On recession and the value of graduate school

Penelope Trunk, a blogger, has written an eight part list of reasons not to escape the recession with graduate school. Among them are challenges to the value of doctorates, MBAs, law degrees, and medical school. They leave you overspecialized, dependent on future earnings to pay past debt, and perhaps with skills that are poorly matched to what the market demands.

While the list seems to include some reasonably good arguments and decent points, I think it misses the most important reason for considering grad school: namely, that having such a degree is something you personally value, and that people whose respect you wish to earn will value. Outside of highly practical fields like medicine and law, grad school is primarily an investment with low financial returns. Unless you anticipate high personal returns, it may be wiser to invest your time and money elsewhere.

Over on Free Exchange, there is a partial rebuttal.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

90 thoughts on “On recession and the value of graduate school”

  1. I was hoping that list would have some unique insights re: the recession, but it was basically just “10 reasons why I hate grad school”.

  2. Grad school is about becoming a person. The job market, with some important exceptions, is about becoming a cog in the machine. To evaluate grad school on how well it cog-izes you into the production-of-value machine is to perhaps miss the point of education.

    If there are two kinds of goods, instrumental and essential, or qualified and unqualified (we usually make this assumption implicitly), we should be not so quick to assume that the only essential goods are those which “I value” – this would make not only ethics but also pre-ethical considerations, i.e. being a person, entirely a matter of “personal preference”.

    But the activity of evaluation can’t be prior to the things evaluated, it could be at best co-formative of them. It might be good to recognize the meaning-character of encountered things in ways other than “personal preference”, and it might be good to consider graduate school not only in terms of “value”, “usefulness”, “for the sake of which”.

  3. Increasingly, a master’s degree is the default ‘basic advanced qualification’ – like a bachelor’s degree was forty years ago.

    They may add nothing to your work-related skills, but as long as employers see them as a plus, people will compete to get them.

  4. Grad school is about becoming a person.

    I actually think leaving school is the point at which the last stages of ‘becoming a person’ happen in our society. The period when one is in school is more like an extended adolescence.

  5. some unique insights re: the recession

    One recession-related dynamics is mentioned in the original post and the rebuttal.

    Recession decreases opportunities in the job market, reducing the opportunity cost of attending school.

    In the long run, however, the extra number of people who will emerge with any particular qualification will dilute the value of that qualification for all those who already possess it.

  6. Another point made in the rebuttal is that the alternative options for money you might use on tuition are less appealing now than previously. Investing in a degree rather than stock or a home looks like a better idea now.

  7. I grew up in an environment where grad school was highly valued. My dad insisted that a Master’s degree was a necessity of life. The great majority of my friends are working on their PhD, others are profs already.

    As prescribed by my environment, I stayed in school for a long time with a few intervals here and there for my travels. At the end however I abandonned my PhD program after what I consider to be among the most painful years of my life. I felt the academic world, or at least the one I was trying to enter, forced me to get into one camp or another and defend its ideas through conferences or publications. Since I studied humanities, that meant entering a very politicized world and adopting a narrow perspectives on things I otherwise really cared about. In my experience, I was being forced to become a cog in the academic machine.

    Leaving my program and finding a job was probably the right choice. My current job is not the most challenging or rewarding but it is interesting enough and it provides me with a steady income that I can use for other projects. I feel that there are important benefits associated with my job and the salary I earn. Before having a kid that meant greater access to culture, more travel opportunities and possibilities in general. Now it means that I can care for my son more easily and continue caring about different social issues, this time as a hobby rather than a full time endeavour.

  8. I think it misses the most important reason for considering grad school: namely, that having such a degree is something you personally value, and that people whose respect you wish to earn will value.

    If your friends are impressed by nice cars, save for a BMW.

    If your friends are impressed by letters after your name, save for a fancy degree.

    To a considerable extent, degrees are status symbols.

  9. Anon,

    Why did you cite a passage which concerns personal value, and respond to it remarks which concern social value? Is personal value reducible to social value? In other words, is what I value reducible to what others value?

    I might agree with something like this, but you probably don’t.

  10. Grad school is about becoming a person. The job market, with some important exceptions, is about becoming a cog in the machine.

    What does it mean to become a ‘person’? Some aspects of academia devalue human life in a lot of disgusting ways. I find it intolerable when my professors off-handedly refer to the non-university community as if they are this plasma-like unformed, unwise ‘other’.

    When post-secondary school is free, talk to me about how academia cares about you being a ‘person’.

  11. I think it’s interesting that no one has responded to my remarks which are critical of the way the notion of “value” is being employed. Isn’t it awesome and totally rigorous to ignore the normativity implicit in all evaluative speech?

  12. I also spent 4 years in graduate school (master’s and law degree).

    While doing so I remember the emphasis on looking internally at what was happening within the schools.

    After leaving them (including taking one year off during law school to work), I gained a wider perspective.

    Regarding Emily’s comment “I find it intolerable when my professors off-handedly refer to the non-university community as if they are this plasma-like unformed, unwise ‘other’”.

    I saw some of that but not much. I think it may stem from a feeling of self-importance that professors can sometimes assume.

    Universities foster this self-importance as I think many project it for themselves.

  13. I think many different forms of ‘value’ have been discussed here, and people rightly appreciate that both motivations and outcomes differ.

    I don’t think the desire to have a good career, in the sense of being materially successful, is a less worthy aspiration than studying to learn or getting a degree to feel better about yourself.

    I do think it is worthwhile to consider the reasons for which people value things the way they do, as well as to think about whether their personal choices are a good reflection of their own values.

    I think I mostly went to graduate school because of the psychological value of doing so, rather than because I expected to earn a lot more or progress more quickly through a career. At the same time, I don’t think a doctorate would be a terribly good use of time or money for me, given what I value now and what I would like to achieve.

  14. “I do think it is worthwhile to consider the reasons for which people value things the way they do, as well as to think about whether their personal choices are a good reflection of their own values.”

    I hate to be (sound) psychologistic, but isn’t your belief that it is worthwhile to consider people’s reasons for valueing itself a reflection of your own values? It seems unarguably true that the activity of valuation is all pervasive here, as no values can be asserted as universally valid any longer – the only thing universally valid is the activity of valuing (everyone values, values something, right?). At least, this is a a priori claim that we assume when we interpret behavior – people must be acting “in accordance with some values”. So, I might happen to value the reflexive clarification of the activity of valuation, but this is just one value, I could have a different one – I can’t force others to value the reflexive consideration of their own (e)valuative activity.

  15. Obviously, I don’t expect everyone to be curious about the things I am curious about.

    That being said, I think it’s interesting that, in retrospect, the major reason I went to grad school was in hope of earning the respect of the kind of people who respect people who went to grad school.

  16. Also relevant to the discussion of the value of graduate school is what one would do with the time, effort and expense otherwise. I expect that most people who have been accepted to graduate school also have other good alternatives for the time, effort and expense.

