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The Ph.D. Pay Gap


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If I was to want to have a child I would make sure I have a stable and decent paying occupation in order to start a family. And that isn't what academia is unless you are in TT territory.

 

I'm not sure what field you're in, but in biology: after completing undergrad at age 22, a PhD typically takes ~6 years.  A postdoc is required for a tenure track assitant professor position... postdocs are variable but can be 4-5 years. So you're saying you wouldn't suggest biologists to have a kid before age 32.  To start trying for a first child at 32 isn't a realistic option for many women that want children, especially if they want multiple children.  And this doesn't account for people who do a year or 2 after undergrad to boost their PhD application.  I'm trying to point out that your ideal plan is not possible for many people.

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I don't think judging other people's reproductive choices is a good life decision.

I am really irritated with the argument that because some people persevered through rough circumstances, that somehow means that the system doesn't need to be changed. Yes, bsharpe269 and Chesire_Cat'

I don't think its good to think that just because one situation is shitty another place should also be shitty. That is essentially your argument, in case you want to revise. 

I'm not sure what field you're in, but in biology: after completing undergrad at age 22, a PhD typically takes ~6 years.  A postdoc is required for a tenure track assitant professor position... postdocs are variable but can be 4-5 years. So you're saying you wouldn't suggest biologists to have a kid before age 32.  To start trying for a first child at 32 isn't a realistic option for many women that want children, especially if they want multiple children.  And this doesn't account for people who do a year or 2 after undergrad to boost their PhD application.  I'm trying to point out that your ideal plan is not possible for many people.

 

Well for occupations that require postdocs I don't see anything wrong with having a kid then. 

 

And it also entirely depends on what the (if there is one) spouse is doing as well. I mean, it doesn't necessarily mean that he/she couldn't have a perfectly stable job and provide support. In that situation it could actually be beneficial because a grad student has a lot of downtime and ability to work from home more than typical occupations.

 

And like I said before, I don't actually care if people do, if they want to have children all the power to them. I am not the official decider over who has children or not. I am not sure why you guys are taking this so personally. 

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I'm not sure what field you're in, but in biology: after completing undergrad at age 22, a PhD typically takes ~6 years.  A postdoc is required for a tenure track assitant professor position... postdocs are variable but can be 4-5 years. So you're saying you wouldn't suggest biologists to have a kid before age 32.  To start trying for a first child at 32 isn't a realistic option for many women that want children, especially if they want multiple children.  And this doesn't account for people who do a year or 2 after undergrad to boost their PhD application.  I'm trying to point out that your ideal plan is not possible for many people.

 

I completely agree with you. And that's one of the factors I thought about when saying that you don't know the reasons for a couple to have a kid. I would say that in most cases, a few years to technical work or a MS is needed to be a competitive applicant. Time just keep on adding.

 

Also, I think that the "Perfect time" to have kids just doesn't exist. No matter what you do or how you live. If not one thing it will be another but kids, for those who don't have kids, are regarded as a hindrance to life goals (most people will change their mind after the first child, though).

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Well for occupations that require postdocs I don't see anything wrong with having a kid then. 

 

And it also entirely depends on what the (if there is one) spouse is doing as well. I mean, it doesn't necessarily mean that he/she couldn't have a perfectly stable job and provide support. In that situation it could actually be beneficial because a grad student has a lot of downtime and ability to work from home more than typical occupations.

 

And like I said before, I don't actually care if people do, if they want to have children all the power to them. I am not the official decider over who has children or not. I am not sure why you guys are taking this so personally. 

If you read your previous posts about that and this one, there is a big difference in your attitude.

 

I must say that this last post of yours makes all the sense in the world and I completely agree.

 

Remember we were discussing grad students, stipends and (at some point) parenting during grad school. We are not talking about a person working on the minimum wage who is a single parent and wants to have five kids and is very unlikely to make twice his/her current salary any time soon. That is an entirely different world. We are discussing people who already got a degree and will take 5 years making about 25K a year to get a PhD because that, even as a postdoc will put this person in a better financial situation after completion of the program (job provided). Having kids is not being doomed for life and finding academia shut down forever (unless they get rid of those pesky children). Many grad students, postdocs and faculty have children and don't die of starvation or get kicked out because of that.

