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Should you get a humanities PhD at all?


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Getting your PhD in English from one of the top 10 schools in the country (like Harvard) is probably a bad idea. Getting your PhD from school outside the top tier is just insane. Sorry, but this cannot be said enough. At least some of the Ivies offer stipends of over $30k/year so you're not totally wasting 5-7 years of your life if (and when) you have to switch careers. The schools that will actually replace the jobs vacated by retiring faculty will be elite private universities (like the Ivies, Stanford, Duke, Vandy, etc) and private LACs with big endowments (Swarthmore, Williams, Amherst, etc). You need, at the very least, a PhD from a top school just to compete for those jobs (let alone teach there). And even these schools are increasingly relying on visiting lectureships. Public universities across the country are under siege and the first jobs that state legislatures are eliminating are in the humanities. I have no idea what would compel someone to slog through a poorly ranked PhD program on $15k/year with no job prospects. I'm absolutely baffled by people who take out loans to pay for an MA. In both cases, you're better off working at Starbucks and reading literature the way it should be read (for fun).

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So just to be clear: you came to a message board full of people applying to English/Rhetoric/Comparative Literature PhD programs and decided that, now, in March, 5 months after applying, you will remi

I advise those who are horrified by the academic job market and academic employment conditions (exploitative! neoliberal! low-paying! no security!) to go give it a whirl in the non-academic job market

Getting your PhD in English from one of the top 10 schools in the country (like Harvard) is probably a bad idea. Getting your PhD from school outside the top tier is just insane. Sorry, but this canno

Getting your PhD in English from one of the top 10 schools in the country (like Harvard) is probably a bad idea. Getting your PhD from school outside the top tier is just insane. Sorry, but this cannot be said enough. At least some of the Ivies offer stipends of over $30k/year so you're not totally wasting 5-7 years of your life if (and when) you have to switch careers. The schools that will actually replace the jobs vacated by retiring faculty will be elite private universities (like the Ivies, Stanford, Duke, Vandy, etc) and private LACs with big endowments (Swarthmore, Williams, Amherst, etc). You need, at the very least, a PhD from a top school just to compete for those jobs (let alone teach there). And even these schools are increasingly relying on visiting lectureships. Public universities across the country are under siege and the first jobs that state legislatures are eliminating are in the humanities. I have no idea what would compel someone to slog through a poorly ranked PhD program on $15k/year with no job prospects. I'm absolutely baffled by people who take out loans to pay for an MA. In both cases, you're better off working at Starbucks and reading literature the way it should be read (for fun).

Uh, what? So basically somehow, out of EVERY UNIVERSITY IN THE COUTRY, only the ivies have faculty retiring and spots to fill? I've said it before and I'll say it again: If people expand their job market to include less well-known universities or liberal arts schools, the job market suddenly becomes less horrendous.

Also, there's a classist undertone here. $30k a year is the minimum stipend for "not wasting your life," but somehow working part time at Starbucks (and probably only making $10k a year) is better than going to a lower ranked school. Yet someone living on $15 a year "baffles" you. Maybe for a lot of people, making $15-20 a year sounds like a lot of money. I work THREE part time jobs and make under 15 a year. Sorry, "reading for fun" at these jobs is not an enjoyable alternative to having things like health insurance or the security that I'd be making a steady wage instead of an hourly one. This argument smacks of someone who hasn't ever had to work at starbucks outside of maybe a summer job. But somehow I should turn down or dismiss my midlevel acceptance offering 21 and medical/dental in a cheap area because it isn't an ivy an won't get me into an ivy...even though it has an 80% placement rate overall, better than what Harvard reports. And let's not go into the fact that you more essentially telling people if they can't get into a top tier school, they should work at Starbucks (the academic equivalent of "do you want to end up working a McDonald's" it seems)--a tragic message especially for people coming out of underprivileged backgrounds who want to go into academia.

You also seem to forget that some places are significantly cheaper than others to live in. Take UNC chapel hill- top 20, doesn't offer much of a stipend because NC is so cheap to live in. Guess someone should turn it downfor the $29 offered by NYU, even though 29 is still hardly enough to get you by in the city if you don't have a spouse!

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Uh, what? So basically somehow, out of EVERY UNIVERSITY IN THE COUTRY, only the ivies have faculty retiring and spots to fill? I've said it before and I'll say it again: If people expand their job market to include less well-known universities or liberal arts schools, the job market suddenly becomes less horrendous.

Also, there's a classist undertone here. $30k a year is the minimum stipend for "not wasting your life," but somehow working part time at Starbucks (and probably only making $10k a year) is better than going to a lower ranked school. Yet someone living on $15 a year "baffles" you. Maybe for a lot of people, making $15-20 a year sounds like a lot of money. I work THREE part time jobs and make under 15 a year. Sorry, "reading for fun" at these jobs is not an enjoyable alternative to having things like health insurance or the security that I'd be making a steady wage instead of an hourly one. This argument smacks of someone who hasn't ever had to work at starbucks outside of maybe a summer job. But somehow I should turn down or dismiss my midlevel acceptance offering 21 and medical/dental in a cheap area because it isn't an ivy an won't get me into an ivy...even though it has an 80% placement rate overall, better than what Harvard reports. And let's not go into the fact that you more essentially telling people if they can't get into a top tier school, they should work at Starbucks (the academic equivalent of "do you want to end up working a McDonald's" it seems)--a tragic message especially for people coming out of underprivileged backgrounds who want to go into academia.

You also seem to forget that some places are significantly cheaper than others to live in. Take UNC chapel hill- top 20, doesn't offer much of a stipend because NC is so cheap to live in. Guess someone should turn it downfor the $29 offered by NYU, even though 29 is still hardly enough to get you by in the city if you don't have a spouse!

 

Right. I mean, look, I make the pessimistic case all the time, here and in real life. And I think for many people this just doesn't make sense financially. But look at me personally: for two years, I applied for jobs. I was not picky. I applied to dozens of jobs every week while I did substitute teaching for $65 a day, on any days that they had work for me. For my trouble, I got I think 4 phone interviews, two in person interviews, and one offer. That offer would have had me working 45-50 hours a week, making something like $22,000 a year, with no benefits and no meaningful opportunity for advancement. In grad school, with supplemental income from freelance writing, editing gigs, tutoring gigs, etc, I'm making just about as much, with great health insurance, flexible hours, and an immensely fulfilling day-to-day life. In the most self-interested terms, even economic terms, I'm coming out ahead here. Like I said: I tell people not to go all the time. But given that I know the odds and that I am preparing backup plans if I don't get hired, this is a perfectly rational decision for me.

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Getting your PhD in English from one of the top 10 schools in the country (like Harvard) is probably a bad idea. Getting your PhD from school outside the top tier is just insane. Sorry, but this cannot be said enough. At least some of the Ivies offer stipends of over $30k/year so you're not totally wasting 5-7 years of your life if (and when) you have to switch careers. The schools that will actually replace the jobs vacated by retiring faculty will be elite private universities (like the Ivies, Stanford, Duke, Vandy, etc) and private LACs with big endowments (Swarthmore, Williams, Amherst, etc). You need, at the very least, a PhD from a top school just to compete for those jobs (let alone teach there). And even these schools are increasingly relying on visiting lectureships. Public universities across the country are under siege and the first jobs that state legislatures are eliminating are in the humanities. I have no idea what would compel someone to slog through a poorly ranked PhD program on $15k/year with no job prospects. I'm absolutely baffled by people who take out loans to pay for an MA. In both cases, you're better off working at Starbucks and reading literature the way it should be read (for fun).

 

I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with you on this one. What you’ve put forth is a blatantly false dichotomy. Some of the lower-ranked schools have far better placement records than the top schools these days and offer better stipends and benefits to students. Top schools are wonderful, to be sure. I would love to go to Berkeley. I mean, who wouldn’t? But this sort of academic elitism simply doesn’t reflect the reality of the job market. 

 

 

You can get a good job without going to a Top 10 school and you can not get a job coming out of a Top 10 school.  

Edited by Kamisha
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On my phone so I can't upvote, so you have this post in lieu of it.

"watch out for that first step! It's a dooozy!"

Love the Groundhogs Day reference.

 

I think part of what people are frustrated about here is that while there certainly are naive, rosy-eyed students appying to PhDs in the humanities who definitely should be warned, if they have spend any amount of time on the forums here, they should be well aware of that fact.

 

On the otherhand, it has been really refreshing to hear people defending their choices to pursue PhDs in the humanities when there is so much negativity going around. Once you've considered all the risks and rewards and made the choice to get a PhD in the humanities aware of the dismal job market (as many of the people here clearly have), the lack of respect your decision seems to garner gets depressing. Sure, it's not for everyone but I've decided the PhD is for me. Cheers to supporting each other and keep each other positive.

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Shortstack, I am out of upvotes, but this post is one.  Even if there is disagreement about the job market etc etc, the idea that it's top 10 or bust is kind of an idea that I thought was slowly dying.  No one but those Harvard grads is getting work?  No one else is graduating with a PHD and getting a job?

 

And THIS to the stipend comments--yes, 30K a year is great--wonderful, quantifiably more money than the 18K I'll be making.  But how far do you think it'll take you in Boston?  It's not like you're going to be able to save up that money for after you graduate.  You will be in the same position as someone living in a cheaper city with a smaller stipend.  And I do the equivalent of Starbucks in the academic world--I adjunct...teaching exactly 1 course. I make well under 10K a year doing that.  I should keep doing that, rather than doubling my income and studying something I love under faculty I'm beginning to adore?

 

This post is coming off more snarky and less productive than I meant it to.  I just get tired of being undermined as an academic because I'm going to a not-ivy.  We 30-ranked and under are in the same freaking boat as everyone else.

 

The one thing I'll give you is that someone should think very, very carefully about taking out loans for a MA.  Does it mean it's always the wrong decision?  Absolutely not.  But it's something they should consider very carefully before doing.  But that is the only inch I'll give here.

 

Okay I'm done.

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It is not the case, as exponential decay claims, that the humanities job market was in "slightly better shape" than before 2008 -- it was in substantially better shape.  Many disciplines have reported 35-50% drops in the total number of jobs, and within that there have been shifts (which are hard to get good numbers on) towards adjunct hiring.  Those numbers may or may not matter to your decision, but they will matter to those for whom getting a tt-job is an important goal.

 

 

according to USNR, there are about 140 ranked English PhD programs in the United States. Let's assume each one graduates 10 students a year. That's 1400 newly-minted PhDs.

 

According to the Chronicle, there were about 200 English PhD jobs on offer in 2007, which means that, assuming only new PhD's compete for these jobs, 200/1400= 14% of them get those jobs.

 

REALLY BRO, REALLY?

Edited by exponentialdecay
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Love the Groundhogs Day reference.

 

I think part of what people are frustrated about here is that while there certainly are naive, rosy-eyed students appying to PhDs in the humanities who definitely should be warned, if they have spend any amount of time on the forums here, they should be well aware of that fact.

 

On the otherhand, it has been really refreshing to hear people defending their choices to pursue PhDs in the humanities when there is so much negativity going around. Once you've considered all the risks and rewards and made the choice to get a PhD in the humanities aware of the dismal job market (as many of the people here clearly have), the lack of respect your decision seems to garner gets depressing. Sure, it's not for everyone but I've decided the PhD is for me. Cheers to supporting each other and keep each other positive.

I meant to upvote this! I'm so sorry- don't have my glasses on and I hit the wrong one by accident.

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For all those who know the odds and have decided to get a PhD: great!  I am really happy I am getting my PhD, and I am happy for those of you who are or will do likewise. There is much to recommend this path, and I hope those of you who are choosing between programs are enjoying the thought of starting an incredible intellectual journey.

 

"You really have to conceptualize the academic job market as a very high-risk venture, much like landing a job as an associate at a top law firm . You have to understand that you're going to have to apply multiple times, multiple years, and perhaps take undesirable gigs before you get something better. And, oh yeah, have something else going on in your life, or else you are going to feel really shitty. But jobs take time to get."

 

Well, it depends.  Yes, the academic job market is high-risk.  Whether it is like getting into a top law firm depends on which law school you are coming from.  Getting into Yale Law will almost guarantee you a presitigious law firm (or equivalent) when you graduate; getting into Harvard English, on the other hand, doesn't give your nearly such odds of landing a tt-job, especially fi what you want is a R1. 

 

Also, once you graduate from a PhD program, the clock is ticking if you are trying to get a tt-job at a school that emphasizes research.  You need to publish or perish. But publishing is very difficult when you need to have an alternative career to put money on the table.  Getting a PhD and pursuing a tt-job means, for many, not only getting a PhD but then spending several years trying to scrape by in order to publish and thus become more attractive job candidates while not knowing if your bet is going to turn out.  This period of limbo causes a lot of people to feel anxious and like a failure and often  stresses family relationships, etc. 

