March 12, 2012

"100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School."

A blog. It's up to #79 — "The tyranny of procrastination," a post dated February 27, 2012. Ahem. Get on with it! Is that the title and date you want at the top the day Inside Higher Ed points you out in a column called "Reasons Not to Go to Graduate School"?
Anonymously produced for two years by someone who says the blog is "the result of long experience," the steadily increasing number of comments on posts testifies that its point of view is resonating with many. The posts are a mix of analysis of the job market ("There are very few jobs"), the realities many see in graduate school ("Graduate seminars can be unbearable") and the impact of grad school on individuals' personal lives ("The one-body problem")....

A recent post on "the culture of fear" drew many responses (many of them, consistent with the post, anonymous) about the power gaps in academe. "Why are academics — of all people — afraid of writing (and speaking) honestly about their profession? Why do so many of those who do express themselves feel compelled to do so anonymously? The answer lies in the staggering power imbalance between academics and the people who employ them....
Here's one that caught my eye: "77. It attracts the socially inept."
Graduate school demands that you spend an immense amount of time alone (see Reason 69). It demands sustained interest in highly esoteric subjects. And it demands that you approach those esoteric subjects with the utmost seriousness. You can see how this environment would be attractive to people who are more comfortable in their own thoughts than in the company of others. This applies across academic disciplines. While some graduate students are involved in cutting-edge medical research, others are studying the subtle aspects of postwar Croatian cinema (see Reason 66). Oddly enough, the latter take their work as seriously as the former. Grad school can be compared to an endless fan convention at which all the participants cluster by genre or disciplinary interest, and where every individual is highly invested in a particular sub-sub-sub-genre....


TCB-n-a-Flash said...

I have a Master of Arts Degree in Speech Communication with a concentration in Rhetoric and Public Address. I'll sell it to anyone for $50.

Mark O said...

What is the point of education and merit in the world of social justice and redistribution?

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

I went to graduate school in 1992 to remain on campus with my girlfriend who is now my wife. It was my last opportunity to extend the my incubation period and remain in fantasy camp for another year and a half.

Rialby said...

I was working for a Fortune 50 company when I decided it was a wise idea to drop 70k (plus lost income) on graduate school. Had I stayed and played the game, I would be in the same position albeit in a more expensive real estate market. Nevertheless, I gained almost nothing by going to graduate school. I see people who went to Capella U and the U of Phoenix competing for the same jobs I am (with a top 20 MBA). It's a scam.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

No...let's tell these kids to go to Grad School, borrow an additional $35 to $50K, and then join the #Occupy movement and insist on having the debt forgiven.

How could ANY professor, guiding these kids, give this advice to a students. It is self-serving and meant to prop up their own careers, to populate their departments. Perhaps even to indoctrinate lifetime liberals. I don't want my kids NEAR Madison.

30K-50K in debt on some M.A. in whatever cultural studies department? What a waste.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

If everybody has a million dollars, then $1M isn't worth $1M. It's like when Jim Carrey let everyone win the lottery in that God movie with Morgan Freeman, and all the winners were pissed.

I LOVE this post Ann. You've got GUTS and are ingenuous. You must sit alone at lunch a lot. Do they even let you play in any of the reindeer games at UW?

Henry said...

It's interesting to compare this list that definitely targets PhD track students to MFA programs. The posts about the silliness, aimlessness, and lack of prospects apply, but a lot of the misery in PhD programs is absent in MFA programs. You're doing something you really like, with likeminded people. It's convivial and fun and unstructured and you never have to grow up. Until you do, and with a lot less money than when you started.

But my favorite in the list is 70. It is Unforgiving with a length quote by William James. Essentially, the vast majority of ordinary people don't need a PhD and the pursuit of it is a humiliation.

The context for James' musings is a rigorous sense of what real thinking met. It is instructive that Oliver Wendell Holmes considered studying philosophy and decided he was personally unsuited for it.

Dose of Sanity said...