    One of the challenges during the 4 years in university doing an undergraduate degree, one is in an environment in which the graduate school experience and degree is highly valued. Through osmosis this happened to me. I then continued with 4 years of graduate and professional school without interruption.

    I probably would have had a broader perspective if I had taken some time off after the initial degree and pursued a rewarding job or an extended trip.

    This is not to say not to go to graduate school, but to encourage people to consider doing so after gaining a broader perspective.

    When i did take one year off between the second and third year of law school and lived in a different city and worked , I learned quite a lot.

  17. Another issue is how much should graduate schools be subsidized by the public taxpayer. I do not have a idea on this although I expect it is more than 50% subsidized.

    I would define degree of subsidy as
    Total costs of graduate school (this probably should include capital and operating costs)
    minus tuition paid
    plus public funded scholarships or teaching assistantships, etc
    divided by total costs

    Does anyone know what the general subsidy for graduate studies are?

    And how that compares to the general subsidy for undergraduate studies?

    My gut feeling is that I would be prepared to subisdize undergraduate studies more than graduate school as a natural progression from the fully subsidized secondary education to a natural state of adulthood and independance.

    Again on a gut level on balance
    I suggest full subsidy for secondary education
    two-thirds subsidy for undergraduate studies
    one third subsidy for graduate studies.

  18. Perhaps the level of study should vary by discipline?

    I can see a strong justification for subsidizing those in professions like health care and teaching more, provided they then work for a certain period in the public sector. For instance, it makes sense to subsidize medical school for people who will pledge to work as public doctors for a certain number of years.

  19. All school should be entirely subsidized. It’s the only way to guarantee people proceed/succeed based on merit rather than how much money your parents happened to have. If education is not entirely subsidized it stands to reproduce current inequalities.

  20. I think school being entirely subsidized represents an unfair transfer of wealth from the population as a whole to those who will later benefit from holding degrees. Since the person who benefits most from the existence of a degree is generally the person who holds it, they should pay at least some of the cost.

    That being said, there should definitely be student loan programs that make it possible for anyone to attend med school, law school, etc provided they have the ability and the dedication.

    As I said above, some special treatment should be given to people who (a) choose to study in fields with a direct public benefit and (b) agree to work in the public sector for a time after graduation (i.e. no jumping straight to a commercial plastic surgery clinic after med school).

  21. The extent to which school is not subsidized guarentees those who succeed in it will tend to be from richer families. You can progressive subsidies, which would be totally unfunded by those who couldn’t afford to go to school without subsidy, an unfair tax on the rich if you like. I don’t think that argument holds much water.

    By the way, this is just one of many consequences of trying to take Rawls seriously.

  22. Is it fair for taxpayers to pay $250,000 to educate a doctor who will then go on immediately to inject collagen in lips and perform breast augmentations?

    How about $100,000 for someone to get a doctorate in literature, then promptly leave Canada forever, or who ends up working in a totally unrelated field?

    I don’t think Rawls would see either of these as actions benefitting the least advantaged. Indeed, anyone capable of getting into grad school is unlikely to be among the least advantaged to start with.

    Free tuition:
    (a) Forces taxpayers to pay for degrees that will not benefit them
    (b) Encourages people who aren’t serious students to linger indefinitely in school
    (c) Likely reduces the quality of education, both by depriving schools of funding and by increasing the proportion of students who aren’t serious about learning.

  23. Comparison of tuition costs of higher education around the world

    “France has 82 universities, teaching 1.5m students. All are public; none charges tuition fees; undergraduate enrolment charges are a tiny €165. All lecturers are civil servants. Universities cannot select students, who can apply only to ones near them. The results speak for themselves. Not a single French university makes it into the world’s top 40 universities.”

  24. Education in France

    In 1995 most French students went on strike and marched in the streets because the goverment had raised the tuition fee in Universities from something like $50 to something like $100 a year…. Nevertheless, it is fact that, with universities funded only by state subsidies, France devotes much less money to higher education than the USA (1,1% of GNP vs 2,7%) which is a major weakness for the future ; “Grandes Ecoles” get relatively much more money than the rest of the higher education system.

  25. If these programs which result in profitable careers are restricted to those who can afford to pay for them, you’ll reproduce inequalities. How are you justifying that?

    I’ll take your test cases – imagine the most ridiculously profitable career, like dentistry or cosmetic surgery. If these are privately funded schools, with high tuition, these careers will only be open to those who can afford to take on debt, i.e. people in positions of de facto financial security usually because they have decently well off parents. So, if you don’t want education to be an institution that just reproduces the social inequalities people are born into, then all these programs need to be funded, and entrance has to be based on merit.

  26. “(b) Encourages people who aren’t serious students to linger indefinitely in school”

    This is absurd. If tuition is free, the only thing that allows people to remain in school is merit. So, you’re saying here that the most serious students (i.e. those with highest merit) are not serious students. In other words, you are ridiculing the ability of schools to determine merit.

  27. I agree with Milan’s suggestion that greater subsidies should be given to :
    1. schools whose students have a direct public benefit; and / or
    2. students who commit to helping the public that subsidized that education.
    (and conversely less to those who do not.) At this time when we need more nurses, nursing schools and nurses would be an example, of schools to whom greater subsidies could be given.

  28. If these are privately funded schools, with high tuition, these careers will only be open to those who can afford to take on debt, i.e. people in positions of de facto financial security usually because they have decently well off parents.

    The solution is to make it possible for anyone to take on the necessary debt. One means of doing so might be student loans where minimum payments vary depending on your post-graduation income. During a span where you are earning little, you could make small payments. Those earning a lot would have to pay more.

    Also, I do think there should be some obligation that those going into fields with expensive training (like medicine) actually practice for a time in the public sector, to qualify for large loans.

    If tuition is free, the only thing that allows people to remain in school is merit.

    I disagree. These days, university degrees are taking the place high school degrees occupied a few decades ago. For more and more people, they are the default option. Whereas paying tuition fees encourages people to finish degrees quickly (and, perhaps, to appreciate more the educational services they are getting), free tuition would encourage a lot of people to slack through a few more years at public expense.

  29. Tristan, on your March 6 entry you wrote “Grad school is about becoming a person”, which sounds like equating school and education. It also sounds quite elitist. The longer I was in school the more I fell into linking education and school.

    This may also relate to the “we are better than thou” attitude of some professors which Emily noted in a recent blog entry. Even some people , without being professors, having been in school too long, when most people their age have moved on , adopt a “better than thou” attitude and look at the well – reasoned, but different, views of others as “absurd” or “ridiculous”.

    I now see education more as on ongoing life experience. The education I receive from work , from interaction from others, and from outside reading is as valuable as formal schooling. I realized this much more when I had left school than when I was in school.

    For myself, interaction with others has done the most for me in regard “to becoming a person”.

