Discussion of graduate school (split)

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Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by Cheynem » Fri Mar 21, 2014 11:33 am

Not to serious up this thread, but as someone finishing up a doctorate, I'll offer my take:

Graduate school is not a glib proposal. It's something I definitely would not recommend for people who are just "unsure" of what they would do or would need to take out a significant chunk of money in order to do so. Furthermore, if you have family or personal issues, it also might not be worth considering. However, in my case, I think it did drastically improve my life: I've made lots of great, satisfying friendships, both professionally and personally. I've managed to make a good deal of income and wisely invested it (I have at least doubled--probably way more than that--my original savings as a grad student).I've managed to accomplish a project that I've spent years researching and working on and feel proud of.

I don't want to pretend it's all hearts and flowers, though. I seriously contemplated quitting a few years ago from Minnesota, which was a wonderfully supportive program (to a point) just because the grind and pressure gets to you. A lot of graduate school is a beauty contest that forces you to do dumb shit to compete with others (at least at Minnesota there wasn't the backstabbing element that was present in masters school). You're frequently at the whims of possibly unhelpful tenured professors who will offer lousy advice at times. I didn't get any bites on humanities jobs (and I wasn't applying to R1's either) because the market is so cluttered. Still, I have a (good) job lined up for next year at a school I like. My foot's in the door and at the very least it's another year of hitting the employment trail.

Worst case scenario, I emerged from the experience with some money, a steady source of income and development for five plus years, and some opportunities for the future. This doesn't apply to everyone and it may not apply to you (I also had a back up plan of where to live and what to do if things went sour). Graduate school is a decision that is about context, making tough decisions, and actually willing to evaluate yourself coldly. Undergraduate advisers frequently do their students a disservice by noting "hey, you're good at writing and research! Go to grad school!" But I sincerely believe that "don't go to graduate school" (I'm not picking on Jerry here, as many people say this) is just as iffy an exhortation as "do go to graduate school."
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Re: Where Are You Going Next Year? [Collegiate edition, 2014

Post by Lagotto Romagnolo » Fri Mar 21, 2014 12:34 pm

Cheynem wrote:Graduate school is not a glib proposal. It's something I definitely would not recommend for people who are just "unsure" of what they would do or would need to take out a significant chunk of money in order to do so.
....
Undergraduate advisers frequently do their students a disservice by noting "hey, you're good at writing and research! Go to grad school!"
Agreed on all counts. As someone who decided to switch out of the PhD track and leave with a Masters degree, I'll add: if you enter grad school, figure out early on if you really enjoy research, if you think that 5+ years of it will make you miserable, if you like the atmosphere but not your current project, or somewhere in between. The earlier you decide, the better. I know of no one (in the sciences, at least), who considers a masters program to have had a negative impact on their life. But the PhD is never something to go for just because you can. I'd like to expand on Mike's point about advisers (both undergrad and grad) who encourage their students to go to grad school because they're good at writing and research. Well, of course the advisers are touting the benefits of grad school, because those advisers are themselves professors who went through grad school and got their PhDs because they wanted to teach, because they decided that was what they really wanted in life. Ergo, some of them view the research path as the 'best' path or the most noble one, which is bogus. That bias is going to transfer into their advice. They can't decide what the best path (if such a thing even exists) is for you. If you really enjoy research, want to do it for a living, need the PhD for your goal in life, and are willing to deal with many setbacks if it means a great dissertation at the end, then I can recommend the PhD.

I've pondered over how quizbowl and graduate school fit together a lot over the past year, and I have a theory which I'd like to share. Quizbowl, multidisciplinary as it is, encourages both breadth of knowledge (to answer questions in many categories) and depth (to get hard parts and lead-ins). The PhD program requires some breadth, in order to pass the qualifying exam, but it's also supposed to make you the leading expert in the world on your chosen research topic. Sometimes the topic itself could be interdisciplinary (comic example: a deconstructionist approach to the histories of Herodotus), but when it comes down to the final thesis, the focus is simply much narrower than what we see in quizbowl. This is all speculation on my part (based on personal experience and some observation of historical trends), but perhaps the spirit of quizbowl and the spirit of the PhD program are at cross-purposes with one another. One values breadth and depth, the other values extreme depth.

Well, enough ruminating from me. Anyway, this year is it for my collegiate career. I'll still play a few opens and such, and I'll be happy to staff wherever I end up.
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Re: Where Are You Going Next Year? [Collegiate edition, 2014

Post by grapesmoker » Fri Mar 21, 2014 1:18 pm

Ok, well, since Mike is serious, I will be too.