Is TCB insulting you or complimenting you? It's hard to tell. :-p

1. free from reserve, restraint, or dissimulation; candid; sincere.
2. artless; innocent; naive.

Icepick said...

Why single out cultural studies? The same thing is largely true in STEM fields, despite the propoganda of lawyers and businessmen like our current and most recent former President. You can be goddamned sure that Obama's daughters won't go into the STEM fields any more Bush's daughters or Chelsea Clinton.

When I was in grad school for Mathematics I got a nasty shock one night. A bunch of us had been working late into the night on homework, exam prep and whatnot. As TAs we all had offices in the department and were working in the grad student lounge.

Around one o'clock in the morning we decided it was time to get some food. The lone PhD student there that night talked us into going to the Subway right off campus, so off we went. At the subway the PhD student struck up a conversation with the lone employee.

On the way back to the offices we started joking with the PhD student, that he was working such long hours that he was on familiar terms with the late-night food workers. And he said, "That's not it at all. We got our Masters degrees in Math at the same time. We shared an office."

YIKES! So much for the value of an MS in Mathematics! This was back in the late 1990s when the economy didn't suck, either. I started looking for non-mathematical career options shortly thereafter.

There's a reason a lot of PhDs in Mathematics and Physics ended up in the world of finance: Because that's where the jobs were.

Grad school is pretty much a scam unless you've got an employer paying for it, and even then most of the time.

roesch/voltaire said...

After various work experiences including news photography, ad agencies etc, I started graduate school at the age of forty and found that I loved the intense, introspective experience, but it is not for everyone. Further one must keep an eye on where the job market will be in four years. For various reasons including faculty and college status as well as the need to attract students to justify the seminars, the number of Ph.D candidates has become inflated in many academic and even medical areas. Still the top candidates manage to find jobs.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

@Dose of Sanity: I'm not trying to insult the Professor. She's got GUTS. Graduate School in 1992 was my first exposure to the University thought police. It created my inner Breitbart, where I wanted to push back and say F__ Y__!

It's where I first learned that "free and open debate" meant shouting down those that disagree with you.

Now we have a generation of kids, holding $1 Trillion in debt, all on a questionably valuable piece of paper.

And I know what ingenuous means. I have a graduate degree.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

I've said this before. In the Wizard of Oz, the Wizard didn't give the Scarecrow a brain; he handed him a degree.

Dose of Sanity said...


That degree didn't come with a sense of humor, I see.

I also hold .0000001% of that debt personally. Actually, more like .000000125%, but what's a small difference like that. I don't know if law school is equivalent to graduate school, but oh well. Ironically, I've never seen a student's opinion shouted down.

Ah well, here's hoping it pays off.

William said...

If you or your parents can afford it and you have an intense interest in some subject or the other, it's a pleasant enough way to pass the time. If they weren't going to graduate school, most liberal arts people would not be making a million or finding a cure for cancer anyway. While there are many activities more lucrative, there are few activities more harmless than getting a graduate degree..... If you think of it as an onerous waste of time, then it is an onerous waste of time. However, some people like to put chrome and dual exhausts on their cars and some people like to put such curlicues on their minds. Follow your bliss.

cubanbob said...

Graduate school is really a vocational school. Pick your career path wisely. Am MA in electrical egineering is worth X over one's working life. An MA in basket weaving, not so much.

edutcher said...

A lot of complaining among those reasons.

Truth in advertising:

When I got my Bachelor's in CS in '02, the idea of going for a Master's was broached. As I was 54, I couldn't see spending another 4 or 5 years beating myself up (work, school, work, school can be wearing) for something that would only be useful for another 5 years after that.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

@Dose of Sanity

You've NEVER seen an opinion shouted down on a college campus? What? Is this your first visit to the Althouse blog, cause she's got plenty of video. Have you ever been on a campus? It is a cultural atmosphere as palpable as peanut butter.

Disingenuous: dis·in·gen·u·ous/disinˈjenyo͞oəs/
Not candid or sincere, typically by pretending that one knows less about something than one really does.

Rusty said...