  30. “The solution is to make it possible for anyone to take on the necessary debt.”

    This is a fallacy. Who can take on the debt is not un-related to one’s existent financial situation. This is the standard “solution” to high tuition, but it is no solution at all. Taking on debt is a luxury, something that not everyone can afford.

    “. These days, university degrees are taking the place high school degrees occupied a few decades ago. ”

    Exactly, but this is precisely because tuition has been rising. With higher tuition, we can provide more education to more people, which means the standards will fall (this is just very basic supply/price logic). If the number of spots were limited, and tuition were eliminated, and merit was required of students, the “high school esq-ness” of university would disappear overnight.

  31. “The longer I was in school the more I fell into linking education and school.”

    What’s elitist about this? You could say the same, potentially, for any fruitful life project that anyone became involved in, ever. So, you could say it for soldiering, for being a mechanic, etc.., just so long as that career/life path happened to continue to become more and more enjoyable for you.

    “Grad school is about becoming a person”

    Of course it is, everything worthwhile is about becoming a person. Becoming a person is just what everyone wants to do, insofar as they remain human. It has to be a “becoming”, because humans are not static objects. It has to be “person” because humans only have dignity considered as moral beings. Saying “becoming a person” is elitist is equivalent to saying flourishing as a moral human being is elitist. And it may well be – because our current society allows it to so few, but that is not a problem of “elitism” in this sense, it is a problem with the reproduction of inequalities based on the contingency of birth.

    What is elitist about picking a life-path which becomes more enjoyable and more important to you, the longer you stay on it? This seems just what we should want for everyone – to be able to pursue projects that are important to them.

  32. I think schemes that (a) limit minimum student loan payments for those with low incomes and (b) offer loan forgiveness for those who choose to work in underfunded segments of the public sector basically alleviate concerns about how someone’s pre-existing level of wealth affects their ability to get loans.

    Certainly, there is a case for more scholarships and bursaries. That being said, I think free tuition would cause more problems than it would solve.

  33. Income-Contingent Student Loans

    Financing might not be forthcoming because the potential entrant to a profession has no collateral for a loan; the ability to repay a loan will be based on future income, which is uncertain. Borrowers who end up with low incomes may default on the standard loan; borrowers who end up with high incomes pay no more than the amount of the loan plus accrued interest. Lenders must, therefore, set a rate of interest that is sufficiently high to cover the losses on loans to borrowers who default. According to Friedman and Kuznets, that rate of interest might be too high, higher than the economic return on an investment in professional training, and might thus shut potential entrants out of certain professions.

    A possible solution was to allow the potential entrant to sell “stock” in himself; that is, to agree to repay the lender with a fixed proportion of future earnings. With such an agreement, a lender’s losses from the defaults of those with low earnings would be balanced by the repayments of those with high earnings. At the time Friedman and Kuznets were writing, the market for student loans was certainly underdeveloped, so an income-contingent scheme might have been attractive to all potential entrants into the professions, even those who expected high future earnings. As will be discussed below, the availability of conventional loans can undermine the financial well-being of an income-contingent scheme.

  34. I feel I should apologize for saying “graduate school is about becoming a person”. If it is interpreted in the sense that “before you go to graduate school, you are not a person, and then you become one”, it is truthfully the most elitist thing one could say, and extremely denigrating of people who make other life choices.

    I did not clarify that I did not mean this, and for that I apologize.

    What I actually mean by ‘becoming a person’ is just the sense that we are always “becoming” who we are. The human being is more a “becoming” than a being – it is not a static object, but a subject – an “agent”, which always means agent of change, a changing, amorphous thing, stretched out over time. But not stretch out over time as static, self-identical thing – as it is stretched out its identity is always problematized.

    Anyway, this is the sense that I meant “becoming a person” in – which means the same sense that any life projects are part of “becoming a person”. This doesn’t mean there is no “becoming not a person” – certainly concentration camp guard seems like a project you could take up which would not count as “becoming a person” if by “person” we mean something concerned with the good, or dignity, or autonomy, in any sense.

  35. Maybe we are disagreeing only on technicalities now. Do we both agree that any financial aspect of education that makes it easier for the rich to acquire it is unjustifiable? So, the market can be preserved only if equal rights to goods of self-betterment are guaranteed as a condition?

  36. We’re not building from scratch here.

    The market will be preserved unless it is overpowered by stronger forces.

  37. This discussion has been helpful in realizing how ungrateful I may have been for my adult schooling.

    I agree that graduate school is generally a fruitful experience. My concern is that we do not realize that we alread subsidize it much more than other fruitful experience

    I agree that being a mechanic is a fruitful life project. One difference from a mechanic and a graduate student is that the mechanic does not seek a public subsidy to pursue his fruitful life project. Even in becoming a mechanic, he probably did not obtain much of a public subsidy. Probably from the time that he became an adult the mechanic has been subsidizing the graduate students who are also adults.

    If my ideal fruitful life project would be to cycle around the world, I would not expect the mechanic as a taxpayer to subsidize that.

    I agree to free public education through secondary school. This essentially takes you to when our society considers you an adult. After that adults must begin to assume adult responsibilities, one of which is supporting others through taxes. They do that through earning income for services or goods that others are willing to pay for. Mechanics are generally better at doing this than graduate students. So in that sense of contributing to others, I see that mechanics have contributed more to becoming more of the person.

    I guess us who have been subsidized in our adult education ( by the working man or woman who pay taxes should thank them for subsidizing us. In my case Canadian taxpayers subsidized me for three education as as adult.

    Next time I see Sam Tremblay of Tremblay Motors, a 3rd generation mechanic, I will try to remember to thank him.

  38. It’s a pretty large fallacy to say a mechanic doesn’t seek a public subsidy to pursue his life project. We have mechanics at all because the auto industry is ludicrously subsidized by taxation, and has been since its inception. Road and bridge building are conditions for there being mechanics positions at all. And as for all the “modern technology” in the form of computers in cars, that’s only ever become possible because of 30 years of command-economy style military industrial complex funding, before “computers” became profitable enough for the free market to produce on their own. So, there is probably no “outside” of subsidy anywhere – and even calculating the extent to which something is “subsidized” is probably impossible, since all the conditions for the market are provided through subsidy (i.e. IT, transportation, educated labour, etc..)

    I think thinking about things in terms of “subsidy” is a bit silly, it presumes the ideal is a totally non-interventionist market. Why would that kind of libertarianism be the ideal to be deviated from?

    I agree that: “My concern is that we do not realize that we alread subsidize it much more than other fruitful experience ”

    this is a good concern. But not because subsidy is something to be avoided – subsidy just means money is being spent in common. In a functioning democracy, taxes should not be seen as “theft” and subsidy should not be seen as intervention. Rather, because we don’t intervene nearly enough to guarantee that people from all origins have a shot at a meaningful and fulfilling life.

