Jump to content

"Reasons Not to Get a Ph.D." Posts/Articles


Recommended Posts

Lately I've noticed an influx on my RSS and Facebook feeds of people posting articles and essays cautioning students against pursuing the Ph.D. I get it. The job market is horrendous, adjunct pay is shit, academic freedom in confessional schools is under fire, and tenure is quickly going the way of the buffalo.

 

Really, I get it. Now that I've been admitted to a Ph.D. program, I'm done thinking about it for a couple years (because I'm going to be pissing enough blood over the degree itself without worrying about what's [not] to come after it). But I do get it.

 

But, honestly: I'm tired of the posts. I think they are unintentionally damaging Religion departments and the Humanities in general, as they not only discourage M* students teetering on the brink of applying to Ph.D.'s, but undergraduates as well. If I'd been inundated with such a spewing of "the bad news about graduate school" at age twenty-two, I might've jumped ship. I imagine others might have done the same. Who would have suffered for that? The struggling Ph.D.'s who wrote the article/blog post who teach in seminaries or graduate Religion departments. We're killing ourselves, man. There is a case to be made that laying on the reality check/discouragement is the ethical thing to do, but I'm afraid of the unintended consequences and the scores of bright undergrads who will be dissuaded from pursuing further studies in the Humanities because of these posts and articles.

 

I'll now offer the soapbox to anyone who wants it. Your thoughts on these sorts of "Debbie Downer" Ph.D. posts?

Edited by Body Politics
Link to post
Share on other sites

Not getting a further formal degree is not the same as not pursuing studies.

It's perfectly reasonable to get a job, and continue to study, and even do research and write.

And as has been said by the academic community on the CHE forums, it's the quality of the writing and research that matters, not the degree. A PhD without much of quality work done during or after the fact won't make you any more respected in the circles than solid writing and work with no advanced degree.

It's not even remotely possible in the sciences (since you'd need facilities for the work) with the exception of theoretical work, for which it's not only possible but is done.

The degree is only necessary if you intend to pursue employment in an area which requires that degree, which means it's usefulness is directly proportional to it's ability to land you that job.

And as much as has been focussed on the glut of PhDs relative to jobs, is it such a bad thing if the numbers are reduced to something more sustainable?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Not getting a further formal degree is not the same as not pursuing studies.

It's perfectly reasonable to get a job, and continue to study, and even do research and write.

And as has been said by the academic community on the CHE forums, it's the quality of the writing and research that matters, not the degree. A PhD without much of quality work done during or after the fact won't make you any more respected in the circles than solid writing and work with no advanced degree.

It's not even remotely possible in the sciences (since you'd need facilities for the work) with the exception of theoretical work, for which it's not only possible but is done.

The degree is only necessary if you intend to pursue employment in an area which requires that degree, which means it's usefulness is directly proportional to it's ability to land you that job.

And as much as has been focussed on the glut of PhDs relative to jobs, is it such a bad thing if the numbers are reduced to something more sustainable?

 

Though I have to mention...we are taught, 'trained' even, that without a PhD we are worthless. I was actually having this very conversation with a guy in my cohort over lunch and he has lately said he isn't sure if it's even worth all the trouble even applying, since as the article(s) say, IF you finish and IF you happen to land a job it will still pay shit. One of the articles buzzing around Facebook, which reports findings from early this year, says that 75% of teaching positions are adjuncts. That is wild and insanely discouraging. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Though I have to mention...we are taught, 'trained' even, that without a PhD we are worthless. I was actually having this very conversation with a guy in my cohort over lunch and he has lately said he isn't sure if it's even worth all the trouble even applying, since as the article(s) say, IF you finish and IF you happen to land a job it will still pay shit. One of the articles buzzing around Facebook, which reports findings from early this year, says that 75% of teaching positions are adjuncts. That is wild and insanely discouraging. 

 

I think this is a problem though -- people without PhDs are not worthless. There's more to life than to get a PhD in your field. I think a big problem with grad school in general is that so many people are just going to grad school because they don't know what to do next. Grad school is not supposed to be the next logical step after your BA/BS or MA/MS. It's a major life decision that people should seriously consider with all the facts.

 

I've seen many undergraduate programs that basically push all their students to apply to grad school. It's as if they feel that whenever one of their graduates leave academia, it's a failure on their part. The purpose of a University is not to create academics. The purpose is to 1) provide a place for academics to work and collaborate but also 2) to provide training to people to use in future careers. During your undergraduate education, almost everyone who teaches you or mentors you or supervises your work will have a PhD. You will get the sense that the only way to do meaningful work in your field is to have a PhD. You will feel like it's the expectation! You also hear sentiments like "Those who can't do, teach" etc. 

