have to admit that I don't know what to think about all of this. I mean, I'm happy with my choice of grad school and up until this very moment I'm happy being childfree. Who knows, maybe in 30 years I may have a slight regret about my choice to go to grad school rather than have children but right now, I"M HAPPY, so I just don't see that regret, if it ever surfaces, actually making any sense or having any real substance to me in the future. Afterall, if it gets REAL bad I can always adopt, right?

    1. Thank you, my thoughts exactly.

  15. I am childfree too. I don't just "not want" kids. I live the ugly stereotype of the "childless" woman: I am a kid-hater (though I usually have to pretend I'm not). I too resent feeling like others assume I'm unhealthy, selfish, nuts, or less than whole because I chose to write poetry rather than change diapers.

    That said, this post is spot-on. Most people don't feel the way I do about kids. And I'd venture so far as to say that it's really hard to know who you are and what you're going to want as a "real" adult when you're the age most folks are when they enroll in grad school (early-mid twenties). And from what I've seen in my putatively feminist department, women academics are subject to many varieties of sexism even in departments that trumpet how progressive they are. It's hard to make it in academia when you have caregiving responsibilities, and it seems not just rational but compassionate to assert that there are women who suffer in one arena or another (maternal or professional). The women I know who have kids (all non-academic) all do more than their fair share of parenting, dragging sometimes clueless husbands/fathers along for the ride. I don't know how they'd manage if instead of mommy-track jobs they had to meet academic paper deadlines or worse yet go on the academic job market (where I'm told some prospective employers still break the law by inquiring about future baby plans).

    I resent our baby-crazed society, but I also think the rhetoric of "choice" surrounding procreation punishes women, and is unrealistic given the many social pressures female academics face. If you only have bad "choices," are they really choices at all?

    I can't speak for her/him, but I really don't think our blogger meant to go pro-natal on our childfree asses. The truth is that the prospect of remaining childless is very traumatic for some women and men. And if academia is one more institution that makes family life difficult for people, as far as I'm concerned, that's one more great Reason to hate academia and the many wienies who populate the Ivory Tower.

  16. I resent your hatred of Austrians.

  17. "Also, this post reeks of pronatalism like the rest of our baby-crazed society. It seems to imply that if you don't have children then you're missing out in life. Perhaps this is true for many but some people simply don't share these sentiments."

    Arrg! Every time one of these posts mentions "children", the anti-children posters come out and say "but you don't have to have children!"

    It so happens that many people in this world--and I am among them--would like to have children, and won't have a fulfilled life without them. Thus, this post is very relevant to those of us who desire children.

    Granted, those who don't want children won't have to consider what graduate school will do this non-desire--but then, not all the reasons given on this blog apply to everyone. Indeed, in my case, I met my wife and had two children before I finished by PhD, and so, if you are willing to do that, this reason only sort-of applies to you.

    But I was a math major, and from what I've been reading, my work-and-study-load was a bit lighter than the typical humanities (or even science) major.

    To further make the "but I'm childless" retort even more aggravating, this post isn't about family: it's about friends, and live in general, passing you by. Your friends are working, having families, saving for retirement, paying off student loans, and generally going on with life, while you are still stuck in studies.

    And yes, that happened to me. To the extent I've been able to keep in touch with my friends, I've seen how their lives moved on, while my own life was suspended for five and a half years to work on a doctorate.

  18. It's not just your friends... LIFE passes you by.

  19. Dear Epsilon,

    Anon 5:29 here--I'm the one who hates kids but nonetheless acknowledges that most people want 'em and overall think this Reason is sound.

    That said, what I think you may be missing here is the pressure that women in particular face when they don't have kids (whether or not that outcome is freely "chosen"--research on "childlessness" suggests that its often much more complicated than making a definitive choice). Women like me are patronized by medical professionals and laypeople alike who claim we'll inevitably change our minds when we get older. We're cajoled and offered ludicrous reasons for procreating ("But who will take care of you when you're old?" "Well, if I had kids like my aloof brothers, no one.") We told we're selfish. We're dumped by our friends when they have kids because they now can't/won't leave the house or won't stop talking about daycare and poopies or only want to hang out with other moms who can arrange play dates. We're pressured by in-laws and other relatives. Pretty much everybody acts as though you're immature, damaged, a freak if you're a woman who doesn't want kids. One time my husband and I played with someone else's kids at a baby shower, and because we were observed having fun, I had to endure the other wives' probes about how much my husband was going to miss out and wouldn't I consider changing my mind.

    So in other words, this trope of "missing out" on something essential is something we've heard for years. There may not be much support for people who actually have kids (state-sponsored day care would be a good start), but there's plenty of support for the IDEA that having kids is nice and good and normal. If some of us get a little trigger-happy when we hear this, try to understand the context.

