Category Archives: Graduate School

What is a Flexible Academic?

I've never been quite satisfied with the labels #altac and #postac. It seems like they don't do justice to the people they describe. Sarah Kendzior once pointed out on Twitter that these terms define a person based on what he is not, rather than on what he is. In order to be an alternate academic or a post-academic, you have to not be a normal academic. The names suggest that the alternative categories are less important than the category from which they are derived. Ever since I saw Kendzior's tweet, that hierarchical naming structure has stuck with me. I've wished for a new way to describe academics who choose to pursue other career tracks beyond … Continue Reading ››

Debt for Master of Arts Degree Increases by Double the National Average

What on earth could possess a person to borrow $43,000 for a Master of Arts degree? There is no possible way that could be a good idea. Financially speaking, an MA is worth little, if anything, more than a bachelor's degree. Borrowing $43,000 for a Master of Arts degree is insane. This $43,000 figure comes from a piece by Jordan Weissmann over at Slate in which he breaks down recent findings from the New America Foundation on the student loan borrowing habits of graduate students. Weissmann's piece is accompanied by some nifty graphics that illustrate graduate student borrowing trends and percentages of federal student loan disbursements. My favorite graphic from the piece, entitled "How Much Do Students Borrow During Grad School?," compares average grad student loan borrowing rates in 2004 to average grad student loan borrowing rates in 2012. Not surprisingly, those borrowing rates have increased across the board for all graduate … Continue Reading ››

Avoid Confirmation Bias When Considering Grad School

Current grad students should ask prospective grad students if they are aware of the job market conditions. That's one of the key bits of advice in Kelly Hanson's GradHacker article yesterday. In the piece, Hanson also gives four other solid suggestions for how current and former graduate students can be tactfully honest about the realities of grad school and the academic job market when talking to prospective graduate students. Don't go to grad school advice Hanson happens to oppose the blanket "Just Don't Go" advice that has been previously offered by William Pannapacker and Rebecca Schuman. Personally, I come down on the side of Pannapacker and Schuman much more readily. I see too many reasons these days why earning an advanced degree might not be the best use of time and money. But Hanson disagrees, arguing that … Continue Reading ››

Escape From Academia

I've read a bunch of stories lately about people leaving academe. Vitae even started compiling a Google Doc full of quitter narratives and created a special genre that Sydni Dunn dubbed #quitlit. The document has 69 stories and counting. I'm not surprised how many people are leaving the once-heralded halls of the academy--especially given the way all the good academic jobs are drying up and being converted to low-paying contingent positions. I guess it is interesting how many people are especially vocal about their decision to flee the academic life. Usually quitting a job is not necessarily something to proclaim from the roof tops. You just kind of quit quietly and move on. It suggests to me that people are especially bitter and pissed off about their circumstances in the world of higher education. Any job that causes you to do a happy dance after quitting must suck pretty … Continue Reading ››

More PhDs, Fewer Jobs

Obtaining a tenure-track professorship has always been the ultimate goal of a Ph.D. program. In the past, that made sense. But now, not so much. There was a time not long ago when being a college professor was a good job that paid well and offered a reasonable level of security. During that golden era of the university, grad programs started flooding with students hoping to land that dream job. And for about 40 years, everything worked just fine. Lots of students, lots of professors, lots of jobs. Not surprisingly, the growth of Ph.D. degrees awarded in America corresponded directly with the post-WWII expansion of higher education. The chart below illustrates the rapid increase in the number of doctoral degrees awarded over the past several decades. PhD Growth Post-WWII Data Source: The Production of PhDs … Continue Reading ››

Reinventing Graduate Education

If the Ph.D. is an endangered species, what will happen to graduate studies over the course of the next two decades? Earning a terminal degree does not accomplish the same professional goals that it used to accomplish. Thousands of Ph.D. holders graduate from American universities each year and only a small minority of them will obtain one of those coveted tenure track teaching positions. Ph.D. Policy Shift Earning a doctorate is, of course, much different from earning a bachelor's degree. Ph.D holders could have easily invested ten years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in their education. And that doesn't even factor in the opportunity cost associated with the degree. This opportunity cost results from the money lost because these Ph.D. students were not doing other things while in graduate school. Other things like working … Continue Reading ››

The PhD is an Endangered Species

Graduate programs continue to crank out adjunct professors who support the system on their backs by becoming cogs in the academic machinery, and no one is talking about what will happen when the system finally collapses under its own weight. University administrations are building their temp workforces, offering low wage jobs to any poor teacher who has a large enough debt balance and few enough other employment prospects. They do it because they can, which obviously isn't always a good reason. This irresponsible hiring rash is a temporary fix to a long term problem. Eventually it will catch up to them. Head in the Sand On the other side of the table are the graduate programs that are engaging in equally irresponsible behavior--accepting and graduating PhD after PhD, knowing full well that they are releasing their … Continue Reading ››

GradPay: Crowdsourcing Graduate Student Working Conditions

Over the past few years, a slew of articles have warned would-be academics away from graduate school, arguing that graduate students are overworked, underpaid, and underemployed once they complete their studies. Other commentators have passionately defended graduate education, dismissing such concerns as overblown. This debate highlights the dearth of information about graduate student well-being.

Altogether, the typical graduate student is paid less than half of the average starting salary of a college graduate.

Certainly, some graduate students struggle to make ends meet, and others live relatively comfortable lives. But, at the moment, it’s hard to know how much money a typical graduate student is paid, or how much work she does. There’s also little information about differences in working conditions across departments: my limited personal experience suggests that students in the natural sciences earn more than students in the humanities, but there is little hard evidence to back up intuitions … Continue Reading ››

New Master’s Degree Book From Order of Education

Here at Order of Education we're proud to bring you the first in our line of published books on the topic of education. This first book is written by the site editor, Joshua A. Boldt, and it is entitled Should I Get a Master's Degree in English? Master's Degree eBook CoverIn this first book publication by Order of Education Press, the author explores the master's degree in English from several angles--academic, economic, and political. Boldt, who has written extensively on this site and elsewhere about English graduate school and the economics of American education, discusses his own experience of pursuing the master's degree, including the mistakes that he made while working on the degree. The goal of the book is to advise any reader who is considering earning a master's degree in English, or in any other humanities field. As Boldt points … Continue Reading ››

Master’s is the new Bachelor’s

If everyone knows a secret, it's not a secret. If everyone holds the same competitive advantage, it's not a competitive advantage. If everyone has a bachelor's degree to distinguish them in the job market, it's not a distinguishment. And that's a phenomenon economists now call "degree inflation." Everyone is supposed to go to college these days. It doesn't matter what you want to be when you grow up--you must earn a college degree. My question is does that really make sense? Do we all need college degrees? Is it at all possible that we're causing more damage than good with this mindset? For one, think about the amount of debt we're asking people to take on in this culture of degree inflation. Some people are borrowing $50,000 or more during college when all they actually want to do is be a landscaper or a carpenter or an electrician or even an administrative … Continue Reading ››