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Well for occupations that require postdocs I don't see anything wrong with having a kid then. 

 

And it also entirely depends on what the (if there is one) spouse is doing as well. I mean, it doesn't necessarily mean that he/she couldn't have a perfectly stable job and provide support. In that situation it could actually be beneficial because a grad student has a lot of downtime and ability to work from home more than typical occupations.

 

And like I said before, I don't actually care if people do, if they want to have children all the power to them. I am not the official decider over who has children or not. I am not sure why you guys are taking this so personally. 

 

I'm not taking it personally, I only made a single comment.   It seems your actual opinion is more flexible than your previous statement that you "don't think it is the right choice" to have kids until people "are in TT territory".  That is what got me a little riled up.

Edited by dstock
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"The thing is that I don't feel like individuals who decide to have children despite the inability to really provide for them should be supported any more than someone who decides not to have children. If an individual is incapable of working due to disability or whatever, then fine, but that's not the case here. I don't think having children while being in grad school is a good life decision. It can be done and if they can make it work all the power to them but that doesn't mean they should be supported anymore than someone who doesn't make that decision."

 

This is my exact statement. I don't see how I have really changed anything. Perhaps added more nuance to it but nothing contradictory to what I stated before. 

 

Crafter > the point of my previous post was to point out (and the fact that you ignored the actual question leads to me believe you agree) is there are certain times when having a child is not necessarily in the person's best interests or more particularly the interests of that future child.

 

The main difference is we may have different perceptions on when that situation is. As in, I don't think grad school is a good time to have a child. You don't necessarily agree with that and that's fine; people have different opinions. 

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Putting aside stipend levels for now I'll just say that having a kid during graduate school isn't bad or wrong, but in some sense just naive and premature in one's chosen career path.  If the kid came before, then I'm also not sure if the parent(s) should get an additional stipend.  Yes this is a barrier in the academic pipeline, but the choice of grad school and having a kid is exactly what it is... a choice.  Taking a year on leave during grad school by possibly working lesser hours, or with less demanding work (i.e., not requiring you to churn out proposals/papers in one week), would also be harmful.  Especially later in the PhD or Masters program, since this would hamper one's publication record and likely cause one to fall out of the loop at conferences, etc.  Overall, the same number of hours per week should be worked (nothing less), albeit with more flexibility in schedule.  Although, such practice may portray these students as unfavorable to a PI since one's presence would be seen as uncertain and erratic (most likely a current bias).  I do agree with having grants (federal or private) designed for parents during their travels for grad students, post docs, and faculty.  But we're all adults, decisions like grad school (and kids, marriage(s), etc) are what we must face by weighing the odds and taking chances.

 

Also, Takeruk mentioned the issue with university/department reimbursements moving at a snail's pace.  They are the bane of my existence (I'm not even a grad student yet, I'm just a lonely research staff member... but still).

 

As for the original topic of discussion, the grad student wage gap... I'm sorry to say that I stand at a privileged position (see note below).  I cannot fathom spending several years at around $15k a year.  But I do enjoy reading this.

 

Personal note: As a B.S. degree holder my current research staff position offers me a modest annual pay (this is in the "hard" sciences at a more selective university) with a small research allowance.  My current fellowships will likely meet or exceed my stipend offer from the grad school I'll be attending (possibly maximizing to $40k/yr for five years if I can properly leverage the three fellowships I received).  In all honesty, I am not ashamed of where I stand.  My push for grad school was well planned and very calculated, I even turned down offers from financial firms and start-ups to put me in the best possible position for success.  My choice was because I wanted to build a stronger foundation in my education to qualify me for positions that'll, once I get a PhD, pay up to three times the amount offered by these same companies.

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Personal note: As a B.S. degree holder my current research staff position offers me a modest annual pay (this is in the "hard" sciences at a more selective university) with a small research allowance.  My current fellowships will likely meet or exceed my stipend offer from the grad school I'll be attending (possibly maximizing to $40k/yr for five years if I can properly leverage the three fellowships I received).  In all honesty, I am not ashamed of where I stand.  My push for grad school was well planned and very calculated, I even turned down offers from financial firms and start-ups to put me in the best possible position for success.  My choice was because I wanted to build a stronger foundation in my education to qualify me for positions that'll, once I get a PhD, pay up to three times the amount offered by these same companies.