 

However, this is wrong! There are a lot of meaningful work you can do without a PhD and also a lot of work you might enjoy without a PhD! But an undergraduate isn't likely to be exposed to these other opportunities. I think it's great that there are all these articles about why a PhD isn't worth it. They're really about the risks you will be facing by investing 5+ years of your life, potentially going into debt. Maybe it's not the best route for everyone. During undergrad, students already get a lot of examples/persuasion towards doing a PhD (as jdmhotness said). I think it's important to hear the other side too (provided that these articles are written in good faith -- i.e. properly presenting facts), in order for people to make informed decisions.

 

Also, these types of articles are not new. I saw them 6 years ago when I first thought about grad school and it seems like a few different ones go viral every year. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

Not to be a downer...but what exactly are we supposed to do with our BAs in religion?? You are in science (Planetary, your sig says), and I imagine having your BSc in physics may actually land you a job. For the rest of us, we either can 1) work at Walmart or 2) go to grad school...and then maybe work at Walmart after ( ;) )....so there is the temptation for us to go on, hoping we will be that 25% to actually land a job. And even if we are not that 25%, but end up working as an adjunct, we will still make what someone makes at Walmart, but maybe hate our life a bit less. We are screwed in almost every way. So I figure we might as well take the least shitty option.

 

Oh and to those who say "There is a lot you can with a BA in religion/philosophy/theology!" I say, good luck. I have TONS of friends with these degrees who are working PT at the local Home Depot because there is no other option. Anyways, I don't want to be an asshole, just pointing out the reality that many of us will, one day, have to face. 

 

cheers

Link to post
Share on other sites

The thing I don't understand about those sorts of articles or, for example, this blog, is that the complaints largely seem to be "it's really hard to be successful in academia because there are all these hoops that are really inconvenient."

 

But isn't that true of just about every occupation? That just seems to be a complaint about life in general, as if once one finished dealing with the "rigors" of getting an education, one wouldn't have to work that hard anymore. Moving up the corporate ladder is hard work, political, envolves some risk, etc.--it's just a different kind of work. Complaints about academia being hard, thankless work seem to be transferable to a lot of different occupations.

 

I'm also not sure I buy the argument that a person with a humanities BA can't get a job outside of retail. (This isn't a knock on jdmhotness's friends--I know lots of people who have struggled too.) I certainly agree that there are ready-made jobs for people with science degrees, but someone with a science degree may have just as difficult a time finding work as someone with a humanities degree--unless someone with the humanities degree is set on a job related to his/her field. There are lots of people who love the humanities subject in which they major, but for whatever reason don't love school enough to go on to graduate school, who then struggle to find work--But do those people expect to find work related to their field outside of teaching/academia? If they do, then someone wasn't honest with them when they chose their major.

 

There are also people who major in something just because they can, either because it's easy, convenient, etc. I have a cousin with a BA in philosophy from UCSB. She wanted to major in sociology, but she couldn't get the major classes she needed to graduate on time but figured out that she had enough classes to switch to philosophy and graduate. She works for a nursing home and is finishing an online MS in senior care (or something like that)--a practical degree directly related to her work that will increase her pay (i.e. not a degree she had to have to in order to do her job.) I know people with degrees in English, philosophy, etc. working in administrative positions in schools (meaning university office jobs, admissions counselors, etc.), insurance, entertainment promotion, advertising... I'm not saying these are jobs that are going to lead to wild financial success and fame, but they're absolutely respectable and are good enough to become careers.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I think that this is a big question that is getting tossed around now, especially with the number of Religion programs dwindling or getting absorbed into other departments.  Along with this discussion comes that of the role of Humanities in higher education, which is a difficult one, as you will no shortage of humanities professors who can write a fine paean about how important they are (a paean that I agree with), but the truth being that most students see these courses as 'requirements' for more important degrees in economics, business, and the 'hard sciences' which will land them a job and plenty of money after graduation.  For the absolutely massive student body at my own institution, precious few choose religion majors.  For, as jdm mentions, what the hell do you do with a BA in religion (or frankly, even a M*)?  Parents laying down 40k a year to send their kids to college are becoming less and less interested in the intrinsic reasons for the worth of the Humanities, mostly because they probably don't want their kids moving back in with them after they graduate.  Hell, my parents probably wouldn't have stood for me doing a BA in Religion except for the fact that I got a full-ride and they didn't have to pay a penny of it.

 

So, what does this mean for the study of religion on the PhD level?  I don't really know.  It seems that the number of programs churning out M* degrees in Religion has grown a great deal in the last 20 years, which means that getting one M* degree doesn't matter much, even if it is from Yale or Harvard.  It isn't all that hard to get into either of those programs.  However, look at the faculty at these places - one or two profs for each field, who stay in their positions for 50 years! 

