Monday, January 13, 2014

92. There is a social cost.

As you grow older, you begin to appreciate the value and rarity of genuine friendships. Graduate school is hard on friendships, and so is the academic life that follows it (see Reasons 14 and 29). In many ways, graduate school is inherently alienating (see Reason 30), leaving you out-of-step with friends who follow traditional paths into adulthood (see Reason 12). It places tight constraints on your financial independence, as well as on your time (see Reason 62), and it often requires you to move far away from friends and family. On a more fundamental level, it requires you to devote yourself to things of no interest to anyone around you (see Reason 90), let alone to anyone in your wider social circles. The concerns that cause you tremendous stress in graduate school can appear hopelessly petty to those on the outside. Meanwhile, as you move deeper into a world very different from that of your friends, you will find it increasingly difficult to understand and relate to their experiences (see Reason 63). In addition to all of its other costs, graduate school can cost you your friends, and that is a higher price than you might think.

To make matters worse, academe does not provide an environment conducive to forming new friendships. Not only does it attract difficult personalities (see Reason 77) and pit them against each other (see Reason 2), but the academic job market routinely moves people to places where they have absolutely no personal connections to anyone (see Reason 16). Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, one professor noted that in 20 years he had never heard a colleague introduce another professor as "my friend." After describing two friends who broke down in tears "just about every single week of their graduate school careers," a different professor wrote of a colleague "who claims that he hasn’t made a new 'friend' in the academy since 1997." As difficult as it can be for academics to develop personal relationships on campus, they often have surprisingly little opportunity to form friendships outside of their college or university. The Chronicle has covered the fear of "social death" experienced by faculty members contemplating retirement: "One still highly productive faculty member well north of 70 summed up the struggle well when he said, 'It’s not about the money. I just don’t know what I’d do in the morning. I don’t have any hobbies and I don’t have any friends who aren’t here. This is really all I have. Does that make me pitiful?'"


  1. Well written post as always. Insightful and oh so true. Nice to see new content.

  2. Very true. I'd like to add that social isolation is compounded by a general public ignorance of the problems that face PhDs (for example, I've had to tell my friends outside academe what an "adjunct" is, and explain the MLA's once-a-year job offerings). That problem is lessening with blogs like these, but still, the lay impression is still generally that PhDs are training straightforwardly for plush jobs. That ignorance can make our complaining sound petty, which is frustrating and isolating, too.

    I'm a first-time poster here (and a recent graduate from an R-1 humanities PhD program), so let me also add that I have appreciated this blog every step of the way. It speaks the truth.

  3. When I first went to grad school, I really enjoyed being able to spend time with others who were interested in the same things as I was, and I became friends with many grad students in my program. As we advanced, however, I started competing against those friends for the very same jobs. Some moved on to non-academic jobs. Some are still in grad school. Now that I have moved far away to take a faculty position, I finding it very difficult to find friends within or outside of academia, and my friends from graduate school don't seem to have time to ever talk to me.

  4. Don't forget that the enforced mobility of an academic career means that you can lose friends over and over again. If you're bouncing from one temporary contract to another, you leave behind you a trail of relationships that might have grown—or maybe even did grow—into valuable friendships, except that you're taken away from them. My husband is finally tenured, but this is his fifth academic job—two of them outside the US. We met wonderful people in every single one of them, and are still in contact with some of them, but we rarely get to see them, and it takes a huge effort because of the geographical distances. You can't just invite them over for dinner.

    The process is even harder on your children, but that's another story.

    1. April--Childrean of faculty members remind me of "Army brats." Their situations are similar in that they move every couple of years, often thousands of miles. In addition to the difficulty in making and maintaining friendships, such a lifestyle puts strains on relationships between kids and the parent whose work situation is causing them to move (not to mention the spouse).

    2. Dona Furiosa, you've hit the nail precisely on the head. Our two children are now in their twenties. Our daughter adjusted fairly well as we went along, and now says she can't imagine how boring it must be, living in the same place all the time. However, it was terribly hard on our son, and he swears he will never put his own children (assuming he ever has any) through the same thing.

      And the spouse has certainly had her share of problems with it as well.

  5. I agree with most of these posts but this one misses the mark. How do you not make lots of new friends in grad school? Making new friends was one of the best parts of being a student.

    As for faculty not making friends, I think that says more about the kinds of people who gravitate towards academe than anything else.

    1. I taught at a tech college for about ten years. I found the people working there were often worse than those I dealt with in industry. I noticed a lot of back-biting and pettiness there and it often didn't take much to make enemies there.

      On the other hand, I also noticed that cliquishness was widespread, much like I encountered in high school. Belong to the wrong clique and one can kiss one's career good-bye.

      I no longer teach and I definitely don't miss that social environment.

    2. You don't make lots of friends in grad school because the environment is very different from undergrad.

      In my grad program most students attended class after a 9-5 job. This left us all very drained and wanting to get home as soon as possible. Chances are you are no longer in a dorm in grad school. Living on campus or working on campus gives you ample opportunities to make new friends, whereas most grad students live off campus.

      I always saw grad school as a second job after a long day instead of a social event.

    3. Not sure what your discipline was, but my experience was the exact opposite. I was the only person who worked a different job, and everyone else thought I was an A-hole for being too tired to socialize for 20 hours a week. For some, grad school is very much a social event, and those who do not participate are treated like pariahs.

  6. I think the issue is that you don't make new friends, you make a fair amount of new acquaintances and are absorbed into social cliques prone to a level of pettiness that can be surprising. Compared to my other experiences, people in grad school lacked a basic friendliness that would hopefully foster authentic friendships.

    1. That's because in most places, the competition is cutthroat.

    2. In the department where I worked on my last 2 degrees, the foreign students tended to be quite cliquish and rarely socialized with the rest of us. That might not have been the case if there was a grad student common room.

    3. As a former area studies/ languages student who has spent time in a few other fields, I consider the description of international students accurate. However, I believe this to be true for multiple reasons - 1) "clustering" of international students in certain departments and labs (e.g. large populations of Indian and Chinese students in mechanical engineering - I've even seen labs segregated by ethnicity) and 2) low opinions of American students held by populations of international students, partly owing to nationalist/ethnic pride. These are further hampered by cultural differences and cross-cultural communication issues which the university, considered generally, does not address at all (e.g. "yes" may mean, "yes," "possibly," "when I get around to it," "I agree," "I disagree," "no," "I agree in part," "I agree in principle," "I don't know," "God willing," "perhaps," "time permitting" and "absolutely not" - depending on context and the culture of the speaker). Furthermore there are often issues with adequate preparation in the language of instruction - I have seen one full professor who couldn't communicate class meeting times in English much less teach advanced concepts in his engineering specialty - which resulted in "washing out" over half the graduating class of students - and several other faculty members who taught advanced ideas with great difficulty. If these issues are found among international faculty, what more significant communication issues are found among international students?

    4. Anonymous @ 1054:

      The department where I finished my first master's degree had a grad student common room. Back then (over 30 years ago), the foreigners and the locals would have lunch together and it was an interesting and enriching experience for both parties.

      The department where I worked on my Ph. D. (in the '90s) didn't have one. The domestic grad students rarely socialized with one another unless it was with their colleagues in their respective labs. (One couple dated and later married.)

      The foreign students, though, were off by themselves and they rarely mingled with the rest of us. That led to a certain resentment because they came across as snobby. It was as if they looked down at us and I couldn't help but have the feeling that they thought it was *their* department and the rest of us didn't belong there.

      That might have changed as over a dozen years ago, the department moved to a new building which opened after I finished my degree.

    5. @ Anon 01/22/14 5:35 -
      Do you think that the differences between the two departments might also have owed to larger numbers of international students in your 1990s department, with greater clustering among ethnicities that were present in greater numbers than in your masters' department?

    6. Anon @ 2014-01-25 10:24:

      I don't think so. In the earlier setting, most of the students were from elsewhere in the British Commonwealth, either having lived in those countries or were students. We could easily talk with each other as English was a language we all had in common. We often had lunch or coffee together was there was a common room where we'd often gather.

      In the second situation, many were from outside the Commonwealth and they weren't familiar with many of our customs. Still, that's no excuse for them to behave towards us as if we were a bunch of hillbillies.

      With them, I don't think a common room would have helped. Even at departmental functions, those students tended to keep to themselves. Of course, that was their privilege, but it didn't come across well with some of the other students.

    7. Anon @2014-01-26 6:36 PM:

      My hypothesis is that during the 1990s and 2000s, as international student enrollments increased in the US, two groups became predominant in numbers - Indian and Chinese (admittedly a distant second and now declining), and the impact of this clustering has been to decrease these students' interactions with other international and non-international students.

      Possible reasons for this (if true) include - increased ease of transition into living abroad, shared concerns (at home, cultural, institutional, political, and aspirational), shared language(s), common background(s), and common attitudes toward the 'new' environment/institution/culture.

      In my first graduate degree program in the 1990s I observed a heterogeneous environment, with a wide diversity of individuals both local and international. There seemed to be a broad representation of international cultures, maybe with a slight preponderance of Mexican nationals. Despite the fact that many students had day jobs, there was a fair amount of informal socializing in and around classes, involving most if not all of the students.

      In my second graduate degree program in the 2000s (different discipline altogether) I found instead a department dominated on the masters' level by Indian nationals, with some Chinese students, and a few Latin Americans. Labs were largely segregated by race, social interactions were practically non-existent between groups, and I'd venture to say that overall the level of English-language professional communication was much poorer - I sat through a lot of presentations in the second department that were incomprehensible, including a few faculty lectures.

      With respect to the OP's theme, I suspect that this kind of clustering carries with it some additional social costs not generally considered. When there are high barriers to interaction between students some kind of social cost is incurred, which may not only have an impact on the students' acclimation, but also to their professional development and post-degree networks. Furthermore, I am not convinced this is something that US universities are concerned about in the slightest.

    8. Anon@2014-01-27 9:55:

      You might be right as I noticed the same thing here in Canada, though, in my last department, almost all the foreign students were from China.

      That might have changed since I finished my Ph. D. in 2000.

    9. Very true! I am an undergrad in a small department where we can take the same classes as the grad students and it is terrible. They are petty, cliquish little monsters. Oh and if you do better than them in such classes, they either try to kiss your ass or subtly bully you by ignoring you, trying to pick on you, offer you "advice" as they try to trash your self-esteem, etc. Their self-appointed leader tried to do this to me, I fought back; so knowing that they couldn't bully me, they ignored me, which was great.

      Now that I am graduating and no longer have to take classes with them or enter the department, I laugh at the bs that goes down on a daily basis. Separating myself from that environment and working, I just shake my head. My two friends in the dept. aren't as lucky. Their friendship is one of the few things that made this experience bearable and I will NOT be going to grad school after I graduate.

  7. In other words:
    1) You lose all of your old friends when you go become a grad student.
    2) You lose all of the friends you made in grad school when you leave.
    3) You can't make any new friends as faculty.

    1. Never make friends with your colleagues when you're faculty. Quite often, they may turn out to be working against your interests.

      After I finished my Ph. D., I made that mistake. I found out later one that one of my buddies took advantage of our friendship to get information out of me, passing it on to my enemies in the department's administration. Another one turned out to be a brown-nosing politician and would likely have used what I said as a weapon against me.

      So much for collegiality amongst academics.

    2. Also, courting a fellow grad student in one's lab or area in the department can be hazardous to your mental health and, possibly, your academic career.

      I stupidly became quite fond of a young lady in our lab while we were both working on our doctorates. It didn't work out and I suspect she was using me as a possible way to stay in the country. It made for a miserable time for the remainder of my studies. I was quite depressed for the first few months after it ended and drowned my sorrows often.

      As well, I suspect our supervisor was having an affair with her. He was a randy old goat with a roving eye for the young ladies and she was enough of a slut to go along with it. She later got married to the boyfriend she didn't tell me about and had a daughter with him, though it appears that, for a while, the identity of the kid's father was a subject for debate. Was it her husband? Our supervisor? Someone else? (No, it wasn't me--our relationship didn't go that far, thankfully.)

