Tuesday, February 03, 2009

The Case Against Grad School

This author thinks that, for most people, graduate work in the humanities is a bad idea, and certainly a bad career move.


Gordon Knight said...

Its a good case. In my own situation I thought at the time that philosophy was really the only thing I could do. But in retrospect Law School may not have been a bad idea.

JD Walters said...

So what are those of us who absolutely love philosophy but who are only just now contemplating grad school to do? Get a job somewhere else (if we can find one) and hope that we can find used paperbacks of the latest monographs in the field and the time to do research on the side?

jb said...

Yea, but I look at it from the other perspective: Do what you love; the money will follow. If you are in it for the money, you're in for disappointment. Life is not all about money. If you go into some career just because you think it is more lucrative than what you really love to do, that career choice might not be lucrative for you anyway, because you won't put your heart into it and it might not pay off like you think it should. I know this from experience. I have only an undergrad degree in Information Technology. However, when I started out in college, I was an English major. Writing is what I really think I had more of a talent for, and philosophy is one of my more genuine interests (though I haven't followed through with developing it). But I didn't see where studying English or philisophy could get me an income-producing career, unless I went into teaching, which I didn't want to do. So I switched to IT. And have hated it ever since. Yea, I've got a "career" and make a somewhat ok salary, but going to work is a burden every day. I don't live to work; I work to live. I'm a mid-level bureaucrat manager; my performance is mediocre, because while competent in my skills, my heart isn't in my job. Its a struggle to stay focused (which is why I'm here commenting on a blog instead of doing what I'm supposed to be doing). All because I took a path in my studies based on what kind of "job" I could get rather than pursuing my real interests. Now I'm stuck. In hindsight, I probably should have stuck with English in undergrad, and then gone on to grad school and earned an MLS (Master of Library Science). I could have then become a Librarian or maybe an archivist, historian or research assistant (or an apologist like JP Holding). Those are things I would have had fun doing, though they don't necessarily always pay well. I have a talent and enjoyment for researching various topics, then arranging the information and organizing it for other people to easily access. Sure the pay as a Librarian wouldn't have been as much as that of a slick network engineer, but I would be more satisfied. Its tough to backtrack now, however, and go back to school. With four mouths at home to feed (including my stay-at-home-mom wife) and a mortgage to pay, its a little late in the game to quit my job, loose my income, and take on more school debt. Its just not going to happen. The time in my life for that sort of thing is over. So I'm stuck just looking forward to retirement (10 or 20 years down the road).

I mean, sure, when in college, you do have to consider avoiding a scenario in which you just end up working at a grocery store for the rest of your life after all that education or standing in an unemployment line, but you also should consider that there is more to a career than money. If your sole purpose in getting an education is to make lots of cash and have a cushy lifestyle, your going to have problems. So a humanities path that doesn't provide that is going to be a big disappointment. I'd rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable. (I'm nowhere near either extreme, though--somewhere in between, I'd say). Though money is a necessary evil, it isn't what the whole game is about. Money is a means to an end, and the minute it becomes the object, you've lost the game.

Blue Devil Knight said...

JD: if there is any other field you have the remotest desire to do instead of philosophy, do it. Your life will be filled with much less anxiety. If you want to be competing with two hundred people with good publication records to get a job at Craphole Community College South Dakota, then stay in philosophy.

But wait. Even if you think you really love philosophy don't enter philosophy grad school right after finishing your undergrad degree. Do something else for a year. If, after a year not doing philosophy, you are still heartbroken, then go back to it.

Don't make the decision to be a professional philosopher while still in the middle of life in the undergrad philosophy department, as they will lull you into thinking it is a worthwhile profession.

Progress in philosophy (to the extent it exists) is glacial: it is easy to keep up with new developments. I go and ask the philosophers "So what's new in philosophy of consciousness" and am usually met with blank stares.

As a scientist I find it rather trivial to keep up with the "latest" philosophy of mind. The signal-to-noise is so high it is easy to filter out the crap and very few gems remain.

JD Walters said...

"Even if you think you really love philosophy don't enter philosophy grad school right after finishing your undergrad degree. Do something else for a year."

I'm seriously considering it. But I've applied this year to Notre Dame and Rutgers (grad school philosophy). Suppose one of them accepts me (if so it would be on full scholarship). Should I turn it down? Or maybe try to do other things (such as continued science or economics) at the same time? When jobs are evaporating daily and the consensus is that things will only get worse before they get better, five or six years of 'hunkering down' doesn't sound so bad, whatever the employment prospects will be afterwards.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Previous was the down side. THe up side is grad school is fun, you will make good friends, etc..

If you are happy teaching at a smaller school when you get out, you'll be fine if you go to a really good grad school for your PhD (e.g., Rutgers, I have no idea about Noter Dame they must be good in something I was never interested in like theology). Obviously you don't want to do something that makes you miserable, even if being happy means you have to become a philosopher.

I do have one other suggestion though--If you would plan to persue philosophy of X, where X is some science, then go to grad school in X and get at least a masters. Then you can always go back to philosophy of X and you will kick everyone's ass because they are philosophers and don't know X the way you do. It would help your marketability tremendously, and that is huge nowadays in that liferaft of a discipline.

Some phil departments will let you do classes and such in X on the side. That's not the same as entering an X department, steeping yourself in the subculture with the incoming class, taking the same classes, going through labs, etc., for a few years.

Don't worry, the philosophy won't progress that fast while you are gone. The science will.

Anonymous said...

If you don't get a job in academia, you can always take that PhD status and use it to take you right to the top of the salary scale at a high school. Just get your credential. That doesn't take to long to complete. You still get over 4 months vacation a year too, so it ain't all bad...

Victor Reppert said...

You would have to do your Ph.D in a subject area they teach in high school.

I think the internet makes it possible for more people to participate in the philosophical debate, and perhaps undermines the uniqueness of mainstream publications as the place where real philosophy is being done.

Anonymous said...

You would have to do your Ph.D in a subject area they teach in high school.

This isn't quite right. You need only take a special subject test. A good friend of mine -- an art major -- passed in four different areas. She now has her pick among them.