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But am I a rarified beast? I'm starting on my PhD at the same time my son is starting on his BA. Most of the people in my MA cohort weren't born when I got my high school diploma. I remember research before the Internet, though I have no idea how I lived in a world without google. No, really. I can live happily without a microwave, without cellular service, without bar code scanners, without DVDs and CDs, but no search engines or wifi really sucked in retrospect.

 

Sometimes, I feel like I'm going to be that old lady at my MA graduation ceremony, the one who got a standing ovation and a write up in the paper because she got her degree as an old lady. Of course, she was not only 88, but a really nice woman. I'm 41 and, well, nice is usually used ironically. I hope I'll be done way before I turn 88. It seems like I've been at this education thing forever. I like being older. I don't get the kind of guff from students that most of my cohort did. I don't know if that was age or just me. I have some insight into Raymond Carver because I remember the 70s. Too bad I'm not fond of Carver. I also saw Star Wars, opening night, in the theater. I was 8, but what the heck, right? Billy Idol videos make perfect sense because I grew up under the threat of global thermonuclear destruction. Degree-seeking at this age is fun.

 

Anyone else starting out later in life? Do you think we'll have problems keeping up at recess?

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I'm 35.  I walked in December at my M.A. graduation 9 months pregnant with my 5th child.  It's crazy, but fun.  Also, I feel like I am so invested in this---I know the value of every spare second, and I can organize my time well (I understand what it means to be busy with 5 kids under 8, phd apps, conferences ... ;)).

I think it actually helps!

Edited by crazyhappy
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As a 20 year old undergrad starting to apply this fall, I have to say that I am quite in awe of (and intimidated by) pretty much anyone older than me. Even just considering the leg up time has given you in terms of experience and knowledge. When I consider the fact that I've only been seriously reading for five years (since I was 15, say), you've had the opportunity to read five times more than I have, and not just wider but more profoundly, I'd bet. Five times as much the opportunity to soak up literature as well as the world. Mind-boggling, and also impressive.

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I'm "just" 30, but I do fear I will be a bit out of place among the early 20 potential collegues. Anyway, I admire you, kudos! Hope I will have enough strenght in me to go for another specialization in  10 years or so.

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Have you finished your MA Ken? I'm finishing my MA in June, starting in August my PhD in August but I won't officially graduate my MA in December and I'm wondering if that is going to be problem.

 

ETA: I'm 35 and have various anxieties about my age.

Edited by Porridge
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I just turned 30 and I'm graduating this semester with my MA from Louisiana at Lafayette and am headed to WSU (Detroit) for a PhD. I don't think age is an issue with professors teaching into their 70s. Having said that, I often feel that because I'm older I can't afford to make the "silly" mistakes I may have made when I was younger. With the job market on the other end of the PhD tunnel it's especially important to situate in the most advantageous position. 

 

Sometimes I feel like all the good advice is kept under wraps; that we don't talk about it enough (how to succeed). Here are the important things that I've learned (either by experience or through research and talking with professors).

 

1) Your institution's ranking DOES matter. Louisiana at Lafayette is a Research Two institution. You want to be in a Research One institution. I believe all of the English Professors here (at UL) have a degree from a Research One institution (at least all the major players do - those on the tenure track). SO, this means that *even* Research Two institutions *don't* hire the people that they graduate because they are looking for the people who graduated from Research One institutions. This doesn't mean that you *won't* get a job if you graduate from a Research Two institution OR that you *will* get a job if you graduate from a Research One institution BUT graduating from a Research One institution is half the battle.