    3. In the rat race, the pussy always wins.

    4. Anonymous @ 3:36 here:

      Nice pun ;-), Anonymous @ 10:58.

      I like to tell a joke about that failed courtship. The lady in question had two men vying for her hand: her then boyfriend and me. The boyfriend got it and married her. Who really won?

  8. Eh. This is one of the weaker reasons for not attending grad school.

    As an introvert I'm fine with not having any colleagues as close friends. While I'm friendly with my colleagues, I do keep them at arm's length socially and try not to get involved in department drama.

    It's possible to make friends outside of academia. Just remember that there is life outside of the academe. For example I play soccer and have become friends with several of my teammates, none of which are working in academia. It's nice to have a conversation with people that's not centered around work.

    Also this issue is not limited to grad school. I've worked in non-academe jobs where the people were just as petty and hard to get along with. The moving around issue is unique to grad school, though. No matter what your job is I would recommend not becoming too close with your colleagues, anyway. Keep professional life and personal life separate.

  9. Just as a side note, I received my grade report in the mail today from the previous semester, and it made me reflect how ridiculous I feel for being 29 years old and getting a report card. Maybe I should call my mom so she can take me out for pizza for getting good grades.

    1. Oh no wait, my mom is 17 hours away just like all my other friends and family, silly me for thinking I deserved social interaction with people I care about. But seriously, this post is right, moving away from my social life has taken a toll I didn't anticipate, it's probably the worst decision I've ever made.

    2. JEC,

      I feel you. Moving for a job has the same effect.

    3. One of my college classmates, who has a doctorate, was sent back to university abroad full time for language training, unrelated to his previous education, by his employer, a US gov't agency (this is where a couple hundred thousand of your tax dollars went, folks). He was in his 40s at the time.

      I encounter people in their 30s, 40s, and older either getting their first shots at college or retraining for different careers with some frequency. I think there's even a few lines in the 'Three Character Classic' which run - 'At the age of 80, he passed his degree, and was deemed a prodigy.' Ultimately how you feel about your studies is up to you.

  10. Alright! New post!

    I'd say there's an implied corollary to reason 92: if you want to keep your pre-grad-school friends, it will take more work than you're probably used to. I started my Master's (thesis) program right out of college, and being a grad student was stressful and isolating in a way I'd never experienced before. While I was fortunate enough to end up in a good lab with very friendly people, I was still one of the youngest people there by a decent margin, and I really didn't want to lose the long-term friends I'd made during college and in my youth. As time went on, however, it became more noticeably difficult to relate to even my best friends. I was in school, teaching and doing my own research, my two childhood fiends were 1) working full-time as a lab tech and 2) doing missionary work in another country, and my college friends had steady, but demanding jobs in a city several hours away. All that being said, I've now been finished with graduate school for nearly a year, and I'm still great friends with all of those people, and I forged a few good friendships in graduate school as well. Still, maintaining old friendships was definitely not easy at times, and it took a lot of personal growth and understanding on my part to do so.

    For anyone who is not already permanently isolated from former, non-graduate friends, if you would like to maintain those relationships, I'd offer these bits of advice:

    1) People outside of grad school probably don't understand what you're doing or what you're going through, and actually explaining your problems in academia to others often does makes them sound petty, even when they aren't. From what I can tell, "normal" people's work schedules don't revolve as heavily around whether their colleagues or subordinates miss a deadline (which tends to ALWAYS happen in academia), so saying "I can't meet up with you after all because I just got a bunch of late essays, my committee member hasn't e-mailed me back, the journal messed up my formatting, etc.," however true those things may be, will not come off as very genuine. Everyone gets busy, but sometimes, putting your problems in a more general context ("There was a hold-up, Meeting ran way over, etc.") makes people more understanding. Also, it goes without saying that no one, not even your closest friends, will "really understand" your research, so if you have to bring it up, highlight the interesting, accessible parts only. If they really want to hear more, great; talking to others is a great way to test whether you yourself understand the work you're doing. If it's clear they're bored/confused, move on.

    2) Your friends probably feel about as stressed and isolated as you do, but maybe in a different way. Working full-time is stressful, time-consuming, and it can certainly be isolating. Don't always feel like the growing distance between you and your friends is entirely your fault; just make an effort to stay in touch when you can, and they'll do the same.

    3) Sometimes, you really have to make a choice. Graduate school is a serious commitment, but so is friendship. When it got to the point where I was really worried about how my schedule was affecting my ability to see people I cared about, I simply drew a line in the sand for myself and said "X amount of time is personal time." Maybe I would have finished my degree a bit earlier otherwise, but but I certainly wouldn't have traded my friends for that. Ultimately, #92 is a big reason I decided to take (at least) a break from academia before going for a PhD, so I could decide if it was worth it.

    1. This is good advice. I'd also like to add another piece of advice. Schedule personal time, not only for yourself, but for others as well. Don't let academia interfere with your personal time.

      Last year, I was part of my grad program's student council executive board. The president was really bad at scheduling and often gave less than 48 hours notice for meetings. At first, I accommodated his requests, even when it interfered with my social plans, but I finally put my foot down and told him that I'm not attending any more last minute meetings.

    2. lol 48 hours notice was "last minute"?

      Oh, how I do not miss leaving the academy.

    3. People drift in and out of one's life, whether they are friends, business associates, or fellow students.

      Whether they remain in one's life and, if so, for how long, is determined by time and circumstance. People finish their studies. They get jobs. They move away. They change jobs. They get married and, for some, have families. Some get divorced, their spouse dies, or they may die.

      It's called reality. Being a grad student doesn't change that.

    4. Anon 9:36 here.

      Good addition 10:25. Those student government roles can be a major time suck, and sometimes you kind of get forced into them. One year, for instance, I found out I had "won" an officer position at an election which I did not even attend! And yes, meetings that run more than an hour should be scheduled at the beginning of the year, or at least weeks in advance.

      That said, regarding 8:30, I used to joke that the most annoying thing about my department was that, if you asked someone to do something minor by a week from now (fill out, or even just sign, a form), they accused you of "giving them a moment's notice."

    5. Mariners have "call-outs' where they have to be on deck at work in 15 minutes, and that's as much notice as they get.
      Perspective, folks, perspective.

    6. We're not talking about mariners. We're talking about academia where people like to schedule unnecessary meetings as a form of power.

      Speaking of meetings why hasn't pointless meetings been listed as a reason for not attending grad school? I've had several jobs before but the academe is the only place where my day is filled with unnecessary meetings.

    7. Okay, I'm not going to graduate school and I have zero desire to be an academic...but unnecessary meetings (or meetings that require five minutes but go on for another forty) are definitely part of my day in a respectable, completely non-academic job. And while most of them are regularly scheduled, no one gets at all ruffled over two days' notice.

    8. Obviously Anon@2:58 has never worked for an engineering or tech firm.

    9. "We're not talking about mariners.'

      Too true, we are talking about the extraordinary lack of perspective that some academics have on what is and isn't reasonable. Mariners by contrast sometimes have to go from bed to hard labor with fifteen minutes' warning. Two days' notice is more time than many get from hiring to shipping out.

      "We're talking about academia where people like to schedule unnecessary meetings as a form of power."

      As opposed to ships, with captains that have never been portrayed as power-mad, nor have ever been known to schedule unnecessary meetings as a form of power.

      'The Mutiny on the Bounty'
      'Moby Dick'
      'The Caine Mutiny'

    10. Academic meetings however, feature stock characters.

      1) The professors who fumble with their phone more than students in class.

      2) The person who thinks the meeting is important and desperately tries to make it seem so to everyone else.

      3) The bomb thrower who will argue against every point in the meeting just to show that he or she's oh-so-smart.

    11. In the soup of industry, I think you'll find 2) and 3) are also stock characters (in fact, I am reasonably sure both feature in a book written over 15 years ago called "Dealing With People You Can't Stand"). 1) isn't but only because you don't find all that many PhDs in business.

  11. Long time lurker. Thank you so much for this blog.

  12. I only made 1 real friend while doing my doctorate and that was someone from a different department! I lost my work friends and other people in my life were a bit put-off by what I was doing.

    What Really scares me is that my step-son who is a college freshman plans to go to grad school. he was too young to understand the hardship I went through while doing a doctorate. I hope he reads this blog and think long and hard before committing to the direct Ph.D, program!

  13. I always thought grad school was counterproductive to friendships because grad students never have free time.

    A grad student may have a regular job and then have to spend all their free time writing a paper or finishing another project. It's extremely hard to maintain friendships when you can't just leave your job at work and have some fun. Once you enter grad school you're always at work.

    1. Many grad students have free time, but it is destroyed by mental illness. Depression makes everything overwhelming, including socializing and going to the grocery store.

      That feeling of being always at work is very real, but for all the feeling, the level of productivity is rarely positively correlated with the misery.

    2. Anon 11:37, it's not a feeling; it's very much real. Whether it's grading papers, writing your dissertation, or finishing your studies it all goes into your free time.

      There are some professions where you have a set time to work then you can go home and unwind. Academia isn't one of them. The work follows you home.

    3. There are some professions where you have a set time to work, then you can go home and unwind? The work doesn't follow you home? What professions are these?

    4. Please stop posting.

    5. I will if you will.


  14. Some of my very good friends, not best, but good, come from graduate school. Still keep up with a lot of them on facebook, still meet with them when I can. However, I made friends with all of them in the first part of grad school when you're in a cohort of people all sharing experiences of TAing and taking seminars (the years when it's still mostly fun).

    Once you go into research and writing purgatory, it's really hard to make new friendships, and the new cohorts don't have much to say to you; you're "too old" for them.

    I completely agree with the worst social isolation coming from the hiring & career stages. All my job offers were thousands of miles away from everyone I know. It might as well be in a foreign country to me. I have a hard time identifying with people outside of the academic environment; their priorities are so different. I have a quite a few good acquaintances at my institution but they're not friends by a long shot.

  15. I'll also add...

    There is a reason that academia has probably the highest percentage of people single and childless compared to every other workplace I've been in. This is due to several factors, but the isolating nature of academic work and the personality types it attracts has to be a very big part of it.

    [Note I'm the same as anon @ 6:11pm]

  16. I taught at the college and university level for twenty years, all but four of them as an adjunct. I have never made a friend of another faculty member, in part for the reasons described. In every place I've taught, a few colleagues and I promised each other to "stay in touch." It doesn't happen because the nature of our work and environments makes maintaining such relationships next to impossible, even if we are in the same geographic area.

  17. While I'd agree that there is a significant social cost, it is possible that this cost arises from some factors not considered here. Among them I'd include increased "internationalization" of graduate departments and changes in the American economy over the past fifteen or so years.
    The OP considers that the academic job market often forces people to move to locations where they have no personal connections, but this is true of just about any profession today, whether one is a lawyer, a dentist, a medical professional, an engineer, a scientist, an IT worker, a banker, a firefighter, a social worker, a political analyst, a journalist, or a salesman. It is comparatively easy to choose where one will live, somewhat harder to choose what one will do for a living, and extremely difficult to be able to choose both.
    The concerns about 'social death' and retirement would appear to apply even more to retirees from most other industries than to older academics. For what it's worth, academics sometimes remain affiliated with their institution after retirement and can participate in the cultural life of the institution, whatever that may include, and this has a certain value.

    1. I lost touch with most of the people I knew while I was a student as well as my former colleagues when I worked for other people.

      Frankly, most of them weren't worth knowing in the first place, so losing contact with them was no great loss. I'm better off without those people.

    2. The difference between academia and most of the other professions that Anon 11:34 lists is that, if you lose your job in one of those other professions, you have a fighting chance of finding another one in the same geographical area—even in the same city, if it's large enough. *Never* true in academia. Even in a large city with numerous colleges and universities, the chances are slim to zero that one of them will have an opening at precisely that moment that suits you, and the chances are even less that you'd be the one they hire for it. When a university teaching job comes to an end, you can start packing your bags right then. Believe me—I've been there four times.

    3. Define 'fighting chance'... we live in an age where posted jobs attract thousands of resumes. Furthermore the the third most populous nation on the planet - the two front-runners don't have enough employment to go around either - not even for their 'educated' people.

