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On the topics of graduate school, the adjunct crisis, and the inadvisability of entering PhD programs in the humanities & social sciences, I recommend almost anything Karen Kelskey (theprofessorisin.com) has written. This might be a good place to start: http://theprofessorisin.com/2013/04/12/should-you-go-to-graduate-school/

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While this is of course a little bit tangential, I'd like to give my two cents on the two questions KNP asks.

Anybody applying to graduate school these days should be fully aware that the prospects for a tenure-track academic teaching job are horrendous and, frankly, will never improve short of a major society-wide realignment. The "adjunct crisis" is a real thing and it is partially a result of young scholars insisting on sticking with a college-level teaching career in the hopes that something, some day, will turn up (all the while playing right into the hands of those who seek to corporatize universities and cripple academic practice). This is the way things are, and everyone contemplating graduate school should know it.

But.

I don't think most of us go to graduate school because we want to be tenured professors more than anything--we go because we are intellectually curious, because we want to do research, because we want to contribute to a better/fairer/safer world, etc. There are a thousand useful (and well-paying) things you can do with a Ph.D. in any discipline, including Anthropology. You just need to be open to the fact that academic careers will never again look like they used to, at least for the vast majority of us, and make peace with it. Consider all of the "Plan B's" and alternative careers you might be able to pursue out of graduate school: nonprofits, CRM, government work, museums, journalism, starting a business that does things the way you wish other businesses would...these are the things you should really have in mind. 

If you go into graduate school planning for a cushy professorship at the end of it, you are likely to be bitterly disappointed (as are many of those who give you the panicked "don't go to grad school whatever you do" speech). If you go in because you love your field, want to contribute to it, and are content with a wide variety of possible career outcomes, by all means go for it.

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I'll also add that while I mostly agree with the post farflung links to above, I think Kelsky is too caustic in her appraisal of what will and will not make somebody competitive for "a wide range of jobs." I think it's especially inappropriate to advise that one avoid "second- and third-tier programs like the plague, regardless of what they appear to offer by way of programs in your area of interest." This ignores the fact that many organizations in the private, governmental, and nonprofit sectors are themselves headed by Ph.D.s who fully understand the value of a degree from a less-famous school that's strong in a particular subject. 

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Oh, by posting those questions, I didn't mean to imply some elitist "nobody should go to graduate school unless they can go to Yale" thing. But I thought they were both important and relevant here (more than usual) for two reasons:

1) No, you should not apply to graduate school if you have never heard that speech, or if you haven't been able to get a reasonable approximation of it by reading Kelsky's blog or the "Ponzi scheme" lit/rhet comp thread (etc). There are still professors out there saying that "good people always find jobs," and I was worried that OP had been hearing that. So I asked about the other point of view because I think it's critical that prospective applicants know that that speech exists. I am not saying you should listen to it. I obviously didn't, as you can see from the little bar to the left that I'm currently applying to graduate schools, but if a person has never heard of that speech, they are making this particular career decision uninformed. It's not that I think it's gospel, it's that it's a perspective I was worried OP didn't know about.

2) One need not enter a PhD program in order to get a tenure-track job, let alone because you want one of the cushy professorships that have not existed for ages, but alt-ac type jobs require initiative and research both to find and to get. OP has demonstrated a tendency to throw their hands up when confronted with fairly basic questions about what academia or their ideal life involves (see previous page). While I agree with you about these non-tenure-track careers, ajtz'ihb, in theory, finding good ones seems beyond OP's planning capabilities right this second, so I chose not to emphasize it. That's normal for traditionally-aged college seniors, OP, but I really think it's an argument for listening to your professors about the time off thing. If you are employed, you will develop more skills on how to find non-academic employment than if you go straight to a PhD. 

If you're still here, OP, I recommend trying to get in touch with what you want, both out of the next year and out of your life. Get a sheet of paper and start writing, or talk to a friend, or go for a run with your favorite music, whatever gets you thinking. Start by figuring out what you've liked about any job, internship, helping-with-the-chores, volunteering, class experience, whatever. "I hated mowing lawns that summer, but I did like that I got to be my own boss." OK, so "being your own boss" is a good thing. Why do you like anthropology? What did you prefer about it to other courses? Have you met any PhD students? Were they from the sorts of schools where you want to study? Did their lives look like something you want? Okay, that got specific to academia: take it back out and think about what makes a happy life in your mind. Do you want to stay near your family? Is it important to you that your career be all-engrossing? Do you want a romantic partner? Then: are those compatible with the different jobs you're considering? What would you sacrifice first?