 

2) Fit is important. Because everything is so saturated, fit is important (for both you and the school). Don't get discouraged if you apply to a bunch of places and don't get in. Your application could have been amazing, but decision boards are looking for perfect fits...and you should be too. Go where the specialists are for *your* field. It will only increase your chances at getting a job because you'll have worked with the specialists in your field and you're likely to be better supported. When I applied for PhD programs, I only applied to 6 because only 6 had a strong background in what I do. Most professors will urge you to apply to 15 (10-15 will get you 1 acceptance...that's the methodology). It's a good methodology if there are 15 places you could apply to, but don't just throw darts at a map to fill the last 5 (or in my case 9) spots. Those last off the cuff 5 universities will usually know that you're not a good fit and even if you *do* get in - what good is it if there are little resources for you to draw on. For the record, I broke the rule, got accepted to 3 of the 6 institutions (including my first choice) and was told to reapply next fall to 2 others for entry (1 was a flat out NO). 

 

3) Conferences. Conferences are important. They are especially important if you're looking to move up the academic chain (i.e. go from an MA program to a PhD). As a general rule, internationally ranked conferences are the best, nationally ranked conferences are good, other conferences are okay, and a conference at your own university is better than nothing (but doesn't count for much). *Any* conference that has to do with your field is *great* (small or large) and adds bonus points to the above statuses.

 

4) Publications. Publications are going to be important in securing a job (especially with the market). Research has shown that, even today, hiring committees *prefer* those who have conferenced and published over those who are good, even exceptional teachers. Universities clamor to grab students who are strong in publishing and conferencing. Also, publishing is weighted more heavily than conferencing...publishing is supremo.

 

As far as choosing a field *shrugs* lot's of people have jumped on the Rhet/Comp train lately because of it's *great* job prospects. The consequence of that could be an over-saturated market soon. Rhet/Comp tends to operate under the ideology that all programs are making the change to Rhet/Comp and that's simply not true. In fact, many of the higher ranked universities (Research One) are still using literature in their 101/102 classes. There is also a shift to multi-modal teaching going on right now so media is an up and coming field. My advice (for what it's worth) is to choose a field you love. If you love it, you will work to do well in it and if you do well, the money will eventually come! 

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1) Your institution's ranking DOES matter. Louisiana at Lafayette is a Research Two institution. You want to be in a Research One institution. I believe all of the English Professors here (at UL) have a degree from a Research One institution (at least all the major players do - those on the tenure track). SO, this means that *even* Research Two institutions *don't* hire the people that they graduate because they are looking for the people who graduated from Research One institutions. This doesn't mean that you *won't* get a job if you graduate from a Research Two institution OR that you *will* get a job if you graduate from a Research One institution BUT graduating from a Research One institution is half the battle.

 

I've heard this info about research one and research two institutions before.  Is there a super secret list somewhere that lists which schools are R 1 schools?  Thanks!

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The R I and R 2 tags have to do with the Carnegie Classifications that are assigned to universities. I've only been recently concerned with this so feel free, anyone, to correct me if I'm wrong. It seems that the R I and R 2 tags are no longer being used by Carnegie (they've developed a new ranking system) although their new ranking system does translate and departments still refer to universities as R I an R 2. From what I understand (from a professor) the ranking of R I and R 2 has to do with what kind of research is being done, how much of it is being done, and how many doctoral students the institution is graduating. When it was explained to me it reminded me of the division classifications used in sports. The easiest way to find out what your university is ranked is to ask. ALL of your professors usually know (I have no idea why many/all don't tell us). When I was accepted to WSU and they were trying to convince me to go they kept saying "Research One" over and over again. That's when I started paying attention and asking questions. Also, familiarize yourself with the Carnegie Classifications http://classifications.carnegiefoundation.org/lookup_listings/

 

Here you can read the descriptions of what each classification means and look up universities to see what classification they have been assigned. Lafayette has a "Doc/STEM doctoral, STEM dominant" classification meaning that the research doctoral degrees which are awarded their are heavily based in Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math. What this means is if you go on the market with an PhD in English from Lafayette the academy doesn't recognize that you've graduated from a research institution (this is seconded by the English program which is a "general" program). WSU has a "Comp/Doc:Med/Vet Comprehensive Doctoral with Medical and Veterinary" ranking meaning research doctorate degrees are awarded in a range of fields (the first one listed is humanities, social science and STEM). Thus, the academy recognizes you've graduated from a research intensive program. 