      Most of the non-self-employed people I know with careers (lawyers, bankers, engineers, journalists) and even many of the self-employed have had to move a few times to keep those careers afloat.

      Furthermore academics seem to enjoy greater contractual stability in general as compared with most professionals and other workers. Even if you're just hired to teach a course as a lowly adjunct, at least you've got that employment until shortly after the end of that semester *very nearly guaranteed,* unlike many people who don't know when their particular swords of Damocles are going to fall. Even the lowly postdoc has a greater *guarantee* of employment - during the stated term of hire - than most of the population gets in their jobs, ever.

    4. I still think it's easier to actually have a social life in those other professions (except medical school.) At some point their work goes on hold and their life begins. With academia that's hardly the case. Plus, academic work is more isolating that all those other jobs.


    6. "Plus, academic work is more isolating that all those other jobs."

      Spoken like someone who has no other work experience.

    7. Wow, a one sentence mocking reply saying "you're wrong" without presenting any new information. Trolling is an art and you haven't perfected it.

    8. @ Anon 02/02/14 6:18 PM - You've misunderstood the content and the intent of my post. If we're going to actually consider how academia compares with the alternatives, it helps to start with a realistic view of how those alternatives are, in comparison.

      Claiming "academic work is more isolating that (sic) all those other jobs" without considering how or why - in other words, making an informed argument - smacks of "greener-grassism" and ultimately weakens the premise.

      Let me articulate my perspective. I believe this blog raises some - maybe even many - valid points, and the point discussions can be informative, clarifying existing points and even raising others. However, some of the points and related discussions betray a lack of perspective. By my earlier comment, I'm trying to push for a higher level of objectivity.

      More specific to this discussion, the assertion that somehow in other professions your work does not come home with you, or that you have 'free time,' betrays a real lack of understanding about the nature of most professions and work today. In fact, I'd even venture that outside of certain low wage jobs, most jobs and professions spill over into the lives of the people in them - sometimes by choice, and sometimes not. I don't think academia is different in this regard, except that academics are not always "on call" like so many people in service professions are, unless they consult for industry as well. Similarly, I don't think one can make the claim "academic work is more isolating" without considering just how isolated the lives of others actually are.

      For example, what is the mean number of hours worked weekly by non-partner lawyers at law firm? Do they take their work home only occasionally? What about partner track lawyers and junior partners? How about the full partners? How about the far more numerous lawyers who rent office space and hang out their shingles? Do they frequently take work home? Does work interfere with their fundamentally non-separate lives routinely? You bet.

      Now let's consider accountants. Do you think they only occasionally take work home? Do you think they only work two weeks before tax season?

      Let's consider self-employed entrepreneurs. Do you think they take any time off from trying to develop their businesses? All of the self-employed entrepreneurs I know live, eat, and breathe their companies.

      Think the policeman, fireman or paramedic leaves his or her job at the office? Think again. You know better.

      There aren't many professions that don't exert considerable demands on the people in them, often resulting in social alienation, alienation of affections, divorce, depression, narcotic and alcohol abuse, and a host of other ills. Sorry, but in considering the lots of some of these people I am just not convinced that academia is somehow worse in this regard.

    9. AnonymousFebruary 3, 2014 at 12:20 PM:

      In all those professions, you don't work literally alone. In academia, your work is literally yours alone. You do the research alone; you write alone. You have students, but those are not meaningful interactions.

      Accountants, police, fire... they at least get paid competitive salaries for what they deal with, or if an entrepreneur's business becomes successful, it will pay off handsomely. Lawyers have a similar over-supply problem as PhDs, so that's a different story.

      Academics have to do what they do for 20,000 per year while in grad school, and if they're one of lucky third or so that will get a FT academic job, 35-55K per year as a junior faculty, depending on location.

      I agree that American society in general does not facilitate the formation of meaningful friendships for working adults; however, the problems are somewhat exacerbated in the academic field.

      It wouldn't be so bad if there wasn't an insufferable amount of propaganda about how great the academic life is. That's the purpose of this blog.

    10. $20,000 per year? As a funded PhD student, I never got more than 16k a year (except for the year that I got 18k in outside funding... and no funding from my department). As of three years ago, department stipends hadn't changed in ten years, and that's in a very expensive city. I could afford rent (in an apt. with three roommates), food, and a city bus pass. I eventually stopped buying the bus pass to save money. I don't even want to admit how long I lived like that.

    11. I knew at least 2 grad students who made close to $30K through very generous fellowships.

      My total compensation was $21K, but I had to "give back" some of it to tuition, so I netted about $16K like you, and I adjuncted at local community colleges to bring in an extra 3-4K a year, so I clocked in around $20K net. This was in Texas where rents are cheap, and it was still hard to live.

    12. @02/07/14 9:02 AM

      "In all those professions, you don't work literally alone."
      Sorry, but I'm calling BS on this - in many of them you do.
      Many lawyers and accountants are self-employed. Guess what? They mostly work alone. If they work for firms not only is their work held up for routine scrutiny but they are frequently in competition with their "colleagues."
      Many (but certainly not all) entrepreneurs work alone.
      If you don't think working for the police can be an utterly isolating experience, I suggest you read "Serpico."

      "In academia, your work is literally yours alone. You do the research alone; you write alone." Sometimes this is true. Other times not. Perhaps there is a greater tendency in the sciences and engineering to work in groups - where research and writing are frequently collective.

      "You have students, but those are not meaningful interactions." - Hey, you said it, I didn't. If you really want to discount the majority of your interactions as meaningless, that's up to you.

      "Accountants, police, fire... they at least get paid competitive salaries for what they deal with..."
      Not always. Entry-level isn't much in these - and in the police and fire departments, you may get to risk your life - this doesn't happen in academia, unless you work at Virginia Tech.

      "...or if an entrepreneur's business becomes successful, it will pay off handsomely." But the odds against this are substantial, and failure doesn't mean someone else eats the expenses. Also, there are an awful lot of 'middling' successes - they're in the black, but not by very much.

      "Lawyers have a similar over-supply problem as PhDs, so that's a different story." Actually even before the vaunted "over-supply" problem was broadly recognized (1970s-1980s), most lawyers didn't earn very much, and many left the profession 4-5 years into practice.

      "Academics have to do what they do for 20,000 per year while in grad school..." Let me get this straight, you're complaining that grad students ONLY MAKE SO MUCH while getting their VOCATIONAL TRAINING. In most other professions, this just doesn't happen.

      "...and if they're one of lucky third or so that will get a FT academic job, 35-55K per year as a junior faculty, depending on location." And yet, this is salary that they don't have to spend on office rental, supplies or office equipment.

      Granted, the academic life has its drawbacks, but "isolation," "salary during training," and poor entry-level pay relative to expenses for "the lucky third" are not among them!

    13. The point (I hope) Anon February 11, 2014 at 10:07 AM is trying to make is that it's insulting to other professions when we act like academia is the worst profession. Every profession has its own set of disadvantages but sometimes we forget this when we get stuck in the woe is me mentality.

      Yes, academia has many social costs, but let's not pretend it has the worst. But by that same token, let's not pretend academia doesn't have its own unique set of problems, either.

  18. Yup. I didn't make a single new friend in grad school. What people I did end up hanging around had no connection whatsoever to the university and I liked it that way.

    Thanks for doing these. Very true.

  19. In this argument, fear of social death for impending retirees is overblown.

    ' "One still highly productive faculty member well north of 70 summed up the struggle well when he said, 'It’s not about the money..." '

    There aren't many professions that will let you go to work "well north of 70." People in most professions are turfed out well before this, and do not have the option to continue working and interacting with their workplace or professional colleagues. If they want to continue working, many find part-time employment in a non-professional capacity (e.g. McDonalds, Wal-Mart). Usually they do so because they have to - it IS about the money for them.

    There might be an argument to be made about 'the social cost of academia' but this isn't it.

    1. I have plenty of thoughts and opinions on retirement in general that I'm not going to get into here, but the idea of continuing at your job solely because you have no friends other than your coworkers is pretty sad.

    2. Not being able to continue at your job, with all your friends having passed away, looking at your retirement savings get eaten up by inflation, lousy policy, runaway medical costs, and financial market hijinks, then having to compete with illegal immigrants for part-time cashier jobs... personally, I think that's a hell of a lot worse.

    3. Having a job and no friends is almost a best-case scenario for Ph.D.s these days.

      What gets people in trouble is thinking that another degree will somehow insulate them from the realities of the economy. It's more likely to put them further behind by stealing their working years and savings and digging them into debt. Grad school makes a bad situation worse.

    4. Anonymous @ 2014-02-04 10:04 AM:

      How about having good qualifications and seeing the job that one should have go to a temporary foreign worker or sent overseas because one is considered "overqualified" or too expensive? Worse yet, one's own profession is working closely with the government to ensure that it happens?

      Anonymous @ 2014-02-04 11:16 AM:

      On the other hand, where would one be without that degree? Probably no better off.

      Higher education is a losing proposition nowadays. What jobs one is qualified for will inevitably go to someone much cheaper, whether it's a younger domestic resident or a foreign worker either brought in on a temporary basis or living overseas.

      Meanwhile, the government is mewling and puking about why the country fails at innovation. How can it when it punishes those who are well-qualified to come up with new ideas by virtue of education and experience?

    5. Anon 11:16 and 2:43 that is very true. At this point going into graduate school is too risky. We're almost punishing students for wanting to learn by giving them unreasonable debt and low job opportunities.

      I often wonder if grad school will eventually go the way of the dinosaur.

    6. "Meanwhile, the government is mewling and puking about why the country fails at innovation. How can it when it punishes those who are well-qualified to come up with new ideas by virtue of education and experience?"

      Like any other self-interested, politicized bureaucracy, various branches of the US government want increased control and more money.

      One proven tactic for getting more money, that the US government has been using since 1957 at least, is to declare a crisis in some area of interest - in this case innovation. This also plays into some gov't branches' interests in expanding influence in industry - namely certain sectors of the 'private' economy - to further public policy goals, which may not be the goals publicly stated.

      Therefore, the government can punish the 'well-qualified (innovators) by virtue of education and experience,' and frequently does, in pursuit of increasing its own influence, both at home and abroad.

      Ironically, as with most government initiatives, such measures are doomed to failure because of 1) the fact that multi-objective optimization almost always fails to achieve optimum values in any given dimension of the solution space, and 2) the 'law' of unintended consequences, which appears to apply to any kind of legislation or other imposed government solution -largely because of the failure of the authors to anticipate changes in social behavior as a result of the imposed change.

      The best way to create a real shortage (eventually) is to have the government declare a fictitious shortage, and subsequently enact solutions to address it.

  20. I wonder if anthropologists struggle with this loneliness and isolation too, as many of them seem to form solid, lasting relationships with their informants. Are there any anthropologists who might provide some insight?

    1. Aren't anthropologists famous for hating each other (and anthropology departments famous for tearing themselves apart)? Maybe that's preferable to apathy and social isolation.

  21. The grad students that you think are your friends in grad school don't turn out to be your friends. You may all hang out and commiserate while you're dealing with the same garbage, but when push comes to shove, there's not much there.

    I'm talking about people in the same program. I made a friend or two among grad students in departments completely unrelated to mine, but I am in touch with NO ONE from my PhD program. On the rare occasion that I cross paths with somebody from those days, the first thing we start doing is comparing notes about what we know about what happened to other people from the program. No one wants to hear that things are going too well for anybody else, because most of us are struggling.

    We're in head-to-head competition with each other. It's the same thing with your "colleagues" once you're on the adjunct circuit.

    1. I, thankfully, never made any friends in my Ph. D. department, either. One reason was that we tended to be compartmentalized in our labs and rarely mixed with each other, unless one was a foreign student.

      In our lab, there were, for a while, 4 domestic residents and the rest were foreigners. We also had some undergrads who were either working on projects for their courses or were working there for the summer.

      Of the grad students, one used his time to find a job and soon disappeared after that. (Good riddance, too. I thought he was a mouthy punk.)