 

Do other jobs entail similar stresses and level fo stress?  Yes of course some do, though there are stresses that a probably relatively unique to PhD programs due to their unusually long periods of training.  If you are choosing between a PhD program and a career with an equal amount of uncertainty, a PhD program may entail relatively little opportunity cost.  On the other hand, if your choosing between a Harvard English PhD over a Yale Law degree, you are not only giving a large salary differential--obviously--but you are opting for 1) a career path that is much less likely to result in a job in the career for which you've been explicitly trained, 2) much more likely to entail years of limbo and scraping by.  I by no means am saying that those contronted with such a decision should pick a Yale JD.  (Yes, of course class is important here.  That is because our higher educational system is a way of reproducing class and providing some, albeit limited, upward mobility.  And if you go to an elite PhD program, you are participating in an institution saturated with privilege and aimed at part in serving it: your stipend is made possible by it, in fact, and you will teach students in courses which have as one of their chief, de facto functions preparing those students to go be upper-middle or upper class professionals.)

 

So my only point--which I wish I expressed more clearly in my first post--is to 1) have a good sense of what the odds are (I posted some Harvard data I thought was particularly helpful as genuine and reputable stats are relatively hard to come by -- the MLA numbers, for intance, tell us that hte job market dramatically shrank, but we don't know how that translates into PhD placements at different sorts of schools) -- especially in your specific subfield, 2) have a good sense of what you are signing up for and what you are trading off in pursuing that.  And if you've thought about these things, and decided to get your PhD: great!

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Some clarifications.

1. The USNWR rankings and Ivy League mean nothing, I was not referring to those rankings. WUSTL is a good example of a program that does not fare that well in the USNWR and is not an Ivy, but is clearly a top program. There are some programs highly ranked by the USNWR as well as Ivies that are overrated IMO.

2. Look at the data and talk to professors. It is well known that there is a hierarchy in hiring and there have been studies confirming that the vast majority of jobs go to those from elite programs (top 15-20 or so). Part of it is the brand, but these schools also have the best resources, faculty, and networking opportunities. There will always be exceptions and it's really not fair, but it's the general state of things. You're naive if you think otherwise.

3. The schools that can offer $30k/year stipends often own a lot of real estate too, which lowers cost of living. Columbia is a good example: the graduate school provides substantially below-market rent to its students.

4. The Starbucks comment was merely rhetorical. My point was that many of these low-ranking PhD and MA programs are exploitative, like Starbucks. The great thing about literature is that you don't need academia to enjoy it and I feel like some people applying for grad school haven't really grasped this point.

5. If you're already in a PhD program, my post doesn't apply to you.

6. If you fully understand the reality of all this and you're still committed to getting a PhD, then go for it. You have been warned.

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 On the other hand, if your choosing between a Harvard English PhD over a Yale Law degree, you are not only giving a large salary differential--obviously--but you are opting for 1) a career path that is much less likely to result in a job in the career for which you've been explicitly trained, 2) much more likely to entail years of limbo and scraping by. 

 

Oh yeah, and Yale Law entails $150 000 in non-dischargeable debt - and that's just tuition, kids!

 

Not to mention, you can have the grades and the acumen to get into both the Harvard PhD and the Yale JD, but you might not have the skills necessary to perform in one or both of the jobs that follow from those degrees. A lawyer, besides being intelligent, articulate, tenacious, and all that, needs to be charismatic, dominant, most importantly have contacts - whereas an academic needs to be able to contribute originally to a highly professionalized discourse and be well-groomed enough to not be thrown out of the conference room. A lawyer is not a glorified teacher. The hours, the responsibilities, the skills and promotion criteria in the two professions are as different as if - as if they were two different professions! God damn, ladies and gentlemen.

 

If you read the law school blogs out there, you will find that it's not all that cut and dry in the law profession either. 

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"Not to mention, you can have the grades and the acumen to get into both the Harvard PhD and the Yale JD, but you might not have the skills necessary to perform in one or both of the jobs that follow from those degrees."

 

Yeah, I totally agree.  And so?

 

Also, the job prospects of JDs from elite institutions is worlds different than the job prospects of humanities PhDs from elite institutions.  (And so is the career compensation, unless you go into public service law.  $150K of debt is frankly not that much in the career of a corporate lawyer.)