 

The program generally supports their rank (meaning you can tell a lot based on how the program is structured). At Lafayette the program is labeled by the department as "general" and you take 4 comprehensive exams. This supports the general program (which is not, by its nature, research intensive). At WSU you declare a field (i.e. nineteenth-century lit) and an emphasis (fairy tales) and your comp is structured around that specialty (which supports the universities research status).

 

Hope this helps.

Edited by brier
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KenAnderson:

 

I agree that program trumps institutional ranking. You have to go where the specialists are for your field if you hope to be successful. That said, again I'll point out that the majority (if not all) of the professors here (at Lafayette) graduated from a Research I facility. This is not something I conjured up, rather it is a fact that was pointed out by professors to students during a "What Makes you Marketable" conversation. It's just something I'm pointing out (that this university wouldn't hire the type of people if graduates). Of course, there are always exceptions, but it is food for thought and *I* certainly thought about it when I considered their offer of staying here for my PhD.

 

Some people genuinely don't realize that publications and conferences are essential to getting a job (especially since many universities don't cover the cost...or enough of the cost for it to matter). I was just pointing out that they are essential.

 

As far as my opinion about Rhet/Comp, I'm basing it around the conversations we've had here at UL regarding the field as well as the panels I've listened to and people I've talked to at the four conferences I've presented at over the past year. Also, this is just an fyi, Rhet/Comp didn't really gather any steam at UL until about five years ago when Dr. Ratliff came on board. Since then there have been numerous changes to the course curriculum. The most recent requirement (instituted at a university level) was the international requirement - that was this year - wherein 101/102 instructors are required to add international readings (about 6 or 7) to the syllabus. There are also, many professors here who are unhappy with the switch to rhet/comp and would like to see a return to literature in 101/102. There has also been a move to do some research on which universities are employing a rhet/comp model vs. literature model in the 101/102 classroom because it has been suggested that the move is being made by sub-par to average universities, universities with a high fresh/soph attrition rate, or universities that have a substantial class gap in the students attending. Georgia Tech has moved to a multi-modal 101/102 course and those courses are being taught using literature model not rhet/comp. I don't have much invested in this because I don't do rhet/comp, but I considered it and I listen and participate in discussions about it, but it seems that in order for there to continue being many writing instructor positions on the market rhet/comp needs to remain *as* valuable as it currently is or *increase* in value and over the past couple years...working in an institution where rhet/comp is a major component...there has been a significant push back against rhet/comp. Just recently (like a week ago) the university held a "Professions of Reading Colloquium" with visiting professors and the topic over the course of 3 days was close reading and substantial time was given to discussing bringing it and literature back to the 101/102 classrooms.

 

It's just something to consider, and maybe not even that...maybe just information.

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It's very cool to see that I'm not the only one! *5* kids?! Wow, I totally admire both your stamina and your time management skills. I have the one and he was pretty easy to keep up with.

 

I'm aiming at a smaller institution for a job. They're more into generalists, so while I'll get the degree in literature, I will be coming out of the other end with a bunch of comp/rhet, tech writing, and linguistics courses. My MA is in creative writing, so I doubt I'll do more.

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As a 20 year old undergrad starting to apply this fall, I have to say that I am quite in awe of (and intimidated by) pretty much anyone older than me. Even just considering the leg up time has given you in terms of experience and knowledge. When I consider the fact that I've only been seriously reading for five years (since I was 15, say), you've had the opportunity to read five times more than I have, and not just wider but more profoundly, I'd bet. Five times as much the opportunity to soak up literature as well as the world. Mind-boggling, and also impressive.

Heh. As a 34 year old starting my PhD this fall, I can assure you that many of us have not been spending all of these intervening years just soaking up literature. Many of us have been working full time in careers unrelated to academia, getting married, having kids, getting laid off, divorced, etc, etc. If anything our only advantage is maybe some perspective and experiences with hardship and failure, since many early 20's PhD students have basically been academic rock stars most of their lives. But I'm not sure that makes up for the type of energy that only somebody in their early 20's can have. If you pour that energy into your work, you'll thrive.