  39. Help, My Degree Is Underwater
    In the recession, does advanced education really pay off?
    By Emily Bazelon
    Posted Friday, April 10, 2009, at 2:27 PM ET

    Education pays. That’s the lesson of study after study on the income effects of going to college and graduate school. In general, you make more money if you get a higher degree. Harvard economists Claudia Goldin and Lawrence F. Katz have written that since 1980, “[t]he increase in the relative earnings of college graduates and those with advanced degrees has been particularly large.”

    The studies that show this finding typically crunch broad swaths of data. They look at the census, or other large population samples, and show a positive correlation between income and years of education. This means that college and graduate school are generally a good bet. But it doesn’t tell you that every single degree pays off financially at every single point in time.


    Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go

    It’s hard to tell young people that universities view their idealism and energy as an exploitable resource


    Nearly six years ago, I wrote a column called “So You Want to Go to Grad School?” (The Chronicle, June 6, 2003). My purpose was to warn undergraduates away from pursuing Ph.D.’s in the humanities by telling them what I had learned about the academic labor system from personal observation and experience.

    It was a message many prospective graduate students were not getting from their professors, who were generally too eager to clone themselves. Having heard rumors about unemployed Ph.D.’s, some undergraduates would ask about job prospects in academe, only to be told, “There are always jobs for good people.” If the students happened to notice the increasing numbers of well-published, highly credentialed adjuncts teaching part time with no benefits, they would be told, “Don’t worry, massive retirements are coming soon, and then there will be plenty of positions available.” The encouragement they received from mostly well-meaning but ill-informed professors was bolstered by the message in our culture that education always leads to opportunity.

    All these years later, I still get letters from undergraduates who stumble onto that column. They tell me about their interests and accomplishments and ask whether they should go to graduate school, somehow expecting me to encourage them. I usually write back, explaining that in this era of grade inflation (and recommendation inflation), there’s an almost unlimited supply of students with perfect grades and glowing letters. Of course, some doctoral program may admit them with full financing, but that doesn’t mean they are going to find work as professors when it’s all over. The reality is that less than half of all doctorate holders — after nearly a decade of preparation, on average — will ever find tenure-track positions.

  41. “Most undergraduates don’t realize that there is a shrinking percentage of positions in the humanities that offer job security, benefits, and a livable salary (though it is generally much lower than salaries in other fields requiring as many years of training). They don’t know that you probably will have to accept living almost anywhere, and that you must also go through a six-year probationary period at the end of which you may be fired for any number of reasons and find yourself exiled from the profession. They seem to think becoming a humanities professor is a reliable prospect — a more responsible and secure choice than, say, attempting to make it as a freelance writer, or an actor, or a professional athlete — and, as a result, they don’t make any fallback plans until it is too late.”


    Is Graduate School a Cult?


    Several years ago, the professional career counselor Margaret Newhouse wrote an essay for The Chronicle called “Deprogramming From the Academic Cult.” Newhouse argued that graduate school in the humanities indoctrinates its students into believing that they are failures if they do not remain inside the ivory tower, even if there are no suitable academic jobs for them. Career counselors, she argued, have to find ways to persuade unemployed Ph.D.’s to believe that the outside world is not evil and that they are not apostates if they do something besides teaching and research.

    Although I am currently a tenure-track professor of English, I realize that nothing but luck distinguishes me from thousands of other highly-qualified Ph.D.’s in the humanities who will never have full-time academic jobs and, as a result, are symbolically dead to the academy. Even after several years, many former graduate students grapple with feelings of shame and failure that, to outsiders, seem completely irrational.

    For all its claims to the contrary, graduate education does not seem to enhance the mental freedom of many students, some of whom are psychologically damaged by the experience. As Newhouse suggested — perhaps more rhetorically than seriously — graduate school these days seems to have a lot in common with mind-control cults.

  43. “It’s hard to tell young people that universities recognize that their idealism and energy — and lack of information — are an exploitable resource. For universities, the impact of graduate programs on the lives of those students is an acceptable externality, like dumping toxins into a river. If you cannot find a tenure-track position, your university will no longer court you; it will pretend you do not exist and will act as if your unemployability is entirely your fault. It will make you feel ashamed, and you will probably just disappear, convinced it’s right rather than that the game was rigged from the beginning.”

  44. Op-Ed Contributor
    End the University as We Know It

    Published: April 26, 2009

    GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans).

    Widespread hiring freezes and layoffs have brought these problems into sharp relief now. But our graduate system has been in crisis for decades, and the seeds of this crisis go as far back as the formation of modern universities. Kant, in his 1798 work “The Conflict of the Faculties,” wrote that universities should “handle the entire content of learning by mass production, so to speak, by a division of labor, so that for every branch of the sciences there would be a public teacher or professor appointed as its trustee.”

  45. Eight months of woe

    EDUCATED professionals normally have high rates of employment, even during downturns. But Mike Mandel has found employment among professionals is way down. Between August 2008 and April 2009, employment in arts- and media-related fields has fallen by 11.5%; in engineering employment has declined by 10.3%.

    It is certainly a bad time to be a “creative” professional, but the decline among engineers and computer professionals (9.3%) is even more troubling. These are the traditional innovators that propel growth.

  46. Also, this figure is just misleading. The 11 year figure obviously includes undergraduate training – which is also required for an MBA (it’s a masters), most law schools and medical schools require at least some of an undergraduate degree.

  47. A 25% chance of a tenured position is actually much higher than I would have expected.

    Most schools turn out dozens of PhD graduates a year. Furthermore, the average person with tenure probably maintains it for decades. It is hard to see how there can be enough tenure jobs for 25% of those graduates.

  48. From the original article:

    In the sixties, the time-to-degree as a registered student was about 4.5 years in the natural sciences and about six years in the humanities. The current median time to degree in the humanities is nine years. That does not include what is called stop-time, which is when students take a leave or drop out for a semester or longer. And it obviously does not take into account students who never finish. It is not nine years from the receipt of the bachelor’s degree, either; it is nine years as a registered student in a graduate program. The median total time it takes to achieve a degree in the humanities including stop-time is 11.3 years. In the social sciences, it is 10 years, or 7.8 as a registered student. In the natural sciences, time-to-degree as a registered student is just under seven years.

    Emphasis mine.

  49. Well, I don’t know what the sample is, because those times are completely alien to any grad school I’ve heard of. Sure you hear of a few people taking much longer than 5 years, but 5-6 years is the norm – you hear more about people who don’t finish than who take much more than 5 years. And if it does not include stop time, then does that mean that the majority of schools funds students after the 6th year? That seems unlikely/absurd.