 

We absolutely need bright people to pursue the study of religion, because positions will inevitably open, and do each year.  However, we probably need less of them.  Maybe this means a little more discouragement at both the BA and M* level, especially for those who aren't so bright as to be offered full or near full funding. This bring me to the matter of money.  I say with the PhD at this point, pursue your dream, work hard, cross your fingers or sacrifice to the goat-god or whatever you do for a job at the end, but for god's sake don't go into debt.  I would really say at any level, but especially at the PhD.  If you have to pay for your degree, your program is probably not well-respected enough to put you ahead of the 125 other people who are going to be applying to the same job you are (or they don't think highly enough of you as a student).  Trying to pay off 50 or 60k, let alone more working at the 'bucks or Walmart isn't going to happen in your lifetime. 

 

As jdharrison also notes - diversify!  Using the fact that you have a BA in Religion and a M* in Religion as an excuse for needlessly plowing forward into a PhD is silly.  You can pick up other skills.  You can get certified to use an X-Ray or CAT scan in 15 months and get a pretty good job out of it.  You can learn how to cut fish, or cook, or shoot and edit videos with no extra training.  I know it is heresy to not spend your summers as a PhD student learning some obscure language, or locking yourself inside reading, but I have taken to learning a new, marketable skill every summer since undergrad.  This is partly to see what I enjoy (i.e. not cooking), as well as to expand my skill set.  I have actually gotten really good at shooting and editing videos, and have made more than my entire stipend doing this for real estate companies in the past two summers.

 

This is getting long, so I will wrap up.  I absolutely want to be a scholar of Late Antiquity, and to do this as a professor in some capacity.  However, if it doesn't happen, I haven't gone into any debt, and I have other thigns to fall back on (even with two degrees in Religion).  If I end up finishing in three years, can't find a job, and end up opening a butcher shop or something, I'll spend my weekends writing about magic gems and be sure to bring my advisor some strip steaks at SBL every year.       

Link to post
Share on other sites

Not to be a downer...but what exactly are we supposed to do with our BAs in religion?? You are in science (Planetary, your sig says), and I imagine having your BSc in physics may actually land you a job. For the rest of us, we either can 1) work at Walmart or 2) go to grad school...and then maybe work at Walmart after ( ;) )....so there is the temptation for us to go on, hoping we will be that 25% to actually land a job. And even if we are not that 25%, but end up working as an adjunct, we will still make what someone makes at Walmart, but maybe hate our life a bit less. We are screwed in almost every way. So I figure we might as well take the least shitty option.

 

Oh and to those who say "There is a lot you can with a BA in religion/philosophy/theology!" I say, good luck. I have TONS of friends with these degrees who are working PT at the local Home Depot because there is no other option. Anyways, I don't want to be an asshole, just pointing out the reality that many of us will, one day, have to face. 

 

cheers

 

You make a good point -- I don't know what it's really like to apply for jobs with a BA. I admit I was assuming that a BA graduate would go looking for jobs the same way a BSc graduate would. That is, I would treat all BSc graduates as having pretty much the same skillset regardless of their major (i.e. data analysis, critical thinking, quantitative skills, some knowledge of their major). My friends who didn't go into grad school are usually in jobs that require some knowledge of math and science but not necessarily in their major. I don't think very many BA/BSc graduates work in the field of their major though -- you just don't know enough at the BA/BSc level! 

 

I had assumed there was some similar structure in the BA side. Naively, I would guess that the key skills one gets out of a BA are skills like effective communication, critical analysis, the ability to write academically etc. It seems like there are many jobs that my spouse is applying to (admin assistant type positions) generally prefer candidates with a BA or equivalent experience. Maybe I was wrong to generalize like this though!

 

I just figured that since many many more people nowadays are going to college/university compared to decades ago, that even jobs that might not necessarily need the expertise of a BA/BSc would still require a BA/BSc in order to be competitive in the application. When I say "jobs" here, I don't necessarily mean academic jobs but I also don't mean "unskilled" minimum wage jobs like Walmart/Starbucks etc. I'm thinking of things like administrative assistants, tech support, etc. like what the above posters said. Also, like others said, completing a BA/BSc shows that you are smart and can pick up more skills. There are many one-year ish programs that can get you certified in something more specific, e.g. human resources, elementary/secondary school teaching, law enforcement, etc.

 

This is why I think it's reasonable to expect that a BA/BSc can help you get a good career. You just have to be realistic of your expectations -- a BA/BSc in X probably won't land you a career in X. But think about what kind of skills you gained from a BA/BSc in X and maybe try to apply those skills plus what you enjoy doing in order to find careers that don't have to be in academia! Actually, I'm not even banking on the fact that I will end up in a career in Planetary Sciences even after a PhD. That would be my dream job, but if it doesn't work out, I'll be putting to use all of my computer and programming experience (for example) into an alternate career that will still be enjoyable :)

Link to post
Share on other sites

Perhaps a person with a BA in religion could do what many have done before: go into ministry. It seems that's what the original design was. But many these days have separated religion from ministry and made it a purely academic pursuit.

