Monday, July 16, 2012

85. It is not a ticket to the upper middle class.

Even among the college-educated, there is a tendency to envision the life of a professor as one that includes tweed jackets with leather elbow patches, a book-lined office in an ivy-covered building, and a house in an upscale neighborhood with a fashionable European car in the driveway. The image is understandable, given how hopelessly entwined the academic world has become with relentless social-class striving. After all, education is regarded as a means to better oneself, and “higher” education represents the top rungs on that ladder of universal self-improvement. Certain schools, of course, are seen as better than others (see Reason 3). Those within the academic establishment are obsessed with status, as are those on the outside looking in. Consider the popularity of college rankings.

Institutions, as well as individuals, have an eye toward upward mobility, which accounts for yet another case of academic terminology-inflation (see Reasons 35 and 38): so many colleges have rushed to reclassify themselves as “universities” that there are now community colleges with names like the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha. It is a fad driven by the propensity of students, faculty, and administrators alike to see their institution’s prestige as a reflection of their personal identities. Ironically, the mass movement is leaving the name “college” to venerable and genuinely prestigious institutions like Amherst, Williams, Swarthmore, and Dartmouth—a college with its own medical school.

Academics, of course, have traditionally done little to dissuade anyone from believing that they occupy a privileged social position (see Reason 25). Describing the “democratization of knowledge” that occurred in the mid-twentieth century, author Daniel Flynn argues that “blue-collar intellectuals proved as unsettling to the intellectual elite as the nouveau riche had been to old money.” The term “middlebrow,” he explains, emerged as “a slur” in a new “vocabulary to demarcate intellectual class.” Increasingly, academics have had to think in terms of “intellectual” classes when contemplating their vaunted status, because only a tiny fraction of them live the professor’s life as people like to portray it. The British literary scholar Terry Eagleton recently observed: “Most people I know in academia want to get out… everywhere I go, from Peru to Australia, people are very unhappy in what perhaps were once, you know, ‘the best days of one’s life.’”

Today, the tweed jackets are few and far between. Law professor Erik Jensen laments that professors are developing a new reputation for constituting “the worst-dressed middle-class occupational group in America.” This is, to some extent, the result of a change in attitude on the part of faculty members (see Reason 13). But the lengthening number of years that academics must spend in graduate school (and as adjuncts) in relative poverty and debt do not lend themselves to developing a stylish wardrobe, owning a house in a desirable zip code, or driving a BMW. At many institutions, professors occupy offices that are little better than those of their teaching assistants (see Reason 42). Many commute long distances because they can never hope to afford to live in the leafy neighborhoods near campus. Nonetheless, they are among the extremely fortunate who have jobs despite the terrible academic job market, the severity of which is now spreading rapidly from the humanities and social sciences to the hard sciences. Meanwhile, thousands of PhDs on welfare (see Reason 83) have yet to join the lower middle class.

A short time in graduate school will likely cure you of any false ideas that you may have about modern academic life, but false ideas are often what drive people to graduate school in the first place.



174 comments:

  1. I know this was a great post, because I am nodding and 'mm hmming' to myself and also I feel really depressed.

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  2. Ah yes the dowdy garb of the professoriate. I know it well. Frumpy sweaters, old baggy dress shirts, and brown leather loafers (tassels optional) with worn out soles. And only the best is brought out for academic conferences - I call it the academic "suit" - and it invariably includes an old corduroy sport coat, beige khaki Dockers, and a paisley tie that looks like it's from a thrift store. Simply smashing.

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  3. Grad school, a ticket to the upper middle class?

    AAAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAAHHAAAAAAA!!!!!!!

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  4. This is a good one, probably because all the PhDs students SEE look very upper-middle-class. He's wearing a well-tailored three-piece suit. She lives in a neighborhood where houses cannot be had for less than $800k. Their kids go to an expensive private school. Even the graduate TAs seem "poor" in the same way that undergrads are "poor" - i.e. they have very little money of their own but come from families that are wealthy enough. I was near the end of my senior year before a professor made any comments about not being able to afford stuff. And that was a well-respected full prof.

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  5. I've always maintained that grad students should feel free to exploit academia just as academia exploits grad students, and my MA really has enhanced my career as well as provided me with some great experiences in teaching and research. I saw no financial or career advantages in pursuing a PhD though, and I knew I would start to resent my status as an eternal student. During my MA, people infantilized me and treated me like a college freshman even when I was 28. The pitiful TA salary took its toll as well.

    It's great to have money now with my "real world" job, but even better than that is the feeling that I have a good chance of ascending in my career. Even if I make a backwards move, I'll have more financial security and status than I had in grad school. So many people I know are struggling to move anywhere in academia. Students are dragging out PhDs, and adjuncts are avoiding the disappointment of no responses to their 200+ TT job applications by not even applying. The economy is bad for everyone, but grad school hones such specialized skills that it makes you even less marketable, and makes that middle class existence even less attainable.

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  6. This guy thought his PhD would be his ticket.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17767626

    Instead he ended up like all the other proles.

    My oh my, how a PhD clouds the mind.

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    1. Just like with law, a FEW people do really well in academia--especially full Prof's, Dept Heads, and Deans at R1's, but a lot full-time academics are lucky to squeak out a middle class income in the $45-60K range, especially at smaller schools. Add in rising cost of health insurance, student loan repayment, cost of raising children, and there isn't much left.

      Advanced education does not always equal high income, unfortunately.

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  7. there are now community colleges with names like the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha.

    Rather a bad example, that. It's not the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha, it's the Waukesha campus of the University of Wisconsin Colleges system.

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    1. Sara, you win the award for the funniest comment I've read on this blog.

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    2. UW-Wauke$ha?

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  8. The professors I know who are living upper middle-class lifestyles, or anything that resemble them:

    1. Became professors before 1975 or thereabouts,
    2. Came from upper middle-class or upper-class backgrounds, or
    3. Married into the upper middle-class.
    4. Are making significant amounts of money in addition to their professorial salary (e.g., royalties from a patent or book, a business they own or operate, or consulting fees).

    A few profs I know can keep up a middle-class lifestyle, or the appearance of it, mainly through family money or loans they'll be paying for the rest of their lives.

    I hear that if you look in the right thrift or consignment shops, you can find a tweed jacket with suede elbow patches for a pretty reasonable price.

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    1. My experience is the same. By the time one earns their PhD and starts out in a TT job, they have spent a decade or more in school, scraping by on loans or on piecemeal teaching/research jobs. You either accrue mass debt during that time or make enough income on the side to survive, but not to accumulate savings, investmenmts, buy a house, etc.

      It takes a very long time for young faculty to get their financial house in order after landing that elusive TT job. And even then, they have lost out on a decade of income which they will never get back, even at a full professor's salary.

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  9. I couldn't agree more with Dona Furiosa's post (and with this Reason in general). I teach in a decent-sized community college, and barely make enough for food and rent (all the while having no job security, as I am not tenured).

    Even the tenured staff at the college are firmly middle-class. The only colleagues I know who might be labelled as upper-middle-class have multiple streams of revenue. One STEM prof I know teaches at three different schools and works part-time for an engineering firm. This kind of professional multitasking seems to be the only way to make a decent living in academia.

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  10. I agree that this is a valid reason. No one should think that going to grad school, especially not in the arts and humanities, will put you in competition for a 6 figure job. (Double median income would be $97K - what I would consider the first tier of "upper middle class."

    But come on, you all are educated people. Since when did "professor" = wealthy or even well-off?

    Some of you folks didn't listen in history class.

    Sometime read a biography of Woodrow Wilson, probably the most famous American academic of all time. What he went through wasn't too different then now. He got his first teaching position in 1885 at age 29 at Bryn Mawr college - the pay was $1500 per year. When he earned his PhD at age 31, he moved on to Wesleyen where they offered him $3000 per year. He moved on to Princeton a few years later where he got started off at a similar pay rate, taught there for 20 years getting paid $3-4000+. University of Illinois offered to make him president in the 1890s with a salary of $6K but he turned it down. As President of Princeton from 1902-1910 he was paid an average of $12K.

    With speaking fees, book sales, and article royalties, he pushed his income into the $20s. He was able to that, though, because he was the most famous academic in the USA by the first decade of the 1900s.

    Now, keep in mind his asst. professor's salary of $1500.

    A skilled iron puddler - one of the best (and most difficult & dangerous) industrial jobs of that era - could earn up to $7 a day. You'd make $1700-2100 per year at that rate. Native-born white male industrial workers (didn't need much more than a 6th grade education) - the kinds that could get into trade unions and get the best jobs - during Wilson's time made between $2 and $5 per day - or $500 to $1500 per year. Most white male managers in business (people with some college or college graduates) could count on starting around $1500 per year, working their way up to 4-6K in middle management.

    So as a skilled worker with no education you could make what a professor made even then. Not much different now, why should you all be surprised?

