Saturday, January 14, 2012

Is grad school worth it?

Recent bit of conversation:
Me: Aw, crap.
J-man: What?
Me: I've been in college for nine years. I'm in 21st grade.
Yep, that's the size of it. Ten years ago I my highest academic aspiration was to go to the best state university my state had to offer. Now I'm four and a half years through a PhD program in a neighboring state, contemplating a second master's degree while I finish the PhD.

Is it all worth it? The master's degree(s), yes. The PhD, I'm not sure.

Alyssa at Apple Pie and the Universe posted an Economist article about "why doing a PhD is often a waste of time." She nicely highlights some of the main points of the article, mostly focusing on what's wrong with academia. I'd like to draw attention to part of the solution:
There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. [emphasis mine]
I've been confused by the seemingly conflicting views that academia produces too many and too few PhDs. That seems impossible, unless the sources of these criticisms are different. Academics say too many, businesses say too few. The solution? Train PhDs to work in business, not just academia!

I am not the only grad student in my department who does not aspire to follow in our advisors' footsteps. However, my training so far has perfectly groomed me to become a researcher and has made me fairly certain that I don't want to be a researcher (or professor at a research university). Almost daily I question the personal benefit of what I'm doing, but I figure I have a year or year and a half left so I may as well finish. It probably won't close any doors and may even open a few.

During the time I have left, I have to cobble together supplementary education to make myself marketable outside the academy. I have no solid mentors (so far), only a smattering of people whose personal interests I feel I have to account for when I receive advice from them.

Maybe my inexperience in post-secondary education is making this more difficult than it needs to be. My undergrad self was certainly not as well-informed as she could have been. Or perhaps this is a failing of the PhD training grounds. Perhaps there just isn't much support for those looking outside the traditional career tracks.


  1. Yup - I think the article is saying that there are WAY too many PhDs for the number of academics jobs there are out there. THEN, for other jobs that PhDs can get, they're not learning the right things, so are pretty much useless.

    Anyway, I hope that you are able to find some other ways to make yourself marketable in a non-academic world.

    I can't remember who sent it to me, but there's a document by UC Berkeley on how to market your PhD skills to a wider market. Here's the link: