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Why Graduate School?


CentralFC
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Hi everyone!

 

As many of you probably have experienced at some point, I'm going through a current stage of self-doubt and career reappraisal as a junior studying history and political science at a ~top-10 university. Needless to say, I'm incredibly passionate about what I do, and I've taken an interest in graduate school recently. Although I feel like it's the right choice, and I feel like I have the requisite abilities and motivations, I'm still not sure. Is this (impending) sense of doom worth tolerating? Is the job market for PhDs and JDs so abysmal that it makes little financial sense for me to pursue one or the other (nevermind being funded by some PhD programs)?

 

Why, ultimately, did you choose the path you did? Are you currently interested in staying in academia, or do you see graduate studies in political science as an avenue to other employment opportunities? 

 

I'm at a bit of a cross roads, and I could really use some insight. I'm not in a desperate position grade wise by any means--I just don't know where to invest myself.

 

Classic social science sob-story, yes, but I would be indebted to anyone with sage advice for a political science/history major with a bunch of ambition and a greater sense of uncertainty..

 

Thanks, all.

 

EDIT: If you have any relevant literature to share, feel free to post a link. I've done plenty of my own research, but if you sense that something was worthwhile for you, please send it my way. 

Edited by CentralFC
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Not sure how much help I can be, but here's my perspective...

 

I know very little about JDs, but re: PhDs, the short answer to why I chose this path is that I couldn't see myself doing anything else. I got an unusual amount of research experience at my undergrad institution and loved it. I want to continue doing research of this kind for a very long time. I do plan to stay in academia. The job market for PhDs is tough, of course. Though my impression is that it's pretty tough for anyone, so I think people are generally best off doing what they are best at and what they love (hopefully those happen to be the same thing). I'm happy to take a grad student stipend over a higher salary for alternative job paths I could pursue, because there is nothing else I would rather be doing. People going to top grad schools are smart and capable, meaning they probably could have gone a different path on which they would be making a lot more money. I think it's important to really love what you're doing to make that sacrifice worthwhile.

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For me, I don't really care about "traditional wants and desires." I don't care about material things like owning a home or even cars, starting a family, getting married, or building a career. I live on 15K a year (albeit abroad, not in North America) already in a very minimalist lifestyle.

 

Considering the above, I think it made the choice to pursue graduate education in poli sci a lot easier. 

 

I know for a fact that the academic market is shit, but a lot of people look at through the lens of a more traditional outlook where people regret making the decision to pursue a Ph.D. because of opportunity cost or lack of job security, ect. These things aren't really important to me so it makes it easier for me to accept the realities of the tough road ahead. 

 

I haven't fully committed to this path yet and I still wonder whether it is the right choice for me, but then I consider the alternative and realize why the hell wouldn't I want to continue doing research and learning about things I am deeply interested in? What's the alternative? To get a mediocre job somewhere and live a little more comfortably? Meh, it's not really much different than if I choose to go down this academic path. 

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After I started doing research, I realized that I never want to stop. The academic job market is notoriously less than stellar but after weighing my desire to get to the next level in terms of research against easier job attainment/probably more money, it was a no-brainer. I've had to claw my way to where I am now, and because of life stuff it took 8 years of my life to do what should have taken 4-5, so I also know I have the will-power to at least deal with the tough circumstances.

I guess my advice would be to consider whether grad school seems more like difficult work or like a chore to you. If it's the former, considering the grad school route is probably a good idea. If it's the latter, I'm not confident in saying it's the best option for you (unless you can't see yourself being happy wihout the PhD or JD). When I was a junior, I was working toward applying to graduate school in a different area than I ended up applying. In the fall I'll be pursuing a graduate degree in a different field than I've been planning on since I was 14, and I'm unbelievably excited. Because of this, the other advice I always give people who are considering grad school is to never narrow yourself so far down that you don't see other opportunities.

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Grad school has always been a clear best choice for me because sitting in a library learning makes me far happier and more fulfilled than anything else.

It hasn't always been clear what I should be studying though. (I'm not really sure it matters in my case. I just like the focus and struggle.) I think the comment above about how you view the work of grad school (chore vs. Hard, often rewarding work) is spot on.

I was struggling with the law school question when I was in undergrad, too. For me it came down to the choice between learning a fairly broad topic fairly well or learning a narrower topic in more detail. I thought I would be happier with more focus, so I chose grad school over a JD. I think I would have been fine either way.

I know it seems like a life-or-death question (believe me, I know!), but just make the decsion you think is best and know you have plenty of time to change direction.

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In my second year of undergrad I stumbled across the website of a US PhD program (I'm from Europe) and pretty much from that point I decided it was what I wanted to do. However, I think having the odd *wobble* or a little bit of uncertainty is a good thing.. after all we're constantly bombarded by warning about the rigors of a PhD and then the academic job market. You talk of a sense of doom and I can really understand that.

 

I wanted to do a PhD, but I also wanted to make sure I was going in with my eyes open. No what ifs.. In the end I decided to try working in area of interest and managed to get a decent job in that area. As it turned out I absolutely hated my work and of all the jobs I was doing something that should have been perfect! Maybe I 'wasted' a year or two, but I know I'm much less likely to doubt my choice having explored some other options and interests.

 

So.. be aware of what you need to do to be competitive for a PhD program, enjoy your studies and continue to explore your interests, academic and otherwise. 

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You're get a lot of info here about the PhD, so I'll just say a few words about the JD.  Employment has only gotten difficult for those who do not attend a top 6-10 law school.  The kids coming out of Harvard and Columbia Law are still getting job offers by the handful.  This being said, it's much easier to get a job from the start at a biglaw firm than it is getting a job that you may actually desire and want to work at (e.g. government, non-profits, policy think tanks, etc).  These jobs are definitely still attainable, but you have to work a bit harder.  As a corollary, I would not recommend law school to anyone who does not either: (i) get into a top 6-10 school, and/or (ii) get significant scholarship to attend.  The kids at Georgetown, Vanderbilt, USC, Emory Law schools are struggling to get jobs, and it's a really shitty position to be in $200,000 debt and not have a job lined up.  However, law schools mainly care about two things: undergraduate GPA and LSAT score.  If you have a good undergraduate GPA (think above 3.50 for top 6-10, above 3.70 for top 3-4), then there is no reason why you cannot get a high LSAT score (think above a 169).  It is a test that you can master if you just put in the time and effort to study it.  

 

All of this being said, do not get a JD unless you actually want to be a lawyer.  Unless you go to maybe Harvard, Yale, or Stanford law schools, your options outside of law are limited.

Edited by Doorkeeper
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Hi everyone!

 

As many of you probably have experienced at some point, I'm going through a current stage of self-doubt and career reappraisal as a junior studying history and political science at a ~top-10 university. Needless to say, I'm incredibly passionate about what I do, and I've taken an interest in graduate school recently. Although I feel like it's the right choice, and I feel like I have the requisite abilities and motivations, I'm still not sure. Is this (impending) sense of doom worth tolerating? Is the job market for PhDs and JDs so abysmal that it makes little financial sense for me to pursue one or the other (nevermind being funded by some PhD programs)?

 

Why, ultimately, did you choose the path you did? Are you currently interested in staying in academia, or do you see graduate studies in political science as an avenue to other employment opportunities? 

 

I'm at a bit of a cross roads, and I could really use some insight. I'm not in a desperate position grade wise by any means--I just don't know where to invest myself.

 

Classic social science sob-story, yes, but I would be indebted to anyone with sage advice for a political science/history major with a bunch of ambition and a greater sense of uncertainty..

 

Thanks, all.

 

EDIT: If you have any relevant literature to share, feel free to post a link. I've done plenty of my own research, but if you sense that something was worthwhile for you, please send it my way. 

I was also at a crossroads a few months ago. My goals were to do government agency work eventually, but after doing research for some months, I wondered if there were any other paths for me and my interests. Currently, I'm on the fence on what I want to do after grad school---I keep hearing how horrible the academic job market it, and I'm not sure if I like teaching/ am cut out for it. On the other hand, I could still see myself working for the government, or something similar (NGO, IO, etc.) but the job market isn't easy for that either.

 

In spite of all of this, graduate school was the best option for me because whatever I ultimately decide to do, I need something more than a BA. I have some time to figure out what path I ultimately want to carve out for myself, and I can do that while pursuing an education.

 

I cannot give insight in regards to getting a JD. But perhaps it would be a good idea for you to figure out if you want a JD, or a political science based graduate degree. That is a good first step. Either way, best of luck.  

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I mean you value autonomy and intellectualism too much to deal with office politics/govt bureaucracy.

This. To the OP, without professional work experience it's hard to appreciate just how important this is (I'm not trying to belittle any experience you do have. I just know where I was as a junior, so take what applies to you and ignore the rest). I have had some awesome professional opportunities for my age but it has still been 70% bullshit. Even if my career eventually consists of 70% bullshit, at least I'll have an extra ten years of 20% bullshit as a grad student.

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You mentioned both JD and PhD. I am finishing my JD in May and starting on my PhD in August. Here are my observations:

 

1) Law school is expensive, and the legal market is terrible. You will learn amazing analytical and problem solving skills, but unless you have a substantial scholarship or you're going to a T-14 school, it's not a great financial investment (which of course doesn't always mean it isn't worth doing).

 

2) Grad school has steep opportunity costs if you do not get an academic job, and the academic market is terrible. Grad school isn't expensive in the sense that law school is--rather than paying for school, you get paid a modest amount to live on. However, if you can't get an academic job, you've more or less wasted 5+ earning years. That's not to say there aren't other career paths for PhDs, but rather than getting a PhD with 5 years of low income, for most of those jobs you could have gotten in with a BA or master's and been 3+ years into your career. So, unless you can get into a top 10 or top 20 program (where academic jobs are more likely but by no means guaranteed), you should think carefully about whether it's worth it to you to get a PhD despite the opportunity costs.

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