 

What I take from this article is that students who don't elect to follow "in-demand" paths don't want to be made to feel like their plans were not also well-thought-out and that their own pushes are undermined simply by the field that they are in. And I'm not disagreeing with you in any way. In fact, kudos to you for your plans! That's awesome! This is just my opinion after reading all of the posts. Those of us who put in hard work in our fields but only see a fraction of your mentioned stipend (again, not personal) do feel the sting, but I think we also understand why it is this way right now. It's just unfortunate, because different perspectives and ideas help us grow!

 

I agree with your statement, "But we're all adults, decisions like grad school (and kids, marriage(s), etc) are what we must face by weighing the odds and taking chances." That's a good way to look at it. I mean, my MA stipend is $10K (the offer also includes health insurance and tuition remission). Some people might shudder at this, but I am just thankful that I have the opportunity to further my education and not have to worry about finances as much as I would without the assistance.

Edited by scarvesandcardigans
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"The thing is that I don't feel like individuals who decide to have children despite the inability to really provide for them should be supported any more than someone who decides not to have children. If an individual is incapable of working due to disability or whatever, then fine, but that's not the case here. I don't think having children while being in grad school is a good life decision. It can be done and if they can make it work all the power to them but that doesn't mean they should be supported anymore than someone who doesn't make that decision."

 

This is my exact statement. I don't see how I have really changed anything. Perhaps added more nuance to it but nothing contradictory to what I stated before. 

 

(emphasis added).

 

Here's the way I see it. We are part of academia and when we see something wrong with our system, we should take action to fix it. For example, the "leaky pipeline" (one random example: http://www.socialsciencespace.com/2015/02/fixing-the-leaky-pipeline-of-women-in-science-and-math/)is one problem that many science fields are facing. We observe that certain groups (e.g. women who choose to have children) are marginalized and under-represented. I chose to say "women" here explicitly because this is the under-represented group (male graduate students are far more likely to be parents and they usually have spouses that stay at home to take care of the family). This is from data form a survey at my school (90% of student parents identified as male). 

 

So, we see there is a problem and one group is being disadvantaged. To me, it is a no-brainer that if we want this group to be better represented in our field, we should do something to help them. They should be supported more. Whether this means childcare grants, stopping the quals/candidacy/defense/tenure clock, increased stipend, availability in childcare centers (our school's waitlist is 2-3 years long), something else etc. we should do something. In the interest of equity and to improve the community for all of us, we should not treat everyone equally. We should support people so that the outcome is equitable for all. 

 

Yes this is a barrier in the academic pipeline, but the choice of grad school and having a kid is exactly what it is... a choice.  Taking a year on leave during grad school by possibly working lesser hours, or with less demanding work (i.e., not requiring you to churn out proposals/papers in one week), would also be harmful.  Especially later in the PhD or Masters program, since this would hamper one's publication record and likely cause one to fall out of the loop at conferences, etc.  Overall, the same number of hours per week should be worked (nothing less), albeit with more flexibility in schedule.  Although, such practice may portray these students as unfavorable to a PI since one's presence would be seen as uncertain and erratic (most likely a current bias).  I do agree with having grants (federal or private) designed for parents during their travels for grad students, post docs, and faculty.  But we're all adults, decisions like grad school (and kids, marriage(s), etc) are what we must face by weighing the odds and taking chances.

 

(emphasis added). I agree with you that it is a choice but that does not mean we should do nothing for those who make the choice to have a family. Again, I believe policies in academia should reflect the values we want to see in our community. If we want academia to be a place where you can be successful whether or not you have kids, then we should do something about it. Of course, many people have the opinion that we shouldn't do anything about it because they don't think it's important to make academia accessible  and I suppose that is their right to think that way, but I obviously disagree with that.

 

A person with a family is capable of working 40-50 hours per week and attending conferences and all of the other things academics must do to succeed in their career. If we set up the system so that you have to survive on poverty level incomes, and you have to work 80-90 hours per week, and you have to never take time off, then you are going to marginalize a lot of people--not just parents but people with less savings and financial stability. If you are going to this route, then you might as well say what you're really doing (consciously or not) and proclaim that academia is only for the upper middle class who value career over other priorities. 