    1. Today, I see many old people still taking care of their kids , especially if said kids went to graduate school!

  20. Anon July 6, 2011 2:07PM,

    I think I get what you are writing, but I would add that I think most of that could be applied to anyone who is single/unmarried these days; male or female. The holier-than-thou attitude of almost every married person I know is despair-inducing.

    If I were to tie it into this blog, or the idea of wasted time in academia generally, it can suck to even have a couple of years taken out of your 20's while doing a masters while the majority of your friends are at that point in the bell curve of time where they get married.

    I'll add: Facebook, of course, is not kind to those who are entrenched in academia at age 25 rather than on their 1st/2nd kid and buying that first house. It's hard to match "look at how cute his Halloween costume is!" pics with pictures of yourself sitting in the campus library around 12:30am on a Tuesday.

  21. "I'll add: Facebook, of course, is not kind to those who are entrenched in academia at age 25 rather than on their 1st/2nd kid and buying that first house. It's hard to match "look at how cute his Halloween costume is!" pics with pictures of yourself sitting in the campus library around 12:30am on a Tuesday."

    Haha--that's great--and true. After my friend begged and begged I finally sent her my first publication, against my better judgement. I'd spent a lot of time fawning over her pregnancy and newborn, and this was sort of my equivalent. It was an easy read--a very short pedagogical essay with no jargon or gobbledegook. But she still never read it or made any comment. I don't even think my partner has read the final drafts of my published academic work.

    As you say so beautifully above, the things we academics produce while our friends achieve more common milestones go largely unacknowledged.

  22. From my perspective (male), having kids would have been a bigger waste of time than earning a Ph.D. (finished in mid-40s and have no job prospects at the moment, other than adjuncthood). I was fortunate to find a partner (female) who feels the same way about being child free. Now that we've reached middle age, we're both very thankful that we don't have children. For lots of reasons.

  23. I've just discovered this blog, and will go back and read previous posts.

    Try not to concentrate on the debate about marriage and children vs. graduate school. I have never had children and was married briefly. I don't regret being a single, childless, middle-aged woman. However, as this post points out, as a graduate student--and as a faculty member who doesn't have an endowed chair in a top-tier university--you forego lots of things that people your age take for granted. As a result, in time, you lose touch with those peers. And faculty members aren't noted for being friendly toward each other; people applying for academic positions are even less so.

  24. "Also, this post reeks of pronatalism like the rest of our baby-crazed society. It seems to imply that if you don't have children then you're missing out in life. Perhaps this is true for many but some people simply don't share these sentiments."

    In that case, do those "some people" expect the rest of "baby-crazed" society, aka the ones who create future generations, to pay for the pensions of the "some people" who don't want to have children?

  25. In terms of whether childlessness is selfish, it's hard to see how it can't be when a childless person expects the rest of society to pay for their pension.

    It also always amazes me at how people I know who consider themselves big liberals also are supporters of childlessness. Not only will they not be able to bring up members of their society with their beliefs, but they leave behind no one to pay for and support the programs that childless liberals support so much.

  26. Crap, it's SELFISH to make my own decisions as an autonomous adult? Why didn't someone tell me sooner? I coulda gotten myself all knocked up years ago and fulfilled my duty to society! Hey hey--I think I might be ovulating, boys...

    Don't worry bill, I'm sure that your brood of a dozen or more thoughtfully-produced tots will more than make up for my decaying eggs and my husband's selfishly wasted seed.

  27. Bill does make a great point though:

    "Not only will they [liberals without kids] not be able to bring up members of their society with their beliefs..."

    If you heard the things that come out of my students' mouths at URD (University of Rich Dummies), it would seem that conservatives are very effective at indoctrinating their kids with their beliefs. No fighting the establishment in my discussion sections. According to my little darlings, racism no longer exists, the poor are lazy, rape survivors are idiots who deserve what they got--oh, and my favorite: I can't engage with this author because he contradicts the bible. All the political sensitivity of your drunken Great Uncle Charley on a bender.

  28. " would seem that conservatives are very effective at indoctrinating their kids with their beliefs."

    Those aren't "beliefs" - they're the drunken ramblings of one of the Koch brothers* on New Years Day at 2:30 in the morning. Any half-educated fuckwit could come up with that dreck; it takes a real educated and cultured psychopath to create books like "Atlas Shrugged", "Men Among the Ruins", "Imperium", and "The Myth of the Twentieth Century."**


    * The heads of Koch (pron. "coke") Industries; big supporters of corporate Libertarianism through think-tanks and "Reason" magazine.