Then, perhaps even more importantly, what do you want next year? Do you want to be in a safe, institutional environment? Where do you want to live? Do you want flexibility to change your mind about where you're working or living? (Have you tended to change your mind about any past big decisions, like where to live? Or do you not have any big decisions to use as a benchmark?) Once you've thought about things like that, I recommend you talk to your college's office of career services about other careers that could fill your interests and needs, and especially what possibilities exist for jobs that would fill your needs while you take time off. If they are a useless crew, like mine were, I hope you can find some other adviser to ask! This is important.

I am not trying to dissuade you from applying to PhD programs; I am not even trying to dissuade you from applying to PhD programs this year without taking any time off. What I am hoping to do is to persuade you to do some hard thinking about what you want and why, so that even if you still decide to apply to PhDs next year and enroll in one, you will have done it with a firm background understanding of why you chose it and what you're hoping to get out of that decision.

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I don't think most of us go to graduate school because we want to be tenured professors more than anything--we go because we are intellectually curious, because we want to do research, because we want to contribute to a better/fairer/safer world, etc. There are a thousand useful (and well-paying) things you can do with a Ph.D. in any discipline, including Anthropology. You just need to be open to the fact that academic careers will never again look like they used to, at least for the vast majority of us, and make peace with it. Consider all of the "Plan B's" and alternative careers you might be able to pursue out of graduate school: nonprofits, CRM, government work, museums, journalism, starting a business that does things the way you wish other businesses would...these are the things you should really have in mind. 

If you go into graduate school planning for a cushy professorship at the end of it, you are likely to be bitterly disappointed (as are many of those who give you the panicked "don't go to grad school whatever you do" speech). If you go in because you love your field, want to contribute to it, and are content with a wide variety of possible career outcomes, by all means go for it.

Yes, I agree! I myself am pursuing a PhD in Anthropology, and quite enjoying it, even though I do not have plans to pursue a tenured professorship upon completion. (A non-academic career needn't be a Plan B, after all). However, I DO think that too many people are still entering PhD programs because they want to be tenured academics. And PhD-granting research universities are still training graduate students as if academia is the inevitable path, sending many bright academics into an utter shame spiral when they can't or don't want to go that route. Many of these ABDs and recent-PhDs are well into middle age, with families to support and no professional experience, before they realize academia is not a possibility. I'm all about the "don't go to grad school" or "proceed extremely cautiously" speeches and blogs -- it's smart to know what you're up against as a PhD student!

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I am mostly just read comments now. Short back story: found this site while I was applying for masters. This site helped me through that app cycle and then my phd app cycle. Since I have gotten my phd and now I mainly just look at threads out of old habits die hard kinda thing. I graduated May of 2014 and got extremely lucky and got an assistant professor job right out of school. What that article meant I think was elie program for your specific field. I basically went to a smaller name school but m advisor was the foremost expert on my subfield. I worked extremely hard and actually funded myself through grants I wrote and was awarded. In today's market you need a proof of a site that is only yours that can be used for future research and you need proof of getting projects funded. Yes it's nice to take the easy way and just get and use the school assistantship but after two years if your not funding yourself your behind the 8 ball. Amazing jobs are out there you just need to work hard and make connection. My subfield is a pretty small community which I have joined. I feel lucky to call any so called famous anthropologist a friend and even work on projects with them. But while in school I would be working from 7 am to 7 pm and then go home and write grants and read journals until 11. I also have friends who also got the so call unicorn jobs of assistant professor on tenure track just like me but the one thing we all had in common was that work ethic. Moral of the story there are great jobs out there you just have to be in that one percent 

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I don't think that I want to be a professor. I want to do something with animals...I have some ideas. I want to try things - I don't want to be tied down or locked into anything. Yes, enrolling in a PhD program will tie me down because I will be focusing in on a narrow area, but I know that I love school and I know that I love anthropology. Do I have dreams of leading a fulfilling life? Yes. Whatever I do with my life, I want it to live it. I don't want to be stuck in one job (unless it's perfect). I want the freedom to explore. I'm open to career paths.