I quit a masters program in English Lit. to become a Tool and Die maker.
I haven't quit learning since.

fleetusa said...

First, only go to graduate school if you know that you'll have a good or better job as a result. Don't go if you aren't certain.

Second, a lot of university types encourage (PUSH!) students to grad school just to fill programs and justify their existence. I've even seen this in the undergraduate arena as well. Maybe some would even say they brainwash the students during undergrad to go on to grad school.

I have two grad school degrees but both were very specific and enabled me at the time to multiply my income without a lot of debt.

Bartender Cabbie said...

I know folk with an MBA that I would not put in charge of a snow cone stand

Dose of Sanity said...

@Dose of Sanity

You've NEVER seen an opinion shouted down on a college campus? What? Is this your first visit to the Althouse blog, cause she's got plenty of video. Have you ever been on a campus? It is a cultural atmosphere as palpable as peanut butter.

On Campus? No, not once.

This is not my first time here, but thanks for asking. Also, don't confuse the State Capitol and its grounds for campus. They are close, and just a short jaunt down state street...but hardly the same thing. As a student at the university, I'd say I've been on campus once or twice. (re: 8-12 hours / day)

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

@Dose of Sanity:

You must be one of the Students doing the shouting then.

Dose of Sanity said...


Nice. Link one video from althouse of on-campus shouting?

bagoh20 said...

". It demands sustained interest in highly esoteric subjects. And it demands that you approach those esoteric subjects with the utmost seriousness."

This also describes most jobs, so it's not that strange.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

@Dose of Sanity,

University of Rochester, linked thru Althouse. Maybe not the exact link, but that's where I first saw the story. Go in, interrupt the class, and prevent the Professor from Speaking. Just last week.

Also, to pretend that UW is some bastion of diverse opinions is again, disingenuous. UW just happens to be the "perfect storm" where programmed students get to go down to the Capital and shout down anyone who disagrees with them.

Maybe that keeps the UW campus quiet. That and the kind bud.

chuck said...

I was working for a Fortune 50 company when I decided it was a wise idea to drop 70k (plus lost income) on graduate school.

Similar story here, except I got my Ph'D in mathematics. Was it worth it? I think so. I didn't study math as an undergraduate and it took a couple of weeks to come up to speed with the graduate courses, but man, math is just full of gorgeous ideas, it's beautiful. I'm glad I have it with me.

Joe Schmoe said...

I can see a couple of good uses for a grad degree.

If you have an undergrad degree, but want to switch into a different field, a graduate degree can get you there.

It's also useful if you want to teach or lecture at all. I lecture a college class on the side, and I wouldn't have qualified w/o a grad degree.

Where you get your advanced degree is now pretty inconsequential, unless you need to make sure it's accredited, if that's a prerequisite to you becoming a doctor, lawyer, professional engineer, etc. (via some sort of licensing/bar exam process)

Dose of Sanity said...


Epic, epic fail.

Your only link is

Man, they REALLY are shouting down that opinion there. Whew.

Also, it's not UW - so I didn't see it. And what's wrong with staying calm?

MadisonMan said...

I went to grad school because I wanted to learn more about my field. Of course, this was in the 80s, and research assistantships were available. But they still are, I think. If you are curious, and know lots of math, you can go into any science and learn stuff that is absolutely fascinating.

I accrued zero debt (I think I left with $1000 more in the bank than when I started, which is to say $1500 total :) ) and was able to travel to various places around the US, and once to Europe, for Conferences. It wasn't a bad living for 5 years.

MadisonMan said...

(Requisite Groundhog Day Link)

ken in sc said...

I dropped out of my doctoral program. I had 4 credit hours of class work and the dissertation to go. The dissertation was partly written. After two years of every class I registered for being canceled for one reason or another. One of them I was sitting in the classroom and did not find out it was canceled until I noticed that no one else showed up. My committee members were almost never available and frequently did not show for appointments. One of them told me that he was not paid for or evaluated on being on a graduate student's committee. My committee chairman retired. My department was merged with another department and the new department head was a supercilious asshole. He liked to keep people waiting in his outer office when one could see through the open door that he wasn't doing anything.