    Ayn Rand (crypto-Nietzchean, broke up marriage of protege Nathaniel Branden with decade-long affair)

    Julius Evola (Italian aristocrat and crypto-Fascist philosopher; supported Fascist terrorist units during the "years of violence" in 1970s Italy; loved the Nazi SS, was never a member of the Italian Fascist Party during 1920s-40s)

    Francis Parker Yockey (Ivy League Neo-Nazi; was arrested for being a Nazi after the war, his book promoted a Nazi Renaissance in Europe)

    Alfred Rosenberg ("Party philosopher" of the NSDAP, was made Reichkommisar of Eastern Regions, i.e. Nazi chieftan of occupied Baltic states and occupied Ukraine and Western Russia; hung anfer being found guilty at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946.)

    I have either read these books or books by these authors; no greater insanity has ever been put to print.

  29. hmm...I wonder if we could talk about how badly grad school blows again now?

  30. ....And another thing; babies.

    We don't like to admit it, but basic biological drives affect us, and having children is one of those drives. So it's not culture, it's an imperative to find a mate and have a child, and it's driven by just being human. This is yet another reason (some would say the prime reason) why graduate school is inhumane or unworthy of the average person's time because it does not care about the grad student's social/familial life; it uses people until they get their Master's or Ph.D. and it throws them out onto the street because there are no decent jobs in acadamia.

    Typo corrections last post:
    "after" instead of "anfer", I am missing three periods.

    For more info on Yockey and Evola, check out "Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism, and the Poltics of Identity" by Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke....fascinating stuff.

  31. Strelnikov,

    Put down the bong and stop puking all over other peoples' blogs. This is a comments thread, not an open mic night.

  32. Let's consider Facebook posts by two kinds of people: NP (normal people) and GS (grad students):

    NP: "We had to take junior to the doc today after he fell out of a tree."

    GS: "I just had the BEST cup of tea EVER!


    NP: "Just booked a trip to Cancun for next March. Can't wait!"

    GS: "Just got to Kalamazoo for the big conference. Wish me luck!"


    NP: "Spent all day painting the baby's room. Hope this kid likes off-white!"

    GS: "Homemade cookies are such a treat. Back to Derrida."


    NP: "How can sprinkler systems be so expensive??"

    GS: "How can people NOT understand the concept of a social construct??"

    1. Your "normal people"'s conversation is tedium. I am married, about to finish my PhD and planning to have children very soon. I also plan on not obsessing over paint colors and sprinklers, but on educating my kids and myself.

      Except for the comment on Cancun, I should say. I love partying and being social, and PhDing have not hindered this life. Kids, on the other hand, would. Yeah, so there's that.

  33. I know we're getting back on track now, so I'll apologize for this in advance, but I have to say it:

    "So it's not culture, it's an imperative to find a mate and have a child, and it's driven by just being human."


    If any of the STEM folks (who appear to love to wreak havoc on this site, mostly through smug interdisciplinary comparisons--my dissertation was a breeze!--fa la la! It's so fun and easy when you're well-funded!--as well as through backwards silliness like the above quote) start a STEM-focused correlate to this blog, I highly recommend we humanities and social science grad students descend upon it en masse.

    By the way, because I am human, I was biologically compelled to write this.

  34. Anons 9:40 and 11:21: I love you.

  35. Here's another way in which grad school can put you out of sync with your friends: grad school is an institution which socializes you to think and behave in new ways. If your old friends don't also attend, you may grow apart.

    It's not just because they get babyfever and you are slogging through 19th century documents in the library archive (or mounds of other data). You can be sure that if you are studying gender, they will make some super-annoying comment about the essential nature of men and women that will make you wince. If you are studying weight-related prejudice and discrimination, they will think you are interested in hearing every detail of their latest diet. God forbid any of your non-academic friends does or says something that reminds you of one of your dumb undergrad students. You'll never get the idea out of your head.

    The absolute worst of course is when you sour on academia and start feeling uncomfortable with everyone. Your old non-academic friends are shallow (and as it turns out, kinda dumb and insensitive). The folks in academia are humorless, narcissistic snobs. You're finding yourself turning into one of the latter and hate it. But you don't really feel comfortable with your old friends any more either. Thanks, grad school! Now I hate everybody, especially myself!

  36. To the Anon. at 12:57, 9th of July:

    Small complaints from small people doth the Internet make. Your sniveling has been noted, and spit on.


    "Thanks, grad school! Now I hate everybody, especially myself!"

    I think that maybe you need some time on the couch - if you are not staying in Gradland, you need to retrain yourself emotionally so you can be human again.