Of course my initial statement was quite glib. The situation is more complicated than "don't go to grad school." But not that much more complicated, I think. I believe both Mike and I are in agreement that grad school is not something you should just do because you don't know what else you're supposed to do with yourself. But I would also argue that grad school is, in many ways, just a plain bad call if you lay out all the possibilities. Basically, you're not going to get a tenure-track job in the humanities. Those barely exist anymore except for a small subset of people graduating from the very top programs. You are going to spend at least five, but more likely seven years in a place you may or may not like, working for circus peanuts, with very limited employment prospects at the end. Yes, you may be engaging in some very exciting scholarship, and yes, some people manage to do pretty well under those circumstances. Obviously Mike seems to have done quite well for himself; hell, I didn't starve to death in grad school either, and even saved up a little bit of money. But the fact remains that you're giving up prime earning years, and you should ask yourself why you're giving them up and whether you're ever going to get anything remotely as valuable for them.

It's impossible to transplant any one personal experience to another individual; Mike will tell you one thing, and I'll tell you a different thing. But the numbers don't lie: the prospects for turning a history or a literature Ph.D. into full-time employment in academia are slim to none. The only way I would say that grad school makes sense is if you just can't see yourself doing anything else and you're willing to make large material sacrifices to do this one thing that you love more than anything in the world. If that's not the case, then I would encourage you to not stay in academia.
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Re: Where Are You Going Next Year? [Collegiate edition, 2014

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Fri Mar 21, 2014 1:24 pm

Cheynem wrote: I don't want to pretend it's all hearts and flowers, though. I seriously contemplated quitting a few years ago from Minnesota, which was a wonderfully supportive program (to a point) just because the grind and pressure gets to you. A lot of graduate school is a beauty contest that forces you to do dumb shit to compete with others (at least at Minnesota there wasn't the backstabbing element that was present in masters school). You're frequently at the whims of possibly unhelpful tenured professors who will offer lousy advice at times. I didn't get any bites on humanities jobs (and I wasn't applying to R1's either) because the market is so cluttered. Still, I have a (good) job lined up for next year at a school I like. My foot's in the door and at the very least it's another year of hitting the employment trail.

Worst case scenario, I emerged from the experience with some money, a steady source of income and development for five plus years, and some opportunities for the future. This doesn't apply to everyone and it may not apply to you (I also had a back up plan of where to live and what to do if things went sour). Graduate school is a decision that is about context, making tough decisions, and actually willing to evaluate yourself coldly. Undergraduate advisers frequently do their students a disservice by noting "hey, you're good at writing and research! Go to grad school!" But I sincerely believe that "don't go to graduate school" (I'm not picking on Jerry here, as many people say this) is just as iffy an exhortation as "do go to graduate school."
This. I don't mean to pick on Jerry and Eric here, but the air of self-pity that many grad students have is really wrong, especially if you're in a funded program. (I can't say that stance is what Jerry and Eric's comments are based on, of course.) Graduate school has been a profoundly intellectually stimulating six years of almost-entirely-independent work with fantastic colleagues. The supervisors were sometimes frustrating to work with and for, but I have never felt any grievance toward them after giving it more than a second's thought--when they've been hard on me it has largely been justified. All of this while earning enough money to live in a nice city and acquiring six years of delicious collegiate quizbowl eligibility.

Then we get to post-graduate employment, which is a bit more controversial. I'm lucky that the field I wanted to study is also one in which there's essentially 0% unemployment for those trained in it, which is obviously not true in most academic fields and that's terrible. So consider this: worst case scenario, grad school has zero positive impact on your position in the labor market and, five-six years later, you get shot out the other side with that many years of foregone experience and that same number of years doing something that's probably more interesting if less remunerative than what you would have done acquiring that experience. Personally, I would have done it knowing what I know now and without the labor market guarantee that you get from an econ program. It's entirely understandable not to take that earnings hit if you're not really into the subject matter or you have more worldly commitments than I have, but I think the worst-case scenario is not actually that bad by comparison to many people who get stuck in a shitty labor market without that magical intellectual time, and that's why I also think grad student self-pity is not our most attractive characteristic.
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Re: Where Are You Going Next Year? [Collegiate edition, 2014

