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CBS: 12 reasons not to get a PhD

sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
edited July 2012 in Graduate School
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Replies to: CBS: 12 reasons not to get a PhD

  • xraymancsxraymancs Posts: 2,213College Rep Senior Member
    The only "good" reason TO get a Ph.D. is if you have a passion for the subject and for research and you would regret it if you did not. Getting a Ph.D. does not mean that you must become an academic.
  • jayeyeseejayeyesee Posts: 100Registered User Junior Member
    This is the same woman who wrote "16 things for teens to do this summer." She needs to stick to writing for her target audience and not make generalizations that all PhD candidates are in it for the money. WHERE IS THE MONEY ANYWAY? I think most people who are smart enough to pursue a PhD understand the problems that come after earning said degree.

    But sure, let's just stop producing original research and independent scientists in this country because it's too financially risky.
  • RacinReaverRacinReaver Posts: 6,598Registered User Senior Member
    COMMENTARY Earning a doctorate is widely considered to be an excellent way to boost a person's lifetime earnings potential.*

    *[Citation needed.]
    The bottom line: If you are smart enough to earn a PhD, you are smart enough not to pursue one.

    For anyone that didn't quite make it to the closing line of the article.
  • juilletjuillet Posts: 5,892Super Moderator Senior Member
    1. Most PhDs take about 5-7 years to complete; particularly if you go into STEM fields. In the humanities, yes, they may take longer. But the time is actually a good reason not to go - you can spend that time working instead, unless you are really passionate about your field.

    2. I've never had a professor exploit me. Even when I was on research funding depending on my RA capabilities, my advisor gave me tasks that would develop me as a graduate student. I'm on fellowship now and I grade when I want. And I would wager that 90% of professors also teach undergrads, grade paper, and hold office hours, so this work prepares you for the academic job that most PhD candidates want. I don't play mother hen to anyone.

    3. This is a stupid reason not to do something. You could drop out of anything.

    4. Census Bureau data estimates that about 1% of the US population has a PhD; that's about 3 million PhD holders. 33,655 is a little over 1% of that number. So because about 1% of PhD holders are on food stamps…I should be afraid that I'm going to end up on food stamps?

    5. This is actually a good reason, if you want to be a professor.

    6. Simple. Don't go to an unfunded program.

    7, 8, 9. This is also actually a good reason. However, she took one reason and stretched it out into three "reasons."

    10. Jobs are scarce in all fields, but it's true that you shouldn't get a PhD unless you need one to do the kind of work you want to do. A PhD actually makes you less marketable for non-research/field-related jobs.

    11. It's not that they play with them, it's that they don't keep them at all.

    12. This is the same reason as #4 (the fear of being poor and destitute) but in reality doctoral degree holders have the lowest unemployment rate of any group of degree holders aside from professional degree holders.

    Overall, I agree with the advice not to pursue a PhD. I'm in a PhD program myself, and the majority of people who ask me advice about getting one don't need one to do what they need to do and are seeking it for the wrong reasons anyway. Either that, or they are under delusions about the job market for PhDs and the salaries for them, as well. I love research and I love my field, but the unfortunate truth is that there simply are not enough jobs in it to go around, so I try to encourage students who ask to go for the more lucrative and secure areas within my broad field.
  • tenisghstenisghs Posts: 3,955Registered User Senior Member
    "2. I've never had a professor exploit me. "

    Good for you, but there doesn't negate the fact that advisors can and do exploit their graduate students. It's common knowledge that academia has its own version of nasty politics. Professors have the power to determine a person's funding status, lab or project assignment (if it's grant-funded), and even when he or she is eligible to graduate. For humanities students, where grant funding is more scarce, students slug away as TAs to pay for their educational expenses. Bottom line, graduate students are a source of cheap labor.

    "3. This is a stupid reason not to do something. You could drop out of anything."

    I don't think you fully understand her point. If you lack passion for your field, the first two years is the best time to drop out of any doctoral program. Once you have lingered around beyond that, it becomes much harder to psychologically prepare yourself for another career if you can't pass the comprehensive exams or dissertation defense. If that happens to you, think about major opportunity costs involved (years that could have been spent in the workforce earning an income).

    "11. It's not that they play with them, it's that they don't keep them at all."

    That begs the question, "Why don't graduate programs keep a track record of their alumni?" All graduate programs should keep placement statistics so that prospective students are not manipulated, exploited, and then thrown under the bus when they can't find employment. This goes back to point #1 that it takes up to a decade to finish a PhD. That's an awful long time to work on a degree that may have negative emotional and financial repercussions.

    "12. This is the same reason as #4 (the fear of being poor and destitute) but in reality doctoral degree holders have the lowest unemployment rate of any group of degree holders aside from professional degree holders."

