Should You Go To Graduate School?

The “don’t go to graduate school” debate has flared up again this past week with the publication of this piece in Slate, “Thesis Hatement: Getting a Literature Ph.D. Will Turn You Into an Emotional Train Wreck, Not a Professor.  The author, Rebecca Schuman, is a terrific writer.

“Who wouldn’t want a job where you only have to work five hours a week, you get summers off, your whole job is reading and talking about books, and you can never be fired? Such is the enviable life of the tenured college literature professor, and all you have to do to get it is earn a Ph.D. So perhaps you, literature lover, are considering pursuing this path.

Well, what if I told you that by “five hours” I mean “80 hours,” and by “summers off” I mean “two months of unpaid research sequestration and curriculum planning”? What if you’ll never have time to read books, and when you talk about them, you’ll mostly be using made-up words like “deterritorialization” and “Othering”—And I can’t even tell you what kind of ass you have to kiss these days to get tenure—largely because, like most professors, I’m not on the tenure track, so I don’t know.

Don’t do it. Just don’t. I deeply regret going to graduate school… I now realize graduate school was a terrible idea because the full-time, tenure-track literature professorship is extinct. After four years of trying, I’ve finally gotten it through my thick head that I will not get a job—and if you go to graduate school, neither will you.

Schuman goes on to apply Kafka’s “A Little Fable,” of a mouse unable to run away from the cat, as her central framing device for the graduate school experience:

“The mouse wasn’t going in the wrong direction so much as it was walking cat food the entire time. A graduate career is just like this, only worse, because ‘A Little Fable’ lasts three sentences and is made up, while graduate school lasts at least six years and will ruin your life in a very real way. But, as in the fable, this ruin is predestined, and completely unrelated to how ‘right’ you do things.”

I really like this piece, as I like most exposes of the breathtaking bullshit surrounding the Ph.D. granting apparatus/ponzi scheme.  However, when I put the link up on the Professor Is In Facebook page, I also wrote, “And yet, some good people do, even now, get jobs, and nobody is actually a mouse–you can mobilize for the job market in a host of different ways-by publishing, by networking, and mostly, by making sure your application materials and interview skills don’t suck.”

“Just don’t go” is really not adequate as advice regarding the decision to do a Ph.D., even in the humanities.

This point was made very quickly and well by Tressiemc, who wrote an essay on her blog in response, claiming that blanket advice to not go to graduate school is its own form of elitism.

“That advice is not wrong.

It is, however, a bit disingenuous about the implied comparison always being made. Namely, that one can do better.

But, what if one can’t do better? Like me, five years ago?

This is the case for many black students and I will try to unpack the Pandora’s box of structural and social processes that make it different.”

Writers of “just don’t go” pieces are typically white, privileged, and have, or can imagine, an alternative career as backup plan; they do not recognize that for some students from marginalized communities even the limited, circumscribed, or compromised outcomes of the Ph.D. may be far better ones than might otherwise be within their immediate purview.  I totally agree. The Ph.D. can still be an empowering step for some.

I have also said before that too many privileged academics use the absysmal job market as an alibi to simply abandon their obligations to provide decent career advising to the Ph.D. students already enrolled.

However, be that as it may, some kind of advice is needed.  I am asked with some regularity by readers whether they “should do the Ph.D.”  This is what I say:

Understand that doing the Ph.D., especially in the humanities, is a terribly risky proposition financially. During the years in the program, even if you are “fully funded,” the quote-unquote full funding is inadequate to support most people’s actual expenses, particularly if they have a partner, children, a health challenge, or any other responsibilities.

Understand that if you do it, you almost certainly will not get a full time permanent tenure track academic job at the end that will even begin to make back the money you invested into the program. Even if you get a permanent job, the pay scale of faculty is low enough in most colleges and universities outside the elite schools, that you will be unable to pay off your undergraduate student debt or readily meet basic expenses like child care or medical expenses.

There is also opportunity cost. While in graduate school you will lose many years in the workforce. You will lose any trajectory toward seniority in any other field you might currently be in. You will experience perhaps a decade of lost wages and lost payment into social security; these losses will follow you through to retirement.

Understand that you will not be told the truth about this by anyone in any graduate program to which you apply.

If you still feel determined to consider this step, I would advise it be only under the following conditions:

  •  You do not have substantial debt from your undergraduate degree, that is to say, debt above $15,000-$20,000.
  • You are offered a full funding package that includes tuition waiver, all fees, and a stipend.
  • You take out absolutely no new debt to undertake the degree. This means that you must either be prepared to live on a stipend of approximately $15,000-$20,000 a year, have a partner/spouse/family member who can augment that stipend, or work a second job to augment the stipend yourself.
  • You go to one of the very best programs in the country, judged by funding available, prestige, and job placement rate. This is not because of elitism, but because only these programs deliver the financial support and connections that give you a fighting chance of a debt-free degree and permanent employment at the end.
  • You avoid any second or third tier Ph.D. program like the plague, regardless of what they appear to offer by way of programs in your area of interest. Your Ph.D. will not be competitive for a wide enough range of jobs at the end. Online Ph.D.s are beneath consideration.
  • You align yourself, before signing on, with an advisor who is well known, who is at the peak of his/her career (no asst profs, no emeritii), who has recently placed other Ph.D.s in tenure track jobs before you, and who is genuinely and personally invested in your arrival to the program.
  • You understand that the system is entirely hierarchical and productivity-based, and you will be judged by your high-status output (publications in major journals, national grants, high profile conferences, famous recommenders) more than by the inherent “brilliance” of your ideas.
  • You approach academic pursuits as a job, not a calling.
  • You approach graduate school as vocational training for a job.
  • You do everything I say in the column, Graduate School Is a Means to a Job, religiously and without excuses.
  • You are under 35, and ideally, under 30. If you fail to find permanent employment within 3-4 years after completion of the Ph.D., this outcome will be far less disastrous if you are still in your thirties and can reinvent yourself for a different career track. The financial stakes for middle-aged people are exponentially higher, the risks exponentially greater, than for younger people.

With all of these conditions met, the choice to go to graduate school in the humanities may not be a completely ill-conceived one.  If however, you are thinking of graduate school primarily because you are “in love with” your topic, and “passionate about research,” and “can’t imagine your life doing anything else,” and all of these financial considerations “just don’t matter,” then you are in a state of profound mystification about the nature of the Ph.D., and should probably approach it only with the most profound caution. But you won’t.  Because nobody believes the things Schuman describes will happen to them until they do.

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Should You Go To Graduate School? — 72 Comments

  1. This is an excellent post. I wish I was given those bullet points when I began my program at a mediocre PHD program. After 1 year I have decided to drop out. I am getting married and decided I actually want to enjoy my life a bit.

  2. My deeply cynical advice on the matter can be summarised as this:
    If you can learn about the subject for free by borrowing textbooks from your local university library…then it probably isn’t worth spending money on.