Post by Cheynem » Fri Mar 21, 2014 1:30 pm

These are excellent posts. I suppose if you asked me in two years when I'm living in a homeless shelter (this actually happened to someone I shared an office with!) I might offer a more negative take. However, I will also say that almost everyone I went to grad school with have jobs of some sorts, many of which are good jobs. On the other hand, not all of them are in academia and I think almost none are tenure-track jobs (a lot of them are what I would call pseudo-academia, like working at an academic publishing house or working at stuff like writing centers and the like). I will also add that grad school/academia is just TERRIBLE in guiding people to the job opportunities that are not tenure-track jobs--jobs like the above, but also CC jobs, museum jobs, and the like (which...yes, I'm aware that many of these jobs are not well paying either). The (terrible) professor of my Teaching Practicum class at grad school asked me in all seriousness why you would think about teaching at places other than liberal arts schools.

I'm not quite sure if I agree on the "prime earning years" aspect. If I didn't go to grad school, I'd probably try and get a high school teaching degree and I'm pretty sure I was making more as a grad student (certainly now) than the high school history teachers I know (granted, most of them have children or whatever, so their disposable income goes down). On the other hand, I might have been able to apply myself and found a better job elsewhere away from the burden of academia; one of my friends bypassed grad school, grinded it out with some low paying jobs/living at home for a bit, and now has a great job (I guess theoretically I could do this too, although it's probably iffier at an older age and with the price tag of a doctorate hanging on you).

The one thing I concur with Jerry and Aaron on indisputably is think it through and realize that no matter what, grad school is a sacrifice.

Also, assuming I finish this thesis in the next months or so, I am done as well. I'll probably play opens but my knowledge level has already atrophied so much that I'm pretty sure I'll lose to Jarret Greene at ICT.
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Re: Where Are You Going Next Year? [Collegiate edition, 2014

Post by Rufous-capped Thornbill » Fri Mar 21, 2014 1:47 pm

Cheynem wrote: Also, assuming I finish this thesis in the next months or so, I am done as well. I'll probably play opens but my knowledge level has already atrophied so much that I'm pretty sure I'll lose to Jarret Greene at ICT.
Already making excuses, I see. Don't let this rivalry go the way of Broncos-Raiders.

On a more serious note, thank you Mike, Aaron, Jerry and Marshall for taking the time to make these posts. It's helpful for clueless people such as myself (and, knowing quizbowl's demographics, many other people as well, I'm sure) to read about real-life experiences from people who have gone through or are going through graduate schools when making decisions for the future.
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Re: Where Are You Going Next Year? [Collegiate edition, 2014

Post by grapesmoker » Fri Mar 21, 2014 1:51 pm

Tees-Exe Line wrote:Graduate school has been a profoundly intellectually stimulating six years of almost-entirely-independent work with fantastic colleagues.
That's great. I'm really happy that it worked out for you. That is not a guarantee that it will work out for other people.
So consider this: worst case scenario, grad school has zero positive impact on your position in the labor market and, five-six years later, you get shot out the other side with that many years of foregone experience and that same number of years doing something that's probably more interesting if less remunerative than what you would have done acquiring that experience.
Well, the really worst case is that grad school has a negative impact on your position in the labor market. Again, it's all highly individual-specific: if I'd just gone into software development in the Bay Area circa 2005, I'd probably be swimming in money right now. That might not be an option for people contemplating humanities Ph.Ds. but grad school absolutely altered the amount of money I'm likely to earn over my lifetime.

I'm not here to tell anyone to pity themselves, and I don't pity myself either. I'm just saying: grad school makes sense in a very limited set of circumstances. Given the type of people who play quizbowl, you are likely to read in this thread opinions from exactly those people for whom it made sense. But when you look at it from a wider perspective, all of a sudden it looks a lot less attractive than it really is. The danger in getting advice is getting it from only those people for whom the system already worked out; that's why professors telling their students "oh, you're so smart, you should go to grad school," is so dangerous. I freely admit my own jaundiced view of academia, which is a function of my own experiences inside the whale, but from a pragmatic point of view, it's not a good gamble. I wish, wholeheartedly, that it were a better one, because there are many things I loved, and love still, about the academic environment. But the reality is sadly different.
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Re: Where Are You Going Next Year? [Collegiate edition, 2014

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Fri Mar 21, 2014 2:14 pm

grapesmoker wrote:Well, the really worst case is that grad school has a negative impact on your position in the labor market. Again, it's all highly individual-specific: if I'd just gone into software development in the Bay Area circa 2005, I'd probably be swimming in money right now. That might not be an option for people contemplating humanities Ph.Ds. but grad school absolutely altered the amount of money I'm likely to earn over my lifetime.
I dispute that this means grad school had a negative impact... could you not have done this starting after your Ph.D. rather than after undergrad?

