Reasons Not to Go to Grad School
Three years into an economic downturn that worsened an already tough academic job market, a blog called "100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School" has become popular with grad students seeking to vent.
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").
That last item is not a typo for the "two-body problem," a much-discussed challenge of academic couples finding jobs that is also discussed on the blog. Rather, the post is about why grad students may not be desirable mates for those who bypass the academic life. "[M]arrying a graduate student often means supporting a graduate student," the post explains.
It's of course old news at this point that some graduate programs (especially those in the humanities and social sciences, and those for which money is not plentiful) are shrinking. And some faculty members, on their own initiative, are declining to take on new graduate students in doctoral programs or are discouraging their undergraduates from considering graduate school. But the major disciplinary associations in the humanities and social sciences, even as they have become much more active in promoting non-academic careers for Ph.D.s and much more frank about the difficulties of the job market, have shied away from suggesting that graduate schools should become smaller.
In that environment, the "100 Reasons" blog seems to be touching a nerve -- not only with graduate students, but also with adjuncts, who face minimal job security and low wages.
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. That imbalance is so great because of the crippling realities of the academic job market," says the post. "The consequences of offending your colleagues and superiors in any way can be dire, because until you have tenure your employment is insecure; you are easily replaced. For the same reason, untenured college instructors often endure humiliating working conditions."
Many posts speak to the social and psychological difficulties of grad school. "A longing for some sense of shared experience is probably what drives graduate students to coffee places, where they sit for hours in uncomfortable chairs, hunched over their laptops or over piles of ungraded papers. There, at least for a while, they can be in the company of others who are as alone as they are," says a post on the topic of loneliness. Another post talks about the issue of friends who have nonacademic careers "passing you by": "They may never turn into millionaires — though that is far more likely in the real world than in the academic one — but they probably will pass you by. While you sit in a cramped living space working on your dissertation year after year, your friends will be working hard, too, but they will be earning salaries."
Complaints about grad school and the academic job market are widespread. And not all in the space have endorsed the blog. The blog Teaching College English finds many of the reasons to be "negatively slanted and biased." But "100 Reasons" is getting praised in comments on many discussions of the academic job market.
Generally, the blog's fans cite its realism. And in that spirit, the blogger realizes that many will ignore the advice and go to grad school anyway. So the blog also includes three pieces of advice "if you decide to go anyway." Those three pointers: "stay out of debt," "go to a prestigious school" and "finish as quickly as possible."
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