  3. Thanks as always, Karen, for your candid, thoughtful, and practical advice.

    I would challenge some of your points, though:

    1) I disagree that that a 15-20K stipend is not enough to live on–even with a spouse. Obviously supporting several people will be more difficult, but my experience is that most PhD students are not supporting others. So we should not confuse the exception with the general rule.

    In terms of living off a 15-20K stipend, expensive vacations and savings accounts are probably out of the question, but if rent is about $800/month (which is high for a single person) and food about $200/month, then that leaves 5-10K for gas/transportation, eating out, etc.

    Also, I think it’s important to note that funding is often based on TAing, which is not a full-time job–perhaps half-time. So if one is earning 20K for 9 months of work at half- time, that would be 40,000K at full-time, and if this includes expensive tuition fees as well as health insurance, it’s really a pretty decent salary.

    I think graduate students that encounter the kind of financial situation that I have described have no room to complain. In reality, adjuncts are often (or usually?) paid far less than the graduate student TA/employee that I have described.

    2) Also, doing editing work on the side or whatever could certainly supplement a graduate student income, but is it really worth it to sacrifice time that could be spent working on a publication, grant application, or even a seminar paper that will help earn the favor of a future referee?

    3) Lastly, I have read all or almost all of your TTPI posts, so I understand what you mean about seeing academia as a vocation and not simply a passion, but regarding your note that “You approach academic pursuits as a job, not a calling,” isn’t is also important (essential, even) that PhD students really do love (or feel passionately) their vocation? Lots of online fora (including yours, if I’m not mistaken) emphasize the importance of showing genuine interest and excitement when interviewing for jobs. Without love and passion, where would that interest and excitement come from?

    Again, thanks for your post (and recent article in the Chronicle).

    • I live in Boston, where some of the still existent very top grad programs in the humanities, and the very best one in my field (the reason I’m here) are located. I laugh to scorn this notion that rent is $800 a month.

      Your point about weighing extra income over the time spent improving a CV and ultimate job prospects is a good one, though.

    • The Raven,
      A few comments. First, lets look at your math. Even if someone could fantastically afford 800+200=1000/month*12= 12 000. At a 15 000 annual stipend, that leaves 3000 in the pot. Incidental expenses can easily exceed that figure by orders of magnitude, especially if one must factor in their own research expenses or pay tuition. Moreover, as I’ve found, departments can play funny games with stipends and funds. Friends have had their supervisors inform them without warning mid-degree that the grant supporting them has run dry. As a gradstudent I sat in department faculty meeting where they seriously discussed withholding stipends for incoming students and only awarding these to the MA/PhD students with the highest GPAs after the first term of coursework (they recruit top tier students so these marks are all at or near perfect). In other cases, grad students with major fellowships that expire before degree completion are told they are ineligible for support for the remainder of their degree because they had a fellowship. If they’re lucky, they find teaching or research work, which in prolongs their completion times, and is often precarious, or in at least one case I know of, pressured to to do it for free because it was “opportunity.”

      Second, it is in no way safe to assume that graduate students are not supporting others or do not have families. Indeed, paying someone so marginally actually acts a coercive means of preventing someone from enriching their life in these ways at the time when many of their peers might be doing exactly such a thing.

      Third, I have had experiences now with two universities who offer stipends, including some well over the 20K mark, only to have them reclaim it in fees. I turned down a PhD when I did the math and realised that despite a funding package worth that was supposed to cover tuition, fees, etc, to the tune of $70K a year, I would have been left with just 10K to cover both living and field research expenses in one of the most expensive places in the world. I turned down their offer and in a polite letter told them why.

      Fourth, I’m finding there are rarely full waivers. The money is paid regardless of whether it comes from a department’s coffer, university or external scholarship, or whatever. Otherwise the tuition and fees of the elite students are actually borne by other students fees.

      And lastly, a graduate student is a skilled junior department member (at least that’s what they tell them) who, if properly supported and mentored, is making contributions to knowledge and the academic output of their department and advisors. Some even come into the department with publication records and other skills. In many places, the bulk of the research output and the department’s standing rests on the backs of its grad students (who, brutally unethically, are not always credited for the teaching and research they do). There is no reason in my mind why a student (or anyone!) should not be compensated for their labour at living rate.

      • Chris,

        Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

        I agree that everything you say is *plausible.* Of course at the end of the day, every program will be different and the situation of every student will be different. But I stand my position that what it means to call a wage “livable” is really a matter of perspective. If we choose to rent an expensive apartment, then we’ll have less money. If we want to own a car, then we have to pay for insurance and gas, etc., etc.

        Also, I never said graduate students don’t support other people. I said that in my experience, graduate students that support other people are the exception. I can’t imagine this is untrue.

        I also stand by my position that–in general, in the United States–$800/per month for rent, for a single person, is high. Being a US citizen, or a graduate student, or whatever, does not entitle someone to a studio apartment. In lots of countries, it’s very weird for someone to live on his own. Let’s have a little perspective. Libraries are full of private study areas, so if the shared apt. or house is noisy, study somewhere else, or find a new place to live.

        Lastly, Chris, please know that none of this is directed towards you personally. My intention in the first post was largely to criticize the attitude of entitlement that suggests every student *deserves* a wage that can pay for a studio apartment and the expenses of multiple family members.

        • “the attitude of entitlement”

          Every human being alive on this planet deserves a basic standard of living that allows them to be adequately sheltered, free of hunger, and with the means to have and support children, for infinite generations into the future. If we do not hold to that basic ideal for ourselves, there’s really no point in living.

          In graduate school, my grad union had a solid collective agreement. I was entitled to pay for certain types of work. I had to fight for this pay because my department ignored their obligations. I won. I went hungry in my final year, and moved five times from one unfurnished bare linoleum basement apartment to the next just so I could maintain affordable shelter. There was no difference in the cost of shared accommodation and a studio apartment. I have friends who used the food bank regularly, and in my immediate circle the majority of us used mental health services to cope with the fact that our department and supervisors felt that asking for enough money to eat was ‘entitlement.’

          Those members of society who talk about the ‘entitlement’ of students have it backwards. Higher education and skills training of individuals ensures the collective well being and maintenance of society. Every student in an investment by the collective in its own future because students are the future. Yet somehow, perversely, the prevailing attitude is that students are simply investing in themselves, and therefore any claim they might make toward having their education subsidised is a mistaken sense of entitlement.

          • Chris,
            Without getting into the politics of “entitlements” let me say that I find ludicrous the Republican refrain of “we built it.” So I’m not coming at this from some loony right-wing angle. I agree with you that society should function in a way that works symbiotically, but to what extent a given person *deserves* x, y, or z, however, that’s another conversation.

            I think unions are generally great. Universities are all the better for them. Demanding fair treatment according to union agreements is one thing. But I think that’s a given. That’s the whole point of a union. Demanding a studio apartment and a car–that’s just callous.