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Well, speaking of privilege, this whole thread has been full of it, as well as some wild misconceptions: 

 

1. Instead of doing the PhD, you could be "launching a different career" and making money (this assumes that one can't launch a career after a PhD and make money)

 

2. You will graduate from your PhD at AGE THIRTY (!!!!) and have shut yourself out of all kinds of careers (thirty is so very old, guys)

 

3. You will never recover those lost 5 years when apparently you could have been rolling in the bling and putting aside money for your retirement account (because people are projected to retire at age 55) (By the way, I've maintained a healthy retirement account all through my PhD program, and I don't have a 30k stipend)

 

4. You could always work at a low-wage job and study literature anyway. Now put down that copy of Middlemarch and pour me a double latte, serf.

 

5. Only those from top 20 or top 15 (or sometimes top 10--we can't even decide) schools get jobs. Don't tell that to the hundreds of English departments across the country that routinely hire people outside of the top 50. Maybe they haven't gotten the memo yet. But when they do, look out. You can rest assured that they'll never hire anyone ever again from lowly Pitt or UMass-Amherst. They'll hold out for Harvard.

 

Look, if you're at all anxious about the time spent and money lost of getting a PhD ... seriously, just go work first. Take a few years "off" and get a job. Get a retirement account and put aside some money. More importantly, get some marketable skills that you can always pick up again if the TT job just doesn't materialize. That way, perhaps, the academic job market won't seem like such a life-or-death venture. You'll be able to market yourself for something else.

 

You really do have to think of a TT (especially a 2/2 or 3/3) as the absolute ideal. That is, it's not the kind of job that first-time applicants can realistically expect to get. It's the MBA grad expecting to waltz out of school and onto Wall Street. (I know the analogy is imperfect, but it's close enough.) If an MBA grad was telling other MBA applicants to hang it up because they could never expect to get their first job working on Wall Street, I suspect that many of us would look askance. And yes, I know that PhDs have a "shelf life," and that that makes our odds seem all the more daunting. However, you still have to recognize that you won't get your ideal job right out of your PhD, that it will be a long road of keeping your work current and your options open.

 

Lastly, I have to say that if the worst thing in the world that ever happens to you is being a 30-year-old PhD holder without a tenure-track job, then you've had an easy life.

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1. No I didn't assume you can't launch a career after getting a PhD. 

 

2. Yes, getting older and having a PhD does shut yourself out of careers.  And the older you are when you graduate, the more likely you are to face obstacles in getting into certain careers.

 

3. You may or may not recover the money you could have made in those 5 (??) years.  But compound interest means money you save in your twenties produces more substantially more savings when you retire than money you make, say, in your thirties.   Even if you save the same amount of money in your thirties as you would have in your twenties and thirties together, having saved money in your twenties will result in significantly more retirement savings.

 

The MBA example is a choice one.  Students from elite MBAs, for the most part, walze into Wall Street jobs -- and if they don't, there are many other highly paid jobs for them too choose from, though of course this varies somewhat by year.  25% of Harvard humanities PhDs who graduated from 2006-2011 were "unemployed and seeking" in the fall of 2012.  Do you think the same is true of their MBAs?

Edited by graduatingPhD
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I mean, I don't disagree with you. But they said the same things about the legal job market-- it's a safe haven! It's a cash cow!-- and then the legal job market utterly collapsed. The reality is that we're living in an era of 

 

1. Automation cutting the knees out from more and more jobs

2. Weak aggregate demand

3. A conscious decision from both corporate power and our political system to undercut worker power

 

So it wouldn't surprise me at all if the MBA market nosedives as well. We graduate 350,000 Business BAs a year in this country. Tons of them are not getting jobs.

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Also, the job prospects of JDs from elite institutions is worlds different than the job prospects of humanities PhDs from elite institutions.  (And so is the career compensation, unless you go into public service law.  $150K of debt is frankly not that much in the career of a corporate lawyer.)

No, this isn't really true. The JD market is in terrible shape.

 

It's pretty typical, though, that disenchanted PhDs often assume that every job market in the world is healthier than their own.

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Also, the job prospects of JDs from elite institutions is worlds different than the job prospects of humanities PhDs from elite institutions.  (And so is the career compensation, unless you go into public service law.  $150K of debt is frankly not that much in the career of a corporate lawyer.)

