July 21, 2003

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to JW for a very clear and concise statement of one of the central messages of this weblog (comments to "If You Insist on Graduate School, At Least Do Your Homework"):

But one of the overall themes of this blog & its commentators has been: if you want to go to grad school, take a minute and do the math. Among the factors that need to be considered are at least the following:
(i) the likelihood of completing your degree, and within what timeframe;
(ii) the likelihood of your getting a decent job, once you complete your degree, and just how decent a job it will be (in terms of pay, of course, but also in terms of teaching load, location, and other quality of life issues);
(iii) the opportunity costs of pursuing a PhD.

For almost anyone seriously thinking about pursuing a PhD, the values of these variables should lead one to re-think -- not necessarily to abandon it, but just to think it through carefully. But for someone who has not gotten a fellowship offer from a fairly high-end program, the values for each of these variables gets worse. That person is less likely to finish, because they have no guarantee of support; they are less likely to get a job at the other end, both due to that lack of support itself and also because, frankly, that lack of support will be a professional stigma on their applications; and their opportunity costs will be all the greater, because they will have to take on even larger loans than the average tuition-waivered grad student. So if the calculation is iffy enough for someone admitted with support, it becomes all the iffier for someone without it. Now, that doesn't mean that some folks can't beat the odds ... but the point is being aware of just how stark the odds are.

Thank you, JW. You have stated the case with much more eloquence (and with far fewer words) than I have done.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at July 21, 2003 08:36 PM

Hey, have the previous recipients of this award settled the question of whether I can put this on my CV when I go up for tenure? ;-)

Posted by: JW at July 21, 2003 09:14 PM

All entries and comments at this weblog are peer-reviewed. So you should certainly list this honor on your CV, perhaps under the "Major Fellowships and Awards" category.

Posted by: Invisible Adjunct at July 21, 2003 09:24 PM


off-topic in some sense
(nothing to do with this
week's award) but about
as relevant to big picture
issues as the web gets:
_workplace_ is the
"journal for academic labor".
there's a new issue.

Posted by: vlorbik at July 22, 2003 08:09 AM

Vlorbik: thanks for the heads-up re: Workplace. I especially liked the interview/conversation between Bousquet and Westheimer, and the essay on Gramsci.

Posted by: Chris at July 22, 2003 10:47 AM

Great post, JW: I think that's a much better way of putting it than "don't go."

BTW, Brian Weatherson at Crooked Timber has done some informal research about the philosophy market. It's worth a look, but it might prompt discipline-envy.

Posted by: Fontana Labs at July 22, 2003 12:29 PM

Even in the best cases I can think of (engineering) the opportunity cost of the Ph.D. vs. MS is high, as is the price of academic leanings: I started as a freshly minted Ph.D. in industry at a higher salary than my fully-tenured advisor with years of experience and many papers. Were I to do it over again, I would probably stop with an MS.

In the humanities, the value of a Ph.D. can vary significantly from required to practice (e.g. clinical psychology) to Engilish where the Ph.D. relegates the holder to adjunct status or as a questionable qualification for business.

But beyond all this, the question remains as to your priorities. I love what I do so much so that I abandoned a near-Ph.D. in another field to subject myself to another 6 years of school. I am definitely happier for that. I think the proper question is more what balance a person wants in life: I was quite happy to be an underpaid RA/TA to be doing what I enjoyed and did not begrudge those earning more even in the very tight times. For me that was my life balance and I was fully aware of what life would be like while pursing my dream. The question these students should be asking is if they are willing to put up with the status and likely consequences of their actions to do something the enjoy. It's not as though these are dirty secrets or hard to find out if you do some research.

Posted by: nerdbert at July 24, 2003 05:46 PM

Just a clarification, since I think I am the one who inspired the comment. I agree with the general sentiment expressed in this blog; of course one should do the math before entering any graduate program. However, the argument "if you don't get an offer of funding, don't go, seemed a little too rigid." You should definitely consider this, along with any other options out there. I just wished to show that little funding in year one does not always mean the doors are closed. Of course had my circumstances not improved by year two, I probably would have left my program. Unless you are extremely wealthy and are in it for the love of learning, spending tens - hundreds of thousands of $$ per year for a Ph.D is absurd.

Posted by: David Marshall at July 24, 2003 06:00 PM