            You say that “every student is an investment by the collective in its own future because students are the future.” Fine. But that’s part of a larger, systemic problem–not necessarily an issue with graduate student pay at University X. But perhaps more importantly, graduate school–and academia in general–would function entirely differently if success were less tied to stipends, salaries, etc. Without meritocracy, higher education would be an entirely different beast.

      • This struck a cord….I was told when I returned from my internship there was no more grant money (although other students got it) so that is definitely true. I just had no idea this was done at other universities….I just assumed my major professor was unethical!

    • Karen wasn’t saying that people can’t on $15K – $20K a year–she was just saying that people need to be realistic whether or not they can do so without taking on debt. You’re right that it’s not difficult for some people, particularly if they do all the things you suggest (like sharing an apartment), get the requisite funding in a program that’s not in a major city yet doesn’t require a car, and can count on the higher end of that figure for five or six years.

      Any number of factors, though, can make it impossible: dependents, health issues, unforeseen expenses, high local living costs, capricious funding from year to year, fees and taxes that nibble away at the stipend check. Taking on additional employment can eke out a salary in that range, but it can also increase time to degree and make it harder to do all the things that make one competitive on the job market (one certainly can’t expect to get a second supplemental TA-ship that will double one’s income).

      It’s really easy to look at the acceptance letter and say, “Ooooh, someone’s going to pay me $15K to go to school!!!” It’s a lot harder to think honestly about how that sum is going to track with living expenses and about how the requisite austerity is going to feel, 3 or 4 years into the program (at which point, taking on some debt may seem like a reasonable thing to do). The advice here isn’t “it’s not enough!”–it’s “think carefully about whether it’s enough.”

    • As another Bostonian, and a grad student who largely financially supports a freelancer spouse…yeah, I am not so sure about this math. I live with my spouse in an apartment (not a studio, not by any means a luxury apartment, not in a fashionable neighborhood) that costs $1425/month, and is about to go up to $1450…already $17400/year right there. This is average in our area for a medium-quality apartment the size of ours (according to some brief Googling about Section 8 vouchers and that sort of thing). Utilities and (in the winter) heat cost another couple hundred a month. Health insurance for the two of us costs a little over $5k/year, and that’s before we’ve spent any money on actual healthcare, not everyone being blessed with perfect health. Internet access – both his work and mine require it – is another thousand or so a year. My public transit passes cost a total of $840/year…add in bike maintenance and occasional commuter rail tickets on foul-weather days and that’s over $1k/year for my no-car transportation (his disabilities don’t allow him to easily use non-car transit, so he has a car). I haven’t even gotten to food, where we actually do come in around your stated budget (though, per person). You can see that this adds up.

      Fortunately we had money saved up before he started the freelancer thing and I went back for a PhD. Thanks to that, we are not poor, we are not destitute, but the money is still a little tight. My stipend is high (thank you fellowship) but not that high. I’m posting here not to complain – like I said, we’re not so badly off all in all – but to point out that your math doesn’t work so well some situations and areas of the country.

      • Lirael,

        My math is not off. You’ve vindicated my points exactly: 1) graduate student/TAship stipends usually are for 9 months, not 12–so multiplying rent by 12 instead of 9 doesn’t make sense; 2) you’re two-person medium-quality apartment is $1450 ($725/person). Adding on utilities it goes up, especially in cold environments.

        Unless I see compelling evidence otherwise, I’ll continue to assume that graduate students who support spouses are the exception.

        Lots of grad. student stipends include health insurance. I’m sorry yours does not. I think Uncle Sam should give us healthcare, but that’s another story, and that’s not the case for now at any rate. Canada awaits (or another graduate school that includes it in stipends) if we insist on getting healthcare for free.

        Living with only one other person is a luxury. Most people in the world don’t do that. The more people in a house, the cheaper the rent, usually (and I’m not talking about sharing rooms or sleeping in a closet).

        Obviously, internet at the house is convenient, but certainly not necessary for *most* graduate students. Campuses are filled with computer labs and Starbucks with free wireless signals are aplenty, so I’m generally unsympathetic to the “I need internet at my house” argument. But I don’t know your circumstances. I can speak only in generalities.

        • Graduate student stipends may be for 9 months but life and reality are 12 months a year. Just because my program doesn’t believe they need to pay me for June through August doesn’t mean that I don’t have to meet the terms of my lease, eat, have electricity, etc. so it’s rather disingenuous to calculate expenses over 9 months when ever graduate student will also have to pay for the other 3 months of the year, usually out of their stipend.

          Also, I agree that graduate students should live frugally, but if we’re getting to the point that the program isn’t paying me enough to have Internet in my house and I have to go to Starbucks or the campus computer lab every time I want to work, we’re getting into the range in which this shit is completely not worth it.

    • Dear Raven,

      Some basic info. about me: I am a graduate student who earns about $15,400 a year as a literature TA and part-time language tutor at an R1 public university in a relatively inexpensive mid-sized city.

      And I completely agree with you in principle….

      But let’s get real. If you’re bringing home 1,200-1,300 a month, after you subtract rent, utilities, phone, internet, medical co-pay fees for your psychiatrist (since we’re keeping it real and I’m pursuing a PhD in Literature), and then FOOD (which, for me is more like $300-350/mo. Who spends $200 a month on food? I’d sure like to, but is that really possible? I guess it is if you want to be eating out of tupperware 2-3 times a day every day for 7 years of your life, but I am a graduate student who is young and single–not a nun!) — I just do not think it is possible. I usually have to live off my credit card the last 4-5 days of every month.

      But your point is well-taken. Lucky for me I didn’t come to graduate school with any debt, so I’m pretty okay with the bit of debt I’ve accumulated.

      Sipping on some beer I probably should not have bought,

  4. Kate, if a student want’s his own studio that’s one thing, but renting a multi-bedroom apt. or house (and splitting the cost with others) is not hard. It might not be as convenient as a more private situation. But it’s certainly not impossible. It’s a matter of priorities and privilege.

    • Raven,

      What about savings, retirement planning, a spouse, a child, etc? What if someone goes to school in Manhattan or the Bay Area making the same stipend as someone living in Wyoming which is common? In some places you cannot even come close to renting a studio for 800 a month.

      • Savings, retirement plans, kids, spouses–all of this is great. But University X doesn’t *owe* us a wage that allows us to invest in these areas

        I already addressed the issue of studio apartments. I’ve never lived in a studio apartment (I’ve always shared a living space with others) and made it through graduate school just fine.

        As for the Wyoming student, that’s the tradeoff to living in Wyoming! It might not look as good on a CV, though, when it comes to job applications. (This is pure speculation, by the way. I know next to nothing about the actual caliber of Wyoming graduate institutions.)

      • That is an argument against going to grad school in Manhattan or the Bay area. Berkeley is great but so is Minnesota and an apartment for <$800/mo is very possible. I'm not trying to be snarky so much as to point out that grad students should look at stipends relative to cost of living and it might make the center of the country far more attractive. I went to a top school in the middle of the country and didn't live high but did live well and graduated without debt. Looking at cost of living is critical in weighing offers and in evaluating the decision to go at all.