 

http://lawyerist.com/dont-go-law-school-now/

 

So, graduatingPhD, today, March 9th 2014, the world is more globalized than ever before. What does that mean? That means that a huge market has access to a huge labor force of diversified skills and backgrounds, all of whom, as individuals, are trying to become top dogs. What does that mean, you ask, in real terms? What does that mean for me? For you, graduatingPhD, this means that if a law firm or department can get a software or a bunch of Indian dudes in Bangalore to do its doc review or its more elementary cases, they will forgo you and your fancy Yale JD, because just the life support of your biological organism on the East Coast of America will cost them 5-10 times more than the Indian guy's net worth. That means that, if you want to get that corporate law job with that 6 figure salary, you will have to be damn good at what you do. You will have to be in the top 75% of your class - who will all be insufferable know-it-alls like you, so you can't be all, WELL I DOMINATED MY COMP101 SESSION AT UMinnesota. You will have to schmooze those recruiters like you are begging them for your life. You will have to not burn out in the first 2 years of your tenure at Fancy Law Firm. You will probably have to be a man. You will have to keep climbing higher and higher, because those within a cohort who are not promoted get thrown out. Tired horses get shot. There is a shit ton of lawyers with fancy degrees running around right now, and those ruthless corporate firms will exploit that - if you've read Marx, you will know what I mean.

 

Yeah, you could probably do a little better for yourself getting off the corplaw ladder than off the PhD one - you know best, of course, since you're graduating it. Don't think I misunderstand the gravity of your predicament, or of the predicament of anybody else on this forum. I've tried a lot of things to distract myself from this low-paying, low-prospect shit they call the humanities PhD. I've done the STEM and I've done the semi-STEM. I've done internships. I've looked at professional schools. I've gone through a lot of highly competitive programs, both within a discipline and across the board, and I've learned that 1) I am brittle, and so pressure breaks me, and 2) it was clear, when we were 16 years of age, which of us were going to be the brilliant economist or physicist or engineer or medic, and that was not me. For a lot of significant or superficial, inherent and assumed reasons, this was true. If I could be born again as a 6'5 dude named Kenley who was good at rowing and statistics, I'd take the chance. Yo - if I could go back a few years and fix literally two things in my life, I'd do it. But I'm here now. One thing - I'd say the only thing - that I learned is that life is a series of failures, and the way you become successful is you aim higher and you fail harder, and you try again.

 

I learned that from my coach by the way, guys. Can't overemphasise the importance of sports in my personal development.

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The MBA example is a choice one.  Students from elite MBAs, for the most part, walze into Wall Street jobs -- and if they don't, there are many other highly paid jobs for them too choose from, though of course this varies somewhat by year.  25% of Harvard humanities PhDs who graduated from 2006-2011 were "unemployed and seeking" in the fall of 2012.  Do you think the same is true of their MBAs?

 

No, they do not just "waltz" into Wall Street jobs these days. Or, maybe they do from the top of the class at the most elite schools, but nowhere else. But no one assumes, based on that data, that getting an MBA does you a complete and total disservice and that you can never find work anywhere else.

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In law, this:

 

Fred_Legal_Services-thumb-615x373-112408

 

led to this:

 

us-law-student-enrollment-law-school-enr

 

The problem, in part, is that addressing the problem in the TT job market simply on the supply end plays perfectly into the hands of the neoliberalization of the university and the all-administrative takeover, which is good for no one except those administrators. What we need to do is for people within the system to keep fighting to reverse the TT trend (which I'm naive enough to think is possible) while simultaneously counseling individuals about the current state of the TT market so that we can address this at least partially at the supply side too.

Edited by ComeBackZinc
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The MBA example is a choice one.  Students from elite MBAs, for the most part, walze into Wall Street jobs -- and if they don't, there are many other highly paid jobs for them too choose from, though of course this varies somewhat by year.  25% of Harvard humanities PhDs who graduated from 2006-2011 were "unemployed and seeking" in the fall of 2012.  Do you think the same is true of their MBAs?

 

You wouldn't get into HBS. In fact, I wouldn't bet on you vs. Fuqua. Shit, how can you even pretend that somebody who is a good researcher would be a good businessperson? Have you been drinking too much of that study-whatever-you-want-because-all-skillsets-are-equal Kool-Aid?

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I totally agree, ComeBackZinc.  I am not suggestion that a JD or an MBA per se is safer than a PhD.  It all depends on a lot of factors.  But the job outlook of a Harvard JD or MBA is world’s better than the job outlook of many Harvard PhDs. 