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The only question that I have to you folk over 30 (and in some cases around 35) is: why?

 

Are you doing the PhD as a passion project? If so, hats off and my congratulations--I love your spirit. Are you doing it in hopes of a traditional academic career afterward? If so, my congratulations again--I'm not sure I could stand the odds. You're looking at 5-7 years to complete (effectively placing yourself at or near 40). Then you're looking at a year or two of postdocs, and then you begin on the tenure track (at or near age 42-43). You're looking at something like 50 by the time you're tenured. This is in a market that will be full of PhDs at or near 30 (if I finish in 6 years, I will be 32, and I already think that's on the older side). Wouldn't there be a distinct advantage to being younger, or at least, within the usual age range?

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But I'm not sure that makes up for the type of energy that only somebody in their early 20's can have.

 

As someone that falls under this age category, I don't understand the distinction. I feel that the characterization of energy being automatically associated with the younger population is unfairly ageist. If you look at most job postings, they specify an applicant with "great energy" or something along those lines. Does that not automatically (unfairly IMO) connote a younger body? Who's to say that someone in their early 40's cannot bring more energy to a position or a department than someone immediately entering following their undergraduate degree? I would argue that someone who has experienced more of life can bring the same, if not more, energy to the field because they have discovered other things that are not for them, and you know they are in academia for the best reasons. The energy one brings to a department or a field is completely determined by that person. If they want to let their age define that output, that should be up to them, not some unfair prejudice placed in the academic marketplace. 

 

Also, I just realized that you placed the caveat of thriving dependent upon the energy you put in, regardless of age. Oh well, I'll still throw my support to the oldies!

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as a 30-year-old, i have a career under my belt—one that effectively uses an english degree without being a teaching position. as such, i'm prepared to actually mentor future students (something i wouldn't feel capable of doing had i never been out of school before), & i'm also well situated to edit &/or launch an academic journal, which makes me more marketable than if i lacked significant editorial experience. so i feel great about my employment prospects, thanks :)

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Thanks Swagato and Brier for the info on Research institutions! 

 

The only question that I have to you folk over 30 (and in some cases around 35) is: why?

 

Are you doing the PhD as a passion project? If so, hats off and my congratulations--I love your spirit. Are you doing it in hopes of a traditional academic career afterward? If so, my congratulations again--I'm not sure I could stand the odds. You're looking at 5-7 years to complete (effectively placing yourself at or near 40). Then you're looking at a year or two of postdocs, and then you begin on the tenure track (at or near age 42-43). You're looking at something like 50 by the time you're tenured. This is in a market that will be full of PhDs at or near 30 (if I finish in 6 years, I will be 32, and I already think that's on the older side). Wouldn't there be a distinct advantage to being younger, or at least, within the usual age range?

 

In answer to your question, I am doing it for a traditional academic career.  I think that there are some advantages to doing things in the order I chose: I got to have kids and enjoy being a sahm, and now I get to show them that you can have a career and be an awesome, involved parent.  I have more determination than I ever did when I was younger: I haven't slept an entire night in 9 years; I know that it doesn't matter if I am sick or tired--I have to keep going; I will bring this to my Phd program; for me, it isn't a question of if I will finish--I have no choice but to finish in a timely manner: I am moving my family for this; I am setting an example.  Will I be at a disadvantage when I hit the job market--maybe, so I guess I better just kick butt, publish, present, and do everything I can to be a great candidate.  When I reach tenure, my kids will be going to college, and I will be able to devote even more time and energy to teaching, researching, and writing. As a plus, I will be doing what I love, so I will enjoy the ride!  Thought-provoking question though, Swagato.