    • “Priorities and privilege” is a tenured professor earning north of 100 000 (and often living at the standard that allows), who expects their adult graduate students to pack into a shared house and live near the poverty line for several because it is theoretically possible to ‘get by’ on the stipend that forces them to live that way.

      • Priorities and privileges are relative. Most people in the world live on a few dollars a day. If you’re in the United States, and you have a college degree (prerequisites for attending grad school in the US), you’re already privileged beyond belief when compared to the rest of the world.

        What do you suggest regarding the full professor making six figures, who has worked at university X for 15 years? That he gift each of his graduate students 10K per year, so they can rent studio apartments and buy gasoline instead of riding a bike to and from their shared apartments?

        • Raven,
          I hear what you’re saying, but I disagree. I am not saying that a tenured professor ‘gift’ their students anything, at least on an individual level (although doing such a thing might provide incentive for some professors to do their jobs properly). However, there is something crucial to be said about income gap (both potential and realized) between the establishment faculty in the global North, and those in training or trying to enter the system. There are clearly minimums needed to live, and anything over and above that actually improves living standards. Beyond a certain point, especially in a close system like a university, the higher earners far exceed the income needed to maintain a decent standard of living and become resource drains and contribute to labour shortages, precarious employment, etc. Privilege is relative.

          Also, I am not sure I understand you correctly. Are you suggesting that graduate students should live poorly because the rest of the world does? Such an attitude if widely held, would only contribute to a driving graduate student funding through basement floor. Moreover, the high cost of living in most Northern cities means that people (I’m increasingly adverse to the term ‘student’ because it is now an ‘othering’ term that subordinates and denies people a decent standard of living and income security) must find ever more precarious housing to get by, making them ripe targets for slum lords.

          • Professors don’t make very much money–especially considering their level of training, specialization, and long hours. Certainly they make more than graduate students (or apprentices, or whatever you want to call them), but that doesn’t mean it’s a lot proportionate to other folks with advanced degrees in the US. So I don’t think we should be bitter about the wage disparity between professors and graduates students. Administrators on the other hand? And how about the disparity between prisons and schools? Again these are systemic problems. I don’t think we should blame the symptoms.

            I’m not suggesting that graduate students–or Americans in general–*should* live poorly just because most of the world does. But I’m saying we should keep global standards of living in perspective. By traveling, living in different parts of the world, etc.–and reflecting on these things–I would think our gratitude could increase and we wouldn’t come to expect things like studio apartments and a half-time salary that can support ourselves, a spouse, two kids, and our sick pet.

            Speaking of slum lords, I think university housing is often criminal. But like other things, I’ve mentioned, this is also another can of worms.

          • Raven,
            I responded to this earlier but my post didn’t post.
            First, professors make considerably more than graduate students. In fact, their TT starting salaries put them in a very good economic position. Graduate students typically hold at least one degree and often more, either at the bachelor or masters level, yet despite contributing significantly to the teaching and research of the university, they are not usually compensated at a larger market rate. It is unreasonable and hypocritical to insinuate the professors are entitled to decent wages, and graduate students are not.

            I have travelled, spending a good number of years travelling before I began university. The North is opulent to the extreme, I agree. But, poverty is relative. I agree that we should keep global standards (and environmental footprints) in mind. A reframing of your comment might say that well, the high wages commanded by TT faculty could come down to bring them more in line with the rest of society. There is nothing that makes professorship more deserving of high income than other occupations, especially as these positions become increasingly rare.

        • I’m sorry but I have to butt in here.

          Our standards are higher than those in third world societies. The fact that you’re using that as a comparison is proof that grad school pay is garbage.

          Suddenly everyone has third world values whenever people start to demand Hamme treatment.

          If we want to go third world, let’s fire three quarters of the tenured faculty and close half the nation’s universities.

          Graduate school is not defensible in its current state. It has nothing to do with libertarian values. It has nothing to do with what universities “owe” us.

          It is solely about whether or not the privations required to succeed in grad school are worth the payoff. For most of us with first world standards of living, it simply isn’t worth it.

          And this argument doesn’t even begun to approach the massive mental torture and abuse inflicted by grad school.

          I have been to both Iraq and Afghanistan. I would gladly return to either before I would relive my grad school experience.

    • I have to wonder about some of these comments referring to people seeming ‘entitled’ about their stipends. I am in a top 10 program and am ‘fully funded’. However, my after tax monthly income is about $1,550, and I’m in the Boston area where the cost of living is very high. So even with two roommates, and living two miles away from campus, here is what expenses look like:

      Rent – $800 (this is for a ROOM in a large, old, drafty house where nothing has been updated since 1984)
      Utilities – $100 (our winter heating bills are insane)
      Cable/internet – $60 (I don’t care about the former, but it is hard to find roommates who don’t want HBO! The latter is obviously necessary.)
      T-pass – $40
      Groceries & personal/household items – $200
      Books, supplies, professional associations, research incidentals, etc = $900/semester = $1800/12 = $150
      Home for the holidays money – $50
      Emergency money – $50

      TOTAL: $1450

      So I have about $100 left over every month (in theory) but it ends up being zero because something always comes up.

      Now I don’t mind living this way – it was a conscious choice – and I have been very aggressive about getting outside funding. But reading comments that chide people about ‘priorities and privilege’ who are living on less than $20,000 a year is depressing.

  5. Kate, if a student wants his own studio that’s one thing, but renting a multi-bedroom apt. or house (and splitting the cost with others) is not hard. It might not be as convenient as a more private situation. But it’s certainly possible. It’s a matter of priorities and privilege.

    • I share. My rent is more than 800$, plus internet and phone and I do not live in Manhattan or the Bay Area. Our Internet is from a sketchy company because we are students. I lived in a studio that was very slightly cheaper in a not that nice neighbourhood and decided the trade-off was worth it.

    • Raven, I’m not sure what your game is here with insisting over and over that people can live on X amount when they are telling you they cannot. Do you also go around insisting that beans don’t give anybody gas? It’s insulting to assume that nobody except you has considered these other ways to live on less. Like most people living very close to the edge of my means, I don’t go a day without making painful decisions about what to do with the little I have.

      • I don’t think you should discount what Raven is saying off-hand. Everyone’s experience is different, and I think it does come down to location, what people are willing to sacrifice, and what discomforts they are willing to put themselves through.

        My current rent is $480 in a five-BR/two-BA apartment with all utilities included. I spend ~$120 on groceries every month. (I can, in fact, spend even less than that if necessary.) The location is not ideal, of course, but it is hardly bad, and the neighborhood is safe enough.

        But again, everyone’s situation is different, and not everyone can tolerate living with five other people.

  6. Great blog. But Karen, I would love to read a similar article RE going to graduate school in the sciences (chemistry, biology, biochemistry, etc) Thank you.