Who knows? I just want to be happy. I love animals. I love school. I love anthropology. That's a start.

This is kind of a secret of mine, but I've always wanted to try acting. I'm a very shy person...but I might sign up for an intro acting class next semester. I don't want to be a afraid to take risks and to try new things, even if I think that I would fail (I def think that I could fail acting). I've been told that it's a great class. I want to push myself.

Channeling Tuck Everlasting, I'm afraid of the unlived life. Getting a PhD is something that I would like to aim for, but my career aspirations are a bit foggy. I want to be open to different avenues. I don't want my heart set on one thing.

Edited by CostaRita
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I'm not that old or experienced, so I think that's about all the advice I've got! I just want to say good on you about the acting: most of my best experiences have been things I was somewhat scared to try, but where I knew it might be good for me. (Stretching myself socially/skill wise, not the type of bad risky they make PSAs about.) I remember totally locking up and almost not being able to finish my sentences the first time I had to give a presentation in front of other people...but now I kind of like it!

PS There are lots of shy actors who are big Hollywood stars! I couldn't find an article with a non-annoying format, but the internet has lots of lists of shy actors :)

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I don't think that I want to be a professor. I want to do something with animals...I have some ideas. I want to try things - I don't want to be tied down or locked into anything. Yes, enrolling in a PhD program will tie me down because I will be focusing in on a narrow area, but I know that I love school and I know that I love anthropology. Do I have dreams of leading a fulfilling life? Yes. Whatever I do with my life, I want it to live it. I don't want to be stuck in one job (unless it's perfect). I want the freedom to explore. I'm open to career paths.

Who knows? I just want to be happy. I love animals. I love school. I love anthropology. That's a start.

If you really want to do something with animals, then why are you looking at PhD programs in anthropology? I don't really see the connection. Loving school and loving a discipline aren't really good reasons to pursue a PhD! If you love anthropology, you could read anthropology books and open access journal articles on your own, discussing them on academic email lists in your field. Or, you could do a master's if you really just want to be in a classroom. But, I'm not really sure how your vision of working with animals and doing a PhD in human-animal relations fit together. 

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If you really want to do something with animals, then why are you looking at PhD programs in anthropology? I don't really see the connection. Loving school and loving a discipline aren't really good reasons to pursue a PhD! If you love anthropology, you could read anthropology books and open access journal articles on your own, discussing them on academic email lists in your field. Or, you could do a master's if you really just want to be in a classroom. But, I'm not really sure how your vision of working with animals and doing a PhD in human-animal relations fit together. 

I'm not interested in working directly with animals necessarily. I don't know what I'd do with them. But I do like researching how humans may interact with them and talk about them. I've received many positive responses from faculty who do this kind of work.

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I don't think that I want to be a professor. I want to do something with animals...I have some ideas. I want to try things - I don't want to be tied down or locked into anything. Yes, enrolling in a PhD program will tie me down because I will be focusing in on a narrow area, but I know that I love school and I know that I love anthropology. Do I have dreams of leading a fulfilling life? Yes. Whatever I do with my life, I want it to live it. I don't want to be stuck in one job (unless it's perfect). I want the freedom to explore. I'm open to career paths.

Who knows? I just want to be happy. I love animals. I love school. I love anthropology. That's a start.

This is kind of a secret of mine, but I've always wanted to try acting. I'm a very shy person...but I might sign up for an intro acting class next semester. I don't want to be a afraid to take risks and to try new things, even if I think that I would fail (I def think that I could fail acting). I've been told that it's a great class. I want to push myself.

Channeling Tuck Everlasting, I'm afraid of the unlived life. Getting a PhD is something that I would like to aim for, but my career aspirations are a bit foggy. I want to be open to different avenues. I don't want my heart set on one thing.

Sounds good to me. An open mind with regard to future careers is always a good thing!

Just keep in mind that graduate school is an unbelievably grueling and draining process --  it makes cynics out of the most idealistic of us. A PhD is no more intrinsically satisfying or worthy a choice than pursuing any other corporate career (read the first few chapters of Karen Kelskey's new book for an argument why). 