I decided it was not worth the humiliation. The only thing is that I am the only one in my immediate family who does not have 'Doctor' attached to his or her name.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

@Dose of Sanity:

I see you are not an English Major. Excuse me for using illustration to draw the broader point. You know what I'm talking about, and you are still being disingenuous. I expect this from a UW student.

When's the last time Rebecca Kleefisch has been invited to speak at the Women's Studies Department? Or Scott Walker at the Political Science Dept? Or Herman Cain at African-American Studies? Ok, you win, that's not shouting, but it certainly passively, and purposefully SILENCING. It's the sin of omission.

And let's say those above were invited to speak. There wouldn't be a group of students shouting them down? Or, dousing themselves with gasoline?

Wait, not the gasoline thing. That would take self-sacrifice, something missing from today's college student.

And trust me. If it is as quiet as you claim, then the fear inside those that disagree with UW campus norms has already silenced them. They just want the Degree and escape back to the real world.

It is why College Degrees are now watered down, expensive jokes. When you graduate and find that nobody cares what your degree is in, you'll know what I mean. That's the point to the post, and the blog list. Or, at least my interpretation.

I hire people for a living. I spend about one second looking at education on a resume. If it's the first thing listed, I move to the next one.

My biggest exposure to Daytime Television were the six-and-a-half-years I spent on a College Campus. And at the time, I actually thought I was accomplishing something.

Quit being pretentious. You'll learn. And you're in for a rude awakening.

Dose of Sanity said...


Sounds like you can't admit you were wrong to me. You said you had video evidence of students shouting down other students on the UW campus. You don't - and no amount of "illustrating" can make that true.

Also, what do you think I go to school for at UW, haha.

PatCA said...

I could relate so much to his 100 reasons. I just got the MA for enrichment, so I didn't put up with the rite of passage torture that my adviser doled out. I can't imagine what students must go through who want to make academia a career! The fear and loathing is intense.

Colleges love grad students, as they typically pay high tuition. As an admin type later, I have seen weak students shunted to the junk programs, like Enviro Studies, just to capture their tuition.

For me, I enjoyed it, because I expected nothing, I did it for fun. If your employer is paying for it or you need it for raise, fine, but skip it otherwise.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

@Dose of Sanity

Nana, Nana, Boo, Boo.

I can't wait to get another resume across my desk w some UW liberal arts degree listed. (I have by the way) I'll invite them in just for the entertainment value.

It'll be like Jim Carrey in "Fun With Dick and Jane" where he got an interview just to they could all take their picture with him.

I'm not wrong, and if your critical thinking skills are and example of what is being pumped out at UW, than I am more correct than even I imagined.

They should add this argument to the blog list of reasons not to go to grad school.

Hey. What on daytime TV right now??

Yiddishe Bloyger said...

Only 100 reasons? I guess you mean the top 100.

Dose of Sanity said...


Haha, you won't ever see my resume.

Don't worry - I'll still represent you later if you need it. I'm forgiving like that.

Dose of Sanity said...

(There, that was pretenious for you)

Yiddishe Bloyger said...

When I was working HR in the public sector, I was shocked at the number of law degrees that came attached to applications for mid level jobs. Actually, I even got one for an animal control officer position. No offence to Ann, but every one of them thought they were the first law degree I had seen, and apparently expected me to throw myself at their feet. I felt bad for them. This was in a California coastal community, and the number of attorney's per square mile was incredible. It was not uncommon to find attorneys who didn't get enough business to net $30k a year.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

Hey College Students! Please list any #Occupy rallies or Madison Protests you have attended under the "favorite activities" portion of your resume. See how many bites you get out there in the private sector.

Can any professional here imagine letting that attitude of entitlement pollute the productivity of a business? That person would be a headache from day one.

Who's really going to hire Segway Jeremy?

And yes, I am pointing a finger, (my middle one) at the University System for not only creating, but fueling it this attitude. I'm Generation X. We're in a lot of trouble.