  7. Karen, your advice pretty much sums up how I got to a TT job without incredible debt-load.

    I don’t caution my MA students to uniformly avoid the PhD. However, I do push them beyond the “passion” question. Yes, you need passion to survive the TT job (and even the PhD itself). I am in the end of year 2 of my TT position and have never worked so hard in my life. But at the same time, you have to be able to approach this decision with some realism. Many, I would say most, students are not driven enough to make it (not to mention the talent and luck). One senior colleague likened it to ballet — you have to work incredibly hard and be inherently gifted in some way just to get a ticket to the job lottery. Then, luck takes over. You have to accept that you may very well “land” in a very undesirable part of the country far away from your family and friends, in a department that is not fully functional or friendly, with an incredibly high workload (if you get lucky enough to be offered a TT job at all). I consider myself incredibly fortunate that I managed to “land” in a wonderful department in a major West coast city within a day of most of my family. I overlook the incredibly high workload because no one I know has it all.

    If someone doesn’t look carefully at this reality, they set themselves up for a financially and psychologically disastrous decision. I was really driven and still hedged my bets by building a second viable career in business, including jobs in management, organizational analysis, communications, and fund development. This allowed me to survive the post-graduation recession hiring freeze until it opened up again and I got a TT job. It still pays for things my assistant professor salary doesn’t afford in a small number of consulting hours, including augmenting my funds for conference travel and association dues. Basically, I am building my TT career by paying for it from a non-academic consulting gig. Lots of work, but at least I am not constantly stressed financially. Passion or not, it is reasonable for a person to wish for financial stability and a middle class life after 10 years of education and 10+ years of work.

    I tell all of my MA students that unless they are returning with an already viable primary career outside the discipline (that they can return to), they need to build a PhD that will train them for a non-academic job on top of their academic aspirations. Might not be romantic or mystical now, but I don’t want it on my conscience when people are 40 and unable to procure a basic middle class income with benefits and are in $100K+ of student loan debt.

    • Kim, you allude to another problem. Even outside academia the same kinds of problems exist. The precariousness of work in general seems to be getting worse. A person might have an alternative skill or career, but there’s no guarantee that their field is stable or something they can return to.

      There is simply no security, and there’s really something to be said for the notion that several years of a funded PhD is actually an economic safe haven. Who knows what the job market will be like in three or five years inside or outside the academy.

      • It is true that there is less stability in the economy in general, but you can’t really compare this general level of instability to the completely insane job market in academia, where it is common to have 200-600 applicants per position (and in many disciplines where there are fewer than 100 positions open per year). Nothing else that I’ve seen in the normal job market world compares.

        Many graduate students leave with a PhD but virtually no work experience outside the university, little support for non-academic careers inside the university (and consequently few references to get them a non-academic job), and tremendous debt. I would not say graduate school is any kind of economic haven. For many, perhaps most, students they are living off borrowed money. It is debt that can never be erased through bankruptcy, and is therefore a big gamble that you will be able to pay it back and not ruin your credit. It may feel like a temporary economic haven, but that would be a very short-sighted approach to one’s life-long finances.

        Furthermore, I’ve largely stayed out of the other long conversation about finances, but I disagree with the basic assumptions. More than 50% of my graduate school cohort had a spouse and many had at least one child. Most were not exceptionally young and we faced a variety of health challenges that arise in one’s 30s-40s. Most of my MA students are similarly in their early 30s-40s and many have spouses and/or children. This is likely to be increasingly common as the economy causes older workers to go back to school to widen their potential career options.

        It is, in my opinion, a big problem to act as though graduate students “ought to” be single, without health problems, and therefore able to live off an incredibly low salary for years (and in most cases, it is a salary for research and teaching assistant work). It is also unreasonable to think that people should borrow in excess of $100K in order to make, in an optimal world of getting a TT job, around $50-60K/year (and to delay starting their career by about 10 years compared to non-graduate-degree folks).

        Basically, to say that a graduate student “should” be able to live off near-poverty levels is saying that (1) poverty level wages for work (any work, not just grad student work) is acceptable; (2) graduate students should be single and without children; and (3) graduate students should not have health problems or disabilities. Which basically says that graduate school is for young very healthy individuals with no personal responsibilities, or for people who already have plenty of money, such as through familial wealth. I find that unrealistic and inhumane.

        • Kim,
          I don’t what it’s like outside universities in the US, but I live in Canada and, in or out of the academia, many of my peers are precariously employed to one extent or another. These places revolve around “casual” positions where paid work stops when the project is done or there are pauses in the flow, or very short-term (2-3 month) renewable contracts. There’s a scandal in Canada now about temporary work visa program expanded under the present government that has allowed businesses from coffee shops to finance and investment professionals in major banks to bring in workers from the developing world and pay them less than the normal Canadian rates and actually displace more expensive workers here.

          I fully hear you on the ages and dependencies of students and the appalling suggestion that graduate student’s ought to live in poverty and crippling debt. Even the younger single ones I know are only able to afford school because they live with their parents or have wealthy parents that can afford to support them.

          I mean, pace Raven’s comments, the problems with graduate students are tied into these broader issues because they reflect the same processes and attitudes.

        • “It is, in my opinion, a big problem to act as though graduate students “ought to” be single, without health problems, and therefore able to live off an incredibly low salary for years (and in most cases, it is a salary for research and teaching assistant work).”

          I think it’s important to recognize that being single in grad is not the picnic — financially or otherwise — that most people make it out to be. It often means:
          1) moving to a new place by yourself (no built-in support or community)
          2) higher living costs (yes, you can share a room in an apartment with others, but when there is no one else to help with things like dinner, grocery shopping, and laundry, you often eat out more or spend more on services to be able to get your work done and stay sane, or sort-of sane. And sharing space requires finding someone compatible to live with which isn’t always easy.)
          3) less time (again, no one to share regular tasks with — cooking, cleaning, laundry, grocery shopping, waiting for car repair…it’s all on you)

          There’s no doubt that being single makes one less encumbered in terms of travel, but there are high emotional costs there too. The point is: grad school is just as fraught for single people as for couples. The specific elements that are easier and harder may shift with partnership but the experience is not easier for single people.

          • The wild card about being with a partner/spouse is that if things are good (i.e., they bring in an income too and the relationship works well, and they pitch in a lot) — it helps you through grad school (and, incidentally through the first years toward tenure).

            If things are not good (i.e., they become disabled or lose their job, or the relationship is stressful and not working well, or they fail to pull their equal weight around the home) — it is an additional burden to an already very stressful life.

            Out of the graduate cohorts in the five-year block around my entrance to my PhD program, most of the marriages did not survive. The vast majority of those that did were dual-academic marriages within the same department. Post-graduation, there were other marital casualties as people took TT jobs in undesirable locations, or their partner/spouse could not find work in the new locations, or the eventual strain of 10+ years of higher ed and scrambling for a job took its toll.

            Some made it, but they were few and far between. Of the ones who made it, most sacrificed one of the two people’s careers to do so by the final landing spot of the TT job.

            So, while there are advantages to partnership in an ideal sense, I am not sure it really plays out well for one’s focus and mobility — both essential to be competitive.