I fear for anyone who enters PhD programs in the social sciences and humanities because they love school & envision a happy life at graduate school. Most PhD students I know are not very happy, even at well-funded programs with positive and supportive department cultures. Grad school is the first time you're likely to fail at something you've really invested yourself in, and perhaps first time that you'll make unthinkable sacrifices that you never thought you would for your work (for example, cutting time with family, cutting exercise, neglecting physical and mental health, neglecting relationships). Graduate school may take a decade of your life. There's no guarantee that you will be happy during or after a PhD program in anthropology, or that you'll end up loving the work you one day do. 

What you CAN control is whether the PhD will logically lead you to a career that you want. I know "careerism" gets a bad rap, but be careful about pursuing a PhD for the love of it. Investigate to make sure the PhD will get you the career you want.

( I recommend this (now-famous) Slate essay warning against trying to "do what you love" for a career:) http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2014/01/do_what_you_love_love_what_you_do_an_omnipresent_mantra_that_s_bad_for_work.html

 

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Lol I neglect my physical and mental health NOW......I'm 21 years old, so Idk how we're expected to make career choices already. Even if I took a year or two off it's not like I'd become that much more insightful and all of a sudden be like "I have seen my calling!" It may work for some people, but I do want to be flexible with my life choices.

Also, it really sucks that "doing what you love" is now, like, taboo. What's being on this Earth about??? I don't even like the word "career"....people are ALWAYS growing and changing. Someone who's 50 years old may have a career change, and that should be praised. We shouldn't be afraid of the statistic that the average person will have 7 career changes throughout his/her lifetime.

Edited by LittleCritterB
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By all means  - "do what you love" in life! Time is short. 

However, I wouldn't recommend "doing what you love" in terms of PhD programs specifically IF your pursuit of a PhD will come at the expense of other priorities you may have in future decades. These may include: good physical health, good mental health, economic stability (directly correlated with happiness in almost all sociological studies, by the way), ability to care for aging kin, the existence of strong friendships, and whatever measure of professional success you have. Many graduate students are able to "do what they love" in grad school or their career while not losing sight of other life priorities. But many are not. Academia sucks that way. So proceed cautiously!

Lol I neglect my physical and mental health NOW......I'm 21 years old, so Idk how we're expected to make career choices already. Even if I took a year or two off it's not like I'd become that much more insightful and all of a sudden be like "I have seen my calling!" It may work for some people, but I do want to be flexible with my life choices.

Also, it really sucks that "doing what you love" is now, like, taboo. What's being on this Earth about??? I don't even like the word "career"....people are ALWAYS growing and changing. Someone who's 50 years old may have a career change, and that should be praised. We shouldn't be afraid of the statistic that the average person will have 7 career changes throughout his/her lifetime.

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I don't see myself "sacrificing" anything now by going to grad school. I enjoy school now, so I don't think I would be giving anything up to go to school longer. I don't really have dreams or aspirations for anything else honestly.

 

Except, maybe, owning a puppy. :P

Edited by LittleCritterB
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I don't see myself "sacrificing" anything now by going to grad school. I enjoy school now, so I don't think I would be giving anything up to go to school longer. I don't really have dreams or aspirations for anything else honestly.

 

Except, maybe, owning a puppy. :P

See, I don't understand this. You are sacrificing 5-8 years you could spend doing other things you're interested in, you're potentially sacrificing a lot of money (in terms of salary but also in terms of retirement contributions), and you're potentially locking yourself into a career path you don't actually want (insofar as many PhD programs don't provide their students with preparation for anything besides a tenure-track faculty position). That you don't even understand this is a real indication to me that you need to take time away from being in school.

Also, graduate school is really not like undergrad. My master's program was like my senior year of college in that the courses were intense (200-300 pages of reading per week) and I had to write a thesis. But, in college, I wasn't expected to TA classes, apply for funding, or navigate things like IRB and fieldwork with minimal guidance. If you haven't already been required to read heavily, then that will tax you. Anthropology grad seminars often require you to read an ethnography plus other sources (either journal articles about the same topic/place or theoretical work the ethnography draws on). You'll be writing a 20-25 page final paper for the course, in addition to probably writing 2-3 page weekly responses. And this is in addition to your responsibilities as a TA, the stuff you need to read for your own research, and the grants you'll need to start applying for ASAP to fund preliminary fieldwork in the summers. It's a completely different kind of school than what you do as an undergraduate, even at elite institutions.

