RR: 7 April 2013, Special Topic: Should I Get a Ph.D.?
Should you get a Ph.D.? Should you encourage your undergraduate students to apply to graduate school?
An article in Slate is currently drawing a lot of attention for its embittered treatment of humanities doctoral programs. As is so often the case with online articles, the comments following the piece are more intriguing even than the piece itself, so I encourage you to scroll.
Additionally, the Slate author links to this older piece on the subject of graduate school in The Chronicle of Higher Education that is also worth reading, along with the comments it generated.
I have a Ph.D. in literature and was fortunate enough to find a tenure track job, but that doesn’t mean pursuing that graduate degree hasn’t come with sacrifices. My salary is low and my work hours long. The years it takes to get the terminal degree and then, finally, the solid position are years in which you earn ridiculously low amounts of money, usually without benefits and certainly without accruing retirement savings. And I have tens of thousands of dollars in loan debt that I will be repaying with my mediocre salary for the next 20 years.
The author of the Chronicle article has another one from 2010 in which he takes on the idea of the “life of the mind,” arguing that the mantra of the “disinterested life of learning” is unrealistic and unavailable to anyone who isn’t independently wealthy. In other words, if you need to use income earned from a job to feed yourself, love for poetry makes weak soup.
This is all distressing. I do love my job (and poetry). But I have a partner who earns twice what I do. (His Ph.D. is in mathematics and he works for a large company.) Without our combined income, I would live much differently and worry a lot more about things like paying for our son’s college and saving for retirement. Also, exploitation of adjunct labor has become a true embarrassment to the profession. I worked as an adjunct for three years; it’s not a good gig. How do we fix these problems? I wish I knew. Maybe you know.