  50. Also from the original article:

    The Berkeley study, “Ph.D.s—Ten Years Later,” was based on lengthy questionnaires sent to just under 6,000 people, in six fields, who received Ph.D.s between 1982 and 1985. One of those fields was English. People who received their Ph.D.s in English between 1982 and 1985 had a median time to degree of 10 years. A third of them took more than 11 years to finish, and the median age at the time of completion was 35. By 1995, 53 percent of those with Ph.D.s that had been awarded from 10 to 15 years earlier had tenure; another 5 percent were in tenure-track positions…Of those who had tenure, less than a fifth had positions in the kind of research universities in which they had been trained—that is, about 5 percent of all English Ph.D.s. Ph.D.s who began in a tenure-track position took an average of 6.1 years to get tenure. Ph.D.s who began in non-tenure track positions but who eventually received tenure, which about half did, took an average of 8.1 years to get tenure.

    It isn’t clear whether the figures quoted above are based on the same survey.

  51. The numbers are absurd. In American schools, tuition is extremely high, and they won’t fund you for 11 years. So, if people are taking that long, they are taking what he calls “stop time”, or, they are absurdly rich and can afford to pay 40k a year tuition to sit and do nothing.

  52. I think American doctoral programs at good schools often waive tuition for those with good academic records, and provide research and teaching jobs to help pay the bills.

    If you Google the title of that survey, perhaps you can find more information on methodology.

  53. The Ph.D. Problem
    On the professionalization of faculty life, doctoral training, and the academy’s self-renewal

    by Louis Menand

    It is easy to see how the modern academic discipline reproduces all the salient features of the professionalized occupation. It is a self-governing and largely closed community of practitioners who have an almost absolute power to determine the standards for entry, promotion, and dismissal in their fields. The discipline relies on the principle of disinterestedness, according to which the production of new knowledge is regulated by measuring it against existing scholarship through a process of peer review, rather than by the extent to which it meets the needs of interests external to the field. The history department does not ask the mayor or the alumni or the physics department who is qualified to be a history professor. The academic credential is non-transferable (as every Ph.D. looking for work outside the academy quickly learns). And disciplines encourage—in fact, they more or less require—a high degree of specialization. The return to the disciplines for this method of organizing themselves is social authority: the product is guaranteed by the expertise the system is designed to create. Incompetent practitioners are not admitted to practice, and incompetent scholarship is not disseminated.

    Since it is the system that ratifies the product—ipso facto, no one outside the community of experts is qualified to rate the value of the work produced within it—the most important function of the system is not the production of knowledge. It is the reproduction of the system. To put it another way, the most important function of the system, both for purposes of its continued survival and for purposes of controlling the market for its products, is the production of the producers. The academic disciplines effectively monopolize (or attempt to monopolize) the production of knowledge in their fields, and they monopolize the production of knowledge producers as well. This is why, for example, you cannot take a course in the law (apart from legal history) outside a law school. In fact, law schools urge applicants to major in areas outside the law. They say that this makes lawyers well-rounded, but it also helps to ensure that future lawyers will be trained only by other lawyers. It helps lawyers retain a monopoly on knowledge of the law.

  54. Straight Talk about Grad School
    by Robert Nagle on 12/6/2004

    1. Grad school is a volume-based business. You better be able to crank out a lot of essays and reconcile yourself to the fact that a large percentage of it will be mediocre or ultimately unimportant.

    2. Tenure track jobs in humanities are impossible to find these days. Finding tenure-track jobs in any discipline can be practically impossible.

    3. Four year institutions are dinosaurs. The real innovation is occurring at professional institutes and community colleges. Unfortunately, a lot of these involve adjunct (i.e., part-time ) instructors.

    4. Despite the fact that I was in a literature/creative writing program, I accomplished little in the way of serious independent reading or writing. I did however accomplish a great deal of that immediately afterwards.

    5. I took two semesters of graduate level instructional technology courses at University of Texas at Austin. Great courses, great students, but it became evident that I didn’t need to be taking courses to learn the things I did. Grad school requires a lot of face time and renders your schedule absolutely inflexible.

    6. It really helps if you have a spouse not in academia who could move if you find a job in academia.

    7. Grad school sucks, and so do the politics and turf fighting, but the international demographics of it makes it good for potluck dinners.

    8. I never figured out what it meant to “give a paper” at an academic conference. For the sciences, you didn’t actually have to write the paper, only conduct (or help with) the research. For humanities, it meant merely submitting an essay and having them agree to let you give a talk on it to 10 other academics (optimistically speaking).

    9. It’s practically impossible to regurgitate well and say interesting/original things at the same time. Why? If you write an original paper, you are criticized for not mentioning Scholar X or Scholar Y or Theory Z. On the other hand, if you do cite Scholar X, Scholar Y and Theory Z (along with several others), you find little room left for original thought or analysis.

    10. The problem with PhDs is that your particular field of study or analytical method can fall out of fashion very easily. In the 80’s, using deconstructionist methods to analyze texts was a lively way to understand texts (and helped with academic advancement for practicioners). In the 2000’s, this type of analysis seems irrelevant and incomprehensible. Perhaps a scholarly approach will stay trendy long enough for you to find a job, but regardless of whether you find success, you need to face the fact that 10 years from now scholars will find your subject area or method outdated, irrelevant or overrun with prospectors.

    11. Absolutist and polemical rhetoric can help your cause, provided that your scholarship skills are basically sound. Notoriety is a great way to reach the top of the academic heap (but it’s a debatable question whether it makes you a better thinker).

    12. Many tenured faculty have unrealistic notions of what the job market is like now or how tough the competition is. Either they haven’t been involved in hiring decisions recently or they base their notions about the current job market on what they experienced when they were seeking a teaching position 20 years ago. Back then, many things were different: the minimum requirements, available opportunities and typical experience. Even the best-intentioned faculty member may not have access to fresh information (other than what they hear secondhand at conferences).

  55. These lists of criticisms are almost entirely true. I’ve really ceased seeing graduate school as anything other than training to become a philosopher – which is not something that has market value. As far as I can tell, very little serious philosophy is properly understood by a philosopher’s contemporaries anyway.

  56. The ‘was it worth it’ section of my M.Phil wiki touches on some of these issues.

    I generally stand behind my basic conclusion: “Personally, I think that Oxford was worthwhile, though probably more for the experience than for the instruction.”

  57. I find this comment resonates with my experience:

    It’s practically impossible to regurgitate well and say interesting/original things at the same time. Why? If you write an original paper, you are criticized for not mentioning Scholar X or Scholar Y or Theory Z. On the other hand, if you do cite Scholar X, Scholar Y and Theory Z (along with several others), you find little room left for original thought or analysis.

    ‘Good’ scholarship is often expected to include a comprehensive literature review, and one way professors assert their intellectual superiority is by listing what they have read that you have not. Unfortunately, such scholarship is often incredibly dull and lacking in creativity.

  58. “No disciplines have seized on professionalism with as much enthusiasm as the humanities. You can, Mr Menand points out, become a lawyer in three years and a medical doctor in four. But the median time—median!—to a doctoral degree in the humanities is nine years. (Advertising note to American students: you can get a perfectly good PhD at a top British university in under four years.) Not surprisingly, up to half of all doctoral students in English drop out before getting their degrees.