      Another was ex-military but, also, quite the crap artist. (He was the sort who would try to convince you that black is white.) I'm sure he made up a large number of the stories he told about himself. It didn't take long for me to figure out that he was nowhere near the golden boy he portrayed himself as being. I didn't like him and neither, apparently, did my supervisor.

      He was busy canoodling with the only domestic female grad student and she was just dumb enough to fall for his charms. Just how dumb became apparent when she eventually married him. I have no idea if they're still together. Thankfully, they moved to another part of the country where he's still spinning yarns about himself and not just to her.

      The foreign students seldom mixed with the rest of us, which wasn't surprising, as they behaved towards us as if we were nothing but white trash.

    2. "Just how dumb became apparent when she eventually married him."

      You think maybe they got married because they actually liked each other?

      Anon 2:32 your long rant reeks of bitterness. Grad school may not be the reason you didn't make any friends.

    3. Anon @ 2014-02-08, 10:08 PM

      She married him because he was charmed her, not that she was ever the first one to do that. He probably married her because he could easily get into the sack with her.

      Fortunately, that's their problem and not mine.

      I didn't make any friends in that lab because I have standards. I still do.

    4. Standards, and no friends.

    5. Who says I don't have friends *outside* of the lab or grad studies? Who says I needed any or need them now?

      I'm reminded of something Harlan Ellison said on the radio a long time ago: "The more I know people, the better I like dogs."

  22. This reason is a great example of "which came first."

    Do the antisocial gravitate towards academia or does academia make an otherwise normal person antisocial?

    1. I'd wager the former.

      My program was about half normal people and half weird and/or crazy people. I leaned towards weird, especially on the inside.

      I never was particularly social, although I could put on an act. People wouldn't realize it until they get to know me, I really *do not* enjoy social interaction beyond an hour or two and would rather be by myself. The seminars and occasional happy hour after that or after TA duties were over was all the socializing I needed.

      Grad school is a pretty good environment for people like that.

    2. I think I would fall into your second category, grad school has been toxic for all my relationships, even with my wife who is not in academe. When I lived close to my family I could at least maintain relationships with them and a few friends, but it wasn't anywhere close to the level and amount of friendships I had before grad school. Now that I've moved away from them I don't have that opportunity anymore.

  23. This particular reason is very accurate, and is one of the more serious problems with grad school and academia.
    One is fairly likely to have to move to attend college; then move again for grad school; some attend multiple grand schools; if you really want to make it in academia, you have to do 2-3 postdocs at random locations (or abysmally paid adjunct gigs); then perhaps a tenture-track in some place you don't see yourself in, etc etc.

    In the process, you'll repeatedly lose friends, and your contact with family members will be intermittent. You would only be able to count on your spouse (or partner or whatever), who, unless he/she is of the supportive type, won't be entirely happy with the two-body situation.

    To be fair, this problem of rootless people moving around all the time seems to be becoming more and more prevalent as "globalization" advances. But it is particularly acute in academia, and it is a serious problem. It's hard to constantly lose friends. And even if one can cope with the losses, losing friends is still a bad thing anyway,

    1. My #1 advice for people in grad school is NOT to date or marry someone who is also a grad student.

      For me, the two-body problem was a heart-breaking experience that I haven't gotten over, and this was almost 2 years ago.

      There are halfway decent odds that one of you will get a position within 3 years of graduating, but the odds of both partners finding a position in the same are are close to zero.

      So here's the choice -

      1) Take the job. End the relationship / get divorced.

      2) The partner who didn't get offered a job, or got offered a significantly worse one, will forego that and be housewife / husband, permanent adjunct, or change careers. Essentially giving up on what he/she worked towards for and turned into his/her identity for 10 years (when you include undergrad). So a wasted decade and massive disappointment.

      3) Engage in a long-distance relationship where kids & family are impossible.

      For me it was #1, and it still hurts having to make that choice. Even worse, the dating in the town I'm in sucks. It's either students, who I can't date (we have a lot of non-traditional students, I'm not talking 18-22 yr olds here), people my own age who are broken somehow (I'm probably close to this category), or people with tons of baggage.

      I have a number of colleagues that are in positions 2&3, and you can just see that their spouse or partner is not happy.

    2. Anon @ 2014-02-12 1033 AM:

      Been there, suffered for it.

      While I was working on my last degree, I quite stupidly became rather fond of a fellow grad student. Eventually, I found out that while she was flirting with me, she kept close company with a boyfriend from her home country.

      Eventually, they married, and their daughter was born a few weeks later.

      I took the deception quite hard and it affected my work for several months. (No, all is not fair in love and war.)

      I suspect that she was putting on an act. Her objective probably was to find a way to stay in the country and, quite likely, financially support that "reason" (if you get my meaning). Fortunately for me, the situation never got the point where the latter might be a possibility.

      On top of that, with a new kid, it would be impossible to deport her because it wouldn't look good for the government to kick the mother of a young "citizen" out of the country.

      Now she has a tenure-track position at a university elsewhere in the country. While she may be professionally successful, I suspect that she may not be experiencing domestic bliss. By now, she's probably discovered that her husband is thick as a plank. Her daughter's now well into her teens, with all that it entails.

      Personally, I wish I'd never met her.

    3. I suspect this isn't just a problem when you date other grad students, though. (There's an entry here on "the one-body problem," and I know I'm not the only person I know who is hesitant to get serious about PhD students who have no idea/control over where they're going to live in five years)

    4. It's a Catch-22. When you're in grad school, your life is so weird that the only other people on the same wavelength with you are grad students. If anyone is going to fall in love with you while you're in grad school, it has to be someone who can overlook poverty, a bizarre schedule, and your complete social invisibility. Who can love a grad student but another grad student? No surprise. They end up together all the time.

      Then life gets really screwed up. You attach yourself to someone who can't possibly follow the same path. You say to each other, "If we don't both get academic jobs, then one of us can do something else!", while saying to yourself, "it's not going to be me!", until one day you wake up and admit that you both put every hope and dream in a basket labeled "assistant professor."

      People choose the job over the "loved" one in these situations all the time. The same weird priorities that drive grad students together in the first place eventually drive them apart. Both parties end up miserable when their careers don't live up to their hopes and dreams.

  24. Well, some of the worst girls could be the one that is outside of academia, in the private sector. Golddiggers are plentiful in the business field, and we want none of it. Grad school girls could be as pure as it gets, for those who don't want girls that only think about money.

    I say that because I know. I got my master in engineering and working in academic I.T., I am currently dating an education / museum science PhD, and she is probably the best woman i ever met, compare to those on the STEM field, med schools, b-schools, and the private sector.

    The so called "two-body problem" won't probably affect me either, as there are plenty of I.T. jobs that I can find no matter where she ends up.

    The moral of the story is, the grass is not always green on the outside. The best, purest woman are probably inside the academia.

    1. You're adorable.

      Both male and female academics are some of the most self-adsorbed, shrewd people you'll ever meet. Many of us consciously sacrifice relationships for the sake of furthering our studies.

      When you say golddiggers aren't plentiful in grad school, what about those who aren't in grad school for an academic position? Many, if not most, people are in grad school to further their career in hopes of becoming financially secure.

    2. That's funny, because when I was in college my friend and I used to talk about grad school - and, subsequently, being an adjunct teaching one section of our favorite class every semester - as the sort of thing we could only do with our lives if we married rich men and didn't have to worry about supporting ourselves.

      Don't put any particular "kind" of woman up on a pedestal.

  25. @ Anonymous Coward 2/13/14 3:12 PM:


  26. To Anon, February 6, 2014 at 11:44 AM

    Yes, anthropologists have more friendship options because of the people they interview. And yes, I made many friends from my among my informants and just about none in my department, besides some acquaintances who I'm now out of touch with.

    The great thing about my informants was that I interviewed elite people in another country. They very generously took me to many nice dinners and drinks. Add this to the fact that when you interview people, you should are usually pretty interested in what they have to say about their lives, work, experiences, hearsay in their group. And they are usually happy to tell you about this. Being in the field was a good time and I learned a bunch.

    Being back in the department was like waking up from a dream in a place where you couldn't be open with or truly trust people. I was always terrified my co-students (under the same supervisor) would tell the supervisor something bad I said about her so they could win some brownie points with her. Or that some gossip would make its way back to someone else. (And this did happen when a joke I made about my masters supervisor at my own birthday party got back to him, and he went really cold on me for a couple of years and refused to give me letters of recommendation).

    What else? Yeah another student under my supervisor told me out loud, "stop watching the world cup!" on my PC when my supervisor was right there. Another lovely student begged me to keep her updated with how far my dissertation was to submission because she was petrified I'd submit before her. She came to the department a few months before me and thought she had to submit first. So I always told her honestly about my progress, while she was vague. One day she just vanished from the department without so much as a goodbye and I found out from other people she submitted.

    Not really a big deal, and I'm not really bitter, but the whole thing just shows that graduate departments are not really open and friendly places. Possibly less so than the private sector. There's just so much self-regard involved in grad school and academia, which I am guilty of too. Prestige/reputation is the coin of the realm in academia - its what we work for. Not money, obviously! (Although PhDs in finance and accounting are lucrative, I have heard).

    1. I certainly empathize with this point. I worked at a real job throughout grad school (biological sciences) and had a mortgage on a small house in the outlying, unfashionable area. I come from a working class background and these were things that I had to do in order to ensure a present and future of relative comfort for myself and my family. Not a Mad Men type of comfort, but one in which I am able to buy nutritious groceries, go to the doctor when I am sick and be ready to help people in my family with rent and food when they need it.

      Meanwhile, most of my labmates had no work outside of grad school, lived in the fashionable neighborhoods of San Francisco, were quite familiar with and frequently discussed the area's finer dining options, regularly took exotic vacations, and maintained upper middle class hobbies (skiiing, diving, sailing etc).

      I was viewed as something of a pariah, and though my politics were well to the left of other students', a conservative. I was known to own a few clean button-up shirts anda pair of dress shoes for work meetings (sometimes I would, shockingly, still have these on when I arrived at a lab meeting) rather than a wardrobe of perfectly manufactured casualness and at Christmas I went to visit family in the South rather than going to a chalet in the Alps or a dive resort in the Caribbean. One of the things that I wanted after finishing grad school was a job that payed decently. I did not get to attend street protests to defend the rights of the downtrodden or get to attend post-street protest cocktail hours because I had to work a real job. All of this marked me as an outsider, as not a 'serious academic', as not part of this set of people who are putting their scholarship ahead of everything, blah blah blah. Most of the professors also came from a background of privilege and couldn't really understand where I was coming from either. The financial demands of academia are such that rising to the top of it usually means you have money coming in from elsewhere, usually from your parents. I felt isolated.

      Before really getting myself involved in academia, I thought of grad school as a noble institution that should be given a special space in society. Now I view it as largely a refuge for the children of the ruling class to feel like they are "doing something real and important" with minimal disruption to a lifestyle of leisure. It is often just another way to create the illusion of America as a meritocracy so that the idle rich can feel good about themselves.

    2. Oops, I apparently replied to the wrong post.

  27. I guess as long as you believe in what you're doing, any amount of difficulty and struggle is possible. And if you don't believe in what you're doing, no matter how easy or fun it is, you will eventually have to go.

    I suppose I started disliking grad school when I stopped believing in what I was doing. It just didn't strike me as particularly necessary or
    match my worldview anymore. My worldview changed, and I just looked around thinking: "Why?".

    This must be what its like for people in Finance. If you believe in all the cool-aid, about how we need these big industries doing all this paper-shuffling, and it could never be any other way, and that somehow a person pipetting liquids or crunching stock market stats is playing a vitally important role in something - and not just a warm body filling a slot in a profit-machine - as long as you believe that, its doable.

    Stop believing that, or even begin to doubt it, and your philosophical foundation for what you are doing caves in.

    In some sense, then, we're pretending to have a discussion about the relative ease/convenience/humanity/rewardingness of various professions, but a lot of the unspoken dynamics driving this discussion are based in the individual participants' convictions about the worth of the work they are actually doing. Those who say "I'm tired of only making 30k" might actually also be trying to say "I'm not sure fossil research is absolutely necessary." Quid pro quo. (no idea what that means).