In saying this, I don't mean to belittle those who approach religion from a secular perspective - but it seems that the secularization of religious studies is partly to blame for this percieved narrowing and pigeonholing of potential future employment. Of course, sometimes a simple BA doesn't open up ministry opportunities either. I know that in my context it did however.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I always explain it to people that don't understand it in this way: this shiz is like Hollywood... only some make it big. Since it's my passion, it's worth the risk. And if not, well... at least I followed my dreams. Soooo cliche for me to say, no?

 

Anyway, to make myself (and others) feel better in a VERY cynical way, I tell myself that we are at the prime time to be the next generation of whatever field of study in religion we are in. First generation interfaith/inter-relations scholars, second generation feminist theologians, 1st/second generation pluralism scholars... etc. etc. etc. The first generation is dying off, man! They need us to replace them, so there will be more jobs in a few years! Maybe I'm just being delusional, but damn, they're getting old, lmao.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I always explain it to people that don't understand it in this way: this shiz is like Hollywood... only some make it big. Since it's my passion, it's worth the risk. And if not, well... at least I followed my dreams. Soooo cliche for me to say, no?

 

This.  I knew the risks heading into the game.  Too many people, not enough spots.  But if I think that the academic life will make me the happiest, why not go for it?  I'd much rather try and fail than run the risk of ending up in some job I hate and always wondering 'What if...'  

Link to post
Share on other sites

From my perspective, I'm making 13k per year working part time and going to school full time right now. I just got into a PhD program that will pay me 14k per year, pay for school, and give me health insurance.

 

Oh, yeah, and it gives me personal satisfaction and stuff too . . .

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

I think the real problem is a combination of special snowflake syndrome and undergraduates thinking of grad school as a way to avoid having to deal with the real world. Of course, the reality is that not everyone is a special snowflake when it comes to talent in a given field (athletic, academic, or otherwise), and that academia can in many ways be even more brutal than the so-called "real world" outside the ivory tower.

 

So I agree entirely with AbrasaxEos: the only cost you should be paying for a Ph.D. is the opportunity cost. If you aren't getting paid for doctoral study--meaning, a full tuition waiver PLUS a stipend that will at a minimum realistically cover your living expenses--then either your program isn't well-respected enough or they don't think well enough of you for the exercise to be worth your while.

 

The upside of this approach is twofold. First, if it all goes belly-up and you can't find a teaching job, well then at least you aren't in debt. Second, it's not as if there aren't any teaching jobs out there; it's just that the jobs which do exist will invariably go to the students who got paid to complete their Ph.D's. In other words, it's a snowball effect. As one of my advisors put it, the way you get fellowships is by already having fellowships. So it's less "Don't get a Ph.D." than "Only get a Ph.D. if a) you're getting paid for it and b ) you have direct hands-on experience with what academic life really entails."

Edited by theonionman
Link to post
Share on other sites

The onion is right about the way to approach doctoral study per money, etc.... I do think the "real problem," though, is that there are simply 100-200 PhDs for every tenure track job that opens up, and that cannot change until jobs increase and/or PhDs decrease. A recent opening in Wright State's religion dept. capped the applicants at 180; my undergrad, a place that doesn't even do tenure (!) and is a tiny and obscure place to work rejected hoards of Harvard, ND, etc... PhDs. 

 

I think Sarah's idea is sound as well, though; it's Hollywood. I have a cousin in Hollywood right now who is paying for his own horseback lessons, etc..., so that he might be considered for action roles which require certain skills. Happy hunting!

Link to post
Share on other sites

It may be Hollywood, but... The current crop is retiring and they aren't being replaced at the same rates. The reality is that purely academic positions are increasingly hard to come by, and the number of people with decent PhDs is increasing very year. I think the key for happiness and success is to do this with more than one possible end in mind. If you just go into it wanting a classic job in the academy, you will likely be disappointed. If you go into it knowing what other options might prove an equally satisfactory use of education and interests, then your odds of finding something good and useful out of the years of focused study increase exponentially. For those who believe, ministry has typically been a good option, as has Christian education, church administration/ denominational work, and certain types of nonprofit work. There are also other institutions that are happy to work with folks with good academic backgrounds (one friend with a PhD in early church history now teaches latin at a private high school and is very happy doing so.) in short, if you can see multiple uses and options for your studies, and if they don't put you at a financial or other disadvantage, then, by all means, keep going. But in this, as in the rest of real life, looking at things too narrowly will only lead to disappointment.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

By using this site, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.