On Why None of You Should Go to Grad School

Our series on graduate application and study will continue in the future. In the meantime, this article is a must read for those considering it. (Hat tip: Stephen M.) My undergrad profs at BYU did a good job discouraging us, or at least, making us aware of the harsh realities that almost inevitably awaited. Is it the bravest and smartest or the most clueless and optimistically naive who persevere on to and through a PhD?

Edit: I should point out, the article is specifically about Humanities PhDs, and when I say “you” I mean LDS considering graduate school in ANES/Bible/theology, etc.

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44 responses to “On Why None of You Should Go to Grad School

  1. The Right Trousers

    In my case, it’s that an undergraduate degree doesn’t give the right opportunities.

  2. Kevin Barney

    Reading Nibley always fed my academic idealism and made me want to go to grad school. Thankfully, like you, my actual professors at the Y were very responsible with their students and didn’t feed them unrealistic pie in the sky visions of getting a job after grad school. I probably would have gone if I had gotten any encouragement from my profs, but I didn’t. None of us did. If you were going to go, you had to go in spite of what they told you, not because of them encouraging you.

    I graduated BYU undergrad in 1982, which was a recession, much like now. I decided against grad school and went to law school. It worked out great for me. Law school was a firm three years, I only went $19,500 into debt, I got a great job in Chicago, which I’ve leveraged into a wonderful career. I make a lot of money (at least compared to humanities professors!) and I can pursue my scholarly interests on my own time. I don’t really regret not going the grad school route–especially now that the economy has gone to hell.

  3. Ben Pratt

    That’s about what I thought. Yeesh.

    You know, getting a PhD in physics isn’t a cake walk, but it is a very different story.

  4. A few people in my ward knew Nibley and his family personally, and when I (as an idealistic undergrad) raved about his contempt for the mercenary impulse to convert education into money, they dryly noted that Nibley’s family also paid the price for his contempt of money. Ideals are nice and all. But you can’t eat them.

    As a bankruptcy attorney, let me just throw in that student loan debt is some of the nastiest stuff you can do to yourself financially. This stuff is TOXIC. It can ruin you, as it has done to others.

    I represented a young grad student a while back in a humanities grad program. Over 200 thousand in debt from a combination of medical bills and student loan debt. She’d been hit with a rare disease that made it impossible for her to work (she had the letter from her doctor to back it up too).

    In the bankruptcy, we managed to take care of the medical debt. But the 70 thousand in student loan debt?

    No dice.

    Student loan debt does have a “hardship exemption” where you can have it forgiven on grounds of hardship. But it is very, very hard to qualify. We lawyers call it the “iron lung” exception. You basically have to be in an iron lung for the rest of your life to qualify. It’s much harder than qualifying for Social Security benefits.

    So, this gal who can’t work is stuck with a big debt that, unless they change the laws, will follow her probably the rest of her life. If she ever does qualify for Social Security payouts, student loan creditors – unlike other creditors – can garnish those payments.

    This is some seriously nasty stuff – student debt. And it applies to ANY debt taken out for education. Even that cheesy online massage therapy school that advertises at 2:00 AM in the morning. I even had a client who couldn’t get rid of $5,000 in debt to truck driving school that turned him away the first day because he wasn’t physically qualified to complete the training. He’s likely going to be stuck with that too.

    It has given me a very, very dim view of grad school right now. You really have to ask yourself if it’s worth it putting that kind of an albatross around your neck.

    I guarantee you that 150 thousand in student loans you can’t pay is not going to be compensated for by your wonderful knowledge of Tolstoy. It can ruin your marriage and your life.

    If you want to sign up for this kind of risk, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

  5. I should also say this isn’t just the humanities either.

    Law schools right now are admitting far more students than the legal market can bear. The ABA does a lousy job of policing entrance into the profession. It used to be that a law degree was almost a “license to print money.” That is not true at all anymore.

    The big paying jobs exist, but they are stratospherically competitive and once you are in, the work conditions really do resemble more of a sweatshop than what you expected when you got that nice diploma with “Juris Doctorate” written on it. More likely, you are going to land a 30 to 40K per year job that isn’t upgrading in quite some time. I’ve even seen law firms offering new associates as low as 20 thousand a year. That’s federal poverty level folks.