 

This is why there are proposed changes to evaluate people differently based on their background so that we reach an equitable playing field. Some ideas are:

 

1. Make part of the stipend needs-based

2. For job/promotion decisions, "stop" the clock for people who take leaves of absences for family, health, etc.

3. Evaluate GPAs differently based on how much time the person was able to put into their studies (e.g. I would say that a student with a 3.8 GPA and did not have to work during college is not  the same as a student with a 3.8 GPA but also worked 20 hours/week to support themselves through college)

4. Evaluate research records differently based on where they went to school and what opportunities were available to them (e.g. a physics student from a small liberal arts college winning a summer research placement is more impressive than a physics student from MIT doing the same)

 

These are just ideas. Exactly how to implement them (and to what extent) so that we actually reach an equitable solution is hard. But I don't think we're even there yet. Right now, at most places, the conversation is mostly on "should we do something?". I am sure that the answer should be yes. But the next question "how do we do it?", is something I think we need to work on.

 

(By "we", I mean the community of my field as a whole)

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Takeruk I understand where you're coming from.  It is sad stipends are considerably lower in certain fields than others.  But it seems equal pay across the board for every graduate student is not justified in the sense that it should reflect the value and significance of the student's work/field.  For example, students researching cures to vast numbers of diseases should be given preferential treatment (in terms of funding and support) over students studying dead languages or poetry of the middle ages, which I believe is the focus of many government and private funding grants, fellowships, etc.  There's a lot of application to human advancement in the sciences and engineering sectors, possibly a factor for such a vast wage gap.  I support this imbalance in that it makes such areas of focus more attractive to future generations (this may just reflect the selfish, narcissistic idiot I really am).

 

A person with a family is capable of working 40-50 hours per week and attending conferences and all of the other things academics must do to succeed in their career. If we set up the system so that you have to survive on poverty level incomes, and you have to work 80-90 hours per week, and you have to never take time off, then you are going to marginalize a lot of people--not just parents but people with less savings and financial stability. If you are going to this route, then you might as well say what you're really doing (consciously or not) and proclaim that academia is only for the upper middle class who value career over other priorities. 

 

When I say I can't fathom anyone living on such an income, I mean it with regards to my current, modern lifestyle.  I was actually raised in a household hovering just at the poverty line, so I know the hardships, not just as a student, but as a lifestyle.  It is my belief that academia is in fact not just for the upper middle class, but for those whose career is a major priority.  Not the only one, but major.  It was my understanding early on (first and second year as an undergraduate) that if I wanted to advance myself in any capacity with my education, I had to finance it on my own and maintain this single, seemingly selfish, lifestyle.  In addition, there is no safety net under me and no one was going to help me get loans or assist me in paying them off.  I acted accordingly.

 

This is why there are proposed changes to evaluate people differently based on their background so that we reach an equitable playing field. Some ideas are:

 

1. Make part of the stipend needs-based

2. For job/promotion decisions, "stop" the clock for people who take leaves of absences for family, health, etc.

3. Evaluate GPAs differently based on how much time the person was able to put into their studies (e.g. I would say that a student with a 3.8 GPA and did not have to work during college is not  the same as a student with a 3.8 GPA but also worked 20 hours/week to support themselves through college)

4. Evaluate research records differently based on where they went to school and what opportunities were available to them (e.g. a physics student from a small liberal arts college winning a summer research placement is more impressive than a physics student from MIT doing the same)

 

  1. There are a lot of funding opportunties that are need-based in certain fields, they are ubiquitous in STEM fields.
  2. I agree, pregnancy and other health (physical and mental) concerns should be allowed a "stop" in their push through the academic pipeline with no bias or damage to their progress and reputation.  I feel biases and other unforeseen issues will be, or is, prevalent in this scenario.
  3. I believe this is done already (at least in my field).  It should be left to the student to allow work to coincide with the academic environment, it is up to the student to take the initiative to maybe tutor or get work as a researcher.  I had to tutor basic math courses for four years, worked unpaid in research for a year before receiving a grant to complete my project and publish.
  4. Again many fields do this already.  I believe most graduate programs mean it when they say they treat the applications holistically.  If they don't, then maybe that graduate program isn't for you.
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But it seems equal pay across the board for every graduate student is not justified in the sense that it should reflect the value and significance of the student's work/field.  For example, students researching cures to vast numbers of diseases should be given preferential treatment (in terms of funding and support) over students studying dead languages or poetry of the middle ages, which I believe is the focus of many government and private funding grants, fellowships, etc.  

