Monday, May 14, 2012

83. It narrows your options.

We have become so comfortable with the idea that more education leads to more opportunity that it can be hard to accept the fact that there really is such a thing as too much formal education. As with everything else, there is a point of diminishing returns. After a while, graduate school begins to limit your options. Working toward a PhD takes so long (see Reason 4) and prepares you for a line of work that is so specific (see Reason 29) that it can leave you unprepared for work outside of academe. In most cases, a 35 year-old PhD is of less interest to potential employers than a 25 year-old with a few years of relevant work experience. More often than not, “overqualified” is just a nice way of saying “unqualified.”

Compounding the problem is the nature of the academic career path, which requires academics to “stay in the game” or risk never being able to return to it. After earning a PhD, you can’t, for example, work for five years in a non-academic job, and then expect to be hired as an assistant professor. If you want an assistant professorship but don’t get one straight out of graduate school, then you have to join the army of post-doctoral researchers (“postdocs”) and adjuncts moving from one temporary position to another until someone hires you for a quasi-permanent job (see Reason 71). And chances are that you won’t be hired as an assistant professor straight out of graduate school (see Reason 14). You’ll probably have to spend some time as an adjunct in academic purgatory, where the pay is so low and the work is so unstable that it can be a struggle to make ends meet. In 2010, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, there were 33,655 Americans with doctorates collecting food stamps. Together, they could fill a stadium. The 293,029 Americans with master’s degrees collecting food stamps could fill Cincinnati.