  37. If I can can actually get a job after my 6 year investment, I'll be ok with everyone 'passing me by.' I have different priorities than they do and life isn't a race. But it's that "get a job" part that's really niggling at me ....

  38. But I think that's precisely the point--academics' inability to parlay our extended educations into secure, reasonably remunerated careers. That's precisely why our friends pass us by--with no additional education beyond the BA they tripped upwards to get, they now have pension plans and investments and some reasonable amount of authority at work. We don't. You don't have to want a nuclear family or a ski home (I don't want either). But the fact is, if I finish this degree (doubtful now--I think I'd be deluded and a chicken to stay rather than leave), I will make less as an adjunct than I was making in my humble small business before I even got the BA.

  39. I find the comments about the selfishness of childlessness interesting, mostly because I don't see how creating another human being to support you in your old age is less selfish than expecting society to do it. You're still imposing a financial burden on someone who has no choice in the matter.

    I think that going into a profession with a seriously low employment rate and with no safety net could be described as selfish, since many such people will end up being financially dependent on others at some point. I don't mean to say "don't follow your dreams," but there's a reason I work a nine-to-five instead of becoming a painter or an English PhD - I do not want to be a financial burden on my parents. I would never have children so that they could support me or so that I could indoctrinate them, though - if I don't know for sure that I'll be able to afford to send them to college and take care of them, I'm not having any!

    Sorry to get off topic again. Also, sorry if this comment seems at all judgmental - I know that not everyone enters a PhD program knowing just how difficult it/the job market is going to be, and I wish all of you who are in one the best of luck.

  40. Wow, July 11 1:02 p.m.--you may have authored one of the best comments yet on this entire blog!

    A few comments in response to 1:02's post:
    "[By having kids with the expectation that they will care for you when you're old] You're still imposing a financial burden on someone who has no choice in the matter."
    --Well...there is some choice there--just ask my brothers, who don't live a finger to help care for my mother. Apparently having a vagina makes me uniquely qualified.

    "I think that going into a profession with a seriously low employment rate and with no safety net could be described as selfish, since many such people will end up being financially dependent on others at some point."
    --You are a genius X2--first for choosing not to go to grad school, then for writing this wonderfully insightful comment!!

    "Sorry to get off topic again."
    --I'm not the blogger, so perhaps it's not for me to say, but in my opinion, the comments sections take on a life of their own. The issue of childrearing/remaining childfree directly impacts our employability, hiring/workplace/promotion discrimination, and is well worth serious discussion. And after all, folks here devoted just shy of 50 comments mostly defending grad students' and professors' right to have sex with their undergrads. I don't see why discussing something that may seriously impact at least half of us is seen by some as a diversion.

    "Sorry to get off topic again. Also, sorry if this comment seems at all judgmental."
    This is how anyone with experience in academia can tell you're not fibbing about not being a grad student/prof. One thing an academic will virtually never do is apologize, regardless of how warranted an apology may be (yours was kind but unnecessary). If an actual grad student stands on your foot and you tell them, they will either claim they aren't standing on your foot, or debate the nature of "footness"--anything rather than apologizing and standing somewhere else or offering you an ice pack. In fact, reading through the comments on the entire blog, I'd venture to say that many of the most thoughtful, least hostile or polemical comments are from people who are outside of academia. I hope to join your ranks and regain my humanity soon.

  41. Sorry--see I'm practicing for my academic exit--obviously I meant "lift a finger," not "live a finger." And in case anyone cares, the point of that part of my post was not to gripe about what wienies my brothers are, but to suggest that although certainly some men partake in eldercare, eldercare does disproportionally fall on women, in and outside of academia. If you are an older grad student and/or have much older parents (I have both), the timing of your grad studies and job search relative to your parent/s' health crises may disproportionately affect your career. And life may literally pass you by--your parents' lives--if you choose to immerse yourself in the academy during their final years.

  42. July 11, 11:05: It may be my age demographic (only took a year off between undergrad and grad) but most of my friends are still in the early stages of their careers and some have already been hit hard by the economic crisis. For that reason I may not have the same sense as others here of having dramatically diverged from the paths of my peers.

  43. Angela:
    sounds like you're not as bad off as some of us--it would have been bliss to get my doctorate before 30, much less 40. and if you're 28-29, as i'm guessing you are, you still have time to change your career, as many your age will do anyway without the prestige and skills you've gained (and you can always take the phd off your resume if it makes you overqualified for non-academic work). i'm way older than you, so my lifetime earnings and longterm career potential is screwed whether i complete this cursed degree or not (on the other hand, by the time i was your age i already owned a house, and in the last 13 years it has tripled in value).