 

I understand where this is coming from and do agree a little bit that it makes sense for the government to set priorities and allocate funding accordingly**. I am actually not advocating for exact equal pay, I am advocating for removing inequalities. For example, if all graduate students made at least the minimum for a decent lifestyle, and then those in fields with more funding made more on top of that, then that is fine. But currently, we have some fields being paid well below the minimum for a decent lifestyle and this means that certain people with certain needs are going to be removed from academia. 

 

(**A different topic is that I wish the government and the public would place higher priority on things that don't have direct medical or economical impact. Part of this is selfish, since astronomy research has little practical uses, other than expanding human knowledge, like the example you gave. However, I am lucky that astronomy is very accessible and captures a lot of people's imagination).

 

 It is my belief that academia is in fact not just for the upper middle class, but for those whose career is a major priority.  Not the only one, but major.  It was my understanding early on (first and second year as an undergraduate) that if I wanted to advance myself in any capacity with my education, I had to finance it on my own and maintain this single, seemingly selfish, lifestyle.  In addition, there is no safety net under me and no one was going to help me get loans or assist me in paying them off.  I acted accordingly.

 

I think the current funding structure does drive people from working class families away from academia. I think if we keep things up, it might be just for the upper middle class.

 

I don't agree that academia should be for those whose career is a major priority, at least not in the sense that you seem to define "major priority". Of course, as in many careers, you have to care about and prioritize your job in order to succeed, but the current culture is that academics are expected to prioritize their career above all else, and that's not what I want to see academia become. Our career should be one of our priorities, but arguments like "if you have children, then your career is obviously not enough of a priority" is harmful to academia.

 

By "major priority", I would mean things like not just doing the minimum, taking care to do good work, and being able to be flexible and plan personal stuff around work stuff when you have to. For example, an important part of my research is to use telescopes to gather data, and these nights are assigned by an allocation committee. Because my career is a "major priority", I plan my life around these important nights, even if they happen on weekends or during time where I'd rather be on vacation or with my family (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.). I also plan my availability around major conferences and other deadlines. If I have to choose between taking a vacation when I want it vs. a major academic deadline, I prioritize my career. I think this is the level of commitment we should expect from academics, not things like reproductive choices.

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I don't think it will just be for the upper middle class.  I feel like someone who is used to making less money may find it easier to figure out how to live on the stipend they give us better than someone who is used to privilege. 

 

But I do think the "prioritize your career over everything else" is unhealthy.  When you are old and grey and on your deathbed, you won't want to be surrounded by your academic articles, you will want to be surrounded by family.  People with good relationships tend to outperform and be more mentally healthy than those without them.  But we act like they are ancillary.

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I agree with Cheshire_Cat that academia is definitely not just for the upper middle class. For those claiming this, I would be interested in hearing about your background. Are you from disadvantaged backgrounds yourself and can discuss the ways in which you have been hindered? I come from a working class, one parent background (we were way below the poverty line). I am the only person in my family to get an advanced degree and one of only a couple people to get a bachelors. I have never felt limited in academia due to my background AT ALL. I got into PhD programs because for the past few years, my research has been my priority (meaning I spend many evenings and weekends working). Like ron_swanson said, I was accepted to programs because my career is my priority and I was not held back by my background. This is one of the few fields where you get paid to get an advanced degree! Also, fellowships, scholarships, and even loans are available to apply for if needed.

 

I am fine with the argument that all programs should get a livable stipend and that people who are contributing to well funded areas (like medicine) get paid a bit more but I would put that stipend around 20k in most areas. Keep in mind that many schools offer health care, life insurance, free bus passes, and tuition wavers on top of the stipend so when you actually consider the whole package, the offers are not bad at all. Most other fields require loans to get advanced degrees so if someone needs to take out 5k a year to supplement their stipend then that does not seem like that big of a deal to me. If we think of it in terms of pay cut then science students actually end up in a worse situation than humanities PhD students. I have a masters in bioinformatics. My classmates make 55k+ but I will be making 30k in my PhD program. Someone with a bachelors in English will probably make 30k at most so relative to alternative options, they actually end up with a better stipend.