Lol I neglect my physical and mental health NOW......I'm 21 years old, so Idk how we're expected to make career choices already. Even if I took a year or two off it's not like I'd become that much more insightful and all of a sudden be like "I have seen my calling!" It may work for some people, but I do want to be flexible with my life choices.

Okay, this is an actual problem. You really cannot neglect your physical and mental health AND succeed in graduate school. 

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I've been told that our higher-level courses are on-par or even have MORE work than grad school courses. A grad of my school recently got his PhD from Princeton and he said that he had courses at my institution that gave him more reading than any of his classes at Princeton. I have also applied for funding and I've filled out the IRB three times. I'm used to 20-30 page papers for finals.

All I know is that the program I'm in is GOOD at producing PhDs in anthropology. We produce more anthro PhDs than any other college of our type (or that's what the profs say at least).

Idk what else I'd want to do more for a timespan of 5-8 years.

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Okay, this is an actual problem. You really cannot neglect your physical and mental health AND succeed in graduate school. 

Truth!

Idk what else I'd want to do more for a timespan of 5-8 years.

Really, NO dreams or aspirations for anything else besides grad school? That's worrisome. Not knowing what else to do is a terrible reason to pursue a PhD, perhaps the worst. It sounds like you should go be young & figure out what your priorities are in a career/future/life. Then, return to school if it will lead you to those things.

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I've been told that our higher-level courses are on-par or even have MORE work than grad school courses. A grad of my school recently got his PhD from Princeton and he said that he had courses at my institution that gave him more reading than any of his classes at Princeton. I have also applied for funding and I've filled out the IRB three times. I'm used to 20-30 page papers for finals.

You're either missing my point or I didn't state it clearly enough before so, let me be more explicit about this. The difference between grad and undergrad isn't just about the amount of work but also has to do with the depth of understanding and analysis required in that work. I read more as a senior in college than I did for most courses during my PhD. I also went to an elite institution for undergrad where expectations were high. Still, the work required of me at the graduate level was much more than what I'd done before. I mean, in undergrad, we would discuss theory but not anywhere near as much or as nuanced as we did in grad school. For example, in undergrad, we read parts of Foucault's Discipline and Punish to understand how its theories got employed by others. In grad school, we read the entire book over the course of two weeks (this is for one seminar), discussing not only what Foucault said and meant but also how major theorists (read earlier in the semester) have used that work and how we might use it in our own work. The level of the conversation was very different than what we had in college. 

When you say you've applied for funding, what do you mean? Are you talking about writing competitive grants for NSF, Fulbright, SSRC, IAF, CAORC, etc.? Have you done all of those things while also taking graduate seminars and preparing for your comprehensive exams and teaching or grading for 20-50 undergraduates? Because that's what graduate school is like.

I guess what I'm saying is that it's one thing to think you know exactly what graduate work is going to be like and another to actually experience it. There are many posts on here from people who are shocked by how hard their first year is, struck by imposter syndrome, etc. At any rate, you seem starstruck by the prospect of doing a PhD so I hope it does work out for you. I also hope you have a solid, realistic plan for what you'll do if it doesn't work out (whether that's not getting admitted or having a rough time in the first few years in a PhD program). 

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I would expect grad school to be different - more intellectually engaging! I applied for department funding and for a Fulbright. Our Fulbright person said that I am a "competitive" candidate, so we'll see.

I probably won't get NSF done in time, but I could always apply again next year.

I go to a liberal arts school, so graduate seminars are not available. I TA'ed two courses. I have an idea of how theory is taught (I took social and cultural theory and TA'ed for it later) but using theory isn't the easiest thing to do. After trying to read phenomenology stuff, though...yeah. Our theory prof said that it takes years and years of studying (and teaching) theory to actually "get it."

I expect it to be rough; I know graduates in PhD programs now and I have an idea of how they're doing. I'm not expecting it to be easy!

Edited by LittleCritterB
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