As for the rest of what you write, yes it's certainly true that it's dangerous only to hear from people who liked grad school. I think the key thing is that a prospective grad student has to be entirely confident that s/he could do well with independent work and maintain motivation even if you're getting no feedback for literally years. If you don't think so, don't go to grad school.
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Re: Where Are You Going Next Year? [Collegiate edition, 2014

Post by Holla! » Fri Mar 21, 2014 5:35 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
Sulawesi Myzomela wrote: a bachelor's in history is all you need to be successful in life like me
Maybe, and maybe not, but it's not like a Ph.D. in history is going to drastically improve your life.
shit.
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Re: Where Are You Going Next Year? [Collegiate edition, 2014

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Sat Mar 22, 2014 12:05 am

Wow, this thread got way more serious than I thought it would. I certainly don't want it to seem like my grad school experience has been dismal - like most others, it's had its ups and downs. I'd like to offer my thoughts.

There's a large checklist of things that you should compile before going to grad school. As others have pointed out in this thread, employability and economic concerns are certainly paramount. Great in economics, passable in science, and dismal in humanities, apparently. When you're applying for grad school, these things aren't always on the forefront of your mind, and they really should be - including thinking about what happens if grad school goes poorly for you or you become uninterested in what you initially set out to do. Consider, also, that you may need way more training and time in places that aren't your final resting place before you're done, even if a tenure-track job is in your future. Increasingly, I see people having to do two, even three post-docs before getting a more stable research position. It's not an easy path, and the monetary rewards at the end are not all that great, most of the time.

Another thing I wanted to point out to people, which I hadn't really considered before going into grad school (though it all turned out fine) is whether you like a subject, or you LOVE a subject. Too often, I see people who merely "like" a subject go into grad school; this is a bad idea. You will get your fill of a subject and then some when you're in graduate school. I love my field; as an undergraduate I'd spend over 20 hours per week in the lab, I'd read papers for fun (sometimes I'd even carry a little stack to tournaments), and I learned some biology and chemistry solely for quizbowl purposes. Even then, there are days in grad school where I get really tired of it and wonder whether it's worth spending the rest of my life on. Experiments don't work, reagents run out, stupid mistakes are made, money sometimes becomes an issue, your mental health is variable, and your life outside of school often interferes - and you have to keep loving your subject even through all of that. 99% of the time in science, your stuff simply does not work (sometimes it's your fault, sometimes it's not), but you have to count on that 1% to keep you going. That, and keeping hobbies and friends outside of your work helps a lot, too.

One thing Marshall said that I 100% agree with is grad school is intellectually stimulating. More to the point, it's uniquely so. I really do enjoy the fact that I have the privilege of analyzing data, designing experiments, striking up collaborations, etc, in a top flight medical institution. And that's the real appeal of it all. I don't want to make it seem like grad school is a bad idea, but unless you're 100% sure of what you want to do with the degree, and you understand what the market is like for someone with your skills, you're gonna have a bad time.
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Re: Where Are You Going Next Year? [Collegiate edition, 2014

Post by The Atom Strikes! » Mon Mar 24, 2014 4:26 am

grapesmoker wrote:
It's impossible to transplant any one personal experience to another individual; Mike will tell you one thing, and I'll tell you a different thing. But the numbers don't lie: the prospects for turning a history or a literature Ph.D. into full-time employment in academia are slim to none. The only way I would say that grad school makes sense is if you just can't see yourself doing anything else and you're willing to make large material sacrifices to do this one thing that you love more than anything in the world. If that's not the case, then I would encourage you to not stay in academia.
Prospects for a tenure-track job in the humanities certainly aren't great, but "slim to none" is pushing it a lot. The American Historical Association's survey of recent graduates (consisting of a random sample that totaled to about a quarter of them) found that 49% of the people who finished PhDs in history in the '08-'09 Academic year (ie: the most recent group to get the customary few years on the postdoc/lecturer/visiting professor treadmill out of the way) were employed in tenure-track jobs. If you're not an Americanist or Europeanist, your chances jump to well over 65% Now, this is slightly worse than a coin flip, and it doesn't account for the many, many people who attrite out of grad school, but it's far from impossible to get a job. Very, very few ultimately find themselves totally unemployed.