    I cam out of law school and got almost no interest in an overly saturated legal market back in 2005. I eventually came to the conclusion that there wasn’t going to be a terrible amount of interest and decided to just open up my own practice doing what I wanted to do. That was three years ago. I’m only just starting to make a decent living. I had two years of financial hell that I only pulled through because of help from parents.

    That was 2005. It’s far worse now with cutbacks. Yet I go back to my old lawschool and find they are putting on a new addition to the building to accommodate over 100 new students!

    It’s outrageous! The legal market cannot support this and we are going to end up with a LOT of law school grads BEGGING for freaking paralegal work. I’ve already had emails from at least a couple law grads who are doing exactly that.

    Yet tuition is not going down. They are still charging you for a legal education like it really is still a license to print money. It ain’t even close.

    Do not go to law school. You couldn’t have picked a worse time to do so.

    It’s a stressful, overpriced rat race with a bunch of other students every bit as bright as you were – and every bit as exploited as you are being.

    Run away. I’m not even kidding.

  6. Wow. Thanks Seth. I’ve sometimes considered law school, but it doesn’t sound like it’s any better.

  7. You know, getting a PhD in physics isn’t a cake walk, but it is a very different story.

    The same is true of a PhD in business or one in Econ (first time I typed Econ it came out Math, strange, that).

    A PhD in business is often completed in three or three and a half years, they pay you to go to school, and there are more jobs than graduates (which is why Economics does as well as it does, Econ grads end up with the Business PhD jobs that there are not enough DBAs, PhDs, etc. in Business to fill).

    /Sigh, my old law firm (which I left 6-7 years ago for my current job) hired attorneys to work as paralegals, including one UT grad. I’m grateful I went to BYU’s law school where the tuition was reasonable.

  8. smallaxe

    I saw the article in the Chronicle a couple of days ago and thought about doing a post on it as well. Conceptually speaking I agree with a lot of the issues he raises: Most aspiring grad school students are over idealistic, it takes way too long to graduate, costs way too much money, there’s no guarantee for a job once you graduate, and six years later you can still be denied tenure. I was actually thinking of doing this post as part of the “Tips on Applying” series, with the subtitle “Some Consolation for Not Being Admitted”.

    In any case, I did want to push back on a few of the points raised in the article, because my take on it is that it’s written in almost a reactionary voice to the romanticism he sees being portrayed by many of his colleagues. In other words, I don’t think it’s as gloomy as he makes it out to be. I’ll post a few reasons momentarily.

    Slightly tangential, but nonetheless related, is the problem I have with Pannapacker’s suggestion for those who should attend grad school: the independently wealthy, well-connected, and those with an employer that will pay for it. I have no problem with the third, but where the first two leave us is in a situation where the humanities are again left to be defined by a particular socio-economic class. In essence, only the rich and well-connected (which is probably redundant) should participate in the humanities are far as academe is concerned. Additionally, the prospects for women and minorities as far as funding and job placement are concerned seem to be better.

  9. I still remember an address by the dean in the first day of orientation week: “90% of you will not be in the top 10%.” He wanted the group to start to think about the fact that while 100% of them (or close) had always been in the top 10%, that wasn’t going to happen.

    The “soft” part of our class had really shrunk. A good example was that instead of about 10% of the class trying to write on to law review, about 35% attempted to do that.

    But in the humanities, graduate students teach all the undergraduate classes the professors don’t want to teach and take all the seminars and small classes that are fun to teach. The only problem, from an institutional view, is that they then graduate with no place to go, so to perpetuate the program you need to replace them with more graduate students that will have no place to go.

    Some programs and majors are worse than others. Take Philosophy. Hiring is very hierarchy based. As a result, 70-80 percent of the programs have de minimus placement. Those programs exist only to (a) provide cheap labor to teach the classes the graduates from the other programs don’t feel like teaching and (b) provide students to take the fun classes those graduates do feel like teaching.

    They have no academic justification as graduate programs.

    Luckily for Philosophy, ethics is not a part of the core competency. /Sigh.

    Law probably made the big shift back in the 70s, from a slight undersupply to headed towards an oversupply. Law schools generate revenue.