    1. You sound just like me, I stopped believing in what I was doing too, but I went ahead and finished my masters and after one semester toward a PhD I left. Their were other factors but mainly I just didn't care about my research anymore. Maybe I just didn't know myself well enough to realize I never did in the first place. Hard to say at this point, but it's all water under the bridge.

  28. Actually, on second thought, I think I may have overstated the point I was making. Maybe a person just really does want to make more than 30K.

  29. I like some of the issues identified in this blog but number 92 smacks of self-pity. I guess what no one learns in academia that is learned quickly everywhere else is that nobody cares. Gaining and maintaining friendships of any meaningful social relationships is entirely up to you. You have no one to blame but yourself if you don't.

    1. That's a lot of what this blog is about. Many reasons revolve around how grad students will not have a good job, a spouse and kids, and a mortgaged house with a picket fence by age 30.

      This ancilliary reason deals with how you will not have the perfect social life to complement your perfect home life.

      I'm surprised how conservative it is in that sense... sometimes I feel like it's a character from Mad Men saying this.

      I give undergraduates more credit. I think they're not so dim as to neglect things like this or that "marriage and family usually wait," etc...

      The friends I had in undergrad that acheived the stereotypical WASPy "perfect" life by age 30 were well on their way to it during undergrad. They had well-conceived plans before graduation for careers, they were in a relationship that after college turned into an engagement, combined with some luck or fortunate circumstances (lucky job search or parents that helped out).

      Not everyone even wants that life.

    2. I agree with both of you. While this blog raises some extremely valid points for why one shouldn't attend grad school, this is definitely one of the weaker reasons for not attending grad school. I'd recommend not becoming BFFs with people you work with in academia, anyway. I know from personal experience that mixing your personal life with your professional life isn't a good idea.

      The more I read this blog, the more I see that the author is bitter about how grad school didn't let him (judging by the writing style the author is most likely a man) achieve the American Dream. Anon 9:14 PM is right: not everyone wants the stereotypical American Dream.

  30. Anon 2/25/14 @ 9:14 PM claims:
    "That's a lot of what this blog is about. Many reasons revolve around how grad students will not have a good job, a spouse and kids, and a mortgaged house with a picket fence by age 30."

    This is patent exaggeration. The evidence increasingly suggests many advanced degree holders do not have any of these things by age 40, 45 or even 50, and may have large amounts of debt to boot.

    "The friends I had in undergrad that acheived the stereotypical WASPy "perfect" life by age 30 were well on their way to it during undergrad."

    Again this is patent exaggeration. No one in undergraduate school is "well on their way" to the "WASPy perfect life" unless they are full-time employed in a salaried career while going to school, have significant IP claims that they can defend, or are independently wealthy. These are less than 01% of the total undergraduate population.

    "They had well-conceived plans before graduation for careers..." The problem with this is well-conceived plans - involving further study or not - mean very little in our wonderful modern economy. I think you'll find many more undergraduates have "well-conceived plans" than graduates have careers or even jobs. Why? Because ultimately it's not up to them whether they get that lucky break or not -especially now that so many 'stable' industries and careers are in flux. What they increasingly have is a 1-1.5 year window to apply for jobs - if they miss it because the economy is down, they've trained for 'the wrong sectors' owing to economic, policy or demographic changes, or because of changes in immigration policy, then they are just out of luck and would have been better off flipping burgers after high school.
    One of the most egregious culprits in the rapid expansion of graduate unemployment is excessively narrow definitions and increasingly inflated experience requirements in human resource recruitment - which no amount of "well-conceived planning," responsible pursuit of training and education, or even prior work experience can counter.

    1. I won't deny much of what you say is true.

      However, I'm 31 and judging from my high school & college friends that are on my facebook, and at least half of them have the house, kids, job and live in what appears to be familial bliss.

      Of course, what these people put on their facebook may easily be their version of propaganda. Perhaps they're covering up for unhappy marriages, unstable jobs or whatever. Still the happy "waspy" images are there.

      The common theme among this group of friends were serious relationships in college that turned into marriages soon after. Also, most of them come from families that I'm pretty sure could help them out with paring down student loans or making a down payment.

    2. Facebook is propaganda. You will get miserable looking at the people's carefully crafted images that are really just facades. Also you will covet your neighbors wife and belongings, which is the effect people pretty much go for. If you like the ridiculous game of making others jealous of you and being jealous of them, then stay on it.

    3. Anon @ 2014-03-02, 11:31 PM:

      The mentality you describe really isn't much different than what I experienced 30 or 40 years ago. For that matter, my parents saw much the same thing during the 1950s and '60s (the early episodes of "Mad Men" got those details right).

      It used to be called "keeping up with the Joneses". Nowadays, I suppose, it's called "likes", "friends", or "followers".

      Duplicate dung, alternate accumulation.

    4. 11:31 back. Thanks for the interesting reply, its good to be reminded that society has been this way for a while. I'm 32 and can remember keeping up with the joneses, but hasn't the effect intensified with Facebook? We'd keep up with our neighbors just by looking at their yard and driveway and the occasional chat, but now with Facebook you can see a lot more of your friends' lives, and images people project are easier to manipulate in some ways.

  31. Sometimes when someone spurns the American Dream, I wonder if they have ever worked 70hr weeks for at least a year at bad jobs they hate because ends are not being met. And no ill meant to those above who made great points, but I feel like sometimes it's not about blindly making a fetish of some false brand of normalcy, but more about wanting to have enough income to get through the week with sanity in tact, a little free time, and enough energy and money to make a nice dinner and have more in the cabinets than beans, potatoes, and eggs. Not cage free :) Obviously any security in life is tenuous at best, including financial- a piano might fall on you tomorrow. But having none will make life harder, and so I don't think it's lame conventional nonsense to sometimes have those american dreams.

    While most people in my program avoided signs of conspicuous consumption, it was clear they had invisible and unspoken sources of financial support that helped ease certain aspects of life. If I have those means as a parent, I'm certain I will offer similar support to my kids, but there is a little bit of a false sense of reality when money is never spoken of. Or rather spoken of in contradictory terms like- "I'm so poor! Who wants to go skiing?!" I was amazed by the expensive things that people around my dept would do while not teaching and not working another job.

    To bring it back to social cost, if you are struggling financially, it can be a bit trying to be surrounded by too many people who, while not mega rich, are riding a wave of privilege they are not really aware of, even while they self consciously analyze privilege all the time. Unless you have sources of real support, no one should forgo a decade of income even if you don't have to take out loans for a philosophy PhD. It creates real stress that can't be fixed overnight, and socially you might feel disillusioned by keeping company with people who are not in the same boat.

    1. I certainly empathize with this point. I worked at a real job throughout grad school (biological sciences) and had a mortgage on a small house in the outlying, unfashionable area. I come from a working class background and these were things that I had to do in order to ensure a present and future of relative comfort for myself and my family. Not a Mad Men type of comfort, but one in which I am able to buy nutritious groceries, go to the doctor when I am sick and be ready to help people in my family with rent and food when they need it.

      Meanwhile, most of my labmates had no work outside of grad school, lived in the fashionable neighborhoods of San Francisco, were quite familiar with and frequently discussed the area's finer dining options, regularly took exotic vacations, and maintained upper middle class hobbies (skiiing, diving, sailing etc).

      I was viewed as something of a pariah, and though my politics were well to the left of other students', a conservative. I was known to own a few clean button-up shirts anda pair of dress shoes for work meetings (sometimes I would, shockingly, still have these on when I arrived at a lab meeting) rather than a wardrobe of perfectly manufactured casualness and at Christmas I went to visit family in the South rather than going to a chalet in the Alps or a dive resort in the Caribbean. One of the things that I wanted after finishing grad school was a job that payed decently. I did not get to attend street protests to defend the rights of the downtrodden or get to attend post-street protest cocktail hours because I had to work a real job. All of this marked me as an outsider, as not a 'serious academic', as not part of this set of people who are putting their scholarship ahead of everything, blah blah blah. Most of the professors also came from a background of privilege and couldn't really understand where I was coming from either. The financial demands of academia are such that rising to the top of it usually means you have money coming in from elsewhere, usually from your parents. I felt isolated.

      Before really getting myself involved in academia, I thought of grad school as a noble institution that should be given a special space in society. Now I view it as largely a refuge for the children of the ruling class to feel like they are "doing something real and important" with minimal disruption to a lifestyle of leisure. It is often just another way to create the illusion of America as a meritocracy so that the idle rich can feel good about themselves

  32. 92 good reasons not to go to grad school.

    But I have a simple question: do you think it is any easier in any other professional field that promises intellectual challenge?

    All these complaints - they're nothing compared to the brutal reality of investment banking. All these uncertainties - do you really believe they don't apply to governmental jobs as well?

    We are in a systemic crisis. They're are no cushy positions for anyone anywhere, whether you're a bus driver or a theoretical physicist.

    Why do we in the first world believe we are entitled to academic accomplishment? Why do we think we are owed tenure? The rest of the world scoffs.

    100 reasons - 100 first world problems. Life's a competitive b*tch. Who promised you otherwise?

    1. "All these complaints - they're nothing compared to the brutal reality of investment banking."

      "CEO Russell Wasendorf Sr. was indicted by federal prosecutors who say he submitted false information for his U.S. futures and currency brokerage firm. Wasendorf pleaded not guilty even though last month he confessed in a suicide note that he had been using fake bank statements to embezzle *millions of dollars* from customers." - Forbes

      "The prosecution of former hedge fund titan Raj Rajaratnam over illicit profits he made on inside information also shined (sic) a spotlight on one of his informants. Rajat Gupta, a former Goldman Sachs director, was fined $5 million and jailed for two years for sharing inside information with Rajaratnam." - Forbes

      "A small futures brokerage firm in Iowa went under after its CEO allegedly engaged in fraud losing over *$215 million* of client money." - Forbes

      "Barclays will axe thousands of jobs and *raise bonuses for its investment bankers* this year, the under-fire British lender announced on Tuesday after posting a return to annual profits." - Agence FP

      Oh, so brutal, to be the top pigs at the trough.

  33. I know things are tough everywhere, but not all crises are the same.

    I am an idiot who got a PhD in the Humanities. It took a very long time. Me and my colleagues are adjunct teaching and making terrible money with no benefits. I am in the process of starting a new career, so I'm not just whining and planning to adjunct forever and be bitter. Thank God I have my health and can make something new work in my life.

    A different friend of mine spent ONE year getting a speech pathology masters, and WITHIN WEEKS of graduating landed a job making 50 grand with retirement benefits and health insurance.

    We all know it's tough all over. But people should know there are still meaningful differences among all career and education options.

    1. Zombie Studies is a hot and growing field. The PhD in zombie studies here is an in-demand speaker who was hired shortly after graduation as well:

    2. See also, Reason #40.

      And now as the enthusiastic zombie lovers start their studies, they will be just in time 8 years from now when they enter the job market and zombie writing has become the most lambasted sub-field. Good times for all.

    3. I clicked on anon 6:53's link expecting a joke.

      We've argued on this blog that every area of study has merit but this naivete has gone too far. The professor offering this course is doing a disservice to the students dumb enough to take it. And you wonder why America is rethinking higher education.

      One commenter on the article is spot on. Allan Bird wrote: A degree in Zombie studies prepares graduates to ask important questions, such as, "Would you like fries with that?"

    4. If you read just a handful of the comments on the zombie piece, it becomes brutally clear that people have lost sight of the line between PERSONAL relevance and interest and professional merit or work that someone ought to be paid to produce.

      One other key point: in defense of esoteric interests, culture frequently comes up, like these studies have relevance to the larger culture.

      Some study/research of this kind may indeed have such relevance, but it will NEVER reach any culture outside of academic culture which has completely collapsed in on itself.

    5. Anon 10:21, something like a zombie course should not be offered at a school where students have to pay thousands of dollars to receive a so called education. If this course was free it would be an entirely different story. People tend to think college is where you have the right to pursue your obscure hobbies and expect everyone else to pay for it with smiles.