(A Summary of the Survey)

(The Full Report)

That said, "slightly worse than a coin flip" is still pretty shitty odds, you don't have much choice about where you're going to get to live, academia isn't super-lucrative, and the whole thing is a lot of work. So, like people are saying, think hard before you do it.

EDIT: I'm only a year into graduate school at the moment, but my experience so far has actually been awesome. I live in a comfortable apartment in one of the priciest per-square-foot parts of the city where I live, and I still have plenty of cash left over for books, entertainment, and some savings. I spend a lot of time working, but I actually love most of what I do, and I can schedule it as I want so that I can do things at times that are convenient for me. I've found the experience terrifically intellectually stimulating, and I feel like I've grown enormously as a thinker and as a human being. The networking/social side also mostly has felt like a blast so far. I'm actually happier than I ever have been before.
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by Mike Bentley » Mon Mar 24, 2014 11:37 am

I'm having trouble finding it, but I read a post arguing that those "are you employed and how much do you make" surveys sent to new graduates, at least in the case of law school, were quite inflated. I believe the reasons involved things like trusting law schools to provide some of this data (their motives not being exactly pure) and people with good jobs self-selecting to respond.

May not apply in this case, but it's something to consider.
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Re: Where Are You Going Next Year? [Collegiate edition, 2014

Post by Important Bird Area » Mon Mar 24, 2014 12:50 pm

The Atom Strikes! wrote:The American Historical Association's survey of recent graduates (consisting of a random sample that totaled to about a quarter of them) found that 49% of the people who finished PhDs in history in the '08-'09 Academic year (ie: the most recent group to get the customary few years on the postdoc/lecturer/visiting professor treadmill out of the way) were employed in tenure-track jobs.
The numbers for more recent PhDs are certainly worse than that, given how awful the job market has been since 2008. (Note the gigantic recession-related cliff in the AHA's own job numbers, and that the same recession has sent even more people into grad school.)
Mike Bentley wrote:I'm having trouble finding it, but I read a post arguing that those "are you employed and how much do you make" surveys sent to new graduates, at least in the case of law school, were quite inflated. I believe the reasons involved things like trusting law schools to provide some of this data (their motives not being exactly pure) and people with good jobs self-selecting to respond.

May not apply in this case, but it's something to consider.
Even the AHA was writing headlines like "A Grim Year on the Academic Job Market for Historians" (2010).

(Henry is entirely correct that the job market for non-western history is significantly better than that for American and European history.)
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by Rococo A Go Go » Mon Mar 24, 2014 1:11 pm

I'll repeat my statement more seriously, a bachelor's degree in history isn't worth much more than a high school degree on the job market right now. If your only alternative is a promotion at Burger King, I imagine that a fully-funded PhD program probably looks pretty comfortable and significantly more stimulating. Employment after completing the program may be a huge problem, but you've at least always got a fall back of going back to where you started. Plenty of other people get fired from their terrible jobs when they're 26 and have to start over. For all the struggles of people within academia, everybody else is doing worse, and making the bad decision of going to graduate school is probably better than whatever bad decisions that people who don't go usually end up making
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by The Atom Strikes! » Mon Mar 24, 2014 1:20 pm

Mike Bentley wrote:I'm having trouble finding it, but I read a post arguing that those "are you employed and how much do you make" surveys sent to new graduates, at least in the case of law school, were quite inflated. I believe the reasons involved things like trusting law schools to provide some of this data (their motives not being exactly pure) and people with good jobs self-selecting to respond.

May not apply in this case, but it's something to consider.
This survey wasn't conducted by any individual program, and it used an actual random sample, which ultimately included a quarter of all the people who finished, rather than self-reporting. They also were able to track down all but 2.8% of people in their sample. It still features one major bias (ie: neglecting everybody who dropped out). But this actually does seem to be a statistically solid survey of the history PhDs who did finish in the relevant time period.

As to Jeff's point, the recession certainly did make things worse (and you can see it in the numbers in the survey-- the most recent group did worst in getting tenure-track employment, and they're the ones who would be going hard for tenure-track jobs in '08 and afterward)-- and they probably continued to get worse for at least a while after the time bracket closed. That said, university endowments are growing again, and it seems alarmist to believe that the recession-related crunch will last forever. Indeed, the gossip at the university where I am now suggests that the higher-ups are starting to relax again about making more hires.