    • Kim, I think you make a good point. My spouse is about to finish his PhD in a humanities field, and during this time we have also started a family. Our marriage has not only survived, but I believe it’s actually stronger. During this time I have been the primary breadwinner, and truthfully, early on I spent a lot of time with a sense of resentment that I’ve had to actively manage by remembering that a) grad school isn’t a vacation and b) my husband is working extremely hard, with the goal of improving our family’s situation, even if he’s not earning an equal income in the present moment. There have been some difficult times, but I’ve found that the absolute key is communication. Starting from before my husband even applied to PhD programs, we discussed in great detail exactly what each of us was willing to do and what we expected from the other. I’ve let go of the resentment that used to color my communication with him, and he’s been extremely appreciative and respectful of the sacrifices that I’ve made so that he could earn his PhD.

      In most ways, the fact that we’re married has made it easier. I’m fortunate to have a good job, so we’re not rolling in piles of cash, but we are comfortable and money isn’t a big source of stress for us. My husband also made the good decision to get work experience outside of academia before starting his PhD, which means that if a TT job offer doesn’t materialize (as we both recognize it very well may not), he has a viable “Plan B”, which takes a huge amount of the pressure off.

  8. I’m always interested to see the comparisons the anti-PhD journos make between academic life and this hypothetical real life where people in their early 30s are securely employed (having built up seniority at their jobs!) and don’t have debt. Usually in these fantasies non-academics also own homes and cars and have kids and things. Who are these lucky bastards? I live in NYC, and my non-academic friends are only two or three years out of their JD, MSW, MA, MFA, etc. programs, which they needed for professional advancement. They are in mountains of debt from these programs, can’t afford to have babies, and are shocked at their shitty job options. I’m not saying academia doesn’t suck (and I agree with every word of Dr. Karen’s post), but its crisis isn’t happening in a political/economic vacuum. Do any of these don’t-go writers follow the debate over at my second favorite blog, Above the Law, about how law school is a scam? That debate, by the way, has actually progressed to lawsuits and, in turn, to law schools admitting that they have falsified employment statistics and even, occasionally, refunding tuition. Meanwhile, I mean, journalism. So yeah, good luck with the American Dream, real world. I mean it. I really do wish you luck.

    • But isn’t the point if you go through the PHD process in the humanities not only are you sacrificing years of steady income (like other degree programs you cite), but you are also very likely not getting a job in academia after that gives you a livable wage to have a family and plan retirement. I doubt Karen and others would be so against PHD programs if there was a good chance for a job after.

    • Word! This is my 6th year of my PhD and I am 27 years old, just over 5 years out of college. My social comparison doesn’t make me feel bad – a lot of my friends are ALSO in grad school, and the ones that aren’t aren’t driving around in Mercedes with houses and cars. Some of them are living at home with their parents; some of them are living in shared apartments and houses with 3-4 other people; few of them are making very much more than I do. I’m only just now getting to the point where colleagues, high school and college classmates are graduating from programs and beginning to secure jobs – and even then, they can look for 6 months or more without employment. Honestly, being in graduate school isn’t much worse than the situation that many of them find themselves in.

  9. Karen,

    You should also include the psychological aspect. You have been brutally honest in many of your posts, including this. The tone is enough to make anyone nervous about facing the reality of academia and the PhD training. You should add “If my posts make you uncomfortable, then you should think very hard. Because that is how tough earning the PhD and surviving academia is.”

    Surviving academia is a lot about luck and hard work (and very strong support system within academia, NOT just family and friends), not just your brilliance. It is statistically impossible to succeed at every grant/journal/conference/etc you apply for so rejections are part of our lives within the academy (to paraphrase my amazing adviser). Rejections hurt like hell however because they’re blows to our egos and pride on our work. You have to learn to be OKAY with applying to 13 different funding sources for summer money and get only 3 acceptances. (I am glad that my adviser doesn’t believe in “banking on one funding source” and I know that several of my graduate colleagues are.)

    Bottom line: Be willing to absorb negative responses whether it’s a “no” from a funding source or a journal editor or a “I still don’t see the contribution of your work” comment by a senior scholar in front of others at conferences and seminars. It’s okay to cry afterward but know that they happen all the time and you cannot take everything personally. I think they happen often when one pushes her/himself and be willing to take greater chances by being in conversations with more people/opinions. Academia is not for wussies who just don’t have the serious drive.

  10. OK, one more comment from me for the day. This issue of entitlement sticks in my craw.
    I said earlier that graduate students significantly contribute to all the rankings of a given academic unit or professor. Without them, institutions and people would be unable to do the research and teaching that allows them to survive and thrive. Graduate students are utterly essential, perhaps even more so than some of the permanent faculty.

    Undergraduates don’t do this. They are still in training, mostly for careers and lives outside of the university and unless they are the rare few who find work as a TA or RA, they are not really contributing to the overall knowledge producing side of of the institutions two missions.

    Yet, I find there is often little difference between the attitudes some faculty have toward each cohort. Graduate students are “just” this or that, not full members of the departments, simply labour sources and headaches for people who need research grants used up, papers written, and teaching done. They are junior, and somehow despite the many years of training to get there, still not considered skilled enough for their labour to be worth enough funds to live on. I wonder if this a reflection of North American academic culture? I mean there is the highly structured system of fee-based coursework, then exams, proposal defences, often years worth, serve to confirm yet again the ability of the potential candidate to learn and critically think. Only then, and with oversight are they allowed to engage in teaching and research practice. They have to compete for meagre stipends, TA and RA spots, and fellowships while the university takes its share because it is a ‘privilege’ for them to be there and there’s a price for that privilege. Thinking otherwise, thinking of yourself as a student as having value to the university reflects a sense of entitlement. It’s easy to see how the whole system may cultivate a sense of inferiority and timidness that allows the gross exploitation to continue.

    But then I’ve looked at PhD positions in continental Europe, offered as fellowships, with mandated monthly salaries and a program structure that seems to recognise that yes, graduate students are skilled, and will contribute this research project in big ways and they need to live.

    How much support are graduate students or contingent faculty ‘entitled’ to? The answer to that would come very quickly if they all walked off the job tomorrow.

    • “How much support are graduate students or contingent faculty ‘entitled’ to? The answer to that would come very quickly if they all walked off the job tomorrow.”

      Chris, when I was in grad school we unionized and did precisely that. The professors stood in solidarity with us and refused to magically grade the 500 students per undergrad intro class that depended on our labor.

      Wonder of wonders, suddenly the university was able to give us contracts that limited our workload and provided basic health care.

      Our strike lasted, if I remember correctly, about a week and we did it during the critical times (midterms, finals). We pretty much had to strike every time our contract went up for negotiation. But it did work, and it did make the process more humane at my university.

      • Kim,
        That’s excellent!
        My gradschool was unionised too, and had a very robust collective agreement and a solid labour rep, who was very helpful when it came to a labour dispute with my department. Could I get any other students in my department in similar positions to do likewise or band together? No. Most of them seemed to just want to get out there with the minimum of fuss and good references. Taking any sort of a stand was a bit beyond them.