    6. We're off-topic here - but here's my two cents.

      The WSJ article profiles an individual who makes his living in zombie studies. I studied Chinese and food/agriculture industry management so I could facilitate some of the largest volume trade exchanges in the world - not so I could "pursue obscure hobbies."

      He's employed full-time in his desired industry, with a salary and a position. I have spent most of the last 20 years as grunt part-time labor. I'm not using any of my education, and don't appear to have any upward mobility or prospects. Meanwhile the US may lose its pork processing capacity owing to foreign acquisitions, and has problems coping with imported food safety.

      Obviously I have made the wrong choices, and should have gone into zombie studies, because that's what is valued in America today. It sure as hell would have been easier than what I undertook, and I would have been treated much better. I can't blame the kids for going where the money is.

    7. Zombie Studies - Because the Corpus is Still Animated

    8. This guy (Dr. Kyle Bishop) is a public university graduate (University of Arizona), who went on to teach at another public university (Southern Utah University).

      People, these are our tax dollars at work!

    9. "One commenter on the article is spot on. Allan Bird wrote: A degree in Zombie studies prepares graduates to ask important questions, such as, "Would you like fries with that?" " - Anon 3/7/14 9:02 PM

      The tragedy is, the zombie studies "academics" have jobs - from asst. prof to department chair - but there are STEM graduates who are unemployed, and some that are working fast food.

      I have an M.S., with years of courses in math, statistics, chemistry, and biology. The closest work I get to my academic background is 'manual organic matter relocation,' which is what the 'zombie studies' people are figuratively doing, only much more successfully.

    10. The only people who will be employed because of zombie studies are the professors that teach these hack courses. To hell with the students, they say!

      "What are your qualifications?"

      "I'm mentally prepared for a zombie apocalypse."

      "You're hired." NOT!

    11. Still beats the hell out of being unemployed in something useful.

    12. Anon 4:53, no it doesn't. When the job market picks up, employers will be looking for certain majors. They will never be looking for zombie majors though. All majors are not created equal, sorry.

    13. Employers will not "be looking for certain majors." They will be looking for experienced, currently employed workers below 40, and fresh graduates not more than one year out. If they have additional manpower needs they will carp to their local Republocrat con-gressman about the need to increase 'skilled' immigration, because we really need our dumb American STEM grads to jockey cash registers at fast food joints, serve us coffee, and work at what are described as 'heavy phones.'
      Age and unemployment discrimination are very real. All people are not treated equally, sorry.
      Still beats the hell out of being unemployed in something useful.

    14. Hmm....should I major in STEM and possibly be unemployed or major in 19th Century Titmouse Sightings and almost be guaranteed to be unemployed. Tough Choice.

    15. The next Cold War will have scenarios like this:

      "Comrade Premier, it is with pride that I announce that we, the glorious Socialist People's Republic of Coleslawvania has more Jane Austen scholars per capita than the decadent West."

      "Comrade Chief Scholar, is good, yes?"

      "Yes, Comrade Premier. We will bury the running dogs of decadent capitalism with more useless papers at more useless conferences. The glorious Socialist People's Republic of Coleslawvania will triumph."

    16. "Mr. President?"

      "Yes, General."

      "Mr. President, those commie Coleslawvanians are beating us in the Jane Austen scholar race. Mr. President, this country cannot afford to have a Jane Austen scholar gap!"

    17. You know, we're already in the "next" Cold War, if the Russian irredentist takeover of the Crimea is anything to go by. Our testicularly challenged Chief Exec. wants to put together an international coalition not to take concerted action, but rather to deliver a message to Putin.

      I'm not holding my breath for a sudden uptick in defense industry STEM hiring.

  34. I am underemployed outside my studies. Have been for years. My current job doesn't even require a high school education.

    The fact that I have an M.S. (4.0 GPA) and over half-a-decade of STEM courses in half-a-dozen "hard" sciences, math and engineering is no consolation at all.

    The fact that I test in the top 1% of college graduates is no consolation, and has been of absolutely no value to me.

    The reality is, if you graduate in a shit economy in an impacted industry, your career is over before it even gets started. When the economy picks up, you will not be on anyone's hiring shortlist. Once a year or more has passed, you will probably never work in your field, STEM, engineering, finance, whatever. You can go retrain. Good luck with that.

    If I'd taken a graduate degree in English, focusing on, say, Jane Austen, at least I could have gotten some training in creative writing, and could churn out some derivative crap like "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and actually find a publisher - which is way better than applying over and over again to companies and graduate labs in the faint hope of a job.

    Furthermore, the US is not actually short of STEM graduates. The US won't even hire the STEM grads it produces, which puts us on a par with China and India - just one more overpopulated country with far more people than jobs. Fred the microbiology grad is jockeying a register at McDonalds. Jane the polymer chemistry graduate is unemployed and thinking hard about Canada. Jack the mechanical engineer has been working in sales for two years, which he hates, and he wants to be a chef instead. Thanks to our disloyal one-worlder con-gressmen, universillies and industry heads, when that Cold War comes roaring back around, you'll have to talk to Vijay, Rajesh and Cao Nima about your military technology gap. Having gone to courses and worked with these guys, all I can say is... good luck with that, too.

    1. Most companies will not hire anyone with high marks. A good GPA implies intelligence and intelligence implies independent thought. Employers do not want independent thinkers. They want obedient sheep who will not only be satisfied with their lot, but can be easily replaced at a moment's notice by someone cheaper and more compliant.

      But, if everyone studied Jane Austen and zombies, then people with degrees in zombified Jane Auten or Austeniized zombies will be a dime a dozen. The Jane Austen-zombie industry will then go whining to the government for tax breaks, subsidies, and special protection. At the same time, the profs who teach courses in that area demand that they all be granted tenure because studies in Jane Austen and zombies are vital to the existence of human civilization.

      But, if that happens, the vampire lobby will file a class-action suit, claiming that the Jane Austin-zombie industry got preferential treatment.

      Meanwhile, there won't be a cure for cancer any time soon, our bridges and roads will deteriorate, and a whole generation of children can do only "discovery math".

    2. You get what you pay for.

  35. "Once a year or more has passed, you will probably never work in your field, STEM, engineering, finance, whatever."

    Academia loves to perpetrate the lie that all majors are created equal. They are not. Watch the news and read job articles to find out how employers are much more likely to overlook liberal arts majors compared to STEM fields.

    I'm sorry a lot of you have worked hard in your majors and nothing has come to fruition, but that's no reason to pretend every other field is as hopeless as yours. Prospective grad students don't need to be tricked into studying your useless majors just because you're in denial. I mean, you're seriously arguing that a zombie major isn't completely ridiculous. I shudder to think some of you are in a position to give students employment advice.

    1. I am not making an argument that 'all majors are created equal.'

      I am, however, pointing out that degrees now have a 'shelf life' regardless of major, and this 'shelf life' is an equalizing factor 1-1.5 years from graduation - after which it is unlikely that you will find a job in your chosen field, regardless of what it is, or how 'useful' it is.

      I also point out that with respect to outcome, there are many people who pursue useful, worthwhile subjects with demonstrable practical value, who then never even get the opportunity to use what they've learned. This is a waste.

      When public dollars are spent to support careers for the people in 'zombie studies,' while others have studied subjects of real import and value but are not granted a single opportunity to put their knowledge into practice, then something has gone hideously wrong. But I would be a fool not to admit that for now, that's where the money is - however misallocated it may be.

    2. Shelf life is not an equalizing factor when employers seek out some majors more than others.

      And I still can't believe you're arguing about this zombie major. Just because anyone can make up a major does not mean "that's where the money is" nor does it mean it has public support. It means a professor came up with a useless, impractical major and convinced a bunch of naive students (a.k.a suckers) to take it.

    3. Ah, but the point is that 1-1.5 years out, choice of major ceases to matter to these same employers, because the hiring outcome is the same. So yes, degree 'shelf life' is an equalizing factor.

      Actually, the zombie major does have public support - the main profiled individual got his degree from a public university, and now is the English department chair at another public university. In fact, all institutions mentioned in the WSJ article as somehow supporting zombie studies (I believe there were six in total) are public institutions, and this scholarship is taking place on the public's dime - ergo it has public support, however unwitting the public may be. This is happening at a time when 1/6th of the U.S. working population is under- or unemployed or has left the workforce altogether, and the U.S. workforce participation rate is lower than it has been in generations. I guarantee you that most of these did not participate in 'zombie studies' nor are most of them English majors. I do guarantee that you will find a surprising number (at least, to you) of STEM and engineering majors among them. One does not buck the public purse or the fickle employment markets with impunity.

    4. And the counterpoint is the shelf life doesn't matter if employers don't even want to take you off the shelf because you have an impractical major.

      When I say public support I mean the general public, including those outside of academia. Would employers care about this major? Would there be any value in it outside of academia? Then no, it does not have public support.

      No one said STEM and engineering majors aren't among the unemployed, but are the better off? If employers have to choose between a humanities major or a STEM major, who would they most likely pick? Don't answer that, you'll just dance around the issue as usual.

    5. Obviously you find the idea of the practicality of one's major not mattering a great deal, odious. Good for you, I used to think that way too, until I realized that it really doesn't matter one whit to employers, and is trumped by other, more 'irrational' considerations.

      As for employers choosing between a humanities or a STEM major, it depends on the employer, the HR people making the decision, and to a certain extent the industry. However, major is trumped by other considerations (e.g. time from graduation, relevance of work experience, applicant appearance, applicant connections, and then company and industry health). One problem with STEM and engineering degrees is that the markets tend to be 'all or nothing' where either there is 100% graduate uptake or no uptake at all - e.g. the 2000 crash for CS.
      Another issue with the job markets for STEM and engineering degrees is that there is a lot of involuntary retirement from about age 35-40, in aggregate based primarily on age. Any gains realized up to that point tend to get thwacked pretty hard in the process of readjusting and finding other employment. The point being that majoring in STEM or engineering, and even performing well in STEM or engineering, is no guarantee of anything.

      Many employers really don't know what they are hiring for and frequently have hiring practices counter to their stated wants. In fact, most people making hiring decisions have little to no actual knowledge of the disciplines they are hiring in.

      As for what constitutes 'public support' - we've already voted with our taxpayer dollars for zombie studies. There is no greater form of express support than subsidy. Furthermore I guarantee you that there are at least three industries outside academia that will consume the products of 'zombie studies' - publishing, film/TV, and internet-based media - and it is no doubt pursuit of income from these sources that will enable 'zombie studies' to flourish. Like I said before, one does not buck the public purse with impunity.

    6. The point being that majoring in STEM or engineering, and even performing well in STEM or engineering, is no guarantee of anything.

      You really can't admit all majors aren't created equal, huh? I can't wait to tackle the job market with my Masters in 13th Century French Literature. I'm sure I'll do just as well as a STEM major!

    7. And possibly better.

      Only an idiot today would believe that a degree would assure any kind of livelihood or outcome.

  36. Part of the blather coming out of universities is that if one studied what one was passionate about, the opportunities will become available.

    Then again, P. T. Barnum said it better: "There's one born every minute."

  37. Zombies. It fits the stereotype of English grad students so well. "I have deep and poignant thoughts about death!" Ha.

    The takeaway seems to be that the economy blows, regardless of what your major is.

    For *some* STEM majors (not all, given what people have said here), they may be in a somewhat less bad position than someone with an English Lit degree, concentration zombies.

    But not that much better.

    1. "But not that much better."

      You keep telling yourself that.

    2. People MUST stop acting like outcomes for PhD's in Humanities subjects and undergrads who study engineering are the same. I understand and sympathize if you studied engineering and the outcome has not been great, but anecdotes cannot be used to eclipse huge market trends.

      Just from interacting with undergraduate students in my classes, it seems obvious engineers have better outcomes on the whole. One has an internship for the summer that will pay more than I make teaching history classes. I am 10 years older than him and have invested an enormous amount of energy into an advanced degree.

      Granted, this is just another anecdote. We are in need of actual information here about career outcomes. People trading opinions in this comments section is fruitless, and I worry that impressionable young people might simply latch onto comments that accommodate their educational choices and ignore ones that conflict with their hopes and beliefs about what they have done or are about to do.