The AHA's other numbers in the last couple years suggest that the number of jobs have started to go up again over the last two years. Of course, there are a bunch of people from the glut who will take a while to either drop out of the market or be soaked up by it. So, chances are still bad, but it's not like winning the lottery.
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by Lagotto Romagnolo » Mon Mar 24, 2014 1:49 pm

I can't speak for the humanities, but it's worth noting that some areas of research put more restrictions on you than others. If you're a theoretical physicist crafting a new set of equations, you can get a lot of work done with just a few books, even if you're on a 12-hour flight to a conference on the other side of the world. If your work involves computational modeling in COMSOL or the like that takes a long time to run, but your work computer can be accessed remotely, then you won't need to go into the office as much. If you're an experimentalist, your work isn't really portable. Personal example/ self-serving rant: I work in a cleanroom full of machines for metal and dielectric deposition and etching, and lately it's become a game of guessing "What machine will break this week" and "Why haven't the staff fixed the machine that broke last week?" And hydrofluoric acid isn't exactly portable. In the world of experiments, you're not just a scientist, you're also a mechanic (no offense to theorists).
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by Cheynem » Mon Mar 24, 2014 1:59 pm

The danger in getting a degree though without thinking about it is that you may price yourself out of some jobs, plus you may come out of it significantly worse financially, emotionally, or physically than if you had plugged away at getting a non-academic job (of which there are assuredly better jobs than Burger King with a history BA). There are certainly ways that you do not end up "at least where you started"--you could rack up lots of costs (even if your program is fully funded), you could become an emotional basket case, etc. You could blow a lot of money and time in moving and getting acclimated only to discover that you hate it. Your adviser could suddenly take another job elsewhere (or in my case, suddenly die). Again, I'm not quite on the doom and gloom side but I do think going to graduate school requires asking lots of tough questions.
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by theMoMA » Mon Mar 24, 2014 2:27 pm

The problem with law school surveys is that the law schools are really good at finding temporary jobs (often at the law school itself) for their graduates who don't find permanent employment out of the gate. These jobs or fellowships often last just long enough to qualify for the reporting period of the employment surveys.
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Mon Mar 24, 2014 5:24 pm

The Atom Strikes! wrote:That said, university endowments are growing again, and it seems alarmist to believe that the recession-related crunch will last forever. Indeed, the gossip at the university where I am now suggests that the higher-ups are starting to relax again about making more hires.
Glad to hear that, but I'd be surprised if things revert to the prior level of labor market tightness. It's pretty clear in general and in academia in particular that recessions become excuses to lay people off or cease hiring in a way that re-allocates employment, or just ends up reducing it completely. You should not underestimate the willingness of university administrators to annex whatever revenue they can and blame a "lack of demand" for the humanities.

UPDATE: There's also the issue of the reduction in government funding, which offsets rising endowments. The more operating budgets are funded from endowment spending policies, the lower will be research's claim on those budgets (and especially humanities research). Furthermore the endowment finances a much lower proportion of operating budgets at most institutions than it does at yours (as I know because yours used to be my financial advisory client).
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by ValenciaQBowl » Mon Mar 24, 2014 7:26 pm

I will also add that grad school/academia is just TERRIBLE in guiding people to the job opportunities that are not tenure-track jobs--jobs like the above, but also CC jobs ...
What? I'm not sure I understand Mike's claim above. A master's degree (ie, grad school) is required for a CC teaching job. Further, we certainly have tenure-track jobs at CCs, because CCs have tenure! Perhaps what he meant is that one's master's study doesn't specifically teach one how to be a CC teacher, which I suppose is true, though if you get to work as a TA you'd get that experience.

It's getting more competitive to get CC tenure-track jobs, especially in big cities with large pools of adjunct candidates and/or at places where folks want to teach (like Valencia). But those of you who finish master's degrees in any academic field are credentiable to teach at a CC, and if it's something you're interested in, your best bet is to start adjuncting as many classes at as many colleges as you can. Like everyone I know in a tenured position, you'll almost certainly have to suffer a number of years (I had four, which is probably about average among my colleagues) cobbling together a schedule of adjunct classes, driving from campus to campus and such, but if you keep at it (and maybe take on an extra-curricular, like quiz bowl coaching), such jobs certainly can be gotten.

Further, they're great! We don't have to publish to get tenure (most schools have a teaching portfolio system), though most have a load of five courses in fall and spring, with differing expectations for summers (at my school, you have to teach two, but if you teach four, you get an extra payment equal to 20% of your base salary!!!), so you really have to like working with students. And many of your students are NOT going to be completely academically prepared, and many are going to be apathetic and surly (just like freshmen at universities!). But you'd be surprised how many are intellectually famished and want to learn everything you can offer.