        I suppose the key issue might have been the lack of trust we had in certain tenured professors, as it was their actions and attitudes that were the core problem. Solidarity between students and staff might have been an issue.

    • Yep, I wrote that one. Interest in comments, which I have been adding. For example I forgot to mention anarchist traditions, and it is true that ‘being nice’ is not the same as ‘being helpful’ to junior scholars and those around you in a consistent way, rather than just appearing nice in a conversation. Perhaps I should use the term ‘altruism’.

      Also I will say that the job market usually looks better internationally then in the US right now ( I just returned from LA after many years not even visiting the US where I was previously visting lecturer and assistant professor at different places).

  11. Dear Karen,

    Your comment about the university needing to pay “all fees” should not be so black and white. The very best funding offers I got from several different sociology PhD depts — all tuition, health insurance, summer funding, etc. — did not include fees. That is because fees often go not directly to the department, but to the school housing the department or the university itself. However, some fee burdens are heavier than others. For example, school X offered me 4 years of funding, no summer stipends, and required me to pay 1500 dollars per year. School Y offered me 5 years of funding, summer stipends, and had non-negotiable fees of 800 dollars per year. Obviously, school Y was the winner for this and many other reasons. But I couldn’t avoid fees, no matter what.

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  14. What with following this particular beat for NFM social media (and WhitherU watching in general), how could I not notice the return of this thread? It’s more like twisted multiple thread strand. Adjunct staying, adjunct leaving, tenured discontent but staying, tenured leaving, new contenders, un-tenured, and under or discontented tenured still striving upward. All variants on the same theme. It cycles regularly. This round does seem more energetic (or tortured) than the last, perhaps because we are in it.

    Obviously, my primary interest lies with the contingent faculty version, my personal commitment too.

    Decisions to go to graduate school (and reasons for going) are like Tolstoy’s unhappy families. I have to respect everyone else’s as much as I respect my own. If reciprocation lags, meh, not my problem but sure reflects on those too self-absorbed to see beyond their cubicle in the Ivory Silo™. Respect is not the same as agreeing.

    Go (whether up or out the door). Don’t go. Do what you want if you can. Otherwise, do what you must. No one else can make the decision for you. That includes the alternative of throwing ‘must’ under the bus to do what you want. Dwelling on the decision once you make it – or not – is a waste of time. Own it. Move on

    I’m done, out but not down, didn’t get where I would have liked. Life got in the way. I did what I had to, made the best of it my way. No regrets, no whining. Glad to come to the party. I almost missed it. Even when your choices don’t play out the way you want, there’s still the moveable feast part to take with you. If you can use the whole bit or any part of it to make a difference, that’s another plus.

  15. I am a first-year graduate student in a literature department that does not have a good placement rate and is not at the top of the field. Is this something that I should worry about for job prospects? Should I re-apply after the MA (it’s an MA/PhD program)? Or can other professional activities (publication, conferences, etc.) make up for a department at a public state university (R1) degree with little history in job placement?

      • Dear Karen,

        Thank you for your response. Is leaving a PhD track program an option? Would leaving after the MA portion of the program be the best method of getting out? I thought initially that this program was a good fit, so that was an important and exciting factor for me to take the offer (it was also the only the graduate program I got into and it was fully-funded).

        Thanks, 1st Year

        • Finish the ma and go elsewhere for your phd. i’m not saying you can’t overcome a second tier phd; people do it. and remember that a first tier phd is equally meaningless without an accompanying array of peer reviewed publications, conferences, etc.; it’s no free ride. But the first tier phd brings advantages of money and connections that translate immediately onto the job market. Of course you also have to deal with an equal amount of pretension, posturing, and self-importance (and probably truly vile politics) so please check internally to make sure you have the stomach for it.

  16. Thank you, Karen, for your great insight. I only discovered your website this morning and have only read a few articles, but look forward to reading many more.

    My desires to pursue a Ph.D. have not yet come to fruition for one main reason–MONEY. I am 32, married, and the father of 3 boys. We recently got accepted to Claremont Graduate University in California with a 60% fellowship but am still having second thoughts about many reasons you addressed in your article. Is the debt worth it? Is it worth it to remove myself from a few productive years in a job to basically pay money instead of earning money? Ultimately, I feel driven to obtain a Ph.D., and have for years. I have published articles and am the founder of a non-profit historical lecturing organization. But then it always comes back to money. Can I not only provide for my family now, but save for them for the future? It also doesn’t help that I have ADD which makes long term plans even harder for me to follow, but the one area I can hyper focus on and perform really well is in historical research and presentations.

    Thanks again for all your insight on this website.

    Jeff Jensen

  17. I am always interested in and ambivalent about this debate. I was an undergrad in the late 90s and a PhD student at one of the top 10 universities in my field in the early 2000s. Of my class of about a dozen students and students a couple years ahead and behind me, most have TT jobs at tier 2 universities, and a few are at the Ivies or the West Coast Ivies. We had an excellent team of professors for placement, and I know that made all the difference. My colleagues who finished were tough, tireless, and smart. I left my program after coursework because of an undiagnosed autoimmune illness (now under control), but took my M.A. and even walked for graduation–though my program didn’t actually grant M.A.s.
    Today, I am about a year away from applying for tenure at a CC. I am ten years older and haven’t recovered from the culture shock of teaching at this level. To illustrate: before I landed my position, I interviewed for adjunct work at a private university and was asked what I would do if I had students in my writing class who had trouble with grammar. I was confounded. I hadn’t had to deal with that issue when I was a graduate TA–I taught students how to write sound arguments. Needless to say, I didn’t get that job. I have had to learn how to teach grammar and punctuation (thank you, French and Latin classes). At my college, most of my writing students cannot compose an essay as well as my twelve year old niece who is graduating from private elementary/middle school this month. About half of my literature students cannot read at college-level. Some read below the 8th grade level. While I do have many adult learners who are appreciative and hard-working, I am deeply unhappy. I would love to say I am inspired to work hard to be the best teacher I can be for these students who were left behind by our secondary education system or who struggled for other reasons, and on some days I am. Most days, however, I come home and cry because I am overworked and under-appreciated and bored out of my mind. My course load is four per semester with about 20-30 students in each course (80-120 students at a time). I work six and sometimes seven days a week; my spouse complains frequently that I work too much–true–and I have little time to do the things that feed my soul, like reading, writing, and painting. So, six years into this job that pays $50,000 a year and has great benefits, I want to go back to get my PhD. I yearn to write and read and research. I am not sure I will ever land a job better than I have now, but I know I cannot go on being as miserable as I am, and I am not trained to do anything else that could compensate me as well. Some people might blast me for saying this, but if I could do it all over again, go back and whisper into the ear of the 14 year-old me: honors student, good at all subjects, I would tell her that math, science, and business can be interesting. I would tell her that she could write poetry on the weekends, and she might even have more time to read for pleasure if she had an 8-5 job. I am far older than 14, and I know literature like the back of my hand; I’m also current with new trends in humanities and computing. In my very spare free time I take computer courses and workshops in programming. I also teach with new technologies whenever I can. I’m in it for the long haul, and I have had this dream for a long, long time. I couldn’t agree more with the author about going to a top school. I worked my butt off for two years of my undergrad career to get in to the best school, and I had a full fellowship/TA. I plan to aim for the same this time around.


