<p>Latest in a series of articles warning against humanities grad school.
The</a> Big Lie About the 'Life of the Mind' - Advice - The Chronicle of Higher Education</p>
<p>Latest in a series of articles warning against humanities grad school.
<p>Hmmm. After reading the non-controversial title of this thread, I wonder if you'll get any response? ;)</p>
<p>I'm sure there is a great deal of truth in that article, but it's hard to take it seriously with lines like this, </p>
You can't assume any partnership will withstand the strains of entry into the academic life...
<p>Perhaps it's because my husband is a combat veteran. Or that my grandfather was an immigrant who worked 12 hour days, six days a week for decades. In any case, this idea that academia is so taxing, so difficult, so much more difficult than the lives of mere mortals gets tiresome. </p>
<p>We joke that education is the family buisness and that's a bit of humor built on reality. I have uncles, aunts and cousins that are teachers and professors. It's difficult to put into words how valuable I believe all levels of education to be.</p>
<p>At the same time, there is a certain pride in believing oneself a martyr for the cause that I do not see in, say, the military. Frankly, I find it perplexing.</p>
<p>I shared these with my daughter (recent University of Chicago graduate with a humanities major and a spiffy BA thesis to show prospective grad programs). Her response: "Yeah, everyone knows that. People who are in grad school, people thinking about going, don't expect to get a job out of it. These people love school, love scholarship. It's just a chance to live like a monk and do what you love for a few more years, and then you get to deal with the real world." </p>
<p>I don't know how ubiquitous that attitude really is, but she knows a bunch of grad students in her field, and people who are applying to grad school in it. She definitely thought that Benton was attacking a straw man that didn't really exist.</p>
<p>I read most of the article, I didn't finish because the attitude got tiresome.</p>
<p>People in graduate programs should be good at questioning everything, even why they are in graduate school. I went to a graduate program. Most of us didn't get a PhD, none of us are in academics, well maybe one, I'm not sure. I've never heard one of my fellow classmates say they were sorry they went. It was a great place to hang out in our 20s before we entered the real world.</p>
<p>Anyone who thinks they can get a PhD and then have their professional career all set is in for a rude awakening. That's nothing new and welcome to the real world. Everyone needs to be able to assess what the current economy is like and they need to be able to reinvent themselves.</p>
<p>I almost gave up when I saw the Nazi allusion in the title. Really? Wasn't that played out in the 90s? </p>
Hmmm. After reading the non-controversial title of this thread, I wonder if you'll get any response?
<p>The author does make some good points though, in that undergraduate work doesn't really prepare most kids (in most cases) to understand what graduate school is really about. I've actually met people who think that the correct path for everyone is high school -> undergrad -> grad school -> job -> death. These are by no means the majority, and it's irrational to imply that they are, but it's still an issue that many kids face.</p>
<p>Judging by the comments after the article, there seem to be faculty and grads who feel that many applicants are not aware of the dismal employment statistics.</p>
<p>How many students applying to Ph.D. programs are NOT aware of the bad market? Where have they been living? One question that applicants ask when considering different Ph.D. programs is job placement.
The tight job market is nothing new. Back in the 70s, there were Ph.D.s driving taxis (well, this is Cambridge, MA after all). The 60s were a time of huge hiring and tenuring, so that many academic departments found themselves unable to bring in new blood. I recall someone saying that in his department, everyone had tenure except for one lone person. That poor person was in a revolving chair position, as his/her was the only possibility for the department not to lock itself totally for the next several decades into the same personnel conformation. Ending retirement age made it harder and harder for departments to renew themselves. This is not new. The graying of academia is a phenomenon that has been reported before.
Good Ph.D. programs provide free tuition and stipends to their students, so debt is not as much an issue as in the professional schools. Employment is. Though my S is not in a humanities program, his employment prospects are not all that rosy either. But he would forever regret not pursuing his Ph.D. He won't consider it a disaster or a waste of his time if he does not land an academic job.</p>
<p>Well, in math the "booby prize" for those who do not land academic jobs tends to be jobs in finance or consulting that pay many multiples of those coveted professorships. That tends to ease some of the strain!</p>
<p>And it doesn't even have to be a "booby prize"! My former-tenured-professor husband left academia to run his own company. That humanities Berkeley PhD of his was crucial in helping to establish his credibility in the early days, especially with international clients who in general have more respect for pure academics and "life of the mind." </p>
<p>Oh, and he LOVED his years in grad school.</p>
<p>Actually, the "booby prize" for a Princeton math Ph.D. we know is teaching high school math (in a private school). He's terrific at it. S2 is more likely to go that route than to head to Wall Street. S2 had a Ph.D. as his 9th grade English teacher. S1 had a Ph.D. as his social studies teacher.</p>
<p>PMK, the thing that made me nod in agreement with the author was a line before the one you quoted about relationships: "the "two-body problem" often breaks up many seemingly stable relationships". A & B, a partnered couple, are both looking for academic jobs, often in the same general field. Tough enough, but they'd also like to be in the same general location. In the end, someone--perhaps both--needs to make big concessions. A not-quite-as-desireable job, soft money, living thousands of miles apart, and so on. And then a few years on, maybe one gets tenure and the other doesn't. It does take a toll on relationships. If one person is in academia, and the other has a great nonacademic job tied to one specific locale, there's the same issue. It isn't anywhere near as stressful as having a partner in combat, or working a back-breaking job to keep your head above water, but it IS stressful all the same. It does break up relationships. </p>
<p>Interesting to compare the composite image of the disillusioned humanities PhD in the original article (based, I'm assuming, on emails the author received) with JHS's daughter's more realistic view. The author does say that the emails he received are of two different types, so the message is clearly getting through to only some undergrads. I do think that there are a lot of undergrads who wouldn't consider grad school if it was only being done for the love of learning, because they simply couldn't afford it. They might not have debt from grad school, but they may well have it from undergrad.</p>