    Again, you missed the point. Earning a PhD is about conducing research these days. Once you earn the prestigious title of professor (if you can secure a tenure-track position), fewer than 50 people in your field may read your publications, even less in the general public. If someone is looking for a social impact career ("public intellectual"), then a PhD is not for them. Unfortunately, the Noam Chomskys, Paul Krugmans and Howard Zinns are a small minority in academia.
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    If someone is looking for a social impact career ("public intellectual"), then a PhD is not for them. Unfortunately, the Noam Chomskys, Paul Krugmans and Howard Zinns are a small minority in academia.

    Yet that only raises the question of how else could you reasonably become a public intellectual, if that is indeed your goal. While certainly the percentage of PhD's who become public intellectuals is small, the percentage of non-PhD's who become public intellectuals is surely even smaller.

    Seems to me that the only other common backgrounds of public intellectuals who are not PhD's are ex-politicians, ex-government officials, and journalists. But that obviously requires having the wherewithal to win an election for an important office (being voted city dogcatcher probably doesn't help), the credentials necessary to be hired for a high-end government position (working in the mail room doesn't cut it), or having the talents for a successful journalism career. The vast majority of people lack those capabilities.

    It is certainly true that as an academic, fewer than 50 people in your field may be listening to your opinions. But, hey, frankly, that's still ~50 more people than the number who listen to what the vast majority of humanity are saying
  • sakkysakky Posts: 14,759- Senior Member
    I love research and I love my field, but the unfortunate truth is that there simply are not enough jobs in it to go around, so I try to encourage students who ask to go for the more lucrative and secure areas within my broad field.

    Which is why I've always said that PhD aspirants, particularly in the employment-scarce humanities, ought to seriously consider hedging their bets by only attending a PhD program attached to a university with an elite brand and with an extensive recruiting and alumni network (e.g. an Ivy, Stanford, Berkeley, Chicago, Duke etc.) such that if academic positions are not forthcoming, they can still leverage the network and the brand name to pursue a reasonable backup career (e.g. strategy consulting or banking).
  • gthopefulgthopeful Posts: 1,828Registered User Senior Member
    2. I've never had a professor exploit me.

    After working summer jobs that paid 3-4x more than even my NSF stipend, I can safely say academia exploits all grad students :D
  • awvvuawvvu Posts: 134Registered User Junior Member
    It's not so bad if you consider that your professor also has to fund your tuition. Typical 30-40k out-of-state tuition + 30k stipend is a starting salary.
  • molliebatmitmolliebatmit Posts: 12,248Super Moderator Senior Member
    Whether or not we all feel like putting on our whining caps today, I hope everyone can agree that this
    Professors will exploit you. It takes forever to earn a doctorate degree because graduate students are routinely treated like slaves.
    is patently hyperbolic. I mean, for one, OMG, grad students have to do the work that their superiors find distasteful? It's almost as though academia were like every other career path!

    Grad school, while often tough and frustrating, is nothing like slavery. First world problems, indeed.
  • gthopefulgthopeful Posts: 1,828Registered User Senior Member
    It's not so bad if you consider that your professor also has to fund your tuition. Typical 30-40k out-of-state tuition + 30k stipend is a starting salary.

    It's not 30-40k. The advisors of RA's are charged a different rate for tuition. At GT, this amount is about $1,170/mo ( Facilities & Administrative Rates Office of Sponsored Programs ). This number has doubled since I entered grad school 4 years ago, so grad students were even cheaper to keep around then.
  • RacinReaverRacinReaver Posts: 6,598Registered User Senior Member
    It's not 30-40k. The advisors of RA's are charged a different rate for tuition. At GT, this amount is about $1,170/mo ( Facilities & Administrative Rates Office of Sponsored Programs ). This number has doubled since I entered grad school 4 years ago, so grad students were even cheaper to keep around then.

    I do believe GT has in-state tuition rates, which is probably why you're charged at such a low rate. I remember when interviewing at UCSB they required you to change your residency to California. That way advisors could then pay the reduced in-state rate after a year.

    At my private school my advisor is funding the full $40k a year or so when I'm not TAing (then you do get a tuition discount). How do I know? They accidentally forgot to pay it one term, and I had one heck of a bursar's bill due!

    Also, man, your overhead rates are about 10% lower than ours. :(
  • ticklemepinkticklemepink Posts: 2,764Registered User Senior Member
    FYI: I'm in history.

    1. True but more and more (responsible) PhD programs are pushing for less than 7 years. They're beginning to admit more people with MAs who can save at least one year of coursework. For history, you really need 4 years to write a good dissertation. So it's pushing it for someone to finish in 5 years, entering in the program with a MA in hand.