  44. "Angela said...
    July 11, 11:05: It may be my age demographic (only took a year off between undergrad and grad) but most of my friends are still in the early stages of their careers and some have already been hit hard by the economic crisis. For that reason I may not have the same sense as others here of having dramatically diverged from the paths of my peers. "

    ugh, boring... lol.

    if your friends were liberal arts people and not career oriented this makes sense.

    business and engineering people with a few connections and drive usually get a good start from the gate...

    more important than anything though, people who leave school no longer have to pay to go to school...


    And the friend seperation or "friends pass you by" I think is also related to the concept that people who leave school permanately- if you don't count mba or related programs- leave school and start new lives... They don't think about school in the same way anymore, it becomes a thing of the past.

    I’d love to call up my ex to see what she’s up to and where life has taken her but I don’t. When we were together that was a different life. I’m living new life now and I don’t go back rooting around in the past.

  45. Man, was this point driven home to me this summer. My 10-year high school reunion was announced. I'm a year out of grad school (settling for an MS rather than a PhD) and have been trying to get through my first year of actual employment. Meanwhile, that reunion was being held at a winery . . . owned by one of my former classmates.

    It's hard not to think, "What the hell have I done with my life?" when things like that come up.

  46. Oh Hal, I really feel for you. I'm coming up on my 25th HS reunion--not that I'm going--but it does put things in perspective, especially when I hear about all the mediocre high school jockos who became MDs. From what I've heard, nobody's curing cancer from their gleaming penthouse in NYC, but when I realize I'm way more on the ball than less qualified people who've probably made a comfortable life for themselves, I wanna scream.

    "And the friend seperation or 'friends pass you by' I think is also related to the concept that people who leave school permanately- if you don't count mba or related programs--leave school and start new lives... They don't think about school in the same way anymore, it becomes a thing of the past."--I can hardly wait until my grad school friends graduate. I can't stand hearing how wrapped up in departmental politics they are. I don't care which idiot just ascended to the new position of darling--they can all rot and I'll never think of any of them again (until somebody brings 'em up)...Let's talk about ANYTHING rather than school.

  47. This doesn't have to be the case - but I understand that many times it is. However, I am a 25 year old woman, with a husband, a baby, and am in the process of earning a doctorate in clinical psychology. Sure, I work a lot and schedule my time down to the minute but what CEO exec, investment banker, or other professional without a necessary graduate degree doesn't?

  48. Dear I Wanna Go:
    I'm curious--are you pursuing an academic doctorate at a university-based program, or a professional degree at a professional school? I ask because a) I'm considering the professional MFT or PsyD route and b) I hear that the day-by-day experience of the professional psych degree is qualitatively different than the "mosaic of misery" experienced by those of us in so-called "traditional" academic doctoral programs (where scope of work is different as well).

  49. ^ professional.

    She compares herself to a ceo, banker, etc...

    and at 25 she has a husband and kid.


    For whatever its worth, i wouldn't pay a dime to see a psych...

    Not enough is known about the brain...

    The profession basically comes down to "feel good" coaching... and those psych drugs are trash.

    The Rosenhan experiment still holds true today.

    1. And yet people in her field are needed and she will make a good living with her degree. And you will still be a total a**

  50. Wow, Anonymous 5:48!

    Actually, I think quite a lot is known about the brain at this point, as well as empirically supported treatments like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for particular disorders like depression.

    I interned in a locked psych ward and have no doubt that Rosenham does still hold. But it's a gross overstatement to say that the "entire profession" (which profession? social work? counseling? psychiatry? psychology?) "comes down to 'feel good' coaching," (as I think you know).

    Luckily, unless you volunteer to participate in an updated version of Rosenham or commit any bizarre criminal acts, you likely won't have to cross paths with any mental health professionals.

    All that said, I do agree that Mountain Gal is probably a professional student...It's not totally "not graduate school" (at least at the doctoral level), but it's funny that many professional students really don't understand that there is a substantive difference between what we do in academia and what they are doing with highly structured programs, no teaching load, no real pressure to publish, etc.

  51. jesus christ.

    Can I nominate Number 64:

    Grad students are insufferable.

  52. Dispense the Psych drugs!!!

  53. Yep, as Tina Fey said, graduate students really are the worst people. She should know; she was accepted to grad school but decided not to go.

  54. Really? What discipline was Tina Fey pursuing?

  55. Ah--wikipedia tells the tale: Fey was headed to DePaul for grad study in drama.
    Good for Fey--one of my mentors pushed me to apply to the PhD before I was ready--wish I'd had Fey's clarity of mind and decided not to go too.

  56. <>

    Then don't. Plenty will, and will benefit from it though.


    Jesus. If this is the level of analysis and insight coming from postgraduate education, no wonder many can't find work.