    Take a program like Texas Wesleyan. I use it because besides being in the bottom 10%, it was in the bottom 1% and it is actually quite capable of teaching the kids who go there. I respect a number of their graduates I’ve met.

    But, I knew an editor on their law review who had to take an entry level job that was a bridge to becoming a paralegal. The main school turned down an offer of $20 million (that they had tentatively accepted) to sell the program to TCU. Last time I read about a rupture, the main school was pulling out about a million dollars a year in profit from the law school.

    Having a law school is, academically, similar to having a football program, part of being a full “real” university and it also generates positive revenue in large amounts. As a result, the law school model (which has severe problems) has been widely adopted and is resistant to change. It continues to expand as schools look for ways to generate revenue.

    So, where to go?

    Doctorates in business are a good direction. Health care (which is why if you are in the automatic admit pool at Brown, if they find you are pre-med your chances of getting in drop to 40% — most Ivy League schools could become nothing but pre-med programs if they did not screen students, and prep schools introduce the parents to their new programs for sneaking their kids in disguised as something other than pre-med. A friend of mine came back from orientation with his kid and related that his son was the only one there who was not intending to go to med school).

    Or, the right program. Especially in a hierarchical placement discipline. E.g. the bad news about Philosophy, for example, is good news if you stick to one of the top 15% schools. The same is true in other disciplines.

    Law school, if you can get in at Yale, for example, is fine. Not to mention, I really enjoyed law school.

    Anyway, glad the link helped someone.

  10. smallaxe

    A PhD in business is often completed in three or three and a half years, they pay you to go to school, and there are more jobs than graduates (which is why Economics does as well as it does, Econ grads end up with the Business PhD jobs that there are not enough DBAs, PhDs, etc. in Business to fill).

    That’s not entirely true. I know several business school PhDs (all coming from the usual top 5 business schools) and all of them took at least 5 years from start to finish (and that was post MBA). The only exceptions are those not looking to go into academia. Admittedly this may vary from school to school. I do agree though, that the job market is significantly better for business PhDs (because the schools are forced to compete with more job opportunities that are offered to business PhDs).

  11. smallaxe, I appreciate the update. I was looking at the entire area about eight years ago, and realize that I am out of date. Those numbers are the ones I had gotten then from those who were teaching then (it was when I was teaching some classes in dispute resolution on the side).

    http://phdproject.com/ is a good read on the subject still.

  12. To a certain extent, it’s going to be rough all over these days. That’s just a function of the current economy. But the least you can do for yourself is make sure you don’t enter that rough economy with 100K extra in debt that you are ill equipped to pay off.

  13. At least grad school in the hard sciences doesn’t typically leave one in massive debt—tuition is “waved” and there’s usually a livable stipend. Those are lean years, mind you, and they stay lean during post doc years. FWIW

  14. In the computer science field, an MS actually can be quite useful, but a PhD is vastly more an impediment than a help, unless all you really want to do is to teach at a university. FWIW. ..bruce..

  15. Carrie LC

    I’m persuing a PhD in Biology at Vanderbilt and I agree with #13 that it’s not a bad deal. Tuition is waived, health care is free and I get a 24K stipend per year. It’s not riches, but it’s not poverty either. With the economy the way it is, it might be safer just to hide out here for as long as I can. At least when I’m in grad school I’ll get a paycheck every month. With companies like Pfizer cutting off 8% of their research staff and most universities on a hiring freeze, finding a job after graduation may not be an easy task.

  16. clarkgoble

    Yeah, but Brian, unless you get a job as a professor you’ve got to ask whether it is worth it. The jobs you’re likely to get are reasonably low paying and realistically in the hard sciences you end up doing at least one or two postdocs as well. So you’re finishing around 35 with at best a moderate paying job unless you’re really good and end up with a high paying professorateship. Otherwise you’re really looking at jobs that won’t give you much of a premium for a PhD over a Masters. (And for which a hard major doesn’t offer much beyond an easier major)

  17. It obviously varies by field, as many have alluded to here, so the main suggestion is simply “Proceed with caution.” Go in as aware as you possibly can be about your field, life as a grad student, and so on.