    2. I think it really does vary by advisers and departments. It's a question to ask graduate students during campus visits- how are they treated by the faculty (individually) and department as a whole? I know of quite a few faculty members who won't pay much attention to unfunded students as those with the best funding packages.

    It take a very savvy graduate student to get out of these annoyances, by the way.

    3. Um, everyone drops out of something in their lives. How many aspiring pre-meds drop out after first year of science courses in college?

    4. What julliet said.

    5. For comparative perspective, can we look into European PhDs? The job market over there is even worse.

    6. Very true. It's important to find out all you can about hidden costs of the PhD and how to manage your stipend effectively so you take out the least amount of loans later on.

    7. Depends, depends, depends. You have to play politics right.

    8. They don't know what they're talking about. I really believe that this is truly case-by-case basis.

    9. Adjuncts. This exploitative system needs to be destroyed. And that means desperate unemployed PhDs need to STOP applying for these jobs and just take a different career path.

    10. We have 8-9% unemployment rate in this country. It really doesn't matter what kind of degree you have (unless you're in engineering).

    11. The history programs are getting better at this- at least at programs that I visited this past spring. Dreadful numbers? Eh, not so bad as they're excellent programs. But you really have to ask hard questions- what kind of jobs did the grads get? What about those pursuing non-academic jobs?

    12. It's called a community, like book clubs. But certain humanities PhD programs can certainly do better to bridge connections with the public, like public history and museums for history PhDs.

    Bottom line: I guess I'm stupid then. :)
  • tenisghstenisghs Posts: 3,955Registered User Senior Member
    "9. Adjuncts. This exploitative system needs to be destroyed. And that means desperate unemployed PhDs need to STOP applying for these jobs and just take a different career path."

    Then change must happen from the top. The adjunct system will only stop once state legislatures fund colleges and universities with appropriate funding, which would then allow educational institutions to hire more tenure-track faculty to serve a growing college-going population. Lecturers originally existed for working professionals to teach a specific topic in their field as a part-time service opportunity. Adjuncthood was never meant to serve as a full-time, dead-end teaching role that pays poorly without benefits.
  • juilletjuillet Posts: 5,892Super Moderator Senior Member
    but there doesn't negate the fact that advisors can and do exploit their graduate students.

    I never said that it did, but this article says "Professors *will* exploit you," which is different from saying that it's a possibility. It's a possibility, but so is getting exploited by your boss.

    If you lack passion for your field, the first two years is the best time to drop out of any doctoral program. Once you have lingered around beyond that, it becomes much harder to psychologically prepare yourself for another career if you can't pass the comprehensive exams or dissertation defense.

    I'm in a PhD program myself, and I have to disagree somewhat. It depends on you and your personality, as well as your program and the kinds of experiences you've had. Personally, I've prepared myself psychologically for another career quite well (particularly because I never wanted to be a professor in the first place), and I know many PhDs who have successfully changed careers - either by using their PhDs to do something besides academic jobs, or returning to school to get trained in something else.

    My point is, though, that anything you try could end up being a failure. So you spent 3-4 years studying something you really liked and realized that the career wasn't really for you. Big deal - you could've spent 3-4 years in a job you hated, or 3-4 years looking for a job. Sometimes in life we take risks and things don't work out; you pick up the pieces and move on. Now I'm not saying this is carte blanche for someone to just go barreling into a program without serious thought, but if you are really passionate about your field and reasonably convinced that you want a PhD, there's nothing wrong with going and trying it. I'm also not saying that leaving is easy, but there goes that thing about how nothing worth doing is easy.

    All graduate programs should keep placement statistics so that prospective students are not manipulated, exploited, and then thrown under the bus when they can't find employment

    That was exactly the point I was trying to make.

    And no, I didn't miss the point of number 12. I am near the end of my PhD career, so I know what a PhD is about. First of all, not all PhDs go into being a professor - in fact, most don't. Second of all, the reason is "You can't eat prestige," which the implication that even if you publish papers in Nature, if you don't make enough money to live on it's not worth anything. This is essentially the same thing as saying "you may end up on food stamps," which is ludicrous because just over 1% of PhD holders is on food stamps.

    There are many good reasons not to get a PhD, but this article is not doing a good job of articulating them. Some people have bad experiences in graduate school and some people have good. I think the net of my experiences has been neutral to positive, but ask me on a bad day and you might get a different answer. The thing is, most things in life worth doing are difficult.

    And Sakky's post #8 is why I am happy I chose to go to Columbia. I could go into management consulting after, if I wanted to.

    Gthopeful, getting paid less does not mean you are getting exploited. A lower salary does not necessarily equal exploitation. And graduate programs are very upfront with how much your stipend is ahead of time, so no one can say they are going in blind. You have a choice - go get a job, or go to graduate school.
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