Edited by crazyhappy
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I have a completely different understanding of the Carnegie classifications....maybe I'm wrong but, as far as I'm aware, they are nothing more than that: classifications. They are certainly not rankings. And, in any case, R1 no longer exists as part of those classifications, does it? Research institutions seem to be divided into institutions with very high research activity (RU/VH) and high research activity (RU/H). This is a classification of the university as a whole and doesn't necessarily tell you all that much about  an individual department. I mean, if you look at the US news rankings for English (an admittedly problematic ranking, but at least it gives you an idea of general perceived prestige of departments) you'll see departments from RU/H universities ranked well above departments in some RU/VH universities.

 

Also, surely any PhD is a research degree, regardless of whether the university is classified as RU/VH or RU/H - isn't that the whole point of the PhD? I think some schools offer a Doctor of Arts degree in English, which is a teaching/practice focused degree, from what I understand of it. 

Edited by wreckofthehope
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I love danieleWrites way of describing the age gap...I relate to some degree.  I took a course in hip hop poetics which for me meant some exciting prospects concerning Run DMC; for my classmates it was Immortal Technique. I vividly remember the Berlin Wall coming down several years before most of them were born! I didn't see Star Wars in the theatre but I did see The Princess Bride in the theatre.  For me personally it's much to my advantage having waited to enter literature. So I'm 33 w/ a partner and 2 kids, another masters degree from another life, some semblance of a "career under my belt" (to use lisajay's terms), and not likely to be able to apply for PhD programs until the Fall 2016 intake...which will put me at 36 and all that other stuff at (hopefully) the time of acceptance, and closer to early or mid-forties by time of graduation. This couldn't have happened at a better time in my life.  Much younger, I'd not know myself as I do now and I don't think I'd be as passionate about this new direction in my life (nor as good at it); much older and I start to have the anxieties that everyone seems to have voiced here already...although, as far as that goes, I do get a kick out of hearing those anxieties come out of a 20-something year-old mouth. The idea that you're supposed to be making a certain amount of money by a certain age strikes me as unhelpful at best, pretty destructive at worst, so long as we're all acknowledging the basic financial realities and so forth. Do what you gotta do!

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The only question that I have to you folk over 30 (and in some cases around 35) is: why?

 

Are you doing the PhD as a passion project? If so, hats off and my congratulations--I love your spirit. Are you doing it in hopes of a traditional academic career afterward? If so, my congratulations again--I'm not sure I could stand the odds. You're looking at 5-7 years to complete (effectively placing yourself at or near 40). Then you're looking at a year or two of postdocs, and then you begin on the tenure track (at or near age 42-43). You're looking at something like 50 by the time you're tenured. This is in a market that will be full of PhDs at or near 30 (if I finish in 6 years, I will be 32, and I already think that's on the older side). Wouldn't there be a distinct advantage to being younger, or at least, within the usual age range?

 

I'm not sure why, but this post kind of rubs me the wrong way. Maybe because I'm already feeling anxiety about being "too old" (I just turned 30), and I feel like this attitude is what I'm most anxious about encountering--a kind of patronizing "good for you!" masking potential underlying criticism. Well shucks, gee, it sure would be an advantage if I was younger, but there's this thing where time only moves in one direction...

 

The truth is that it just took me longer to get here. It took me 6 years to finish undergrad because of financial difficulties, I lived and worked abroad for a while after that, then got a regular job, then realized I wanted to go back into academia, so spent the last 3 years working full time, starting a family, and earning my MA. Voila, I'm 30. It's not as though you can't live your life before you get tenure, so if that doesn't happen until I'm 45 (or, let's be honest, ever), so what? I just don't understand the "racing toward tenure so I can start my real life" idea, which views it as a beginning, rather than a milestone or an eventual goal. Obviously it's an important goal/step in an academic career, but I'm not sure that being a few years older affects the granting of tenure, and something like 50% won't end up getting it anyway, so I think it's important to be open to other possibilities.

 

I'm sorry, I really don't mean to be snippy--I think I'm just grumpy about turning 30. But I don't exactly wear dentures and hobble around on a walker in my slippers. 30 is young. 40 is young. People change careers all the time, and from the people I've spoken to in grad programs, a 10 or 15 year age difference means nothing at all. It's not like I've decided to become a gymnast at 30--I think I've got a few good years before senility will rob me of my literature-teaching abilities.