But the next one generations; Ugghhh....

CharlesVegas said...

I went to grad school. It was great for my golf game.

Now I work - when I feel like it - from home in my underwear.

I'm pretty much OK with the decision.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

@Dose of Sanity

OMG you're going to be a lawyer. You'll do fine then I guess, cause we all know there aren't enough lawyers in America.

I'm actually in a profession that produces wealth rather than sucking it out of others. i.e. Erin Brockovich.

roesch/voltaire said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dose of Sanity said...

I've taught intro classes for 14 years at UW an never seen any student shout another down even when discussing such topics as stem cell research, or the use of cognitive enhancement drugs- both with strong opposing sides.

Thank you - glad for some support on this.

@ TCB - Man, you have some anger issues. It's pretty funny, really.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

@voltaire - you've NEVER seen a UW student shout down someone who disagrees with them? You've NEVER seen the silencing of DISSENT at UW? Come on!

I'm sure your science department invites global warming "deniers" to express their views all the time. Or, you guys debate intelligent design all the time, don't you? Give me a break.

It even pollutes "science" departments.

Dose of Sanity said...

I'm sure your science department invites global warming "deniers" to express their views all the time

It's hard to find any serious academics that fall into this category, I imagine.

In other news - did you actually go to college? have you ever been to UW? You seem to have this really twisted and warped view of what life on campus is like. You should really visit sometime - that lecture tomorrow doesn't sound half bad.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

@Dose of Sanity -

It only took the morning. Here we go. The unpredictable "you have anger issues" argument. What next, do they give you a list at Freshman orientation?

If you don't know what you're talking about, accuse them of personal instability, racism, sexism, etc...

Accuse them of using "Hate Speech". I get it. It's kindergarten stuff. It writes itself.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

@Dose of Sanity

Yes I have the Graduate degree I listed on top of this thread. I had a BLAST getting it. Spent six and a half years, and man I LOVED it. It's fantasy camp.

College is a blast. I'm just saying it's become a waste of time and money. Many are saying the same.

Did you read the blog list? Cause there's some spot on stuff in there. Scary stuff to you and Professor Voltaire who have so much vested in the system at this time.

Dose of Sanity said...

It's okay TCB, you've been biting baiting me all morning. Don't worry though, I don't take it seriously.

Really though, why do you have all this resentment towards education? It's really shocking.

John Lynch said...

... and I'd rather deliver pizzas without taking on the debt first.

Dose of Sanity said...

Oh - I see. You are objecting to the cost (both time and money).

It's a pretty good argument, but it's not total waste of time. As someone who does hiring, I imagine among two otherwise equal candidates, you'll hire the one with the college degree over the one without.

There has been a big pushback recently against lawschools regarding the costs. Trust me, we are all very aware of it.

Dose of Sanity said...

... and I'd rather deliver pizzas without taking on the debt first.

Short term v. long term problem.

roesch/voltaire said...

Flash I invite you to attend this lecture on" America's Nuclear Rocket Program and Nuclear Power in Space! tomorrow at Engineering Hall. It is a very controversial topic and I doubt that you will see anybody shouting anybody down. I've taught intro classes for 14 years at UW and have never seen any student shout another down even when discussing such topics as stem cell research, or the use of cognitive enhancement drugs- both with strong opposing sides.

William said...

If you really enjoyed it, it was not a waste of time. There aren't that many things in life that are a blast.....I was an English major. I never expected a financial return on my studies. I went to school while working. If liberal arts are full of fluff and nonsense, the ordinary working life is full of drudgery and petty annoyances. The utter impracticality of a liberal arts degree is one of its stronger recommendations. The world is too much with us.

TCB-n-a-Flash said...

Ok @Dose of Sanity:

Full Disclosure:

I lived is Sussex (Waukesha Co.) till I was 7, and have returned there my entire life as it is the base of my family. My family also has a cottage in Oconomowoc. I bleed Wisconsin, and have been a Packer fan living the the West Burbs of Chicago for 20 plus years.