    Equally unsurprisingly, only about half end up with the jobs they entered graduate school to get: tenured professorships. There are simply too few posts. This is partly because universities continue to churn out ever more PhDs. But fewer students want to study humanities subjects: English departments awarded more bachelor’s degrees in 1970-71 than they did 20 years later. Fewer students require fewer teachers. So, at the end of a decade of thesis-writing, many humanities students leave the profession to do something for which they have not been trained.

  59. If Jason’s death may not have had much to do with the incendiary accusations contained in his letters, as many of his friends seemed to suggest, it was nonetheless inextricably linked to the pressures of graduate-school life — not just at Harvard but at every top-flight university where competitive overachievers aspire to become scientists. And if it were indeed an avoidable death, the reasons may have less to do with the reforms already in place and more to do with chemistry of a different sort — not the textbook chemistry of orbitals and bonds, but the more mysterious and nuanced kind between two extremely bright human beings locked in a typically intense graduate-school relationship.

    Every year in October, when the Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physics and medicine or physiology are announced, the predictable parade of American honorees is reported on television and in the papers with a combination of patriotic glee and almost total befuddlement about the nature of the work being honored. Hardly anyone pauses to think about the educational system that has been so fabulously productive in turning out scientists in this country. It is a system limited to about 120 research institutions, and at the upper, rarefied reaches of that system are the elite universities. As James Anderson, chairman of Harvard’s chemistry department, puts it: ”The students here are spectacularly good, very bright, very committed. They want to win Nobel Prizes, and some of them will, and some of them want to do it before they’re 30.”

    Graduate study in the sciences, however, is a very unsentimental education. It requires the intellectual evolution from undergrad who can ace tests of textbook knowledge to original thinker who can initiate and execute research about which the textbooks have yet to be written. What is less often acknowledged is that this intense education involves an equally arduous psychological transition, almost a second rebellious adolescence. The passage from callow, eager-to-please first-year student in awe of an often-famous faculty adviser to confident, independent-minded researcher willing to challenge, and sometimes defy, a mentor is a requisite part of the journey.”

  60. ” The young people who walk through those green doors enter a world that has aspects both of a foreign country, with its own language and customs, and of Dante’s nine circles of hell, complete with acrid odors and licking flames. In any given year, there are roughly 350 young scientists — half of them graduate students, half postdoctoral fellows — who toil in the buildings. For the five or six years it typically takes to acquire a Ph.D., time is both a burden and a gift. Aside from taking classes their first year, students have the freedom to pursue original research. Their monthly stipends, after taxes, amount to little more than $1,000 a month. They are expected to work 60 to 80 hours a week. ”If it’s felt that you’re not working hard enough, you feel that pressure more from the group than from your adviser,” said Reed Konsler, a fifth-year graduate student and co-chairman of the chemistry department’s Quality of Life Committee.

    These pressures are not unique to Harvard. At the country’s other elite graduate chemistry programs — at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley, the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University and the Scripps Research Institute — the stresses are said to be comparable, but according to some experts, they may be getting worse. ”The life of the graduate student is so pressured because the future is so uncertain,” said Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, a psychiatrist who took courses in chemistry at Harvard as an undergrad and is now on call to the university’s chemistry department. ”Whether you’re a graduate student in English literature or a graduate student in chemistry, there’s no guarantee that you’re going to be able to find a job. And then you add the self-imposed pressures of the students themselves. They want to win a Nobel Prize yesterday.” In some fields of chemistry, the job market has never been better, but Hallowell argues that coping with the overall pressure has become more difficult. ”I think the kind of supports that used to be there for people aren’t there anymore, like family and extended family and community and religion, so you get more isolation,” he said, ”and isolation is the big enemy.” “

  61. Tenure—the ability to teach and conduct research without fear of being fired—is still the holy grail of higher education, to which all junior professors aspire. Yet fewer and fewer professors are attaining it. The proportion of full-time college professors with tenure has fallen from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007. The numbers for 2009, soon to be released by the Department of Education, are expected to dip even lower.

    To which some educators are saying: good riddance. Tenure is a bad deal not just for universities, which are saddled with its costs, but also for professors, who are constrained by its conventions. Cathy Trower, a researcher at Harvard University who has studied tenure for the last decade, says the current system may actually be scaring talented young people away from academia. “This one-size-fits-all, rigid six-year up-and-out tenure system isn’t working well,” she says.

    The case against tenure has been around as long as tenure itself. (The American Association of University Professors first declared the principles of academic freedom and tenure in 1915 and then revised them in 1940.) But the argument become only stronger over time. As tuition climbs and universities struggle to pay their bills, tenure is starting to look unaffordable. Keeping a professor around indefinitely—tenure means they can’t be forced to retire—simply costs a lot. Mark C. Taylor, chair of the Columbia University department of religion and author of the forthcoming Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming our Colleges and Universities, calculates that someone who serves as an associate professor for five years and then gets tenure for 30 years costs a private university $12.2 million. Public universities pay $10 million over the same period. And because most universities pay tenured professors out of their endowments, each professor freezes up tens of millions in otherwise-liquid endowment money for a generation. University debt jumped 54 percent last year, with an average debt of $168 million. If the average university tenured about 15 fewer professors, they’d be in the black.

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  63. “Attempts to manage the Quarterlife Crisis might be as banal as drinking a lot, doing a bunch of drugs, sleeping with idiots and myriad other kinds of self-flagellation, but broader attempts are made to find some sense of purpose. An obvious choice for panicking twentysomethings with a post-undergraduate sense of displacement and for the ones that aren’t fulfilled by their jobs is grad school. James, a 28-year-old student, says “Quarterlife crises are the reason that so many universities have turned lower-level graduate programs into a cash cow.” Graduate and professional school can provide a direction and delay other choices about career and stability. And, while it’s true that higher education can “help students improve their personal and professional competency,” it can also “leave students feeling insecure about their abilities and their job prospects,” says Marc Scheer, who is a career counsellor and educational consultant, the author of No Sucker Left Behind: Avoiding the Great College Rip-Off and an advocate for considering options beyond formal education. (He also has a Ph.D.) Scheer emphasizes making an informed choice. “Whether graduate school is a wise move depends on each individual student and what they want to study. Law school can be helpful, but mostly if a student can gain acceptance to a top-tier school. Getting a Ph.D. could be dangerous for some students, especially since Ph.D. graduation rates are obscenely low these days, and few tenure-track jobs are available. So it really depends.”