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^ Out of upvotes so to express my feelings about your post:

 

34982gz.gif

 

Amazing! And so true. I feel a lot better especially because I took the same path as you after undergrad and will be done my MA at 30 and will be starting a Ph.D then and I know I'm going to be grumpy too. Maybe a little less grumpy now.

Edited by 1Q84
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Good for you, bfat. It's too easy to lose track of the rest of life, perhaps, when pursuing the tenure track (says someone who hasn't started pursuing it yet). From where I'm standing, a tenure-track position paying $48,000 a year at 45 sounds pretty amazing. Search committees aren't generally made up of 30-somethings, so I don't imagine getting a position would be significantly harder than at a younger age. The additional experience and the polish and confidence it generates - especially if that experience comes from outside the world of academe - might even make one a more attractive candidate, depending on the position.

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Bfat, great post. I fully intend for my time in the PhD to be me living my life as a young adult in the live music capital of the world; I'm not holing myself up in the library for the next six years. While working toward being hired and then tenured is very important to me, the fact of the matter is that I might not get it, so why not use the time I have wisely?

 

The WB, I don't know if that's a viable position to take on age.There is definitely an age bias in academia; while search committees aren't "made up of 30-somethings," they're looking for the future of the discipline, and many people consider the future to be young up-and-comers. It certainly isn't fair, but I think it's important to be aware of the possible limitations ahead of time and be able to work against them.

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I'm not sure why, but this post kind of rubs me the wrong way. Maybe because I'm already feeling anxiety about being "too old" (I just turned 30), and I feel like this attitude is what I'm most anxious about encountering--a kind of patronizing "good for you!" masking potential underlying criticism. Well shucks, gee, it sure would be an advantage if I was younger, but there's this thing where time only moves in one direction...

 

The truth is that it just took me longer to get here. It took me 6 years to finish undergrad because of financial difficulties, I lived and worked abroad for a while after that, then got a regular job, then realized I wanted to go back into academia, so spent the last 3 years working full time, starting a family, and earning my MA. Voila, I'm 30. It's not as though you can't live your life before you get tenure, so if that doesn't happen until I'm 45 (or, let's be honest, ever), so what? I just don't understand the "racing toward tenure so I can start my real life" idea, which views it as a beginning, rather than a milestone or an eventual goal. Obviously it's an important goal/step in an academic career, but I'm not sure that being a few years older affects the granting of tenure, and something like 50% won't end up getting it anyway, so I think it's important to be open to other possibilities.

 

I'm sorry, I really don't mean to be snippy--I think I'm just grumpy about turning 30. But I don't exactly wear dentures and hobble around on a walker in my slippers. 30 is young. 40 is young. People change careers all the time, and from the people I've spoken to in grad programs, a 10 or 15 year age difference means nothing at all. It's not like I've decided to become a gymnast at 30--I think I've got a few good years before senility will rob me of my literature-teaching abilities.

 

Fair enough, though I should point out that being "grumpy about turning 30" doesn't justify making assumptions about the intentions of others. :)

 

To clarify, there was no patronising intent in my original post. I am genuinely in admiration of those who choose to pursue the doctoral project regardless of age, in full cognizance of the fact that it does put them at a significant disadvantage. I would hope that all such applicants know this going in, just as I would hope all doctoral students go in knowing the odds, knowing what happens to the vast majority of PhD-earners, etc. As I said somewhere earlier, I already view myself as being toward the older side, which is why I'm even more impressed by those much older than I am. 

 

Does that betray an inherent prejudice? You may argue so; I'd choose to put it as me being impressed that someone would knowingly take on the odds.

 

And yes, for me the objective of a PhD is a tenure-track position, so for the purpose of this discussion, at least, I won't consider other options. As dazedandbemused said, it is important to be aware of what lies ahead. That was the spirit of my original inquiry. 

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