Edited by bsharpe269
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 Someone with a bachelors in English will probably make 30k at most so relative to alternative options, they actually end up with a better stipend.

 

http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Degree=Bachelor_of_Arts_%28BA%29,_English_Language/Salary

 

There is an opportunity cost for everyone.

 

And you can't consider the average college student when you look at these averages: you have to consider the average college student that can get admitted to a funded program. Those people typically will get higher paying jobs.

 

Admitting a diversity of people from different life situations: parents, step brothers, ect ultimately will make a better binning process for scholarship. If the real point of graduate school and scholarship is to expand human knowledge (which I don't know if it is) then we as a community should be working to break down the potential life choices that would prevent an otherwise brilliant scholar from attending school. 

 

I don't think any of us here are mature or qualified enough to make a decision on what should be studied in graduate school, who should go, and what is fair. Those are loaded questions. Maybe no one is really qualified. It probably takes a community. 

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I agree with Cheshire_Cat that academia is definitely not just for the upper middle class. For those claiming this, I would be interested in hearing about your background. Are you from disadvantaged backgrounds yourself and can discuss the ways in which you have been hindered? I come from a working class, one parent background (we were way below the poverty line). I am the only person in my family to get an advanced degree and one of only a couple people to get a bachelors. I have never felt limited in academia due to my background AT ALL. I got into PhD programs because for the past few years, my research has been my priority (meaning I spend many evenings and weekends working). Like ron_swanson said, I was accepted to programs because my career is my priority and I was not held back by my background. This is one of the few fields where you get paid to get an advanced degree! Also, fellowships, scholarships, and even loans are available to apply for if needed.

 

I am fine with the argument that all programs should get a livable stipend and that people who are contributing to well funded areas (like medicine) get paid a bit more but I would put that stipend around 20k in most areas. Keep in mind that many schools offer health care, life insurance, free bus passes, and tuition wavers on top of the stipend so when you actually consider the whole package, the offers are not bad at all. Most other fields require loans to get advanced degrees so if someone needs to take out 5k a year to supplement their stipend then that does not seem like that big of a deal to me. If we think of it in terms of pay cut then science students actually end up in a worse situation than humanities PhD students. I have a masters in bioinformatics. My classmates make 55k+ but I will be making 30k in my PhD program. Someone with a bachelors in English will probably make 30k at most so relative to alternative options, they actually end up with a better stipend.

My dad has his Ph.D, and he had to work his way through college.  His mom was a single mom and alcoholic, without any college education. His dad is successful now, but also doesn't have any sort of formal education past 16.  Despite this, he has his Ph.D, one brother has a masters, and the other is actually a lawyer.  All of them had to do it on their own.  All of them are successful.  It can be done.

 

I 100% agree with your last paragraph.  You have to consider opportunity cost of people attending school.  For someone like you, the opportunity cost of going to school vs. working in industry is 25K a year, so over the life of a program that could be anywhere from 100-150k.  However, for an English Ph.D student making 20k instead of 30k in industry, the opportunity costs are less than a quarter of that.  So even though you make more than a English Ph.D student, in reality, if you look  at total cost like a finance person making a business decision, it is costing you a whole lot more to go to school.

 

Also, I got a "big" scholarship for my masters.  A whole $1,000 dollars towards tuition.  You can take out huge loans for an MBA or other business masters.  The idea of anyone getting paid to get theirs is strange to me.  So English people do have it lucky in some ways.

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Also, I looked at the stats from the Payscale.com and I disagree with them.  I don't think there are all that many Marketing Directors come from English B.A.s unless they have something like an MBA as well, and it is skewing the numbers.  In fact, it seems to me that the "jobs" for English B.A.s are pretty nebulous.

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Also, I looked at the stats from the Payscale.com and I disagree with them.  I don't think there are all that many Marketing Directors come from English B.A.s unless they have something like an MBA as well, and it is skewing the numbers.  In fact, it seems to me that the "jobs" for English B.A.s are pretty nebulous.