    Among the implicit promises made to this generation of twentysomethings was that they would have work that was engaging and creatively fulfilling. A 27-year-old freelance graphic designer with a graduate degree who is struggling to find work, Prescott says “You could always say the whole premise of education is that if you study, get good grades, acquire skills, you will have more options in a ‘career and life’ point of view. If you get a degree, you don’t have to work in a factory or have to work in a farm. That’s proving to be a huge lie, because you have people coming out of school and there are just no jobs, especially in ‘middle-class’ fields.” The dissonance between a twentysomething’s pre-career expectations and the dissatisfaction they feel as part of the working world can be hugely defeating. As Kimmel says, “They don’t have much of a life plan about how to move from Point A to Point B. What happens very often is they have very big ambitions, [but] there is a mismatch between their planning for their lives and their ambitions.” He also says that the conflict is made more difficult because 25-year-olds are living “in an economic environment which is the most inhospitable in our history.” David J. Rosen, the author of What’s that Job and How the Hell Do I Get It, a career guide based on interviews with young professionals with “cool” jobs across a variety of professions, says “Generally, being happy at work is huge part of having a happy life, and a cool and interesting job is one that leaves you fulfilled, not bitter, or not with that existential career angst that you were meant for ‘more than this.’” “

  64. “FOR decades, college fees have risen faster than Americans’ ability to pay them. Median household income has grown by a factor of 6.5 in the past 40 years, but the cost of attending a state college has increased by a factor of 15 for in-state students and 24 for out-of-state students. The cost of attending a private college has increased by a factor of more than 13 (a year in the Ivy League will set you back $38,000, excluding bed and board). Academic inflation makes most other kinds look modest by comparison. Students may not be getting a good deal in return”

  65. Higher education and wages
    Study leave
    Plenty of university graduates are working in low-skilled jobs

    Sep 8th 2010

    Young people often worry whether the qualification for which they are studying will stand them in good stead in the workplace. According to the OECD, college and university leavers are better placed in the labour market than their less educated peers, but this advantage is not even in all countries. Young graduates living in Spain are particularly likely to end up taking low-skilled work, while those in Luxembourg rarely take anything other than a graduate job. American and British students appear to have the biggest incentive to study: British graduates aged 25-34 earn $57,000 on average. Their Swedish peers earn $37,400.

  66. “As costs soar, diligence is tumbling. In 1961 full-time students in four-year colleges spent 24 hours a week studying; that has fallen to 14, estimates the AEI. Drop-out and deferment rates are also hair-curling: only 40% of students graduate in four years.

    The most plausible explanation is that professors are not particularly interested in students’ welfare. Promotion and tenure depend on published research, not good teaching. Professors strike an implicit bargain with their students: we will give you light workloads and inflated grades so long as you leave us alone to do our research. Mr Hacker and Ms Dreifus point out that senior professors in Ivy League universities now get sabbaticals every third year rather than every seventh. This year 20 of Harvard’s 48 history professors will be on leave.”

  67. “The workforce is smartening up. In the OECD 35% of the 25- to 34-year-old workforce has completed tertiary education, compared with 20% of the cohort approaching retirement. Countries such as Japan and South Korea have invested so heavily in educating their young that more than half now hold post-school qualifications. Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands are close behind. Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s chief of education research, reckons that these countries may well become more competitive as a result.

    The OECD’s compendium also shows that graduate jobs fared better during the global recession. Data show those who had completed tertiary education were more likely to be employed, and (not quite the same thing) less likely to be unemployed in 2008. Earnings data are from the middle of the decade, so it is not yet clear how the downturn has hit graduate pay.”

  68. During the recession, the logic was ubiquitous: The economy is terrible—better to wait it out! It is a three-year fast track to a remunerative, respectable career! It’s not just learning a subject—it’s learning how to think! Law school, always the safe choice, became a more popular choice. Between 2007 and 2009, the number of LSAT takers climbed 20.5 percent. Law school applications increased in turn.

    But now a number of recent or current law students are saying—or screaming—that they made a mistake. They went to law school, they say, and now they’re underemployed or jobless, in debt, and three years older. And statistics show that the evidence is more than anecdotal.

    One Boston College Law School third-year—miraculously, still anonymous—begged for his tuition back in exchange for a promise to drop out without a degree, in an open letter to his dean published earlier this month. “This will benefit both of us,” he argues. “On the one hand, I will be free to return to the teaching career I left to come here. I’ll be able to provide for my family without the crushing weight of my law school loans. On the other hand, this will help BC Law go up in the rankings, since you will not have to report my unemployment at graduation to US News. This will present no loss to me, only gain: in today’s job market, a J.D. seems to be more of a liability than an asset.”

  69. Perhaps med school is the safer bet:

    That has caused some concern among lawyers who think the accrediting organization, the American Bar Association, is doing the profession a disservice by approving so many new schools. (Contrast that with medical schools. They come with much higher startup costs and tend not to be money-makers. Relatively few students get medical degrees every year, and demand far outstrips supply.)

    Of course, most graduate programs don’t require you to cut up cadavers, or work absurdly long hospital shifts.

  70. America’s law schools and firms
    Trouble with the law
    Graduates of American law schools are finding that their chosen career is less lucrative than they had hoped

    Nov 11th 2010 | NEW YORK | from PRINT EDITION

    THIS year “The Apprentice”, a television show in which contestants compete for the privilege of working for Donald Trump, features 16 who are down on their luck, having lost previous jobs or otherwise having to start anew. No fewer than five of them are lawyers. The legal-job market in America remains dire. But the numbers applying to law school are still soaring, and students are taking out ever bigger loans as tuition fees grow faster than lawyers’ salaries. Increasingly, they are graduating into a world of overblown expectation and debt.

    Between 1996 and 2008 private law schools’ median tuition fees almost doubled, to just under $34,000 a year. At public law schools fees grew even faster, albeit from a lower base: for those going to schools in their home state they almost trebled, taking the median to around $16,000. Starting salaries at the biggest firms—those with more than 500 lawyers—roughly doubled, to $160,000. But such plum jobs are hard to get, especially for graduates of the less prestigious public schools. At smaller firms starting pay has for years failed to keep up with soaring tuition fees, and of late has fallen (see chart).

    Graduates’ chances in the job market have worsened since the “great purge” of 2009, when firms laid off young lawyers and withdrew job offers. The National Law Journal says that the 250 biggest firms cut their numbers of attorneys by 4% in 2009 and were projected to cut by another 1.1% in 2010, making for the worst two-year period in the 33 years of the journal’s surveys.

    Those that did not lay off any lawyers have frozen hiring and squeezed more work out of their staff. So morale is dismal at many firms. But it is worse among those recent graduates stuck in temporary or part-time posts or working in non-legal jobs. The grim market has given rise to a situations-vacant website, shitlawjobs.com, whose home-page banner reads: “You’re a lawyer, the economy sucks and you need a job.” Among its latest vacancies on November 10th was one for a Spanish-speaking lawyer, on just $10 an hour.