  18. smallaxe

    One point that I believe needs to be raised is that I personally don’t know anyone who regretted going to graduate school. Perhaps my network is small, but even those I do know who found themselves in debt, or without a job in the academy didn’t regret the process. As a matter of fact, I do think that those who go into grad school in the Humanities tend to find venues to continue to pursue their intellectual interests at a higher rate than those who opt for the alternative routes of law, medicine, etc. That said, I don’t think anything can justify the viciousness of pursuing a career in academia as already discussed.

    It might be interesting to look at where a few LDSs who went on to do graduate work (in Religion) have ended up. Back in 1978 Sunstone published an article on LDSs at Divinity Schools (perhaps someone could link over to it). It referenced/quoted 10 students. Not all of them were PhD students, so some of them technically could not go into careers in academia, but they were all at least enrolled in a master’s program.

    Here’s where they are now:

    Richard Sherlock (MTS, PhD Harvard): Prof. of philosophy at USU

    Phil Barlow (ThD Harvard): Prof. of Mormon studies at USU

    Stephen Robinson (PhD Duke): Prof. of religious education at BYU

    Edward Ashment (PhD? Chicago): Can’t really find much. He wrote a number of things on the Book of Abraham.

    Keith Norman: Don’t know much other than acted as (still is?) associate editor for Dialogue.

    John Lundquist (PhD): Susan and Douglas Dillon Chief Librarian of the Asian and Middle Eastern Division at the New York Public Library.

    Bonnie Bobet (PhD Berkeley): Passed away in 2001: http://archive.deseretnews.com/archive/884320/Obituary-Bonnie-M-Bobet.html Unsure of what she was doing previous to that.

    Jolene Rockwood (MTS Harvard): Editorial Board Member of BYU’s Religious Studies Center. Jolene Edmunds Rockwood lives in Batesville, Indiana, with her husband, Fred. They have six children and ten grandchildren. Jolene earned a BA from the University of Utah, an MTS from the Harvard DivinitySchool, and is a contributing author to three books on theological issues. She has been teaching early-morning seminary for twenty years. As an avid supporter of the arts, Jolene founded an arts council and started arts-in-education programs in southeastern Indiana, whichhave won her state and local recognition. She has written numerous grants and is presently raising funds for aperforming arts center.

    Kathryn Hansen Shirts (MTS Harvard): Don’t know much about her personally, but married Randall Shirts, Chem prof at BYU.

    Peggy Fletcher Stack (MA? GTU–Berkeley): Writer for the Salt Lake Tribune.

    Of the 6 PhDs, 3 have tenured faculty positions, and the rest seem to contribute or have contributed to the intersection of their studied fields and Mormonism.

    I guess my point here is that grad school is rough, but it does allow you to contribute in greater ways to a discipline than otherwise (sometimes at a substantial sacrifice, both economically and familially). Truth be told (and I don’t mean this to sound rude) but I get the sense that lawyers have a far greater need for reassurance in terms of career decisions than humanists do. At the same time I won’t deny that this comment is primarily about my own self-assurance.

  19. smallaxe

    Tuition is waived, health care is free and I get a 24K stipend per year. It’s not riches, but it’s not poverty either.

    This is practically the same as the five year packages most of the big schools will give to humanities PhDs.

  20. Kevin Barney

    Ed Ashment was in a Ph.D. program at Chicago, but never finished. I think maybe he ended up selling insurance.

    Keith Norman was an associate editor for the Chandlers when they edited Dialogue. I can’t remember what he ended up doing.

    Another example is Todd Compton (Ph.D. in classics from UCLA), who now works for as a staff person for a law firm.

    Which reminds me that in my last law firm, one of our secretaries finished his Ph.D. in medieval literature. He went away to teach at a university in Michigan for an academic year, and then came back to the word processing pool at the firm. They had him teaching crappy freshman composition classes, and he could earn way more as a typist with a lot less aggravation.

  21. ESO

    It is interesting to me how many (forgive me) useless degrees get full funding (tuition waved, stipend, etc) while I had to go into major debt to get my MA so I can be a public school teacher. No one funds a teacher.

    But I do have a job.