 

http://career-advice.monster.com/salary-benefits/salary-information/best-paying-jobs-english-majors/article.aspx

 

My peers who have BAs in english and other arts have done very well for themselves. Like I said, you cant compare apples to oranges: you have to compare the most talented BAs and the most Talented BSs 

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I am really irritated with the argument that because some people persevered through rough circumstances, that somehow means that the system doesn't need to be changed. Yes, bsharpe269 and Chesire_Cat's dad persevered through this but, how many other people were unable to so we don't hear from them during this conversation (because they aren't on a forum for people applying to graduate school)? That's just like saying that because some slaves were able to escape from the South via the underground railroad, it's okay to keep the institution of slavery around. After all, if they really wanted it, they could just escape too, right? I mean, if they were dedicated enough and willing to sacrifice and not have a family, they could have their freedom. (Note: I realize that slavery and going to graduate school aren't literally the same thing. But in the sense that having a graduate education opens up new doors and opportunities that otherwise are not available to someone, it does enable them to find freedom in a certain way.)

 

Like I said, this line of thinking is problematic because it really is "I got mine in spite of obstacles so you just don't want it enough if somehow you can't too", which totally ignores the very different realities in which people live. Just because one's parents went to college doesn't mean they're wealthy (for example, if your parents are public school teachers or social workers they may not make much). Until recently, not going to college didn't necessarily mean you couldn't earn a good wage. Think of the factory jobs with union wages that enabled blue-collar workers to have a middle class lifestyle. Some of those same workers likely put their kids through college, allowing their children to surpass their own educational level.

 

On average though, academia is skewing toward the middle and upper classes for a variety of reasons. There are some very evident biases in what undergraduate institutions send their alums to graduate school. The threads on here from people concerned that going to "Podunk U" means they'll never get into a top graduate program are somewhat rooted in reality. So, how does one get into a good undergraduate institution? By going to a decent high school and doing well there. If your high school doesn't offer the IB program or AP classes, you're at a disadvantage when applying to the top undergrad colleges and universities. How do you get to go to one of those high schools with an AP or IB curriculum? In general in the US, you do it by paying to go to private school, living in the part of town that sends you to such a school (where rents and home values are generally higher), or by getting into a public magnet school (generally test-based so you have to do well on whatever admissions test they have you take in 7th or 8th grade). Are you really suggesting that none of that favors students who are from the middle or upper classes of society?

 

Let's go on though, just in case. If you are taking out loans for college, will you also have money for application fees, to take the GRE, and to send your GRE scores and transcripts out to programs? Will you be able to get the credit card you need to pay for travel to interviews until you are reimbursed? If you don't have a credit card, then you're stuck paying those things out of pocket and waiting 2-8 weeks for reimbursement, during which time you've got no money in your account... (Note: I used a credit card to pay for an interview and they took... 3.5 months to reimburse me for my expenses. I used money from my savings to pay that off so that I wouldn't be paying 12.99% interest on the money I only spent because the department asked me to. If I didn't have savings, that missing $600 could've been an issue.)  The entire reimbursement culture favors those with ample savings or the ability to borrow money from their family/friends so that they aren't penniless while waiting on a reimbursement to arrive. I can go on if that would be helpful.

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I agree that there isn't a completely equal playing field but that doesn't make something wrong with academia. In this country it is not that hard to come from a disadvantaged background and be successful. Yes, it is harder thanif you come from a wealthy background but it still isn't hard. I am not just going off of my experiences... I grew up around people in a similar socioeconomic situation. My best friend who is from the same background and equally motivated is currently a writer a New York. If you seek after education then it is not hard to get in this country.

 

I lived in subsidized housing so I know what it is like to not live in the best area or go to the best high school. I know what it is like to do homework without a computer and at times, without electricity even. The argument that going to a high school in a worse part of town is very damaging to getting into grad school is not as extreme as you make it out to be. This is mainly true because you don't need to go to an awesome college to get into an awesome grad school. If you go to cheap local university and make the best of it and seize the opportunities available then you can be qualified for top grad schools. I went to my local, cheap state school and got into plenty of top 10/20 grad programs. I get that you don't like the "I did it so others can argument" but as someone who has been through it, it really isn't that hard. I got fee waivers for multiple of my application fees. Its not that hard to do.. Fee waivers exist the GRE too. People make it seem like the whole process is impossible for disadvantaged people to make it through. It is probably more work than someone from a middle or upper class family would have to go through but it isn't all that difficult still. I honestly am very impressed by all of the opportunities given to me despite my background which is why I defend the current academic system.