    I got that info from "Woodrow Wilson: A Biography" by John Milton Cooper, Professor of History at University of Wisconsin, without a doubt the foremost authority on Wilson right now and in the top 5 of historians of the early 20th century. His salary in 2009 was $112K. If that's all he makes, how much can we realistically expect all those professors who are not superstars to make?

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    1. Google: cpi calculator. Now, the data only goes back to 1913 but inflation wasn't as constant then. This will allow you to understand that, e.g., $12000 in 1913 is equivalent to $278000 today. Not bad.

      Beyond that, I'm not sure what your point is. It sounds like in his first real position he made $3k, twice what a highly skilled worker in a dangerous position would make. Not bad.

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    2. "Google: cpi calculator. Now, the data only goes back to 1913 but inflation wasn't as constant then. This will allow you to understand that, e.g., $12000 in 1913 is equivalent to $278000 today. Not bad."

      I really don't see why his salary as President of Princeton is more important in judging academic pay back then than the one he earned as a professor for over 20 years.

      "Beyond that, I'm not sure what your point is. It sounds like in his first real position he made $3k, twice what a highly skilled worker in a dangerous position would make. Not bad."

      Using that same adjustment for inflation, $3k in 1887 equals $71,853.74.

      1.) That doesn't suck, but it's certainly not wealthy and there are a lot of people who'd quibble about it even being upper middle class.

      2.) Consider also that these were the salaries for Wesleyen and Princeton. Now there wasn't much in the way of community colleges back then, but these were still the salaries for a professor at elite private schools, not necessarily the average salary for a professor.

      3.) "twice what a highly skilled worker in a dangerous position would make" =/= wealthy.

      4.) It's not much different from what a lot of associate profs make today (depending on the subject) and $95,804.99 (the 4k equivalent) is roughly the same (and, depending on the subject, considerably worse) than what a full-time professor currently makes.

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    3. My point was that what Wilson went through in the 1880s wasn't too much different than PhD students now.

      1) He didn't get his first real job until age 29, and then it paid the same as most decent entry level middle class jobs at the time that he could have gotten 6-7 years earlier.

      2) He complained in his letters about not being able to provide for his family at a relatively advanced age, and not being able to choose what city he worked in.

      3) Even as a university president of Princton(!), he was making less than a lot of successful business people with less education - and he went about as high as anyone could go in academia.

      So getting a PhD never was a "ticket to the upper middle class." Anyone who thinks so has swallowed pure propaganda.

      Even now - one of the most accomplished historians in the country makes a salary of only $112K - you can make that easily if you spend 10 years in the IT industry and are competent.

      Although it should be noted the inflation in administrative pay. The president of Princeton in 2008 made $783K. Much more than the inflation adjusted $278K from the early 1900s.

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    4. I hope no one's getting the notion from this discussion that private colleges and universities, even elite ones, pay better than the publics. Faculty salary scales are pretty similar all over the U.S.; when you see a substantial difference, it's usually because of the cost of living in a particular area. Unless you're a superstar who can negotiate your own terms, you're on the same salary treadmill as your colleagues anywhere else.

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    5. "I hope no one's getting the notion from this discussion that private colleges and universities, even elite ones, pay better than the publics. Faculty salary scales are pretty similar all over the U.S.; when you see a substantial difference, it's usually because of the cost of living in a particular area."

      The average salary for full professors at Princeton today is $181,000 (double what it would have been 100 years ago adjusted for inflation, BTW). That is not in an area with a high cost of living. Depending on the neighborhood, the houses can be expensive, but that can be remedied by just living in another area or settling for a smaller house. It is not a matter of necessity.

      By comparison, full professors at UC Davis, earn $123,800, $132,000 at UC Irvine, $125,100 at UC Riverside, $136,300 at UC San Diego, $132,000 at UC Santa Barbara, and $120,500 at UC Santa Cruz. Some of those places can be much more experience.

      http://californiawatch.org/dailyreport/professors-earn-far-more-stanford-university-california-9843

      A full professor at UC Berkeley, on average, makes an average of $149,100. By comparison, a full prof at Stanford (which is, of course, located near Berkeley on the opposite side of SF Bay) makes, on average, $188,400.

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    6. All of those salaries are too high. I don't mean that your numbers are wrong; I mean that professors should not be earning triple digits. It's ridiculous.

      That said, those high-salary jobs are a fast-shrinking share of college teaching positions. At the other end of the spectrum are the adjuncts trying to get by on $3,000 per class.

      There is a real imbalance among higher-ed educators with a few fat cats earning hefty salaries, a lot of people making middling wages, and a lot of people living on a wing and a prayer. What's bad is that they're all doing roughly the same thing (teaching, researching, and publishing). The inequality creates a great deal of tension and animosity.

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    7. I agree. The caste system is also what will help bring down academia. I'm in charge of managing the adjuncts for my discipline and every semester I pull my hair out trying to get every class staffed. Adjuncts come and go every year. Many try to juggle multiple jobs, etc... so their schedules are disasters to manage. Sometimes they'll get new jobs and bail in a week or so before the class start date leaving me begging others to take an overload or e-mailing the grad dept at the local university if they have anyone who can adjunct on short notice.

      And who can blame them? The institution shows them no respect or loyalty so why should they show any to it?

      The administrators think there is no problem and there will be never-ending supply of adjuncts - which is not the case, most adjuncts quit in 3 years or less and the universities around here produce them more or less at replacement level. Furthermore, they act as if all the adjuncts are equally good - some are some aren't we have to let some go for being terrible instructors.

      I've brought up to the president of the college that someday we will get unlucky and a large number of sections will go unstaffed - then what message will that send the students? As we come to approach reliance on 50-60% adjunct labor or higher, a crisis in adjunct availability would put the college in serious jeopardy.

      He shrugged as if he didn't care.

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    8. No, this Reason is entirely appropriate. When I was in Junior High and High School, I remember seeing posters showing multi-car garages filled with expensive cars, with the line "Justification for Higher Education". We're taught from an early age that if we get an Education, we'll be successful, and it's implied that the more education you get, the better.

      This isn't just a problem with PhDs; there are many people who get Masters and even Bachelors, who then go on to do work in a field completely different from what they were educated in.

      People need to understand that an Education does NOT guarantee a fantastic salary.

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  11. The faculty could make much more money if it wasn't for the bloodsucking administrators. They contribute nothing. They teach no classes. A college needs someone to take in the money, someone to pay it out, and someone to keep track of the credits. But instead we have swarms of admins doing nothing.

    I sometimes think of setting up a free university, charge nothing for tution but give no degrees. Who needs them anyway? It isn't like they do us any good.

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  12. A Ph.D. student went on a shooting rampage in Aurora, Colorado: http://abcnews.go.com/US/aurora-colo-batman-shooter-james-holmes-phd-student/story?id=16817842#.UAmQBXmqbAk

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    1. There are reasons to believe he was a schizophrenic; I highly doubt that his being in a PhD program is what pushed him to his massacre.

      Schizophrenia is a disease difficult to live with. Even if you are intelligent, I would imagine that once symptoms started setting in, it would be difficult to do *anything*. Which is why so many of them are homeless.

      As sick and defunct PhD programs are, there are other sources of evil in the world. (If I recall correctly, the Giffords shooter was also a school dropout, but not enrolled in a PhD program.)

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  13. First off, he was a PhD drop out. Secondly, you would shelve all grad students because of the action of one individual? That is, by all means, awfully narrow minded.

    Back to topic: In my opinion people should not be discouraged to go to college. The pursuit of knowledge and the desire to educate oneself further then highschool knowledge is not to be condemned or frowned upon

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  14. A fucking E4 in the Army makes more than a Postdoc when base pay as well as all the other pay is included.

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  15. @ Anon 1:06 AM:

    It is narrowly minded if the environment doesn't exist. Re-read all the 85 reasons on this blog posted to date.

    Now you understand why.

    There are probably 1,000,000+ grad students are now "on the edge" due to stress, no hope of future,psychological trauma etc.

    The next James Holmes could be living in your own backyard. And it is the fault of the academic system.

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  16. @ Anon 1:06 AM:

    I'll give you a D for effort. You tried to bring the discussion back on topic, but your second paragraph was not actually relevant to the topic.

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  17. As the investigation continues, we will find out what, if any, effect Mr. Holms's experience in the neuroscience PhD program at University of Colorado-Denver had on his motives in the rampage.

    I doubt much. His friends that have been interviewed all indicated something seemed wrong with him for quite a while.

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  18. I have a question. Does anyone have a website where one can search for academic jobs?

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    1. Your field's professional organization probably has its own job listing. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, and the Higher Education Recruitment Consortium are other places to look. The nice thing about the last three is that they post university jobs that aren't limited to teaching positions.

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    2. The Higher Education Recruitment Consortium is where I found my current employment (Statistical Data Analyst). All of the sites Anon 1:01am mentioned are good, but HERC is my favorite, especially if you can utilize the Regional HERCs.