  57. Above was in response to Anon 13/07 5:48AM

  58. I just finished my PhD. I'm 29. My friend from high school, who is the same age, didnt go to grad school. He went to Wall St. and then to a hedge fund. He is making 2 million dollars this year.

    -East Coast Guy

  59. The lifestyle of a graduate student may be different from that of someone who goes into the corporate workforce right out of college, but that doesn't mean that one is involved in life and the other isn't. There is no reason that attaining a high salary is better than completing a dissertation. If you prefer a high salary to writing a dissertation, then obviously you should not be in graduate school, but there are plenty of people in the world who place high value on writing a dissertation and what it can bring to their life.

    While completing a PhD (in less than 6 years), I got married, had a baby, traveled widely and held several different consulting jobs outside of my university. Among my fellow graduate students, there were marriages, divorces, babies born, major illness and death, celebrations, world travels, athletic and artistic achievements, successful business ventures, cars bought, homes purchased, and all the many other life experiences that you seem to assume cannot happen while someone is writing a dissertation.

    Not everyone's definition of a life well lived involves attaining a higher salary than one's friends. Sure, grad school is a waste of time if you don't value things like research and writing, but it doesn't follow that grad school is inherently a waste of time/life.

  60. Gawd, I can't believe all you pretentious people who think "money" is important. Shit! The lights just went out...time to go ask mom to pay the electric bill again....

  61. @ Anon 12:43 PM:

    ""So it's not culture, it's an imperative to find a mate and have a child, and it's driven by just being human."


    I apologize if I'm misreading you, but the fact that you would find such an obvious statement so frustrating is hilarious to STEM types. I would have said "just being an animal" rather than "just being human", but in any case reproduction is *the* primary imperative for any animal, humans included. Why do you think we are still here? Because our ancestors reproduced. Culture can make us think and feel differently about our reproduction but in the end it does not make it happen nor can it stop it.

    Would you say that patriarchy or Western culture or some such nonsense makes us want to have kids? Or perhaps it's something about, I dunno, our innate biology that's been honed by millions of years of reproduction, evolution and natural and sexual selection?

    I think many humanities and social sciences researchers are being left in the dust by scientific (aka "fact-based") studies of humanity being done by biological anthropologists, evolutionary psychologists and others. They're finding that both culture and biology make us who we are, while social constructivists continue to hold tight to their silly claim that "it's all culture!"

  62. ^
    If these fields are so inferior to "fact-based" fields why are you bothering to enlighten the rest of us? I mean evolution will just pick us off in due time right?

    I am a prospective MFA student and I have to say this blog is extremely helpful. I can't wait to read on. :)

  63. "If these fields are so inferior to "fact-based" fields why are you bothering to enlighten the rest of us? I mean evolution will just pick us off in due time right?"

    The STEM folks seem to think it's their duty to come piss on this blog, despite the fact that it's clearly targeting a humanities and social science audience. There are a few good eggs who make positive, supportive comments, but mostly they're big babies who squeal if anyone mentions that their dirty diapers are stinking up our place.

  64. Don't forget retirement as another reason. When you don't even start contributing to that until your mid 30s, you'll never amass enough money to retire. You'll work until the doctor tells you that you have 6 months to live.

  65. "The lifestyle of a graduate student may be different from that of someone who goes into the corporate workforce right out of college, but that doesn't mean that one is involved in life and the other isn't."

    Thank you. Yes, if you buy into the notion that by age 30, you must have a spouse, a kid, a mortgage, a car, and a 401K, then no, grad school might not be your best bet. But who said that's the only true "life" to have?

    My 20's were fabulous thanks to being a full-time grad student. Yes, it sucked to be making only $11K a year, but since all my friends were just as poor as I was, it didn't matter. We all got married, got divorced, bought houses, had exciting social lives, partied together, traveled, grew, and formed intense social bonds while we were pursuing our passions. I finished my degree in 6 years and by age 30 had a job, a cat, an apartment, a car, some clothes, and some books. No furniture or savings, but I knew I would never starve with my degree, and I love the people in my field and the life I get to lead.

    My sister-in-law (same age as me) started working for a credit card company as soon as she graduate college. She now has the McMansion, the designer handbags, the kid in private school and all that. Her job drives her nuts and she admits to frantically looking for hobbies to help her forget the place where she spends 8 hours a day. That's "living"?

  66. Ha. I don't have any friends so how can they pass me by? Jokes on you, huh?

    Not really. I do have friends and I am lucky to have such good friends. Didn't realize it until I read some of the comments on all these posts. I am feeling really grateful now.

  67. Does graduate school create more critical, more thoughtful and more enlightened people? Or is it merely a way of extending one's childhood? There's the rub. Does one become more enlightened through studying the classics and the works of the great, or from entering the real world?