And the pay is better than the bizarre assumptions I usually hear. At Valencia a brand-new instructor with no experience at all (a rare hire) will make around $38k as a base (which can be increased with overloads and four-class summer load). That's probably higher than most places, but that's not a bad start. With step increases and such, it's feasible for someone to be making close to $80k in 20 years.

So go out and become CC professors and start up quiz bowl programs at your school! You can always keep working on your PhD while you teach.
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by Cheynem » Mon Mar 24, 2014 7:29 pm

Just wanted to clarify I meant "jobs outside of prime research or liberal arts schools." Certainly, tenure is possible at CC's and you obviously do need grad degrees to teach at it; my point, ill-put as it was, was that graduate schools do not tend to provide much assistance in community colleges as a career option because as Chris points out, the emphasis is more on teaching, than research.
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by ValenciaQBowl » Mon Mar 24, 2014 7:36 pm

That's true. If you don't get a TA (and sometimes even if you do), grad school doesn't do much to teach you how to teach. But I reckon that's also true if you get your PhD and get a job at any college. Sure, you'll do a lot of research for which you'll be prepared, but you'll still have to teach some.
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by The Atom Strikes! » Mon Mar 24, 2014 9:10 pm

Tees-Exe Line wrote:
The Atom Strikes! wrote:That said, university endowments are growing again, and it seems alarmist to believe that the recession-related crunch will last forever. Indeed, the gossip at the university where I am now suggests that the higher-ups are starting to relax again about making more hires.
Glad to hear that, but I'd be surprised if things revert to the prior level of labor market tightness. It's pretty clear in general and in academia in particular that recessions become excuses to lay people off or cease hiring in a way that re-allocates employment, or just ends up reducing it completely. You should not underestimate the willingness of university administrators to annex whatever revenue they can and blame a "lack of demand" for the humanities.

UPDATE: There's also the issue of the reduction in government funding, which offsets rising endowments. The more operating budgets are funded from endowment spending policies, the lower will be research's claim on those budgets (and especially humanities research). Furthermore the endowment finances a much lower proportion of operating budgets at most institutions than it does at yours (as I know because yours used to be my financial advisory client).

Mmmm, good points. It's valuable to remember how one's place in the world can cause blindnesses. I' should probably also note that I'm not counting on academic employment post-PhD myself-- but fortunately, I have a STEM undergrad degree, programming skills, and Arabic proficiency, so I doubt that I'll be unemployable.
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by ktour84 » Mon Mar 24, 2014 11:10 pm

I have an MS in Library Science and am currently working in a library now at UW-Madison. I probably would only consider going back to school if it meant a significant pay increase or change from hourly to salaried, but neither will probably happen given the decreasing amount of state support for UW-Madison.

I thought about getting a MA in Art History but decided against it after having a bad experience with the art and aesthetic theory class. I think I drew the very short straw as far as instructors because I got the East Asian specialist who was nuts. If it had been a different person, it might have been different. I'm more interested in museum/curatorial studies and the art history department is starting a program in that area in the fall.

There's a difference in the research mindset in academic and the professional programs (MLS, MBA, etc). I did a research guide this winter for work on the issue of Nazi-looted art. The approach that the art history faculty and grad students and the library people took were the extreme opposite. It was meant to be a guide with a focus on Europe with mostly English language sources. The art history people, including two faculty member provided some good material that was incorporated into the guide. The library people were more focused on showing off how broad and shallow their knowledge was on the subject. The email chain got to be too much and too off subject, especially with some wanting coverage of China, Napoleonic looting, etc. The end result was a tightly focused and very timely research guide. The Monuments Men film bought attention to the subject as did the Gurlitt hoard in Munich.