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    3. Higheredjobs.com is what led me to the job I got. Also the big ones simply hired, monster, indeed, will list some college jobs.

      The annoying thing is that some colleges that are hiring show up on some, not on others, or on very few if any consolidation sites. I was surprised when I just randomly looked at the websites of certain colleges, and wtf! They were doing a search for an asst. prof slot in my field and it didn't show up on any of the aggregators. Annoying.

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  19. Someone above made the point that private colleges are no better than public colleges when it comes to faculty salaries, etc. Then someone else countered with the salary numbers from Princeton.

    Well, Princeton is hardly typical. Most private colleges are run-of-the-mill "SLACs" or small liberal arts colleges. They don't tend to have big endowments, and they really can't afford to pay big salaries. In fact, the bad economy over the last few years has led some very old colleges to close permanently.

    Some SLACs are great places to work, but aside from money problems they sometimes afford less protection to employees. A bad department head, for example, can wreak havoc at a private college in ways that would be impossible at a public institution with firm (if bureaucratic) procedures.

    For most professors, there is very little money to be made in this business no matter what kind of institution you work in.

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    1. Head for the private sector. Get out of academia.

      Trouble is, you will likely have to move to Shanghai or Bangalore to find a decent job in the private sector. The upside is that you'll live in a more diverse and intellectually stimulating environment than any college campus.

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    2. Most Americans are either racist or have families rooted here that they are unable to move.

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    3. I'll take "Sentences only an academic would write" for $500, Alex.

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    4. Academics live in such an insulated bubble. They chatter with each other in an echo chamber. The racist/homophobe/militia meme is one of their favorite concepts to bounce off the walls of their little self-imposed prison cell.

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  20. Outsider here:

    Seems to me that the thing to be is a football coach. Gobs of money and apparently nothing you do will get you fired (except maybe losing to often.)

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    1. Talk that to Joe Paterno who has the highest win % and most wins in NCAA football history.

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    2. Little obvious, there. 0/10.

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  21. As a Ph.D., I'm a big fan of your blog.... passed you Liebster Award http://www.educatingwendy.com/2012/07/leibster-awards.html

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  22. I think you should be more realistic. I will finish my PhD in less than 1 year. I did not pay a penny for education, It was all through scholarships and grants so I do not any loans, and thus do not have to pay back a penny back, I have an offer for 130K to start as an assistant professor next year. I had nothing when I came to the US 3 years a go and without my PhD, I would have never had a chance to earn as this much. I know 130K is not as that much great, but I think it would help me to be above middle class in this economy.

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    1. Your story is not typical. Also, if you came from a country where your undergraduate education was paid for by the government, you had a huge leg up over most American students. That's where the majority of American students incur ridiculous amounts of debt.

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    2. Anon 11:21, your comment would sound more credible if it were written in proper English. Then again, the quality of graduate-student writing is sinking fast. An advanced degree used to be a mark of learning; now it's a mark of "education" that doesn't amount to much. I still don't buy your story.

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  23. I think one of the main arguments or observations missing from this thread of comments is that the promise of post-grad studies (and even just undergrad university education) offers not simply middle-class financial rewards (I did say the 'promise' and not the reality)- or stronger economic capital, but the intellectual capital that many students find attractive. Yes, it's a reference to P. Bourdieu - okay - but for me it makes sense. It's another form of distinction outside the money value thing that people enjoy as it sets them apart as the 'more' knowledgeable middle-class. It's not just a great identity marker though when you can't get out of the poverty line income status as an adjunct. There's a big romanticising of this kind of capital though, and that's what bugs me. I find it equally interesting that it's only when people like me who have been through the post-grad, PhD educational experience and who are reflecting on the whole thing, who can see it for what it really is - yes, it's taught us to be extra critical. I can't say that I didn't gain a lot 'intellectually' (and now I see that maybe there could have been other avenues where I could have grown intellectually), but much of the whole process has a been about the higher education system surviving financially. Most annoying has been the assumption that this is the path toward some dreamy and secure permanent academic job. Well, I've seen the reality of that promise now too.

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  24. Social capital is wonderful, and I wouldn't give it up (if indeed I have it). But it doesn't pay the bills.

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    1. I always amused at how the Ph.D. carries social capital. If the unwashed masses understood the pointless nature of the degree, they wouldn't pay it any attention. However, all of the "experts" they see on TV have "Dr." in front of their name, and after awhile, the masses are conditioned to think that the Ph.D. actually means something.

      I encountered this phenomenon soon after receiving the degree. Whilst still dressed as a graduate student (shorts & T-shirt), I went to the local bank in the small town that was home to my new SLAC faculty position. Seeking to open a small-dollar account, my mere presence in the bank was obviously annoying the banker who seemed to have better uses for his time. He thought I was just another slacker student.

      Of course, during the process of filling out the paperwork, he soon discovered that I was a member of this small town's elite professorial class (despite my outward appearance still projecting "poor student"), and his attitude did a complete 180 degree turn within a nanosecond. Suddenly, he was falling all over himself trying to sell me a mortgage, get a higher level of checking account, savings account, etc.

      That was when I realized the pathetic and bogus experience called graduate school (from which I had so recently escaped) might actually hold some sway over the masses. All I can say is that the masses are too easily duped by fancy sounding letters after somebody's name. Graduate school is simply a delay tactic to avoid adulthood another few years. These days, all my admiration goes to those credentialess masses who manage to make it on their own without fancy titles.

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    2. But most of them aren't making it, they're just barely getting by.

      Wait until we have another disaster, like Obama's pending immigration executive order. Then you will see the wheels come off the wagons.

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  25. ^ Self-hating academic. Sucks to be you.

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  26. It's disconcerting how little many of you value eduction. While a PhD may not be a ticket to the upper middle class, a high school education only is most certainly not, except for the VERY rare outliers. 70% of jobs are predicted to require some education BEYOND high school by 2020. On every level - income, crime, marriage stability, etc... those with high school only do worse than those with some college, who do worse than those with a bachelor's etc...

    The statistics are pretty clear. More education = more success, for the most part. There are exceptions to the norm, and we are arguing about that.

    An argument can be made against the PhD because of the opportunity cost involved and narrow utility of it. However, if you've got a plan - you know what field you want to be in - a strong argument can be made for going through a master's, which can be realistically done in 5 years after high school if you go to school during the summers. Even if you want a PhD - starting from high school a persistent student should be able to get it done in 9-10 years.

    The key problem, as I've said before, is that we don't know what we *want our education system to do.* So students languish at all levels. It's not atypical for students to take 6-7 years to finish a bachelors, 3-4 years to finish a masters, 7-10 years to finish a PhD. That would NEVER have been acceptable 40 years ago. If you weren't matriculating at the right speed you would get kicked out. It should be: 3-4 years bachelor's, 1.5-2.5 years master's, 3.5-6 years PhD.

    A lot of that is a failure of K-12, which is more or less a holding pen which sends kids to college without much direction. College IS useless if you don't know what the hell you want to do with it.

    Having worked in several levels of education, now higher ed, I'm quite convinced the failures occur between 6th and 10th grades. I think our elementaries are doing their job. Our middle schools fail miserably and our high schools as a consequence. That bleeds up to higher ed, which is forced to reteach what SHOULD have been taught in the FIRST half of high school.

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    1. The major problem we have is not identifying what a student's aptitude is around age 13-14. Instead we wait until around age 20-21, when the student is a sophomore in college before they even start THINKING about career options.

      Every country with a more efficient education system starts directing students toward university, professional, or vocational training based on their aptitude by the time they hit 15 or so.

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    2. Apart from the highly specialized technical fields, do students learn all that much beyond high school? For most of them, whatever they're learning isn't worth a hundred thousand bucks.

      It's not really about "education," is it? Getting a degree is getting a stamp of approval that shows that you have a certain level of aptitude and commitment. (The "stamp" is getting to be a less reliable indicator of quality, so how many stamps you have and where you get them is becoming more important.)

      IQ tests (such as those used by the military and Google) would make things a lot simpler for employers and employees, and they would save a huge amount of time. It would "deprive" a lot of young people of the college experience, but are frat parties and class discussions really all that great?

      My understanding is that a Supreme Court decision long ago made it illegal for most companies to use IQ tests, but the military and Google both seem to follow their own rules.

      Just like in every other field, the people within education are the first to tell you how important education is, but (just like in every other field) they have an obvious interest in hanging on to their jobs. They're not the people that you should turn to for an objective opinion on the value of education.

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    3. I would point out that there is a difference between "education" and "schooling". What we get is the latter, a meaningless heaping up of papers and degrees. Education is priceless, schooling is largely worthless.

      Delete
    4. @3:57,

      Really? I strongly encourage you to do some research on the history surrounding the development of the IQ test (hint: it's not pretty). Then get back to us on that.

