Another day, another debate

Another day, another blog post on the whole why you should/shouldn’t go to graduate school. I’ve harped on this before but I am so sick of hearing people talk about graduate school as if it’s a place that is only a waste of time with no job prospects whatsoever or as if it’s a religious calling for “intellectuals.”

So a quick disclaimer: I am sure David Z. Morris has much more nuanced views than he posted on his blog. And I agree with many of his basic points. I agree that many people are too cynical in their discussions about graduate school. I agree graduate school is not inherently bad and that it can work out great for some people. Hopefully he sees this response as a lively academic debate and not a personal attack. That being said, here’s some (likely overly critical given the fact they’re based solely off a single blog post) comments.

Morris also begins with a bit of a disclaimer.

I should note two very important caveats – so important that for some readers, they will invalidate everything that follows. First, I come from a comfortable middle-class background…..Second, I went to grad school on a pretty generous fellowship.

But I’d love to know why these facts would invalidate advice about graduate school. The consideration of money is always being cast aside by the “go” crowd and overplayed by the “don’t go” crowd, but the fact is to go to graduate school you NEED to be funded. Otherwise, you’ll have massive amounts of debt, with shallow career prospects. You will never make money in graduate school like you would in another field and that’s fine for most graduate students. However, you also wouldn’t work for 6 years for free, right? So why take out loans for 6 years of school? You may be a doctor, but you won’t be working in a hospital afterward (well, maybe if you study the history of medicine). I firmly believe graduate school should not just be a place for the wealthy, but pursuing a Ph.D. without funding does nothing to solve that problem.

Getting to the reasons why you should go, though. Morris says that you should go to graduate school if you love to read, write, and debate. But let’s not pretend academia is the only place these things happen. Reading, writing, and debating make up substantial portions of many other professions. I have many friends more talented and intelligent than me that easily could have attended and thrived in graduate school. Instead, they are thriving in other professions in which I am sure they still read, write, and debate. If these are your top three reasons for attending graduate school, you may want to do more research on other job opportunities.

More importantly, the last two reasons, “You Participate in the Happy Delusion that Intellectual Work Matters” and “You Should Go To Graduate School if You Are an Intellectual” continue to build a idyllic image of graduate school as safe haven for intellectuals outside of the “real world.” Why sugar coat the fact that graduate school is a job? A job with low pay, lots of deadlines, and many long nights. Perhaps Morris finds it helpful to scare away potential graduate students with statements like:

If you’ve seriously considered any other options on your way to choosing an academic career, the chances are good you’ve made the wrong choice.

but it is this kind of “academic or bust” thinking that hinders Ph.D.s from adequately preparing themselves for the statistically likely fact that they will not get a tenure track position at a research university. Perpetuating this notion of academic exceptionalism doesn’t provide any real substance to the tough conversation about the future of graduate education.

I’m in a Ph.D. program so I do still think there is worth in obtaining the degree. I also find that the graduate school life fits my personality quite well and I am happy with my life despite the fact there are many things not to enjoy (lots of work, little pay, etc). However, even though I believe I made a good decision going to graduate school, I am not under the impression that it was the one and only right choice. I am sure I could have found another job that I enjoyed. It may have been a different sort of enjoyment, like the kind where you actually have nights and weekends free of work and deadlines, but you have to work from 9-5 during the week. I just don’t think that admitting this reality makes me any less of an intellectual.

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