 

Here are Yale Law statistics.  Note that “Judicial Clerkships,” which employ 41% of students, are generally very prestigious positions (esp. the ones Yale law students get) that make them even more competitive for highly sought jobs.

http://www.law.yale.edu/studentlife/cdoprospectivestudents2012employstats.htm

 

Here is an article from 2011 – when the market was even worse off – suggesting that 95% of Harvard MBAs got jobs that year. http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424053111904563904576588583893732362

 

Now if you want to compare a middle-ranked humanities PhD, JD, and MBA – I have no idea what that comparison would look like.

 

Exponentialdecay, I'm not suggesting you go get a JD or that you a wrong to pursue a PhD.  We each have to make our own decisions based on our values, skills, desires, etc.  (P.S. Way to get personal about whether I could get a Harvard MBA or not!  Whether I could is hardly the point.  Some people can.)

Edited by graduatingPhD
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Some clarifications.

1. The USNWR rankings and Ivy League mean nothing, I was not referring to those rankings. Rutgers is a good example of a program that does not fare that well in the USNWR and is not an Ivy, but is clearly a top program. There are some programs highly ranked by the USNWR as well as Ivies that are overrated IMO.

2. Look at the data and talk to professors. It is well known that there is a hierarchy in hiring and there have been studies confirming that the vast majority of jobs go to those from elite programs (top 15-20 or so). Part of it is the brand, but these schools also have the best resources, faculty, and networking opportunities. There will always be exceptions and it's really not fair, but it's the general state of things. You're naive if you think otherwise.

3. The schools that can offer $30k/year stipends often own a lot of real estate too, which lowers cost of living. Columbia is a good example: the graduate school provides substantially below-market rent to its students.

4. The Starbucks comment was merely rhetorical. My point was that many of these low-ranking PhD and MA programs are exploitative, like Starbucks. The great thing about literature is that you don't need academia to enjoy it and I feel like some people applying for grad school haven't really grasped this point.

5. If you're already in a PhD program, my post doesn't apply to you.

6. If you fully understand the reality of all this and you're still committed to getting a PhD, then go for it. You have been warned.

If US news and ivy mean nothing, what is this mysterious category of top tier schools you keep referring to? What system of ranking are you basing it on?

And I am looking at data. I think the data you're looking at applies to desirable r1 TT positions--one of my jobs is in academic administration and I've spent time talking to well to do, though not well known, liberal arts schools. The English departments say they consciously avoid top tier graduates on the assumption that they'll want to end up at r1. Of course hiring grad programs at top 50, even top 100 schools look for top tier credentials. But those aren't the only programs offering TT positions.

"some people in academia" don't understand literature can be enjoyed on its own? That statement is so ridiculous I can't even think of a reply. Obviously every lit student knows that; what they want is to be taught and coached by faculty in areas they're interested in who know a hell of a lot more than they do. Though I suppose you can always pick their brain about Derrida or Joyce when they're ordering their venti latte. Not everyone is Will Hunting; some people expand their ideas best in contexts of close intellectual conversation. Hard to find others interested in the above outside a university.

I honestly don't know what kind of background you come from to believe that university sponsored housing is actually cheaper than alternatives for the space to price ratio. Columbia is in Morningside Heights, which is not a good area and has cheaper price than the rest of the city anyway. Through columbia, Monthly studios average over $1300 a month; a single room in an apartment share averages a grand (according to their website). Living off campus in a $1500 two bedroom apartment with a roommate would be way cheaper, especially if you split utilities.

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2. Yes, getting older and having a PhD does shut yourself out of careers.  And the older you are when you graduate, the more likely you are to face obstacles in getting into certain careers.

 

 

And, again, a total piece of misinformation. Getting a PhD does not make you unemployable in other career fields. You've spent years developing writing, research, and teaching skills. These skills are in demand. I've known a lot of people who left academia to work in other fields; none are on welfare. Some are even rolling in money. 

 

I really do have to look askance at a person who throws his (or her) hands up at this whole thing. There are no jobs for PhDs. No jobs for people who don't go to Harvard. 30 is old. Five years is an unrecoverable loss. No one outside of academia will hire a PhD except for private boarding schools. If only I'd gone to law school. IDK ... I'm not an optimist by any stretch of the imagination, but if things really look this bleak for you ... then maybe it's you? I don't know, man. No one has to go to school for a PhD. No one has to stay in school for a PhD, or finish a dissertation. If you get halfway through your PhD (or even most of the way through) and you realize it's sinking ship, then leave? Oh, wait, you probably ruined yourself for other job prospects the minute you walked through the door of a university.

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