      Delete
    5. The SAT, ACT, and GRE are thinly veiled IQ tests. For some reason, it's OK for a college to choose its students based on their IQs, but it's not OK for the police department to choose its officers the same way.

      Researchers in academia, especially in education departments, have been attacking the whole idea of IQ for decades, but that hasn't stopped them from using it themselves.

      Delete
    6. Aaron is concerned that many of us do not value an education. He wrote: "The statistics are pretty clear. More education = more success, for the most part"

      That should be restated as follows: "The statistics are pretty clear. More credentials = more chance of success getting a good job."

      I think all of us value an education.

      But a credential is not the same thing as an education, and credentials are what we are handing out today in academia, and a credential is the required "hunting permit" in today's job market.

      Happy hunting. Especially with that freshly minted "silent movies studies" Ph.D. credential that took you 6 to 10 years to obtain.

      Oh, what a silly over-credentialed system we have constructed.

      Delete
    7. Like I said, stem doctor, a PhD is only worth it if it's very clear what you plan to do with it. Otherwise it's overkill.

      It's really not that hard, though, to go from high school diploma to MA/MS in 6 years; I think that's good investment for the most part if you want to compete for high paid technical or specialized jobs. Again, the key would be not to linger, do every internship possible, and know what you wanted to do with those degrees.

      Most students enter higher ed at age 18 with AT BEST a vague idea of what they want to do. Most don't really know and will change majors a couple times at least. At worst they don't want to be there at all. What a disaster. Complete failure of grades 8-12 that should be getting them thinking about potential fields.

      As you suggest, the problem with credentialing is societal, and not necessarily the fault of education. The education system has responded to our societal fetish for those credentials.

      I hear administrators talking about how to market "credentials" as products to the customers (students). Scary.

      Delete
    8. @Aaron: Yes. Their dirty little open secret is that the adminstrators know they are just marketing a credential. While they pay lip-service to the more noble aspects of a fine education, the daily reality of an administrator is awash in financial matters. They know that the cash flow ultimately comes from careful cultivation and preservation of the cachet associated with "having a degree".

      That is why you can audit courses online from Stanford or MIT and receive the very same content as those students who are physically present on campus, yet when you are done with the course, the students physically on campus get the "real degree" (having paid for the cachet) while you will be lucky to get a certificate of participation as a door prize on your way out.

      Eventually, employers will see that paying extra for those people with the cachet isn't worth the extra cost. But, we are a long way from that happy day for now.

      Delete
    9. So called "IQ" tests are the best predictor of performance in educational, military, and employment contexts. Such tests are not illegal to use as was incorrectly noted by an earlier commenter and are actually used with great success in a wide-variety of private and public sector industries.

      Delete
  27. How do you leave grad school? I've made up my mind that I'm leaving but I don't know what to do now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. you'll get some specfic tips if you provide more info (what program, how far along, career plan, etc)

      Delete
    2. Before you leave, get yourself a job. Not only will you need one, but the day-in day-out business of working and making money will be a refreshing change from the sterile monotony of grad school.

      Delete
    3. A lot of people (probably the majority these days) are in graduate school, because they can't find a job, I mean a real job, aren't they? It's a vicious cycle....

      Delete
    4. Yes, but any job, even an unreal one, is better than the unreality of grad school. And any job opens up chances for promotion, which grad school does not.

      Delete
    5. I read somewhere that the only job the Aurora shooter could get after college was flipping burgers at a McDonald's, which is probably why he decided to go to graduate school despite there are "chances for promotion" at McDonald's.

      Delete
    6. Re: Socratesinthemarketplace 08/01/12 -

      An 'unreal' job, such as freelance consulting, will probably not pay the bills and may offer limited opportunity for career growth, training, or networking regardless of whether a real product is created or a real service is supplied. The 'unreal job' is a way to preserve dignity and structure one's activities while remaining underemployed and/or unpaid, and is usually (but not always) a dead end.

      As for 'any job opens up chances for promotion,' most readers understand that there are many jobs that are dead ends, with limited or even no prospects for advancement of any kind. They also understand that stereotyping is a means by which prospective employees are gauged, and that employment history is a means of stereotyping individuals.

      Whether these options are better than 'the unreality of grad school' is perhaps debatable, but grad school may offer skills training, the opportunity to build a network, work opportunities, and the possibility of being able to launch a career - all in a semi-structured environment. 'Any' 'unreal' jobs may not offer any of these things.

      Re: Anonymous 08/02/12 - US citizen microbiologists are going to work at McDonalds as burger flippers, physicists to work in shoe stores, and computer scientists to work at Best Buy while our industries, educational institutions, and government all claim we have to import increasing amounts of skilled labor to work in these fields and others. The nation is even subsidizing the educations of a high percentage of the 'imports' while large numbers of skilled, intelligent, and educated US citizens are begging for work and resources. We even have a biologist who did Nobel Prize research now working in a car-parking service.

      The powers that be in the US have already decided to double down on already high immigration levels (both legal and illegal, in absolute numbers we outrank every other nation on the planet already) instead of allowing the existing workforce to adjust to market wants. Veterans and others who have made meaningful, substantive contributions to the welfare of the nation ought to regard this as a kick in the teeth. Personally, as an M.S. holder who has helped feed well over a million people, worked most of my life towards making meaningful contributions to others and tests in the top 01% of graduate school applicants, but who has endured nearly two decades of shut doors, under- / self- employment, gratuitous insult heaped upon gratuitous injury and poverty in this country, I am ready to leave and go somewhere else. Now if only there was a single other nation as free with their immigration policies and as relaxed with enforcement as ours is.

      Delete
  28. "Shabby" is an old-fashioned word that seems to have taken on a positive connotation lately in expressions like "shabby-chic," but its original meaning (rundown, beat-up, worn-out, almost trashy) works well as a description of most of the professors' houses, cars, and (often) clothes that I've seen over the years.

    It's clear that either they don't have a lot of money or they like pretending that they don't have a lot of money. My guess is the former.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Wow. This upward mobility deal really is specific to the humanities and social sciences. Glad I didn't choose to get my PhD in these fields.

    ReplyDelete
  30. An earlier reason compared the money that professors make over a lifetime with the money that teachers make over a lifetime. Teachers end up looking well-off in the comparison. Where else will you find teaching in the public schools used as the example of the higher paying career?

    ReplyDelete
  31. Related to this...
    http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2012/08/good-job-hard-find

    Only about 15% of people under the age of 34 have what they consider a "good job" (>$37,000 a year plus health insurance) despite being far more educated than any previous generation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, it's hard to figure out how to get ahead these days. One word of advice: if "everybody" is telling you to do something, it's probably the wrong thing to do. Remember 2004 and 2005 when everybody was telling everybody else to buy a house? Even the government was shouting "buy a house!" from the rooftops. How did that turn out for the people who listened to the message?

      Now it seems like every other commercial on TV is for some kind of degree-granting school. They make a degree sound like the key to health, wealth, and happiness. If that were true, they wouldn't be trying so hard to convince us. People keep buying the message. Otherwise, those schools wouldn't be able to afford to advertize so much. The schools are making money, but are their graduates?

      The for-profit schools that run most of the ads have been getting some heat lately, but the non-profits benefit from all of their advertizing, too. They're all sending the same message: "Get more education!" We should be asking these schools, "Is this for my sake, or yours?" We should have been asking the banks that in 2004 when they were handing out mortgages like candy.

      Delete
    2. "The schools are making money, but are their graduates?"

      Yes.

      This isn't a simple question, but like I said before, look at any economic indicator and the trend is that college graduates have higher income, lower divorce rates, lower single parenthood rates, lower crime, longer life expectancy, and so forth.

      There ARE exceptions - but the data show that college graduates are generally more successful than non-college graduates.

      ""We should be asking these schools, "Is this for my sake, or yours?""

      They are providing a service and there is a lot of demand.

      Unemployment for people with doctoral degrees is 2.9%. For high school graduates, 9.7%. Census shows college graduates earn an average of $51K per year, high school graduates - $31K.

      http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/03/whats-more-expensive-than-college-not-going-to-college/255073/#

      We SHOULD have a discussion about the rising costs. Something is wrong. What colleges do is not that different than what they did 30 years ago. However, *less* education is not the answer if you ask me.

      As for young people not getting "good jobs" - that is WORLDWIDE. Youth are doing relatively worse compared to their elders in almost every country, especially developed ones. I read a story the other day about a young man in Spain with an amazing education, speaks 4 languages, etc... and can't find a job other than temps. We don't have an education problem as much as we have a worldwide economic problem.

      Delete
    3. Aaron, you've bought the argument that the college industry keeps repeating, but step back and think for a minute.

      Correlation is not causality. Are those people more successful because they went to college? Or do more successful people tend to go to college?

      They might just as well be succeeding IN SPITE of college (and all the time and money it cost them).

      Delete
    4. "Are those people more successful because they went to college? Or do more successful people tend to go to college?"