      IF ANYONE KNOWS OF A CURRENT AND CREDIBLE SOURCE (BOOK, WEBSITE, OR WHATEVER) THAT ANALYZES A SIGNIFICANT POOL OF DATA WITH RESPECT TO MAJORS AND CAREER OUTCOMES, PLEASE POST IT HERE. I think we could all use a reality check. Myself included. The only way to get a grasp on this debate is to see exactly how people are doing in their careers after majoring in X, Y, and Z, and the sample needs to be large enough to wipe out the outliers who major in zombie studies but somehow end up making $65 grand at their friend's dad's brother's company.

      Or the STEM and agriculture posters above who are still underemployed. You have all my sympathy. And people who want to stone people with condescending malarkey for just sharing their story and unfortunate outcome, get over yourself. Stories deserve to be told and heard. But we need to get a handle on the bigger story, too.

    3. "And people who want to stone people with condescending malarkey for just sharing their story and unfortunate outcome, get over yourself."

      No, people who want to say "since I'm unemployed and doing bad in this economy, everyone else must be, too" need to get over themselves.

    4. Read:

      "Into the Eye of the Storm, Assessing the Evidence on Science and Engineering Education, Quality, and Workforce Demand" (Salzman, Lowell, for The Urban Institute, 2007) for a discussion of how contrary to popular belief, the US graduates far more STEM and engineering graduates than there are job openings.

      For a quick discussion with some references to studies on the topic see also, "Your College Major May Not Be As Important As You Think" - New York Times, 11/3/10.

    5. "the US graduates far more STEM and engineering graduates than there are job openings."

      So then that makes non-STEM majors in a bigger pickle if they have to compete with the excess STEM majors for every job opening.

      When it comes down to becoming employed in an unrelated field, I'm going to take a wild guess and say the employer will pick the major that is more practical.

    6. @Anon 3/12/14 1:34 PM :

      Your hypothesis is remarkably divorced from reality. Maybe you should take up a career in speculative fiction?

    7. "The STEM Crisis Is A Myth" IEEE Spectrum, Aug. 30, 2013

      "Is the STEM job advantage a myth?" CBS News, Nov. 18, 2013

      "Does Your STEM Degree Have a Shelf Life?" National Journal, Mar. 12 2014

      "Immigration and the Tech Industry" Dr. Norman Matloff, 2012. (Focused primarily on the impacts of the H-1B visa program on STEM and engineering job markets, Dr. Matloff also dismisses claims of science and tech labor shortages).

    8. "Your hypothesis is remarkably divorced from reality."

      He says with confidence while claiming your major doesn't matter.

      "The College Degrees With The Highest Starting Salaries" Forbes - Jan 2014
      Engineering - $62,600
      Computer Science
      Math & Sciences
      Humanities & Social Science $38,000

      I, for one, am shocked humanities is at the bottom of this list.

      "Who Needs Philosophy? Colleges Defend the Humanities Despite High Costs, Dim Job Prospects" TIME - March 2013

      "Economics and Statistics Administration Releases New Report on STEM: Good Jobs Now and For the Future" - July 2011
      By 2018, STEM job growth is projected at 17% while Non-STEM is at 9.8%.

    9. There are successful and unsuccessful people with all kinds of degrees.

      We all have our anecdotes and various data. Engineering is hard. You either excel at it or wash out quickly. That's why it's high paid at the front end - only 15% or so of people that attempt an engineering degree it end up graduating with it.

      Something like English Lit can be done at a mediocre level your entire matriculation and you still get the degree.

      However, I've always believed students should major in whatever subject accentuates their strengths and appeals to their personality and interests. Trying to force an artsy person into engineering would be a disservice. Even if they were capable of finishing the program, there's no reason to try to force them into a line of work they don't find appealing.

    10. con't...

      On the other hand, I think the humanities' graduates salary figures would look better if instructors graded how they should.

      I'm guilty of that too. If I graded my students by the standards I would hold myself to, about half would be failures, the rest Cs and a few Bs maybe 3 or 4% As.

      Of course, I fail relatively few, only the ones who don't show up or put no effort in at all, and the rest fall along a bell curve that's got a fairly high average.

      If I failed more like they deserve, students would howl, and I would get extreme pressure from administration to change my policies. I just had a student threaten to go over my head to administration over an 85 on her research paper, because my standards are apparently unfair. I wanted to say that really should have been a C- at best.

      So a lot of students graduate with humanities degrees who don't even understand their discipline because they weren't challenged. That has to affect the salary figures.

    11. "There are successful and unsuccessful people with all kinds of degrees."

      This is yet another generalizing statement intended to take away from the fact that all majors are not created equal. Of course a degree isn't a guarantee of employment. However, we need to stop telling students they can major in anything and expect the same employment opportunities as in-demand majors.

      Some majors are so impractical the student can only hope to find employment by teaching his useless major to another sucker.

    12. Barnum's Corollary:

      The sucker never thinks s/he is the one born every minute.

    13. "...only 15% or so of people that attempt an engineering degree it end up graduating with it." This is a patent falsehood.

      Also untrue is the notion (implied above) that engineering has higher standards. Rates of academic dishonesty in engineering are about equal to rates of cheating in business studies, and these are the *highest* in academia.

    14. "By 2018, STEM job growth is projected at 17% while Non-STEM is at 9.8%."

      And what are the baselines for STEM and non-STEM jobs?

    15. "we need to stop telling students they can major in anything and expect the same employment opportunities as in-demand majors."

      It's also impossible to predict what will hot or not in 4+ years.

      My advice to students is to major in "something" and not "nothing" - ie: avoid majors that are too interdisciplinary where you don't get challenged - which means anything with "studies" behind it.

      I studied history, and I have a big problem with the various "studies" outgrowths of that discipline.

      However, if you have an aptitude for philosophy, by all means major in it. There is no reason you should be forced into nursing or computer science because you think, in 2014, that it will be hot in 2018. Better to gain some foundational skills that can be adapted to whatever job paradigm exists in 2018.

      The foundational humanities like English and Philosophy have been around since the middle ages when the university system began. What needs to be avoided are fads.

    16. "It's also impossible to predict what will hot or not in 4+ years."

      Gotta love the argument to the incoming freshmen that petroleum engineering, with it's $93,500 starting salary, may not be around in 48 months so it is much better to study sociology where you are practically guaranteed to be unemployed. ~ Anonymous September 27, 2013 at 6:16 AM

    17. As has been noted elsewhere in response to this, petroleum engineering will be around. Jobs in petroleum engineering may not be. In living memory, petroleum engineering jobs have gone from 100% uptake of new grads to shedding over 50% of existing positions.

    18. Anon 3/13/14 1:36 PM said, "There is no reason you should be forced into nursing or computer science because you think, in 2014, that it will be hot in 2018. Better to gain some foundational skills that can be adapted to whatever job paradigm exists in 2018."

      In principle I have to agree with this - it's a much more sound strategy for developing a career than chasing the flavor of the month. However, I have yet to see any evidence that any employers hire for foundation skills either. Even as they bemoan applicants' lack of literacy, they continue to hire applicants lacking literacy skills (in fact, I'm not even sure being able to make oneself understood in English is a requirement). Even as employers whine about not finding grads with math skills, they routinely pass on applicants with advanced math coursework and demonstrable math skills. One continues to hear employers complain about the lack of students with STEM skills when clear evidence has emerged that the US graduates more STEM students than there are relevant jobs - and when evidence continues to mount that 'skilled immigration' levels exceed new job creation rates.

      It's hard to believe that essentially they're not just making excuses for their hiring decisions.

    19. Anon 1:57, the point is some majors are risky but some majors have static low employment rates. I would not tell students to major in humanities on the off, off, off chance that it will turn around in the next 4 years.

    20. "Gotta love the argument to the incoming freshmen that petroleum engineering, with it's $93,500 starting salary, may not be around in 48 months so it is much better to study sociology"

      If you are equally good at and enjoy both equally, then sure, go for petroleum engineering, it's the more profitable choice. For most students it's not that simple.

      I was never that good at math, which goes back to 5th grade for me. I always struggled with it. By the time college came around, I had learned how to study well enough to get As in Algebra and could pass subjects like Trigonometry or Calculus with a C or maybe a B- if I really tried. However, I hated every minute of it. It was drudgery getting through those, and no matter what methods or approaches I tried, it never came as naturally to me as it did for some of my classmates. I had to work for hours and hours, while some people seemed to solve problems like nothing.

      I did have an aptitude for history, and the reasoning, writing style and method seemed to come naturally. I wasn't a completely stupid 20-yr old. I realized that I was going to reduce my lifetime earnings by maybe as much as 1.5 to 2 million dollars by not doing a STEM subject.

      But it wasn't worth hating my life.

      My parents were music majors; they supported my decision. They actually would have been happier if I'd studied music like they had. I come from a family of impractical people, so I considered my major choice to be more sound than theirs.

      The point is that not everyone can be an engineer, nor should be. People need to make the choices that are best for them.

    21. "But it wasn't worth hating my life."

      Being chronically unemployed will make you hate life as well. Everyone can't be an engineer, but there are other in-demand majors that will give you a good chance of being employed.

      I certainly wish we could all study what we love and expect everything to work out, but that is a fantasy perpetrated by the Ivory Tower.

    22. Let's be fair, it's a fantasy perpetrated by the self-help gurus, not the ivory tower.

    23. That's the first time I've heard that one, anon 7:05.

    24. There are many quotes pertaining to doing what one loves. It seems that the sentiment can be traced back at least as far as the poet Rumi. One finds it today primarily among self-help authors and artists. One does not find it among academics (although the sentiment *may* be found among some aspiring academics).

    25. Self-help gurus talk about doing what you love. They don't touch upon studying what you love though. That's purely academia. Stop shifting blame.

      I find it hilarious you're saying this mindset isn't prevalent among academics while you and many others have just argued about it for months.

    26. News to me.

      I find it disturbing that you can't see that there is any more to this blog or the contributions to it.

      Go on, belittle, smear, mischaracterize and perhaps it will all go away.

    27. Go on. Cry some more.

  38. To the above commenters, complaining they cannot work in the fields they studied in (eg, March 8, 2014 at 11:48 AM & March 9, 2014 at 2:03 PM).

    I agree, immigration is too high and H1B visas should absolutely not be increased but slashed. I agree the job market is terrible and departments are irresponsible to produce this many degrees per year.

    But the world does not owe you a living in your desired field. Just because you studied something doesn't mean you are owed a job in it.

    Nowadays, if you want a PhD, you must be 100% prepared for the likely outcome of not being able to work in your desired field, be it food science, rocket science, or zombie studies. You cannot go in with the mentality that you will definitely get a professorship or you will end up crushed and thinking you were denied something you were owed/deserved.

    PhD's now are primarily for personal interest. (I felt this way until the very end of my PhD.) If you go into a PhD you must, MUST have the following thought in your mind:

    "I will try to finish this PhD as fast as possible and then be ready to work outside of academia if I can't get one of the scarce jobs out there. Academia is a bubble and its gonna crash, so this degree is mainly for fun and is in no way a guarantee of a cushy future job, because I know PhDs are a dime a dozen these days."

    1. To the above poster,

      You are absolutely correct - the world does not owe you a living in your desired field.

      When there is no difference in outcomes between those who can't graduate high school versus those who have excelled at years of advanced study, then there is a problem and resources are being wasted. Penalize those same people for the audacity to presume to be productive or aspire to professional work, and eventually you have the end of civilization.

      TO the extent that industry, practicality, creativity and excellence are rewarded, there should be returns from these.

      To the extent that they are not, what then is the point to making any effort at all, other than to gratify the self? Let's just revert to the state of nature, and then we all can enjoy our nasty, short and brutish lives.

    2. Anon 3/10/14 12:05 AM
      Many grad student colleagues I have had over the years do not necessarily feel entitled to a professorship. Certainly, it was not so for me. I started the grad school process a long time ago with the hope that I would get a job one day that could contribute to my family's well being. I did not get a job like that and I probably never will. What I did get was a lot of debt and unfulfilled potential. I am left with bitterness and frustration, surely you wouldn't begrudge someone the small comfort of catharsis with like minded people..