  71. Offshoring your lawyer
    Outsourcing can cut your legal bills

    HOW many lawyers does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is 53: eight to argue, four to object, three to research precedents, one to ask a secretary to change the bulb and 37 to bill their time at an exorbitant hourly rate. When every joke about your business mentions featherbedding, you should be worried about outsourcing. At last, lawyers are.

    Thomson Reuters, a media and information-services company, bought Pangea3, a legal-process outsourcing firm with most of its lawyers in Mumbai, in November. At about the same time, Thomson Reuters said it was looking to sell BarBri, a company that prepares young American law graduates for the bar examination. Thomson Reuters says the two deals have nothing to do with each other. But Elie Mystal of Above The Law, a muckraking blog, sees a straightforward swap: more cheap Indian lawyers, fewer expensive American ones.

    Legal outsourcing is still small. Of the $180 billion that Americans spend on lawyers each year, only about $1 billion goes to outsourcers. But this is growing at perhaps 20-30% a year, for the simple reason that legal costs are out of control. Between 1998 and 2009, big law firms’ hourly rates shot up by more than 65%, according to the Corporate Executive Board, a consultancy.

  72. Helen Ziegler & Associates specializes in international recruitment of health care professionals to the Middle East

    Why do people work in the Middle East? Some people go for the tax-free salary. Others go for the adventure. Some stay for years; a good number return repeatedly.

    Day-to-day life is less hectic than in the West. You don’t have the daily aggravations: the long commute to work; the energy spent on maintaining your dwelling; the scramble to buy stuff you don’t need. You have time to develop other parts of your life, be they athletic, artistic, or spiritual. As the repeaters tell us, you have more fun in the Middle East. Finally, those of us who have lived in the Arabian Peninsula, feel that it has been a truly enlightening experience.

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  74. US college grads’ salaries in steep decline

    * Real earnings for young male college grads are down 19% since their peak in 2000.
    * Real earnings for young female college grads are down 16% since their peak in 2003.

    These figures are for full-time workers, ages 25-34, with a bachelor’s degree only.

  75. Technology allows firms to offshore back-office tasks, for instance, or replace cashiers with automated kiosks. Powerful new systems may threaten the jobs of those who felt safe from technology. Pattern-recognition software is used to do work previously accomplished by teams of lawyers. Programmes can do a passable job writing up baseball games, and may soon fill parts of newspaper sections (those not sunk by free online competition). Workers are displaced, but businesses are proving slow to find new uses for the labour made available. Those left unemployed or underemployed are struggling to retrain and catch up with the new economy’s needs.

    As a result, the labour force is polarising. Many of those once employed as semi-skilled workers are now fighting for low-wage jobs. Change has been good for those at the very top. Whereas real wages have been falling or flat for most workers, they have increased for those who have advanced degrees. Owners of capital have also benefited. They have enjoyed big gains from the increased returns on investments in equipment. Technology is allowing the best performers in many fields, such as superstar entertainers, to dominate global markets, crowding out those even slightly less skilled. And technology has yet to cut costs for health care, or education. Much of the rich world’s workforce has been squeezed on two sides, by stagnant wages and rising costs.

  76. The average trajectory for a successful scientist is the following:

    age 18-22: paying high tuition fees at an undergraduate college
    age 22-30: graduate school, possibly with a bit of work, living on a stipend of $1800 per month
    age 30-35: working as a post-doc for $30,000 to $35,000 per year
    age 36-43: professor at a good, but not great, university for $65,000 per year
    age 44: with (if lucky) young children at home, fired by the university (“denied tenure” is the more polite term for the folks that universities discard), begins searching for a job in a market where employers primarily wish to hire folks in their early 30s

    This is how things are likely to go for the smartest kid you sat next to in college. He got into Stanford for graduate school. He got a postdoc at MIT. His experiment worked out and he was therefore fortunate to land a job at University of California, Irvine. But at the end of the day, his research wasn’t quite interesting or topical enough that the university wanted to commit to paying him a salary for the rest of his life. He is now 44 years old, with a family to feed, and looking for job with a “second rate has-been” label on his forehead.

  77. Is Canada producing too many PhDs? Yes, no and maybe

    The percentage of PhD graduates who get an academic position – generally their chief aim – has been falling and is now estimated to be less than 20 percent, the panelists said. PhD graduates and postdocs are told that “relevant jobs outside of academia in Canada are plentiful. Maybe. But where are they?” asked Angela Crawley, vice-chair of operations for the Canadian Association of Postdoctoral Scholars.

  78. “We are almost guaranteed” five hellish years, Turchin predicts, and likely a decade or more. The problem, he says, is that there are too many people like me. “You are ruling class,” he said, with no more rancor than if he had informed me that I had brown hair, or a slightly newer iPhone than his. Of the three factors driving social violence, Turchin stresses most heavily “elite overproduction”—­the tendency of a society’s ruling classes to grow faster than the number of positions for their members to fill. One way for a ruling class to grow is biologically—think of Saudi Arabia, where princes and princesses are born faster than royal roles can be created for them. In the United States, elites over­produce themselves through economic and educational upward mobility: More and more people get rich, and more and more get educated. Neither of these sounds bad on its own. Don’t we want everyone to be rich and educated? The problems begin when money and Harvard degrees become like royal titles in Saudi Arabia. If lots of people have them, but only some have real power, the ones who don’t have power eventually turn on the ones who do.

  79. Graduates turn to ‘panic’ master’s degrees in bleak jobs market

    Record numbers of students are expected to apply for “panic master’s” degrees as a flat jobs market for graduates pushes them towards postgraduate study.

    Last year 18 per cent of students secured jobs after graduation compared with about 60 per cent in a normal year. This year’s crop face a similar squeeze.


  80. So Should You Do it?
    This is a tough question for academics to answer. Our profession runs on an apprenticeship system and so on a fundamental level we want younger scholars following in our footsteps. We’re excited to learn that our students are thinking of going forward in the field because we are excited in the field. Some of my past undergraduate students are doing their graduate studies now and it makes me smile with pride thinking about the great things they will learn, do and write. So it pains me to say that, in most cases, the answer is pretty clearly:

    No, you should not.

    I doubt graduate school was ever easy (although it is hard not to notice that since the 1980s, few graduate stipends have kept up with inflation, meaning that graduate students have been slipping closer and closer to the poverty line as a function of time), but it used to function as an apprenticeship system towards an actual career. Graduate students put up with the hardship and difficulties as part of the training process meant to produce professors at the end of it. I am not pardoning the academic hazing involved here; I think hazing is bad in all cases. But you could at least recommend someone put themselves through the difficult, lean years of graduate school, through the stress and academic hazing, the delayed life milestones and all if it held the key to unlocking the sort of career where you could teach and live the life of the mind. But the grim part about all of this is that at the end of the process, the chances of landing an academic job (be it professor, or museum curator, or another equivalent actually-requires-a-doctorate position) are slim. This is true even in the very top programs (and attempting to get there in anything less than a top-20 program is often pointless).


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