      Both probably. I know I am more successful in large part because of college. I was very different before. But then what helped me succeed was not college alone.

      We have no way of knowing the true answer to that question. What we do have is data that show in a broad sense college graduates perform better economically.

      Of course you can educate yourself like Abraham Lincoln did. But how many people do that? The stronger likelihood is that a high school graduate will be too busy working a menial job for survival than going to the library to learn the same things for free that he could learn in college. Almost any information can be self taught, but again, few actually accomplish that.

      Delete
    5. If 15% > 34% makes 37k or above and average college graduate makes 51k or above that indicates that median salary for college graduates is substantially lower than the mean. However, no matter if successful people tend to go to college rather than the otherway around, employers still screen applicants on educational credentials so it's not an argument to suggest that college is redundant to success.

      In either case, this is a red herring. This blog is not arguing about college or no college or the value of education för that matter. It's about grad school, in particular phd programs in the humanities and social sciencies. Stay on topic please.

      Delete
    6. "Of course you can educate yourself like Abraham Lincoln did."

      But in Lincoln's day, self-education was the norm for the educated, comparatively rare among everyone else, and was the means for many to meaningful employment. Can't say that now.

      Good luck, incidentally, finding the works you need for self-education (physics texts, reasonably up-to-date general and organic chemistry textbooks, biochemistry texts, any math beyond geometry, good language textbooks, statistics beyond the three Ms, major literature, major philosophy, even central political science and economics) at a public library, even a major metropolitan one. You WILL, however, be able to find multiple copies of "Twilight," Obama's biographies, and "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life." How this helps anybody beyond teaching the lesson that cheating works is beyond me - God forbid someone would have to reconstruct civilization from these things.

      Delete
  32. I'm anon from July 31, 2012 at 8:46 AM. I'm entering my third year in a PhD program in the social sciences. I entered the program with a B.A. I haven't told anyone in my program about my dissatisfaction or exit plan because quite frankly I don't trust them. I'm going to start applying for jobs and then leave my program as soon as I get hired. Luckily I have a work study job (living proof that being a TA doesn't pay all the bills) so I'm just going to ask my boss at that job for a work reference. That way, I don't have to ask anyone in my department for one.

    The thing is, I'm making the same amount of money as a TA that I did as a telemarketer and being a telemarketer wasn't nearly as demeaning or demanding. At least I got nights/weekends off, a raise every six months, and chances for promotion.

    It's not like I'm looking for a six figure job. I just want to live comfortably and my current career path isn't allowing me to do that. And to be honest no amount of money is worth the humiliation, stress and low self-esteem that grad school brings.

    This blog and others like it that expose the insanity of grad school have literally saved my life. I thought I was alone and the only person hating grad school. I really wish I discovered this blog sooner.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good luck to you. I wish this blog had been around thirty years ago.

      Delete
    2. I sincerely hope you talk to others who are more familiar with your situation before you make this decision. Don't let yourself be overly influenced by the bitter people on this blog.

      Delete
    3. Of course I talked to people I know about this, Aaron. I've had doubts about staying in grad school way before I came across this blog.

      Delete
    4. Good luck in the real world! A LOT of us in grad school are there because we didn't even know where to begin to look for a real job. We were the ignorant trusting ones who went to the college career center for help (ha!) and ended up doing something like telemarketing while we applied to get back into the comfortable womb of school.

      Take some chances with your job search. Don't be afraid to use personal connections. By now some of your old friends from high school and college might be able to help you out.

      Congrats for getting to the decision point. It takes guts to get out.

      Delete
    5. Sounds like you already have a gameplan and have made up your mind - which is one of the hardest parts of leaving the cult that is grad school.

      As for the crap jobs, don't worry - a lot of us have to start out this way after quitting academe. Sadly, that's all that some degrees are good for in the absence of any real work experience or applied skills, which is what employers are really after. The crap job will turn into a better one soon enough.

      Also, I wouldnt tell anyone of your plans to leave either - it's none of their business it's not going to make your remaining time there very pleasant if they know your are exiting. Worse, profs and students will try to talk you out of it and tell you that you're somehow copping out, which is total BS. I'd simply wait out the time it takes to get a permanent job, and then quietly leave.

      There is life after academe, and it is good.

      Delete
  33. Outsider here:

    One thing a decent Humanities B.A. program should do is to teach the student to write clean, clear, accurate English.

    I gather that clear English is not valued in graduate school. It sure wasn't in law school, either, but in law practice, nothing is more valuable. First, it's efficient and time really is money to a lawyer. Second, it's persuasive and persuasion is a lawyer's business.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Clearly written English is on the way out. No one values it anymore. The knuckledraggers all think they can write well (few of them think the same of their math abilities). On top of this the politicians, advertisers and feminists are all monkeying with the language for their own purposes.

      Delete
    2. I've stayed away from this blog for awhile because of the ridiculous, toxic comments. Still curious, I return, and very first one I read (above) blames feminists for "monkeying with the language." Presumably English belongs solely to anti-feminists like yourself, Socrates, who are able to resist the temptation to "monkey" with it, whatever that means?

      I really hope that Beloved Blogger's 100th Reason is this blog's very own comments section...

      Delete
    3. English composition should be taught and mastered in middle school. That basic or intermediate English writing skills are taught at the undergraduate level, graduate level, or law school is a sign of how far educational standards have collapsed in America.

      -postdoc abroad

      Delete
    4. Anon 11:26--Feminists constantly promote innovations into English for purely political reasons. For example, consider the demand that neologisms like "s/he" or "hir" be used in place of the indefinite masculine pronoun. The justification is always that the neologism will promote "equality" by changing people's thinking. That is pure Orwellian thought control that everyone should resist.

      You can find lots of people who manipulate language for the same thought-control ends. Feminists are open about it.

      Delete
    5. Oh, for heaven's sake. Saying "he or she" or avoiding gender pronouns altogether isn't bad English. The HR manual telling me I can't expose my "mid drift" or wear sandals without "heal straps" at work is.

      Delete
  34. Socrates:

    Thanks for the mansplaining, but don't soil your diapies just yet. Since the "Orwellian" feminists haven't managed to convince many of our elected representatives that women deserve sovereignty over our own bodies, I think it's probably going to be a good long while before we succeed in instituting a radical overhaul of the language. In the meantime, you can kick up your heels and refer to grown women as "girls," or use the masculine generic, or fight for your freedom of expression in whatever other backward way appeals to you.

    That said, cultural and linguistic change is constant and inevitable. It is a trick of the traditionalists (anti-feminists like yourself among them) to assert that "the way things have always been" is normal and apolitical and that any alteration to the status quo is dangerous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Youngsters, if this sounds like wisdom to you, and you want to hear more of it all day and every day, enroll in your local humanities graduate program.

      Delete
    2. Anon 4:06: so true. It is remarkable how my interlocutor not only engages in red herrings and personal attacks, but how quickly the writer reverts to scatological references.

      Delete
    3. Mansplaining? It's not only men who have a problem with the language police.

      Academia is a weak and impressionable institution that gives in to surprisingly stupid ideas. With every generation, it puts up less resistance to nonsense. The wider culture (including corporate culture) seems to be going down the same road.

      Non-English speakers (academics included) don't seem to take their nouns and pronouns as seriously as Anglo-centric academics. Thank goodness.

      Delete
    4. It is to be expected that the rest of society is going the way of academia. It is academia, after all, that sets the intellectual standards of a society. The lower academia sinks the worse it is for the rest.

      Delete
  35. Mansplaining isn't as bad as manspraining. That hurt for a month.

    ReplyDelete
  36. There are a lot of headwinds when attempting to become a member of the upper middle class, and there is more than one way to get there.

    Academia offers what appears to be a valid path where one can earn their way (by academic achievement or what we like to call "merit") into the upper layers of our society. This belief, coupled with the incessant warnings of almost certain failure if one does not go to college, keeps the whole house of cards propped up.

    At least for now.

    But this bubble won't last. The data shows that this is a big bubble (see plots at link below).

    http://rwer.wordpress.com/2011/09/15/the-cost-of-higher-education-in-the-usa

    In the words of a famous toy doll baby: "Math is hard"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. As I've said before, the question should not be "college or no college." Speaking for myself, college was worth it. The question needs to be "WTF is causing this outrageous increase!?!?!?"

      The graph is interesting, since I started college about a decade ago and graduated with my BA in '07 (took longer than it would normally have because I was an army reservist doing multiple deployments). Went on to grad school after that.

      The costs kept rising but I was getting the same product every year. Now my alma mater has some new buildings, but again, it is delivering the same product more or less that it was 11 years ago. Many of the professors are the same WTF has changed that's driving the price increase??? As your link stated, faculty should be asking this question as well since they are NOT benefiting.