  22. clarkgoble

    I think the classic view of the university is that it is about personal enhancement and learning for learning’s sake. And you give scholarships not to foister jobs but to diversify the academy. Americans have come to see universities as much more about vocational training for the new information economy. I’m not sure that’s wise. I still think there’s a lot of value in a liberal education. That said I also think the classic view of the academy was more for a long ago time when it was mainly the elites going to find the classic values and network.

  23. Near the end of my BYU career, I had to decide on some course of graduate study, since my B.A. in Chinese wasn’t exactly going to open a ton of doors for me. I considered graduate school, but eventually opted for law school.

    I really should have done more research prior to making the decision. I didn’t realize how fiercely competitive the legal market is. Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to have landed at a school that is ranked highly enough to more or less guarantee a high-paying BigLaw job upon graduation, should I desire one. Yeah, there are definitely quality-of-life costs to that route, and the student debt is pretty overwhelming (even with a partial scholarship), but it’s comforting to know that, even in times like this, I’ll almost certainly have a job waiting for me at graduation.

    And, for what it’s worth, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in law school so far. If I could do it over again, I wouldn’t do anything differently.

  24. Clark, I’m sure that it varies by field, but in biomedical research, a PhD is likely to earn much more than a MS—and way more than a BS. That’s true whether in academia, government, or industry. And only academia-oriented grads do a “real” postdoc (meaning, “low pay”). And then there’s my friend who recently got paid by Sandia to upgrade his MS to a PhD in physics, then go back to work at a much higher pay rate.

    And just in case anyone is wondering: most schools don’t even accept MS applicants to biomedical research programs; it’s PhD or don’t bother. One way around this (i.e., if you like the research but don’t want to have to drive it yourself) is to get a BS, start work in a lab as a technician, and take graduate courses for free as part of the “employee improvement programs.” Most universities offer this. The good side is that you make considerably more than a graduate student, still get your grad degree (not a PhD though), get a big pay raise, and stay in your same job the whole time (i.e., you don’t have to go searching for employment).

  25. oudenos

    The academic profession is risky. I get that. The employment prospects are always daunting and now even more so. I get that too. But what is with the anti-academic tone in this thread? Seriously, Kevin Barney, whose stuff I generally enjoy is talking up his big lawyer salary and noting that he had a PhD holder as a wage-working underling. Those who chose the JD route sally forth to cast in their two cents. And then someone gets the charitable idea to point fingers at people who took the risk at making it in academia–Look, he tried and failed, what a slouch, I am so glad I didn’t end up like that poor schlep. Come on now, people.

  26. oudenos,

    It’s anti-academic in the sense that it is a very realistic appraisal of employment in the academy. Perhaps Kevin Barney’s experiences ought to be food for thought, unless of course you think he is lying?

    The bottom line is that you better love the politics, pay, and hardships of the academy if that’s what your intentions are. If one’s intention is to go to graduate school for highly idealistic aspirations of continuing education, then RUN AWAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN. You can live your ideals with a normal job, maybe even better than you could inside the academy.

  27. oudenos

    Perhaps what would make this fright fest more meaningful is if someone could provide numbers which take into account just where unemployed/employed and tenured/adjunct PhD holders took their degrees. In my field there is a whole pile of unemployed or non-tenure track PhD’s whose degrees are from institutions which are less highly esteemed. But those PhD’s from the more highly regarded institutions seem to be far more successful in getting the desired positions. I think that the raw numbers can be misleading when it comes to this particular job market.

  28. In my field there is a whole pile of unemployed or non-tenure track PhD’s whose degrees are from institutions which are less highly esteemed. But those PhD’s from the more highly regarded institutions seem to be far more successful in getting the desired positions.

    If it makes you feel comfortable to tell that to yourself, go right ahead, it might even be true!

  29. Thanks for the comments, all.

    My impression and experience is that Oudenos is correct. As a general rule, those who attend more prestigious/better programs tend to get the jobs. What may attenuate that is if one has a particular connection to a school. I suspect that if one had strong connections to BYU (or some Christian college or seminary), it would be possible to go to a second or even third-tier program and get a job at one’s home school.

    In my experience, schools have started advertising their placement percentage as a draw to potential students. I was told by one professor, for example, that Emory has very high placement for their PhDs in Hebrew Bible and New Testament.