 

Of course academia will be skewed toward the middle and upper class just like any other "prestigious" career. For one, there are differences in average IQ by class. Also though, people who grow up in houses with highly educated parents are likely to pushed in school, given good tutors, etc. This isn't academia... this is any career. There isnt something wrong with academia just because people tend to follow in the footsteps of their parents.

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bsharpe269, again, you did it, congrats. But, that doesn't mean everyone can do it. I talk to high school students all the time who have zero clue that application fee waivers even exist. I imagine that's also true at the collegiate level. You took advantage of every opportunity you could but, there must be some financial reason why you were able to do so. That is, when I look at the college students who are working 40 hours a week in order to pay their rent on top of taking out loans to pay tuition, I don't ask myself why they aren't taking advantage of all the research opportunities around them because it's obvious that they can't. Having enough scholarships (and let's be honest, merit-based scholarships require writing specific kinds of essays and tend to go to those who get the most help with writing) or other financial aid (not loans mind you) to be able to "seize the opportunities" isn't something that's available to everyone. I've had students who are raising a child. They can't take advantage of every single opportunity because they have to balance that with childcare. And those are just a couple of examples, there are many more. Like I said before, I can go on. But, I also don't think it matters because you've clearly decided that it's up to each person to pull themselves by their bootstraps, even if they don't have boots.

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bsharpe:

 

1. As rising_star has repeatedly stated, your individual experience does not reflect everyone's reality. Like, at all. There's a name for this fallacy: faulty generalization. See! A PhD in English is useful. 

 

2. You have not "made it" yet, so how can you claim that it isn't that hard to make it in academia? Being accepted into programs is not making it. In academia, tenure is making it, and there are numerous gender, class, and racial biases at every step toward tenure. There's a reason that you'll find the gender ratio for faculty pretty even at many institutions, until you filter to just tenured faculty: then, the racial and gender barriers become more evident.

 

3. Related to number two, the reason it perhaps seems like people are able to easily pull themselves up from their boot straps in academia is because we typically only hear from the people who made it. Margaret Price has a chapter on independent scholars in her book Mad at School, highlighting a whole class of scholars who were ostracized from academia because of disability. Her point can be applied to other marginalized identities as well: class, race, gender, etc. We who have been arguing for fairness and equity aren't worried about you: we are worried about the people who aren't here at all but should be. 

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http://career-advice.monster.com/salary-benefits/salary-information/best-paying-jobs-english-majors/article.aspx

 

My peers who have BAs in english and other arts have done very well for themselves. Like I said, you cant compare apples to oranges: you have to compare the most talented BAs and the most Talented BSs 

 

These are for people with 5-8 years of experience in their field, not newbies.  And those are all marketing jobs that anyone with any major can get, not really major specific unless you are marketing.  To really know you would have to look at the percentages of English majors in those fields.  And I mean, I'm not trying to bash English in particular.  Two of my best friends were English majors.  But I highly doubt most people with English degrees are going to be making anywhere close to what most people with accounting degrees make.

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I understand what you are saying, rising_star.  I went to a small state school with no name and it probably hurt my app.  There is a lot of elitism in the upper schools.  But I don't see how closing the wage gap in the Ph.D program is going to help people who can't make it this far.  We need to start from the bottom.  Better education and nutrition in pre-K and work our way up.  It is impossible to fix something if the foundation is broken.  You are right, it probably is too hard for a lot of lower socioeconomic status people to get in.  But that isn't just because they aren't given the opportunity.  They may not have the knowledge to do well in a program, because they didn't get the schooling they needed, and their parents didn't read to them as a child, and they ate hot dogs and kraft macaroni and cheese for dinner every night instead of a nutritious meal.  But you can't just get them in and hope they do fine because you give them a chance.  There has to be some foundational learning, and at this moment, most people who are have lower socioeconomic statuses don't have it.  And you can't fix that here, you have to fix it there.  Pruning a tree doesn't help if its roots are rotting.  

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