      Significantly declining state support is one major issue. Another is administrative bloat. That really, Really, REALLY needs to be looked at. At my alma mater I know they created a provost position, a couple vice provosts, and some more VP's and all their associated staff toward the end of my time there. Also, the athletics dept have a support staff so extensive now that they are practically are a college within themselves that cater ONLY to the athletes. This at a school that does not have any premier sports. Why??>

      Delete
    2. The answer is simple, Aaron: the imperial impluse. These people (administrators and politicians) want to build empires to gratify their vanity. They don't give a damn about anyone but themselves.

      Personally I think all current administrators at all colleges should be fired. Their replacements should be requried to teach at least one course per semester and one over the summer. After three years they must go being faculty for three years. That ought to stifle their vanity.

      Delete
    3. It's just a result of the corporatization of higher education. I think a lot of graduate programs, especially in the humanities, need to be downsized or entirely shut down, but they remain or even expand because they make profit...by exploiting the cheap labor of graduate students (modern day slavery in America). Universities are aware they need good administrators to make more profit.

      Delete
    4. "Good administrators" often have the character traits of a con-artist.

      Delete
  37. Aaron

    Can you please get off this college or no college thing. Nobody is talking about college. Please. It's about grad school. Humanities & Social Sciences grad school. Understand? Comprende? Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it's very relevant. Graduate school and undergraduate education are related.

      Ie: grad students make up an important part of undergraduate humanities teaching resources. The presence of grad programs and production of PhD's is tied to Tier-1 status & funding. What affects undergraduate education affects grad school and vice versa, particularly funding issues.

      Really, as I've said in prior reasons, all of this boils down to money and value - hence the title of this post "not a ticket to the upper class."

      Our discussions about the *value* of continued education are relevant to both levels. mean really, why get a BA in political science if an MA or PhD in poli sci is worthless? How much value does the BA have in a context where advanced degrees in the same subject are worth so little?

      Delete
  38. Well Aaron did say that he went to graduate school after getting a BA. He did say that some of the high costs of college (which I took to be graduate and undergraduate costs) were due to the schools manufacturing administrative positions and pouring money into athletics. Sounds like valid and useful points to bring up to me.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Problems with college ---not just grad school--- are relevant here, because going to grad school means hitching your wagon to academia for the rest of your life. Problems affecting any aspect of it are a threat to your livelihood, and right now college as we know it is facing two monsters: cheap online "education delivery" and a customer base growing unhappy with the crushing costs of the current system. Something's got to give, and whatever it is ain't going to be good for those of us who depend on old-fashioned colleges and universities for our paychecks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. What I tell people is, "you know how some people were HORRIFIED about health care reform? Just wait until the politicians 'reform' education." It's coming. Rising costs and debt cannot last forever.

      Delete
    2. The politicians have already been active in "reforming education." When they get even more involved, along the lines of a "comprehensive fix" reacting to rising tuition and debt levels, expect tuition to shoot from the merely ridiculous into the realm of the utterly absurd. Furthermore, just like Obamacare, the fix will not be sustainable and will precipitate crises.

      Delete
  40. Yesterday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Emory University has been lying to U.S. News about its students for the last 12 tears. (That's the information that U.S. News uses to rank schools.)

    http://www.ajc.com/news/dekalb/emory-university-misrepresented-student-1501300.html

    I don't know if Emory is up there with the "genuinely prestigious" universities that this blog talks about, but it's #20 on the most recent U.S. News list. If schools that high on the list are cheating, what are the rest doing?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I would consider Emory one of the top universities in the south, and in an overall sense the best in Georgia. GA Tech probably has better sciences.

      Looks like the "inflation" of student SAT/ACT scores did not affect their ranking much, maybe 1 or 2 spots. Still, out of the top 75 or so, 1 or 2 slots has a HUGE effect on recruitment. So this is a serious issue. Administrators care deeply about any movement up or down; so much so that I've seen vice presidents get removed in response to a downward movement of 2 ranks. So I'm not surprised that some administrators engaged in falsification to try to marginally improve their ranking.

      This should be a reason. Although I guess it fits in with "there is a pecking order."

      Delete
  41. Aaron:

    Again. College and grad school may be related. Thats not the point. The point is that this blog is about grad school, not college. So to defend college is a big straw man that destroys the discussion.

    ReplyDelete
  42. The author of this blog, who is not surprisingly anonymous, makes some valid points but overall exaggerates many more. The fact is that many professions in the US today are in a crisis: Law, teaching, medicine, etc. etc. Doctors are leaving the medical practice in droves, and there are far to many lawyers for the jobs available to them. A phD in the humanities is therefore hardly an exception. It is difficlt, but can also be rewarding in at least 100 ways. I would not waste my time creating a blog to explore those 100 ways however, because ultimately, this blog is the product of bitterness. The anonymous author clearly could not hack the Ph.D process or the profession thereafter, and quit/dropped-out/failed. He now has spent countless hours producing this blog - essentially a symbol of that failure. He must be depressed, haunted, embittered at his collegues who succeeded where he failed, and now this is basically a desperate attempt to "get even" by demeaning the profession with what amounts to sweeping generalizations, and innacuracies, condescendingly (and smugly) written by somewhat who just could not compete. This blog is the result of a life failure. It should be read heavily salted, if at all. To everyone else, pursue your passion, work hard, and life will be rewarding. Don't become a pathetic blog "writer." Don't let your failure become you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A nice shot, David. Unlike many of us who are not surprisingly anonymous, you're courageous enough to put your real name…Here you go…Your simple dichotomy between success and failure: You "quit/dropped out/failed” grad school, and so you must be a sore loser. Considering the way you think, I can’t avoid thinking that you must be an excellent grad school administrator. By the way, I’m not the author of this blog but someone who wandered upon this blog and was surprised to learn that most of the talking points here are right on the money.

      Delete
    2. David, I had eighteen units toward the Ph.D. when I quit. I finally realized I was being duped. You argue that other professions are in crisis. Well yes, but those professions do not produce their own problems: lawyers do not spawn new lawyers, law schools do that. One major reason for the crisis in professional life is the overabundance of graduates produced by grad schools.

      Some people opt out because they are failures. Many of us quit because we realized that there was no competition, just a rigged system. You can't win if the game isn't fair.

      Delete
    3. David sounds like a new grad student-- the kind who pops in here, drops some disparaging remarks, and then disappears into his false reality. He'll come to his senses eventually.

      As I approach my defense, I look back at all those "failures" who left my program and wish that I'd had their good sense.

      Delete
    4. David sounds like a professor in this video which made me laugh out loud.

      So You Want to Get a PhD in the Humanities: Nine Years Later:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KkluiR5Rns


      Even Al Jazeera covers this topic today: The closing of American academia

      http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2012/08/2012820102749246453.html

      Delete
    5. Watch another video. Part II: Counseling a Prospective Graduate Student in English

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69TxdPeAhdE

      LOL

      Delete
    6. (insert clip of Trolling Boxxy clip here...)

      Delete
    7. I agree to the extent this blog is very bitter and populated by a lot of people with sour grapes and chips on their shoulders.

      However, I would not characterize people who drop out of grad school as "failures" any more than I would characterize a victim of our toilet economy a failure.

      And he is absolutely right that a lot of professions other than academia are in crisis. Law, journalism, housing, teaching (major crisis), agriculture (can produce more and more with fewer people), postal service, and so forth.

      Delete
    8. "And he is absolutely right that a lot of professions other than academia are in crisis. ...agriculture (can produce more and more with fewer people..."

      So, to extrapolate, agriculture will maximize productivity with zero workers?

      The crises in agriculture are actual and acute, and these are among them:
      1) There is a looming expertise shortage - worldwide.
      2) There is a looming labor shortage - worldwide.
      3) There is a looming (potable) water shortage - worldwide.
      4) There is no economic enterprise in the US more actively opposed via lawsuit, overtly oppressive taxation, and government action.
      5) Many involved in agriculture are actively shunned socially and economically in the US and many other nations.

      Delete
    9. David's view might, just might, have some merit--if every single Reason weren't utterly true. But they are, and one of the positive aspects of today's often misused, privacy-destroying technology is that it has the potential to inform people better. Reading this blog has been an eye-opener for me precisely because I have discovered that so many people have had similar, or even worse, experiences. Had this been available to me in, say, 2001 or 2002, it could have saved me tremendous grief and wasted years. Instead, I ignored the advice of one or two well-meaning friends (one of whom had a father with a doctorate, and the other of whom had a freeway-flyer GF with one). I bought one or two sundry books on how to advacne one's career in academia, and after enduring endless disappointments, anger, frustration, poverty, ridicule, and weakened eyes, during which time I pathetically tried to convince myself that I need only somehow "round the corner" to find career rewards and existential satisfaction, I finally gave up the ghost. Sept. 2001 to Sept. 2006, at two large universities. Despite my plethora of A's and encouraging comments, I proved a slow learner. I had one professor who actually urged me to continue because I was a "stunningly brilliant writer" and that she cared about "a mind" (not "your mind", mind). Thanks to advice of this sort, to which I was quite susceptible, I struggled along with a four-figure income, shabby clothes, a car with a disintegrating muffler, inadequate medical care, and, most importantly, increasing alienation from my friends in the real world.