  30. The same is true in history departments. Ivy League and equivalent schools have a better placement record than lower-ranked schools. Some smaller schools though, like mine, TCU, also advertise placement percentage as a draw. I was told yesterday that 80% of the school’s PhDs from the 90s got jobs. Just to be clear, most of those are at schools smaller than TCU, but a few went to large state schools.

    It’s also important to note that it varies within disciplines, according to subfield. There are more job-openings now for Middle Easternists and Africanists than there are available PhDs (TCU is currently hiring a Middle Eastern historian). Latin Americanists also do very well. Even within American history, the ratio varies, with better chances for those studying early America.

  31. oudenos and Nitsav,

    Let’s just assume that oudenos’ point is valid, it still depends on people acting irrationally. Here’s why.

    Just for kicks let’s assume that based on statistics and risk/reward analysis that it’s only worth it to go to grad school in the humanities if you get into one of the top 10 schools in the field. Getting a job in academe going to one of the top 10 schools doesn’t guarantee a job, but the risks and the rewards balance out. It’s a rational choice to make. So in this fantasy land people do the rational thing. Everyone dutifully applies to graduate school. Those that get into the top 10 attend, those that don’t program computers, do accounting, become pimps, etc.

    Within a couple of years all non top 10 graduate school departments shut down because there are no students, it’s hard to justify a department with no students. Now all of the top 10 attendees graduate. They now can’t find any work because there are no departments left to teach in.

    The bottom line is that the system depends on a large number of people attending graduate school, going into large amounts of debt, with no hope of ever being employed in the academy.

    Perhaps oudenos’ analysis can best be summed up as, “Go to graduate school, someone from a top tier school is depending on you to fund a career for them.” Or even more pithy, “Go to graduate school, Harvard grads need welfare too.”

  32. Norman works for Cleveland Scholarship Programs.

    Shirts completed Trial Furnace: Southern Utah’s Iron Mission (BYU Press, 2001), a book started by her father-in-law.

  33. Observer

    David Clark,

    It seems impossible to me that your #31 was written in good faith. Graduate school is not the self-perpetuating phenomenon that you paint so gracefully and with so few strokes.

    In America, we have a system of higher education consisting of thousands of colleges and universities educating millions of post-secondary students called undergraduates. These undergraduates take classes across the spectrum of fields of study, depending on their interests and goals. Those with advanced degrees, generally the PhD for this discussion here, are sought to teach these millions of students at these thousands of colleges and universities.

    So if the all the non top 10 grad schools efficiently shut down as if commanded by the economics of Ronald Reagan himself, there are still thousands and thousands of institutions where the noble vocation of imparting knowledge to young people has a place.

    For your tremendous zinger to have any real worth, your model would have to include the closure of all colleges and universities besides the top ten.

    Perhaps your analysis can best be summed up as “I don’t think things through all the way before I hold forth.”

  34. Observer,

    Graduate school is not the self-perpetuating phenomenon that you paint so gracefully and with so few strokes. It is, but by all means I hope they keep attending.

    In America, we have a system of higher education…blah blah blah…thousands of colleges and universities. Actually my argument carefully takes that into consideration. Notice I focused on particular graduate departments and not on entire universities, so your rebuttal misses the mark. Now, go ask a sampling of graduate students what they want out of an academic career. They want to publish and do research, which depends upon the existence of graduate departments. They don’t want to spend the rest of their lives teaching freshman composition. Remember, it’s graduate school and the politics and expectations of graduate school that perpetuates the madness.

    there are still thousands and thousands of institutions where the noble vocation of imparting knowledge to young people has a place. Dude, get down off the high horse, you might break something if you fall. In any case I have no problem with people going to school and learning at any level, I just have a problem with self-perpetuating madness.

  35. By the way, I seem to be channeling my inner DKL today, though I would never claim to reach his stratospheric levels of wit. Perhaps I should just quit while I am ahead.

  36. Kevin Barney

    #25 oudenos, I didn’t intend to brag, I was just trying to relate my own experience with the grad school vel non decision. Believe me, I wouldn’t encourage anyone to go to law school, either. And in the case of my friend, I was just trying to relate his experience as well. That’s all.

  37. oudenos

    KB,

    Thanks for the clarification.

  38. smallaxe

    But what is with the anti-academic tone in this thread?