I would only really consider grad school if I were truly passionate about the subject matter and having some confidence that there will be a job when you are done with the PhD.
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by grapesmoker » Mon Mar 24, 2014 11:11 pm

It's also worth pointing out that your odds are (unsurprisingly) much better if you get your Ph.D. from a top-quartile program and that in any case, your odds of winding up in an institution that does a lot of research are pretty bad and get worse as the strength of program decreases. And keep in mind that this theoretical coin-flip might mean that you spend 3, 4, or 5 years on the job market. I'm obviously exaggerating when I say that odds are slim to none, but they're not good, and in many cases they depend on you waiting out the job market somehow. Just to reiterate, you should really know what you're giving up and what you're getting when you make that decision; life doesn't end when you leave academia, and you can have a fulfilling intellectual life outside of it.
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by Banned Tiny Toon Adventures Episode » Mon Mar 24, 2014 11:44 pm

ktour84 wrote:I think I drew the very short straw as far as instructors because I got the East Asian specialist who was nuts.
Could this perhaps be a professor burkuss?
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by The Atom Strikes! » Tue Mar 25, 2014 2:06 am

grapesmoker wrote:It's also worth pointing out that your odds are (unsurprisingly) much better if you get your Ph.D. from a top-quartile program and that in any case, your odds of winding up in an institution that does a lot of research are pretty bad and get worse as the strength of program decreases. And keep in mind that this theoretical coin-flip might mean that you spend 3, 4, or 5 years on the job market. I'm obviously exaggerating when I say that odds are slim to none, but they're not good, and in many cases they depend on you waiting out the job market somehow. Just to reiterate, you should really know what you're giving up and what you're getting when you make that decision; life doesn't end when you leave academia, and you can have a fulfilling intellectual life outside of it.

Ahhh, okay. Thanks for making where you come from clear. It seems like you and I actually see eye-to-eye on this-- and I agree that recognizing that you can have a good life outside of academia is valuable.
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by at your pleasure » Tue Mar 25, 2014 2:19 am

ktour84 wrote: I thought about getting a MA in Art History but decided against it after having a bad experience with the art and aesthetic theory class. I think I drew the very short straw as far as instructors because I got the East Asian specialist who was nuts. If it had been a different person, it might have been different. I'm more interested in museum/curatorial studies and the art history department is starting a program in that area in the fall.
Huh, one of the reasons i've decided i would rather apply to Middle-east-centric MA/Ph.D. programs than Art History MA/Ph.D programs if I go that route is that I have very little patience for pure theory, or rather like it better when it's put to some use talking about you know, actual things.
The Superfluous Man wrote:I can't speak for the humanities, but it's worth noting that some areas of research put more restrictions on you than others. If you're a theoretical physicist crafting a new set of equations, you can get a lot of work done with just a few books, even if you're on a 12-hour flight to a conference on the other side of the world. If your work involves computational modeling in COMSOL or the like that takes a long time to run, but your work computer can be accessed remotely, then you won't need to go into the office as much. If you're an experimentalist, your work isn't really portable.
With respect to the humanities: it really, really depends on the field enormously. Some fields are very portable, some require fieldwork in specific locals for long chunks of time, and some may require quite a bit of travel to consult specialized libraries, archives or museum collections. Digitization obviously is very useful for cutting down on the travel demanded by the latter, but digitizing everything is time-consuming and expensive and some research simply cannot be conducted with digital reproductions alone.
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Re: Discussion of graduate school (split)

Post by Great Bustard » Fri Mar 28, 2014 4:06 pm

I'm going to jump into this briefly to note the possibility of graduate programs overseas, and not just the obvious in England. I did a master's degree in international relations in Berlin, which was half in English, half in German. That said, there were quite a few programs on offer (and this was in 2003 - I'd imagine this is even truer now) entirely in English. Also of note: the tuition cost 140 Euros a semester, and that included a free subway/bus pass for the Berlin metro area, and the chance to buy good health insurance for 40 euros a month. All that as a foreigner with no permanent residence in the EU. And Berlin is an amazing city that for interesting historical reasons (pigeonhole me some time if you want the full story; I used to work as a bike tour guide there) has a ridiculous housing glut (meaning rents, outside the city center are still dirt cheap). And the best Doner Kebab in the world (it's better than Istanbul's) too.
The program I did wasn't bad academically, either. Some classes were totally useless (I imagine this is true in many places), but others were really cool. The quality of the students in my program was great, even if some of the professors weren't, and it took 9 months for my thesis to get graded. There was also an active Model UN program (this was in my wilderness years for quizbowl, but you could easily buy Ryanair tickets to London and go play there) that I was a part of, and the opportunity to travel all over Europe on the cheap every weekend. If you want to do a PhD, consider the British approach too. I almost applied for PhD programs there, which typically last just 3 years and don't have as much of a teaching requirement. People who have studied in Britain or other countries can elaborate on their experiences, but for me, living in Berlin from 2003-2007 was 100% the right call at that point in my life.
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