      I suppose that a few who are truly gifted and brilliant will always make it; even in 2035, there will be some lucky individuals, who are probably around 15 or 20 today, who are fully tenured professors at Columbia, Stanford, Chicago, etc. For most of us, though, this is a silly pipe dream--though that does not mean we are incompetent or stupid. The odds are just not in our favor, and all of the other factors add insult to injury. When I embarked on my fool's errand, I entertained hoary fantasies of an elegant, sombre study, filled with books and artifacts, in which my learned associates and I would pursue the life of the mind. I had my heroes--men like Peter Gay, Alan F. Westin and the late Paul Oskar Kristeller--and try as I might, the grad school experience I had bore about as much resemblance to their scholarship as Kojak does to Aristotle.

      Delete
    10. Who loves ya, baby?

      Delete
    11. Good one! :-)

      Delete
  43. After I was sexually abused by my adviser and my dissertation was rejected by the PhD committee, I made the mistake of starting a new PhD program (with a new thesis) from the very beginning. I regretted it after two weeks. My only motivation was to prove everyone I could overcome what my adviser did and write a good thesis. It's a pity that I didn't know this blog before. A PhD in my circumstances is not worth the effort, but I have already invested so much that it is hard to quit. Nobody is going to take me seriously if I drop out this program. I would like to change careers, but I don't know what to do. I am in my thirties and I don't have any relevant work experience outside academia. This blog points out all these paths to failure (i.e. reason "it narrows your options") and how little rewarding grad school is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, you're trapped like so many grad students in a vicious cycle of poverty, regret, depression, ever-increasing suffering,(sexual & other kinds of) exploitation & abuse.... Smart ones leave before it's too late, (or like the author of this blog said, don't even start grad school in the first place). It usually takes one or two years to figure out how the system works. You're still in your thirties. I'd suggest you milk as much funding from your grad program as possible while looking for other options--I mean if you're funded.

      Delete
    2. Graduate school in the humanities is a trap. It is designed that way. It is structurally based on limiting the options of students and socializing them into believing that it is shameful to abandon "the life of the mind." That's why most graduate programs resist reducing the numbers of admitted students or providing them with skills and networks that could enable them to do anything but join the ever-growing ranks of impoverished, demoralized, and damaged graduate students and adjuncts for whom most of academe denies any responsibility.

      From Thomas H Benton's "The Big Lie About the 'Life of the Mind.'"
      http://chronicle.com/article/The-Big-Lie-About-the-Life-of/63937/

      Delete
    3. There is a concept in economics called "false economy." It is the idea that you should continue to invest in something you know is unproductive because you have already made such a big investment already you should invest a big more to get the payoff. If every grad student knew this idea, we would all have quit a long time ago.

      Lucrezia, the longer you stay in academia to prove something to these people the longer you give them power over you. If you want to quit, then quit. This is your one and only life. Live it the way you want. If you want to finish the Ph.D., then look around a lot. There are many programs that you can undertake that you could sail through. Do what YOU want. As Richard Feynman once said, "what do you care what other people think?"

      Delete
    4. To Lucrezia: Ten years ago I would not have believed you, but after the professorial behaviour I have witnessed, and been subjected to, I fully believe you and I wish to extend my sympathies. My circumstances weren't quite that abysmal, though I was miserable enough. My advisor was brilliant, and his conduct, superficially, was above reproach. He was just mean. Really mean. Cold. Unhelpful. Hostile. I got strung up on a sexual harassment beef -- from another graduate student, a married woman in her thirties who harboured all kinds of bizarre fantasies -- and he completely ignored the situation, didn't even ask me about it, let along come to my aid. He had exactly three advisees. Three months later, when the imbroglio was past, one day he casually mentioned it.

      Socratesinthemarketplace, above, has it absolutely right. As the dog Latin has it, Illegitimi non Carborundum -- don't let the bastards wear you down! They are LOSERS. And every single one of us on this blog who has successfully pinched it off has taken the first tentative step AWAY from being a loser. It is like AA...remember Captain Furillo on "Hill Street Blues"? He had been off the booze for a decade or so, had a brief lapse, forced himself to go back to the meeting, and affirmed: "My name is Frank Furillo, and I'm an alcoholic. I've been sober...two days." I was an academic for five years. I walked away on 1 September 2006. I have been free of this queer affliction for...seven years and 19 days.

      Delete
  44. Back in the 90's I felt ashamed that I had to leave my program with an MA because most of the faculty in my department didn't want me around while my peers just patronized me. I walked away with my MA and never looked back. Fast foward 15 years later and I have a solid middle-class job and a spouse with the same, no dependents, time to work out every day, and savings in the bank. Where are they? Working part-time as assistant editors for academic journals, relegated to VAP hell, and the two of them with academic jobs are working in godforsaken places.

    Take it from me, get out and find another career. Aging is not for the feint of heart so why exacerbate this with a life of marginal poverty and debt (because even if you don't have student loans, you are going to have CC debt, etc.)?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 15 years ago, the world was a difference place, now days, some of us only have the option to either work retail/food services or else get more education since our humanities/liberal arts degrees are so worthless. You talk as if it is simple to find another career, when the only one I have found with my MA is Sales Associate at Walmart, couldn't even get a job at a Call Center.

      Delete
    2. I sympathize. After finishing my BA in history, I found that there is no future in academia. I didn't have the right connections for civil service or business, either. So I am taking Hal Varian's advice to learn math and statistics.

      As a bonus, I will be able to use quantitative methods in the historical research I have planned.

      Delete
    3. Of course with your BA in history you have no future in academia when many history PhDs have no future. You were just a cash cow.

      Delete
  45. Maybe academia IS a ticket to the upper middle class if you lie your way into it.

    "City Colleges professor accused of faking degree to earn more pay"

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-met-operation-cookie-jar-20120823,0,3728727.story

    How does a professor with a 100% fake PhD keep her job for THIRTEEN YEARS without anybody noticing?? (Nobody checked her credentials until she applied for a new job.) What does that say about the value of a real PhD?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This happens not only in community colleges but also in major universities: Alexander Kemos: (former) A&M Administrator a Lying Douchebag.

      COLLEGE STATION — Texas A&M’s No. 3 administrator presented himself as a warrior-scholar: a former Navy SEAL with a doctorate from Tufts University.

      But records obtained by The Bryan-College Station Eagle indicate that Alexander Kemos never was part of the elite fighting force, and Texas A&M officials confirmed Friday that he doesn’t have a doctorate or even a master’s degree, which was a posted requirement for the $300,000-a-year position as the top adviser to Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin.

      Kemos resigned Friday morning, the day after he was confronted by Loftin in Maine, where they were vacationing.

      http://urbangrounds.com/2010/06/alexander-meo/

      Delete
    2. This happened at my old university, where a person used phony credentials to land a TT job. They didn't find out he was a fraud until years after the fact. When it was revealed, the person vacated his office and moved away in the middle of the night, never to be seen again.

      Delete
  46. Thank u soo much for this blog!!! I was in graduate school for 3 years, & this blog explains EVERYTHING that I went through!! I'm so glad I'm not the only one who feels this way! I just dropped out after this year & I'm feeling all the effects of dropping out! :( But I do feel like it's the best decision I ever made too!

    ReplyDelete
  47. Thanks, Socrates and Anons for your answers to my comment on August 21. I don’t want to keep torturing myself with this new PhD program, but finding another career is more difficult than I expected. After two years of unemployment, the only job I found was teaching a course as an adjunct (and just for a semester). It seems I’ll have to go freelance and start my own business. Since I have no clients or references for any other activity outside academia, a PhD could be useful to me. Many freelancers are PhD graduates. Is it still a waste of time staying in grad school for this reason?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lucrezia, I'd check around on the internet to see if there is a program that will allow you to graduate quickly. There's a guy named Greg Bear who compiles this stuff; google him. If you want to freelance you don't need a Ph.D. to run your own business, but if you go into a business that needs one then it won't matter much where you get it. Thanks to the worship of pointless creditials by the general public, just about any Ph.D. is good.

      I sometimes think about offering lectures to the general public for donations. How much less could I earn than I am not earning now?

      Delete
    2. Are you talking about this SF writer Greg Bear?

      http://www.gregbear.com/

      If not, can you post the link to the site?

      Delete
  48. AlreadyGaveUpGradSchoolLikeAProAugust 26, 2012 at 10:46 AM

    The whole idea of education is too common among first world countries today. More education doesn't mean anything.

    ReplyDelete
  49. A couple of lines from a discouraging article by someone who got a Ph.D. in Canada:

    "When the going gets tough, the terrified apply to grad school."