    Determined Bryn

  18. “You align yourself, before signing on, with an advisor who is well known, who is at the peak of his/her career (no asst profs, no emeritii), who has recently placed other Ph.D.s in tenure track jobs before you, and who is genuinely and personally invested in your arrival to the program.”

    So, in order to follow this advice, one must attend “Non-existent University” because the above mentioned advisor does not exist in the real world.

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  20. Dear Karen,

    I am a Chinese national doing my PhD in the Netherlands. Thank you very much for the post. But I have to say that I really enjoyed doing a PhD here and don’t have any financial problems! I would like to share some personal experience and most of the conditions you mentioned do not apply to the situation in the Netherlands.

    First of all, for financial matters, you don’t have to worry about money at all!For all public Dutch universities, a PhD is a paid job(AIO in Dutch, considered university staff, with holiday benefits and end-of-year bonus) or scholarship students. There is a collective agreement between all universities, so everyone gets the some amount of money for AIOs, no matter what faculty. Scholarship students may be paid a bit less, but they don’t have to pay tax. I will say that from my experience the salary is more than enough to support oneself (or even family members, though on budget) for a decent life.

    Secondly, there is no distinguish between so-called first- or second-tier program. I think in this sense, Dutch universities are very egalitarian. Every university has some famous profs and you can take classes and work with prof. from other universities as well. Actually, because it’s such a small country, sometimes the profs move around, and it’s difficult to attach a name to one university.

    Personally, I think all my Dutch PhD fellows and myself really likes conducting research and enjoying the process. We are indeed “passionate about research”. This is much more than a job or vocational training. the aim of the PhD is about training yourself to be an independent researcher but also a team-players. I learned much in this regard, such as setting up meetings with my supervisors and keep them updated. We also receive training on teaching and supposed to contribute 20% of our time (roughly one day a week including preparing the tutorials) to teaching. I think this helps developing necessary teaching skills without distracting too much from our own research.

    As for the age issue, I will say the population of students is relatively young compared to that in the US. In Management, which is my field, most of the PhD students in the States have working experience or an MBA degree. But in the Netherlands, the PhD students are usually top bachelor students, who subsequently enroll in a research master program (which is like the coursework of American PhD) and then proceed to the PhD. So most people are around 25 when they start.

    Nevertheless, what also applies here is the productivity-based aim for publications and delivering conference presentations.

    So in sum, I think your post applies to American universities, but maybe not to the Netherlands and Nordic countries. As a management scholar, I will say the national context matters here! The situation may be not universal.

    Thank you very much again for your post!

    Best regards,

  21. After scanning through this, I have to wonder what value we place on higher education. We are having such a large debate on it and it is no wonder we don’t get paid…we can’t agree that we should! I would also question what “Raven” makes in a year (with benefits) and what his/her current position is. Seems to be a bit of a one-sided argument.

  22. Cynthia et. al.,

    Can you please elaborate on why my arguments seem one-sided?

    As a graduate student TA (studying full time and working half time), I made about $17,000/academic year, plus whatever I got from (mostly small) grants and summer teaching. I then held a full-time lecturer position at another institution and made low thirties. So as a full-time lecturer, I was making less money (relative to my work load) and had way more responsibility than as a graduate student TA. Before I started graduate school, I never made more than $9/hour. What we consider a good salary is relative.

    I’m now in a TT position and make about the average for my field. I should note, though, that all of my previous posts on this thread came before I received my TT job offer–lest we think I was writing the posts with condescension from on high. The opinions I expressed in the previous posts have nothing to do with my current position.

    I haven’t read every single post on this thread, but I’ve read most of them. I’ll try to summarize my main points in context:

    First of all, I lean far to the left politically and I don’t buy all of this “we built it” business the GOP tries to sell. I think the government should do a better job of funding education and healthcare. I think over-emphasis on sciences at the expense of humanities is bad for our souls and bad for the economy. But all this is another topic as far as my main arguments are concerned.

    I’ve spent lots of time abroad in poor countries. I’ve lived in tents, in cold winters with no heater, with no hot water, with obnoxious snoring roommates, etc. As nice as a studio apartment is, I have never once thought that I’m entitled to one, just because I’m a graduate student. I’m still not able to save much anything each month, even with a higher salary. I have student loans, the luxury of paying $300/month for health coverage and regular living expenses. Would I like to find ways to make more money? Absolutely, but I would be a fool if I began graduate school thinking that I would make much more than 50K per year–if I’m lucky–right out of graduate school.

    Even though I absolutely reject the whole American conservative perspective that “we’re not entitled to things, we earn things,” I think some of the attitudes on this thread vindicate those types of perspectives.

    How can we say that we’re entitled to internet at home, a studio apartment, a car, salary to support a family, and health insurance… just because we’re graduate students? This really does sound like unreasonable expectations and entitlement. We live in a capitalist society, and I think it’s crucial to have realistic expectations about what it means (financially) follow our dreams. I think it’s that much more important that Karen speaks so frankly on this website about the dismal state of funding in education. Hopefully, at least, less people will enter graduate school with pretenses about jobs and money.

    Again, each of us make priorities for how we spend our money. For some of us it’s home internet or cable. For others its organic food. For others it’s marijuana. For others it’s nice shoes. But surely we have to prioritize. We can’t expect 2.2 kids, a white picket fence and the income to support that lifestyle–all while we’re training for our future professions, which may or may not exist by the time we complete said training.

    I don’t think unreasonable here. Or mean-spirited. Please explain to me, specifically, if you think I’m off-base. Perhaps more importantly, as far as the context of this discussion goes, does Karen write anything that seems to undercut anything that I’m saying?

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  27. Hello,

    I am in my first year of a doctoral program in communication. My plan was to concentrate on media but I am now starting to wonder if this career is for me. I hear all of these horror stories about being 30+ and having no job security, no prospects, and basically being unemployed. I don’t want that to happen to me. I loved teaching in my masters program. I thought it was the best job I ever had. I was always subbing for anybody I could and loved going to work. Now I read things like this on the Internet and I wonder if I should even bother with a doctoral degree? I’m at a state university, not an ivy league school. The faculty here are publishing but I doubt they are the top of their field. They seem like great people though and they found jobs. Is it really that hard? Are my chances basically null? Will I have to move wherever I’m told? Will I have any control over my future at all?

    The issue is I don’t know what else I can do or how to even begin going about finding a different job because I was always going to be a professor. What advice do you have for me?

    Thanks for writing this blog. It helps!

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