  39. I'm glad even you can see you're cherry picking. Try as you might, you will never prove all majors are created equal. Is majoring in STEM a guarantee for unemployment? No. Is it a better guarantee for employment rather than humanities, zombie studies, and the like? Definitely yes.

    The zombie studies professor makes the money. The students won't. They will be laughed out of the job interview if they ever mention their major.

  40. BLS data suggest that STEM graduates will have less than a 2/3 chance at a STEM job after graduation.

    "America Has More Trained STEM Graduates Than STEM Job Openings." May 2013, Center for Immigration Studies.

  41. I'll ask again. Should I major in STEM and possibly be unemployed or major in 19th Century Titmouse Sightings and almost be guaranteed to be unemployed. Tough Choice.

    If you really need an article to tell you a zombies studies major is less employable I'll go ahead and post some:

    "Are Humanities Degrees Doomed? Experts Weigh In." WSJ - June 2013

    "Certainly the numbers aren’t encouraging. Among recent college graduates nationwide, who majored in English, the unemployment rate was 9.8%. By comparison, recent chemistry graduates were unemployed at a rate of just 5.8%.

    So, what’s a student to study? Should they pursue a passion for Classics even if it might not guarantee returns in the job market? With soaring student debt, that’s a hard argument to swallow."

  42. "Should I major in STEM and possibly be unemployed?"

    Odds are, sooner or later, you will be - there is no 'possibly' about it. Odds are also that you will not be working in your major - "about 15 million U.S. residents hold at least a bachelor’s degree in a STEM discipline, but three-fourths of them—11.4 million—work outside of STEM." - IEEE Spectrum, Aug. 30, 2013.

  43. "19th Century Titmouse Sightings" is a STEM subject (biology, ecology, environmental science).

  44. "Measurement of methane emissions from ruminant livestock using a sulfur hexafluoride tracer technique" - Environmental Science and Technology 1994

    Because the world desperately needs to know about cow farts.

    ...and no, the article is not made up.

  45. Someone above mentioned Doug Prasher as a kind of nod to the failed genius scientist who is being out-earned by zombie studies guy. The story is not so simple.

    Waving his $7.50 shuttle base wage as proof of anything seems ill advised.

    Prasher has received "a few hundred thousand dollars in royalties over 15 years." It also seems that he has been offered research opportunities, and he himself says he turned one down because of pride, noting it "felt like a handout." The author of the piece politely notes that his house has 2 dishwashers, 2 ovens, and doesn't look like it is owned "by a van driver making $300 a week." Prasher won a $70,000 grant in December, and looks to have a science job once again. (link to source below)

    I AM NOT SAYING that this genius does not deserve this- he deserves more. But there is more to this story than science genius fails out of life and makes $7.50 an hour.

    The Engineering article suggested above- Into the Eye of the Storm- makes a very simple point in the midst of all the data analysis: the answers to all these questions about job stuff "are not straightforward."

    From that article it looks like a meager 30% of engineers find stable gainful employment in their field. Not good at all.

    But that 30% is millions of people. THERE ARE NOT MILLIONS OF PEOPLE with PhD's in the humanities finding comparable employment in their field.

    1. How would you evaluate Doug Prasher's career, particularly between 1989-2009, with respect to outcome vs. quality of contribution and vs. quantity of investment?

      What are his average annual earnings over his career to date?

      The article clearly states that the Prashers began building the house while Dr. Prasher was employed in 2004, but have since gone through their savings paying their bills.

      Of course there is more to Doug Prasher's story than this. It is, after all a story in progress. But I think we can all safely say that it's a cautionary tale for those who believe that choosing a STEM career is proof against poverty or unemployment.

      "Into the Eye of the Storm" finds that there are 15.7 million people with one or more degrees in an S & E field, but 4.8 million workers in an S & E occupation. Nothing is said about the stability of that employment (or indeed, its relevance to the employee's field).

    2. " But I think we can all safely say that it's a cautionary tale for those who believe that choosing a STEM career is proof against poverty or unemployment."

      Nobody said STEM is proof against poverty or employment. If you have to keep exaggerating to prove your point you don't have a good one.

  46. "Gotta love the argument to the incoming freshmen that petroleum engineering, with it's $93,500 starting salary, may not be around in 48 months so it is much better to study sociology"
    If you are equally good at and enjoy both equally, then sure, go for petroleum engineering, it's the more profitable choice." - Anon 3/13/14 , 9:34 PM

    Not necessarily. That $93,500 is very recent, and there have been many years where new grads in petroleum engineering wound up with $0 - and they frequently didn't get jobs when the booms came round.
    From time to time, whole Petro.Eng. departments have been considered for closure (lack of jobs, and lack of students). So, no, in reality, petroleum engineering isn't necessarily the more profitable choice, and certainly isn't the more profitable choice all the time, or even most of it.

    " I realized that I was going to reduce my lifetime earnings by maybe as much as 1.5 to 2 million dollars by not doing a STEM subject." Let me reassure you by saying, this idea is predicated on ongoing constant or rising earnings and constant employment in a steady career. With extremely rare exceptions, this situation just doesn't exist anymore. Projections about lifetime earnings should be viewed with extreme suspicion because they are based on assumptions about employment consistency, career trajectory, and earning capacity that are - how shall I put this politely? - unlikely.

    In fact, for many STEM disciplines, the average age upon which one gets tossed on the scrap heap, I mean made redundant, seems to be between 35-45. It varies with discipline - for EE it seems to be about 35. For CS and IT-related disciplines, about 40. For ME it's about 45. Furthermore considering inconsistency in employment during that period of time (i.e. layoffs, common personal disruptions), it's unlikely that the resulting difference is anywhere near $1.5-$2 million.

    1. Do you have any sources for these claims?

    2. I second that, and just in general would like to say to the more impressionable readers of this blog who have yet to make a choice regarding grad school: DO NOT put stock in unsourced claims and statements about job markets, majors, etc.

      The sub title of this blog explicitly states the main focus is the humanities and social sciences. If you are considering this path, DO NOT allow yourself to use gloom and doom comments about STEM or any discipline/market justify your decision to keep going forward with your head in the sand.

      I respect the above persons life experience and of course would never have reason to dispute it, but we can't go from "this happened to me" to this is the "average" experience in my field.

      And with respect to 3:09's experience and the possibility that it is indeed to most likely average experience, I would add to folks considering advanced studies in the humanities that you might very well end up on that proverbial scrap heap at age 28 the day after you file your dissertation.

    3. Try reading, "Is It Fair to Steer Students Into STEM Disciplines Facing a Glut of Workers" IEEE Spectrum 11/21/13.

      Try "A Failure of Vision," Jay Schalin, John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, 6/03/12.

      Also try some of the above referenced articles.

      Alternately, "try going forward with your heads in the sand."

    4. "Also try some of the above referenced articles."

      Do they have anything to do with your claims? Posting random articles is nice but when you start making very specific claims like "In fact, for many STEM disciplines, the average age upon which one gets tossed on the scrap heap, I mean made redundant, seems to be between 35-45" I want to see some proof.

    5. I can't be bothered to chew this idiot's food for him.

    6. The specific claims that Anon 3/16/14 12:22 PM takes exception to are not mine, they're Dr. Ronil Hira's (PhD, P.E. - that's Professional Engineer for the ignorami). Dr. Hira has published on issues in engineering employment. He was quoted in one of the articles.

      Said claims are echoed by Dr. Norm Matloff, professor in Computer Science at UC Davis, who has also published on issues in engineering employment.

      They're in the papers and articles previously mentioned (see above- there is no real need to repeat them here), which are relevant to the topic presently under discussion, and provided at the behest of another forum participant.

      Two of the articles are from IEEE Spectrum. IEEE, for the ignorami, is the acronym of the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and claims to be 'the world's largest professional association for the advancement of technology' (their words, not mine). If the IEEE questions the conventional wisdom on engineering (which is more conventional than wise) as a career choice or degree choice, perhaps what it has to say is worth paying attention to.

      I have supplied these because they articulate the real issues in engineering careers and employment (rampant age discrimination, declining employment in many STEM disciplines, blatant government manipulation of the job market) so much better than a demonstrably false advertisement claiming that you, too, can win millions, just by following a few simple steps. The relevance to the forum, (which, judging from 3/14/14 10:50 PM I need to state explicitly) is not only the name of the blog, which is far more encompassing than its stated focus, and also that many of the participants in this forum suffer from 'greener grassism' - an understandable tendency to idealize other vocations as preferable to their own. Evidence to the contrary can provide perspective, especially needed when alternative vocations are considered.

    7. 3/14/14/10:50 here.

      I completely agree with you in terms of the scope of this blog, and I think these contributions are necessary and helpful for all.

      I would just emphasize that the temptation of the group I mentioned is really not going to be to see the grass as greener elsewhere. It will be to read these comments and walk toward the sinkhole where no grass exists. I didn't say they should run to engineering, either. Hopefully they would simply slow down and be more careful about their choices.

      They need to be able to discern the difference between bad and worse, as do people intimating that very bad conditions in one field justify people pursuing degrees in fields that are indeed worse.

      Your tone is awesome. It is a fucking pity when people can't just exchange info and experience and instead need to be smug and righteous which kills communication. You must be the one at the party everybody can't wait to hang with.

    8. Anonymous 11:00, it's a fucking pity when people make passive aggressive comments while trying to tell others to stop being smug and righteous. It really kills communication. You must be the one in the corner everyone can't wait to get away from.

  47. Let's review some high moments in STEM paradigms, some of which are entertained on a lavish scale today, to the detriment of billions of people:

    - alchemy (roots of STEM- Newton was a practitioner)
    - phrenology
    - eugenics (tens of millions dead)
    - global cooling
    - global warming (because the data was inconsistent with the hypothesis)
    - climate change (because the data had to encompass both global cooling AND global warming)
    - "environmental' "science" (most of which is neither science, nor environmentally sound - hundreds of millions dead)
    - ecology and "conservation biology" (lives, communities, and even whole industries blighted and wasted to save field mice and fish "proven" to be genetically distinct species - sometimes even interfering with real science (e.g. the "Mt. Graham Squirrel").
    - "sustainability" (a buzzword, misused, to earn billions for academic administrators and 'consultants')

    Let's not forget perpetual motion, and cold fusion, "but wouldn't it be great if we could just make it work!"

    There is no enterprise without folly.

  48. ^somebody really hates STEM. Was your father a scientist who never hugged you?

  49. @3/14/14/10:50 3/16/14/11:00 PM
    3/16/14/9:49 PM speaking,
    I didn't write 3/16/14/11:46 PM - I try to keep things more copacetic.

  50. This blog is about PhDs. They are very, VERY different from undergraduate degrees.

    Here's a study about unemployment by major. Other than a few outliers, a lot of bachelor degree holders are in a similar place.

    1. They aren't that different. Employers don't think much of a BA in Humanities, either.

    2. 4:09 I'm wary of trusting an unemployment study published by a university. I really doubt any college is going to present any information to deter students from taking their courses. Some law schools were under fire for skewing unemployment statistics of their graduates.

      For example, on Georgetown's webpage for that article they say their major find was "For many, pursuing a graduate degree may be the best option until the economy recovers." In reality you don't rack up more debt in a failing field and hope for the best, but Georgetown's solution is, surprisingly, to spend more time at Georgetown University.

    3. You're right to weigh very carefully a study published by a university. Also keep in mind that the Bureau of Labor Statistics is not a disinterested party, that claims from industry are probably suspect, and that our media have got their collective noses so deeply buried up this administration that we can't believe most of what we see in print from them.

      As for the Georgetown quote, "For many, pursuing a graduate degree may be the best option until the economy recovers," is not terribly misleading, just like those letters from the Publishers' Clearinghouse Sweepstakes claim that "you may already be a winner." "May" is the operative word, and "best option" is comparative.

      Finally, for the most part I don't think it's the fields that are failing, rather it's the economy, employer misperceptions, and changes in hiring practices.