I spend weekends with my wife blowing money in the Theater District of Milwaukee, my favorite city. I picture my Great-Great-Grandfather pulling Scooners up the Milwaukee River with his tug-boat, and I feel connected. I am vested, even though stuck in Chicago during the weekdays.

I am sick and tired of the "Super Citizenship" granted to Dane County Residents and UW Students. The fact that an out of state student can vote in a Wisconsin Election drives me nuts. Wish I could. My family actually pays property taxes in Oconomowoc.

And when all ya'll started accusing Brookfield of cheating during the Prosser / Kloppenberg election, Dane Co. wrote off and insulted a huge, productive, honest segment of the Wisconsin Population. The "Silent Majority" that will once again re-appear on recall day.

So yes. I'm pissed,and insulted, and I can't wait for UW and Dane County to get their comeuppance. I'm not the only one.

Dane County and UW are one in the same culture. I rooted for Oregon, during the Rosebowl just for the Schadenfreude. And trust me, that #Occupy town can drop off the map too.

But, seriously, UW represents one of the MANY reasons today's degrees are watered down. So does Berkley, Duke, and all the rest. University of Rochester and what that President pulled last week. What a joke. That's the dominate University culture. DO you really think the publicity of the protests add value to your degree? It makes me as an employer think UW is pumping out morons.

Finally, I have studied and admire the accomplishments of Milwaukee's three Socialist Mayors. I've studied LaFollete, and see the good the left and Madison once did for the state.

But with the mining bill defeat, Dane just guaranteed economic depression for those Wisconsinites they don't even know exist. You've heard Dane described outside Dane haven't you? 200 square miles surrounded by reality.

UW get so much funding outside of Dane County, and then gives the middle finger to those Wisconsinites that hold different values.

I have a younger cousin, recent UW Grad. Never paid a tax. But her only disqualification of Walker is that he "doesn't have a college degree". What a joke.

On my FB page today, I am auctioning off my Master's degree. Seriously. Ann's post go me started. I'm up to a $30 dollar bid. Can't seem to get $50.

I apologize if I have been over the top and appreciate the Professor creating this forum. Good luck with whatever it is you're going to do.

Kirk out. Thanks Ann.

MadisonMan said...

It'll be like Jim Carrey in "Fun With Dick and Jane"

The movie with George Segal and Jane Fonda was far superior.

Original Mike said...

Most of the "reasons" on the blog don't seem very applicable to the hard sciences.

John Lynch said...

The blog isn't about hard science- it's specifically about the humanities.

Original Mike said...

Ahh, I missed that.

MadisonMan said...

I guess I need to rethink my idea to go back and get a second PhD, this one in Comp Lit or Ed Psych.

Original Mike said...

I have to ask; What did they expect?

Zach said...

the realities many see in graduate school ("Graduate seminars can be unbearable")

With all due respect, if you really think this (as opposed to blowing off steam once in a while), you should leave grad school. Getting to geek out about your field is supposed to be the redeeming feature of doing research full time. If that's turning into another thing you dislike about grad school, you should quit before it gets even worse.

I thought grad school made a lot more sense when I thought about it as a high stress, low paid, entry level job. Show up on time, work hard all day, go home tired and think about something else.

I never felt like a student. The classes are not particularly good or well taught, and your grades have very little to do with how well your grad school career progresses. The structure of my day changed very little when I worked in a lab full time after graduating.

Zach said...

Slight addendum: I don't mean "you should leave" as a putdown in the previous post. If grad school is not advancing your life goals, you should leave. Many of my friends left grad school, and for nearly all of them it was the right decision, and left them happier than they would have been. You're training for a very specialized job, and if you decide you don't want the job, you should act decisively.

roesch/voltaire said...

Really Flash I have no idea why you think your rant has any connection to grad school. As an aside perhaps you should talk with a few farmers to get a sense of just how connected UW can be to the rest of the state. And yes in my class the issue of intelligent design is discussed and debated-- no one shouts. It seems your view of UW is based on some twisted vision.