    "The path I thought would lead me out of poverty had delivered me right back into its maw."

    http://www.randomhouse.ca/hazlitt/feature/how-succeed-journalism-when-you-cant-afford-internship

    ReplyDelete
  50. Well it is now proven that the James Holmes' rampage is directly caused by his experience at the University of Colorado neuroscience PhD program.

    ReplyDelete
  51. Replies
    1. His PhD apps have come out - he was rejected by Univ of Michigan and Iowa for "personal fit" reasons. Was accepted by Illinois with a stipend, didn't enroll.

      He was highly qualified coming out of UC-Riverside from what I can tell. But he started at CU and didn't do well at all from the get-go, during which time he sought out 3 mental health professionals. Need to hear from them. Beyond that I can't find what anonymous coward is talking about.

      Delete
  52. http://abcnews.go.com/US/james-holmes-bought-rifle-failing-oral-exam-university/story?id=16850268

    Correlation = Causation

    Case closed :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perhaps you missed this part:

      "Experts say it's possible Holmes had an underlying mental illness that was triggered by the stress of failure."

      The rest of the article indicates that Holmes has been acting like a loon since being arrested. The guy was sick before he entered the PhD program.

      Delete
    2. Perhaps you missed the part where that post was a joke.

      Delete
    3. At least one thing about this terrible case fits one of the reasons pretty well. The guy was worse than "socially inept" and one or two grad programs figured that out right away and denied him admission. He slipped through, though, at a couple of other schools where he got admitted.

      A lot of seriously weird people (99.9 percent non-homicidal) get through the admission process and into grad school. Is it because it's mostly an impersonal process? Is it weirdness attracting weirdness? There are way too many misfits for it to be the result of random chance. What is going on?

      Delete
    4. I've encountered weird people all over. Work, the military, school, church, my own extended family, etc...

      I had a gf who worked in an office setting, and the TV show "The Office" was so funny to her because there were crazy characters just like in the show throughout her whole dysfunctional workplace. I didn't believe her until I saw it for myself.

      However, I think the solitary nature of PhD programs and the loner work of a professor that they're wanting to do tends to attract "people who don't like people." You can literally be a PhD candidate and then a professor and only have to converse with a small number of people in your life. If you choose to, it is a profession where you could be something akin to a hermit.

      This falls under "It attracts the socially inept" from a while back.

      Delete
  53. The time has come to ban oral exams for the sake of public safety. When the 1st Amendment was written no one could have expected the rapid, powerful questions of today.

    ReplyDelete
  54. So has this blog run out of gas, or is the Admin waiting for school to start again everywhere so he/she can finish this off?

    Only 15 posts left....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes. It does seem to be running out of steam. Perhaps there are not 100 reasons after all.

      Here is one that is related to September. As an academic (both as a student and a professor), I dreaded September. After the relative freedom of the summer, September represented the oppressive return of teaching loads which so constrained "the life of the mind".

      To me, the month of September represents the rigidity of the academic calendar. The rest of the normal people in the world have the freedom to take their vacations whenever they wish. Academic folks must comply with the requirements of the Registrar. Normal people can go to the beach *after* Labor Day and save a ton of money. Academic people have to concoct reasons to go to a conference in order to get a week of pseudo-vacation during the academic year.

      Delete
    2. Normal people complain that academics don't work enough, don't they? "Only 9 months a year" and all that.

      In any case, there's a reason that September through February is the "low season."

      I would also note that we are the only industrialized country in the world that operates its educational system on a calendar designed for agrarian interests.

      Delete
    3. There are really only a few categories that every reason falls under. 1) cost and money, 2) jobs, 3) the people, 4) the stress/pressure

      In the end 80% of the reasons circle back to money.

      Delete
  55. > I would also note that we are the only industrialized country in the world that operates its educational system on a calendar designed for agrarian interests.

    I don't get it. Give me one example of, say, a Western European country which doesn't have a three month summer break for schools. Does Australia and New Zealand have 12 month school years?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are year-long schools with fortnight breaks every two months or so....Australia works on a 4 term per year system until college, which is two terms a year (except for one elite college.)

      When it comes to education the British Commonwealth countries do not play around.

      Delete
    2. Switzerland. The Netherlands. And there are more

      Delete
    3. Some of us worked in agriculture as children, and some children work in other businesses in America.

      My work season ran from early May to the end of October, give or take a few weeks.

      At the beginning and end of every school year I would miss numerous days of school. Invariably I would miss 2-3 weeks straight in autumn near the end of the season. I would be assigned schoolwork that I had to complete after working full days while away, and also play "catch-up" after returning to the classroom.

      In spite of this or perhaps because of it, I got good grades, scored well on standard tests and graduated from a 'top' college. However, if I had been forced to deal with year-round schooling as a child, I would have had half-a-year of school disruption annually and found graduation from high school deeply challenging to say the least.

      The performance of US schools generally leaves ample room for doubt that more of the same would yield better results. Full-year educational systems (whether in this country or others) are generally means by which class stratifications are hardened, and certain populations excluded altogether.

      Delete
  56. Thanks for telling it like it is. I hope you continue your list soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This blog is just like graduate school. It is taking forever to get to the end and finish the list.

      Delete
  57. Yeah, it looks like this blog is dead now. The author must have gotten a TT job and rediscovered their faith in academe. I've seen it happen many times with other disenchanted graduates.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've long suspected that this blog serves as source material for somebody's graduate research project in one of the useless "_____ Studies" departments. Perhaps enough material has now been acquired to finish the thesis, kill a few more trees, and fill another 2 or 3 inches of shelf space in some academic library with another unread tome.

      Delete
  58. Professors should be careful about revealing too much of their personal lives to students.

    I went to an expensive, pretty famous private university and one semester took a small class from a younger professor. One evening he had us all over to his apartment to discuss something that we were assigned to read. When we got there, all I could think was, "These people are POOR!"

    I'm ashamed about it now, but at the time I lost a lot of respect for him. That's how my college-student self reacted to that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. On the other hand, if more professors gave those kinds of signals to their students, maybe when those students started considering grad school and academic careers, they would remember those experiences and think twice about whether that's really how they want to live.

      Delete
    2. Yup. Your comment reminds me of when I TA'd for an adjunct about ten years ago. She invited me to her apartment to go over some work. It was shocking to see how she lived. It was a tiny little dumpy bachelor apartment furnished with second hand everything - she also had a baby to tend there, the father of which was some headbanger type guy who looked to be a deadbeat dad.

      I remember at the time wondering how someone who taught at a university could live like that. But I didn't put it together in time to save myself from wasting five years in grad school. The adjunct is still doing the same thing the last time I checked, while getting no further to landing that elusive TT job.

      Delete
    3. I would have thought your college student self was ridiculously shallow and immature for judging someone based on their money or living situation.

      I knew a DOCTOR whose apartment was smaller than mine. Perhaps that person didn't manage money well? I don't know.

      The adjunct is a different situation. I wouldn't expect an adjunct to have nice digs.

      Delete
    4. Anon 1:45 wasn't judging that professor personally based on his money or living situation. He/she was merely noticing the fact that the professor seemed to have little money. There's a difference.

      Delete
    5. Liza: Hey, what's with all the sudden celebratory pieces about doing a Ph.d. Sounds like some of those bad products which suddenly have to advertise because they can't find any new suckers anymore to buy their moonshine. (really folks, it WON'T make you go blind."

      Delete
  59. Very well written

    lazioman.blogspot.com

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  60. Groovy Stuff. Haight-Ashbury with a capital H.

    This post is basically talking about a "lousy job market" for academics; not really arguing much else.

    I did like the comment about the lousy wardrobe, that's true. You don't see professors dressed in Aubercy or Brioni, that's fer' sure.

    The basic argument is Uncool HepCat. The higher academic job market is lousy because global capitalism is failing the middle class, and included in the middle class is professors. Not because the pursuit of higher education sucks necessarily.

    Their income and working conditions are being eroded away just like other segments of the populations' workers, corporate drones, small business employees, service sector employees, etc.

    The lousy working conditions and lower pay of the professoriate are the result of the middle class loss of collective bargaining power.

    That's it in a nutshell. Adjuncts rule' and tenure track drool.

    George DeMarse

    ReplyDelete
  61. I strongly urge the person who started this blog, as well as those for the other 99 reasons, to rub these against those that try to brainwash our youth like what I see in forums like the Science Career Forum. I tried to raise these very same reasons but were shouted down.

    ReplyDelete
  62. I love this post. I recently got a job at the patent office here at the UK. It's a permanent job, with a starting salary of almost $45k with non-competitive promotions. Meaning that after 5-7 years as a new senior patent examiner I would be earning nearly $90k. Bearing in mind that you can be offered this a new graduate with a 2:2 honours or higher. So yes, I totally agree, there are far easier ways to get an upper middle class salary than getting a PhD. Hell even playing the lottery might improve your odds.

    ReplyDelete