    As I tried to state with less hostility in my previous comment, every once in a while we need confirmation that we’ve chosen the right path, be it in terms of our occupation or just about any thing else. Many of those who chose the path of law (or other paths), rather than grad school in the humanities, seek for reassurance in the decisions they’ve made by comforting themselves in the fact that some of those who chose the alternative path appear worse off for so doing. It may be offensive to those who chose this alternative path, but I admit that I too feel the need to reconfirm that the grass is not really much greener on the other side. Most lawyers work on really boring stuff, work long hours, are generally thought of by society as a necessary evil, etc.

    Okay, psychoanalysis off.

    If one’s intention is to go to graduate school for highly idealistic aspirations of continuing education, then RUN AWAY AS FAST AS YOU CAN. You can live your ideals with a normal job, maybe even better than you could inside the academy.

    Umm… I disagree with that. As one in graduate school I would say that much of what spend my time doing is pursuing my ideals of higher education.

    Let’s just assume that oudenos’ point is valid, it still depends on people acting irrationally.

    I don’t think O’s point even needs be an assumption here. Better schools tend to have better placement numbers. I’m sure there are numbers out there somewhere to support that. I isn’t irrational to go to a lower tier school, it only decreases your chances of employment. One could rationally choose to take that risk.

    For that sake of argument, however, less assume that your reasoning is correct. Given the odds of employment after graduating from a lesser university, it is irrational to make the decision to attend. So the graduate programs shut down. It doesn’t necessarily follow that those graduating from the top programs won’t have jobs (beyond the small prospect of getting hired at one of these institutions). First of all, not all those that attend the top tier institutions want to teach as institutions that have graduate programs. Secondly, the end of graduate programs at these schools would of course mean the end of opportunities for those teaching there to teach grad students. However, not everyone (or even most of those I know) want to teach grad students. Besides those looking to be employed by teaching institutions, those who would like to do research can still do so without teaching grad students. Places now such as Bowdin, Vassar, and Wesleyan all have low teaching loads and no grad programs. Profs there work with undergrads and research.

    And thanks Justin for following up on those individuals.

  39. I think if you’ve got the discipline to make it through a PhD program, you’ve probably got the discipline to learn quite a bit on your own and still have a paying job on the side.

    Ask if the tradeoff is worth it.

    Especially considering that 100K in student loan debt is, to put it bluntly, a sign of a vastly over-hyped and overpriced product.

  40. smallaxe

    I think if you’ve got the discipline to make it through a PhD program, you’ve probably got the discipline to learn quite a bit on your own and still have a paying job on the side.

    I suppose this begs the question of whether there’s a difference between doing a PhD and studying on your own. I think this deserves it’s own post.

    Especially considering that 100K in student loan debt is, to put it bluntly, a sign of a vastly over-hyped and overpriced product.

    I can’t speak for many others besides myself, but I’ve been through a master’s program and most of a PhD without any debt. And, no, I’m not independently wealthy.

  41. smallaxe, I think Seth is still referring to loans from law school specifically.

  42. smallaxe

    What reasons do we have to read it that way?

  43. well, looking back over the comments, maybe he is referring to all types of grad studies (#4 is a humanities example, #5 is definitely a law school point). I probably shouldn’t try to speak for someone else.

    /slinks away

  44. g.wesley

    as a deluded cult member, i think there is an enormous difference and would be interested in whether/why others might not. perhaps those who have chosen not to or were unable to go like to think the difference is marginal for the same reasons that humamities grads like to tell themselves they don’t care about the money they could make doing something else.

    as for the prospect of finding a job, i think it’s a bit simplistic to say, well so and so got a phd in x from x humanities program and was left high and dry upon graduation; therefore any number of others will too. there are a lot of factors to be considered before such examples become useful. for instance, maybe so and so banked on getting a job at byu but shot himself in the foot by writing stuff that the establishment wouldn’t like. maybe he didn’t publish enough in major journals or participate in enough major conferences, i.e. outside the realm of mormondom. maybe he couldn’t find a job at a non-lds school because he spent too much time doing what could (n.b.) be considered non-academic work like apologetics or theology. maybe he did write stuff, even good stuff, but stuff that was way outside the field he in which he was trained and hoped to be employed.