<p>I studied history and English, mostly poetry. I think poetry prepared me for law school best because it's about close analysis. </p>
<p>It's totally unfair to compare the experiences of an academic job hunter with the concept of humanities education in college. One is about a job - and if one feels entitled to a job, then one is an idiot. The other is about learning, about learning to think critically, about learning to write and analyze and defend. </p>
<p>I'd compare the whining about academic jobs to that of law grads who cry because they can't get $140k their first year. You don't have to read the fine print to know there is no guarantee.</p>
<p>As a career academic (nearly 40 years) in the social sciences, I would estimate that the vast majority of faculty would not guess the actual attrition or placement rates of PhD students in their field within 20 points. There's a kind of self-deception, or simply lack of awareness, of these odds. Sure, department chairs and graduate directors have a pretty good idea of these figures, but most faculty do not.</p>
<p>When the (roughly) decennial survey of doctoral programs is published later this year by the National Academy of Sciences, it will for the first time report attrition and placement rates for each doctoral program. Those figures may be of questionable accuracy, but the success rates will probably be over-estimates rather than underestimates. Nonetheless, this will be the first such official national study that is widely available to prospective doctoral students.</p>
<p>Of course stories about the difficult prospects for academic careers in the humanities go back at least to when I was in graduate school in the late 1960's. But students don't reckon the odds in any realistic way (they often think they can defy those odds, or don't realize that they'll be spending most of their 20's in school). Nor do many of their faculty mentors.</p>
<p>To young people (including my own children), I would emphasize that there is no necessary connection between "life of the mind" and "academic life" or "academic career." Anyone contemplating a 5-8 year commitment to a doctoral program should think a lot about alternative ways to live a life of the mind -- for both fun and profit -- before commiting to a doctoral program. A vast array of careers are out there -- most not nearly as structured and hierarchical as the academic ladder -- for those who want to think creatively for a living. </p>
<p>To take an obvious example, are you interested in film? Sit through the "credits" for any film to see what goes into making a film -- hundreds of creative and support roles. Need some additional post-graduate training to qualify for a certain type of job? Get a masters degree -- business, accounting, software design, or whatever -- perhaps a 1 to 2 year commitment. Want to be a writer? You probably don't need any graduate education at all. Want to be a journalist? Same thing, or at best a masters degree. Careers can be built in segments, a few years and a few experiences at a time.</p>
<p>I'm a little confused here. Wouldn't humanities phd holders at least compete favorably against the thousands of bachelor's degrees in the humanities and social sciences? It sounds like everyone is implying that getting a phd will not only do nothing to advance your career, but will actually hold you back.</p>
"I would estimate that the vast majority of faculty would not guess the actual attrition or placement rates of PhD students in their field within 20 points."</p>
<p>This surprises me. Don't these faculty members have colleagues who left academia and can't they extrapolate based on that experience? In our circle of close friends -- ten, maybe 12 people -- who completed their PhDs and entered academia in the early-mid 80s, only two remain as professors. Everyone else opted out, either because they could not get full time positions, did not get tenure, wanted more money, or just got tired of the college scene. I doubt the current generation of grad students will be any different.</p>
I'm a little confused here. Wouldn't humanities phd holders at least compete favorably against the thousands of bachelor's degrees in the humanities and social sciences? It sounds like everyone is implying that getting a phd will not only do nothing to advance your career, but will actually hold you back.
<p>The author compares their job prospects unfavorably to someone who took a short course in HVAC maintenance and repair and has a steady income in a field that has more reasonable job prospects. The problem that the author identifies is that people spend years chasing after a phd believing that it will help them get a comfortable position as a researcher or a professor somewhere when those jobs are in such short supply that the vast majority of graduates will either end up fighting over poorly-paid adjunct positions (many without a wage that covers cost of living) or working in another field where they didn't even need the phd at all.</p>
Perhaps it's because my husband is a combat veteran. Or that my grandfather was an immigrant who worked 12 hour days, six days a week for decades. In any case, this idea that academia is so taxing, so difficult, so much more difficult than the lives of mere mortals gets tiresome.
<p>The article made the point that entry into academia AND the "two-body problem" makes academic careers uniquely taxing on relationships - marriage. It does not say that the career itself is more taxing, difficult, noble, dangerous, etc. than the military.</p>
<p>The two-body problem refers to the extraordinary difficulty of say a husband and wife both in academic careers getting stable positions in the same city or somehow close enough to live together. Then there is the stress of getting tenure (you are not likely to be kicked out of the military after 7 years because you are not the best in the world at what you do). There is the associated delay in starting normal family life, in having children.</p>
<p>The two-body problem ... Let's throw everything in here including the kitchen sink.</p>
<p>Isn't there something about the separation of personal life and professional life? It isn't the responsiblity of any employer to take care of an employee's significant other.</p>
<p>Nothing is new here. It's very difficult to get a PhD. Once you have a PhD you have to work long hours to publish in order to get tenure. You'll never get rich in academics.</p>
<p>If you want to get rich why would you go into academics? I personally would rather work towards a PhD than spend one minute doing HVAC maintenance and repair, whatever that is. Something to do with vacuum cleaners?</p>
<p>If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen.</p>
As a career academic (nearly 40 years) in the social sciences, I would estimate that the vast majority of faculty would not guess the actual attrition or placement rates of PhD students in their field within 20 points.
Completely true. I have never met a faculty member in any field who is aware of the placement rates of recent grads. Maybe some department heads or graduate advisors have this information or care to gather it. Most faculty, no.</p>