    Are our Universities really educating us? Or are they more focused on giving us the "college experience"? In the best case scenario, we are taking a few years away from the real world to read the great works and philosophies of the past. In the less ideal case, perhaps we're merely rehashing our own interpretations on tired, old, dried out philosophies that should have gone out of favor decades ago. These statements include the STEM fields. (Who sometimes forget that changes in cultural attitudes could easily swing out of their favor someday; and so would disappear our funding)

    I don't expect the current state of graduate school to last. Undergraduate education funds the graduate level. Undergraduate education is becoming so expensive that it's not difficult to imagine that, eventually, most of the population won't be able to afford it. When the undergraduate money ebbs in it's flow, graduate school as we know it will begin to disappear... along with it's benefits and disadvantages. I could be wrong.

    In the internet we have the potential to exceed the memorize-regurgitate formula we grew up with. (No, I'm not referring to wikipedia, I'm referring more to Khan Academy and it's offspring) It'll be interesting to see what happens. Que Sera, Sera.

  68. So true...

    One of my better high school friends couldn't hack junior college. He went on to twelve years with a major medical manufacturer, got married, and had kids.

    I went to an "excellent" college (think MSM top ten), after which I got married and took a different "practical" M.S. degree at the local state university, graduating within 3 1/2 years with a 4.00 GPA. Shortly thereafter I got divorced, and endured two years of unemployment looking for related work, after which I tried to retrain (2nd M.S.) without success (3.1 GPA, no degree).

    Now we are both long-term unemployed with no prospects, but I'm the one with the $35,000 debt.

  69. The middle class has been disappearing in America ever since the end of the postwar boom. So why all this emphasis on trying to preserve or attain middle-class stature while being a grad student? Houses, large families and nice cars are becoming more and more of a financial burden for average Americans. As my father would say... "David, this is how capitalism works."

    But this is not cause for despair. Unless you are able to become a one-percenter, I think it actually works to one's advantage in this kind of economic climate to learn how to value time over money, to learn how to discover what is personally meaningful instead of worrying about staying in the thinning middle class. Graduate school can be a great opportunity to re-orient oneself to one's chosen interests and intellectual pursuits. It costs a lost of money to do this, but I argue that it's worth it if you can get someone else to pay for it (such as the gov't), because the value of money is becoming less and less anyway. The value of having time is fast becoming the opposite, and as the author points out, grad school provides plenty of that. Stop trying to compete for money and possessions with the 1% because it's a losing game, and start competing with them for time and personal fulfillment, a game that you can actually win.

    Be grateful that your government, or anyone really, is willing to loan you money to let you do that, and be even more grateful that they will forgive your loan balance after 20 years as long as you make the minimum monthy payments. Paying back loans is not as onerous a financial arrangement as some money-obsessed people would like you to think -- these are usually the same people who cannot feel satisfied in life without middle-class trappings.

    If you are self-aware and motivated enough to know from a young age exactly what you want to do and how to do it, then don't spend money on grad school or even on college. But for the vast majority of Americans like myself it takes time to figure these things out, which sometimes must be bought. Deal with it and pursue the activities that interest you. And don't assume that the only interesting life pursuits with a humanities degree exist in academe.

    1. This is a recipe for the creation of a nation of serfs.

      The idea that higher education costs will somehow diminish through income-tied maximum payments on loans set to 'expire' 10 or 20 years later through debt forgiveness is fundamentally faulty. In some instances already, the income-based repayment scheme *does not even cover interest* on loans that approach half-a-million, even on salaries that exceed the national average.

      Multiply that loan forgiveness by millions of students and you have a national economic disaster in the making. This is without considering the moral hazard created by massive amounts of debt levied on millions of individuals - which would be considerable and ultimately antithetic to the rule of law. Consider the possible malign impacts of all these graduates as professionals and government employees, all with 'sword-of-Damocles' levels of debt... as a means of compulsion, it's far more ubiquitous, easier and less time consuming than any other form of blackmail.

      Make no mistake, it is this kind of government intervention that has created bubbles in the housing and health care markets, and is creating one in higher education. The consequences of prior subsidization bubbles have always been devastating and have always eroded national living standards. Why are houses, large families and nice cars more and more of a financial burden for average Americans? The answer has to do with the unintended (although the true cynic would claim 'intentional') effects of government intervention - not 'capitalism.'

      Above all, do not buy into a scheme that has the end goal of co-opting and/or bankrupting you! Argue for greatly limiting - if not abolishing - government interference in higher education. Oppose the recent expansion in student loans, which will have the dubious effect of driving tuition ever higher, and now with 'debt forgiveness' threatens each and every taxpayer. While we're at it, perhaps we should look at the undesirable impacts that the expansion of international student programs has had, not only on tuition inflation, but also the ethical conduct of higher education programs, US citizen employment, and the US economy.

  70. First, be proud of you accomplishments.
    Secondly, no matter what your education is, life is what you make of it. If you went into it thinking an undergrad will guarantee you a job, you are wrong. If you think being hot, insecure and boring will guarantee you a spouse, you are wrong. If you think having a job makes child rearing easier, you are wrong. If you think the 2 kids, a dog, and a house = adulthood, contributing member of society and happiness, you are wrong.
    Third, please be respectful of other people's lifestyles, and know that everyone's situations are different.

    Education is something that no one can take away from you. This is something that is worth pursuing for many people like myself. Even if they have delay filling up their lives with frivolous things that some people think makes them "an adult" with a "real life". Things like a bigger house, children and mountain full of consumer debt.

    The real issue here is that no matter what you are doing, studying or working, maturity and adulthood comes from being self-aware and goal oriented. It is not a student = held back.

    Not all grad students are the same. Not all grad experience are the same. If you ask any employee of any industry what the downside of their "real life" is, you will get a massive list including: "I am stuck doing something because I have to." or "I hate my job." This will happen no matter where you go.

    People who are successful are not stuck in other people's idea of what constitutes as “right” or "adult things". We are not bothered that bitter small minded individuals still exist, and by not having a lot of money (which most people had to get by sacrificing freedom and happiness for).

    For the record, I am a 29 year old PhD student who loved my experiences in my public health program.

    My husband and I got married while I was in my PhD program. He is not in academia, and is very emotionally supportive. We plan on trying to have kids next year, and co-parent while we develop our careers. However, I really hate the smugness of some married or parent-ed peers of mine. It's not for everyone, get over it. I have many close friends and family. I have lived away from home since I was 18, worked throughout undergrad and my Masters, and saved enough that I never relied on others for living. During one of these jobs, I saw an established person held back from a managerial position for having no PhD, and made a note to avoid this.

    My PhD taught me to love my simple, happy, goal oriented, and promising life. Many grad students share my feeling. Some of my friends may have more money than I have right now, but my earning potential in my field will surpass theirs quickly. Plus my ability to collaborate with others, study and make contributions to a field that I love, and potential to adapt are things that I would not trade for. I can’t imagine wanting to be the 30 years old who is saddled with a job that doesn't reward me intellectually, a mortgage that I gave up everything for, no social life, no ability to relate to people without materialistic traditional views, and no drive to see or learn more about the world. Yet, this is a lot of people I know. They judge others for not marrying, not having kids, not having goals that go beyond material goods. They may fit your vision of "adulthood" but their lives are far from the bliss that I want.

    I know I have been very fortunate. I also do not discredit that I got all that I have because I am a positive person who is confident about what I want and don't want from life, worked hard, and became a problem solver. These are the only qualities that will provide you with a happy "adult" life. On their own, education and money, or the lack thereof of either, cannot.

  71. As a childfree male soon-to-defend, I must add that you must try harder with regards to the delusion that made you have children. You can't seriously expect that anyone will believe that you had children because you were concerned with the future funding of Social Security.
    I also think that having children is a guarantee that you will not be cared for in the old age. The countries where they have 5-10 children such Afghanistan, Nigeria, India, excel at mistreating their elderly. (There is a famous report from India on the children taking the blind grandma to a trash pile.) On the contrary, places like Japan, Sweden, and Germany, where there almost no children, are also the places where people live longest and happiest. Should I need someone to change my diapers when I am old, I am sure your children will do just as well.
    Now, if all of you cease breeding, we'd still have Asia and Africa. You may not be aware, but thousands of young Africans die, nearly every week, trying to become carers for the elderly in Italy. Those are more motivated than your progeny. They are already making most of your food and clothes.
    One other misconception that I see on this blog every once in a while is that doctors have it more easily than PhDs. There is no path towards a six-digit wage in medicine before the age of 30. OK, it may be, if you can share your practice with dad, cheat on the board exams like Rand Paul, or you go to one of those abbreviated med schools overseas, but these are exceptions. A medschool student has to do 20-30% of the research burden of a PhD, while going to clinics and passing standardized exams. There's also tutoring, brown-nosing elder clinicians, and volunteering in some ER hellhole doing nothing. Otherwise, it's rural business for you, 70K in some Dakota, where patients positively hate you.
    There is a whole eco-system of dropouts and procrastinators in that field too. I know that grass appears greener, but when you work in a biomed lab, it is easy to see beyond.