Reasons Not to Go to Grad School

by Dr Davis on October 9, 2011

As you know, I don’t recommend that everyone go to grad school. In fact, I have flat out told some students, “Don’t go to grad school.” So I was particularly interested in the blog that is billed as 100 Reasons NOT to Go to Grad School. What would they say? Would I be hollering, “Yes! Yes!” when I got through reading? Or would I be a bit less enthusiastic?

The answer is the second. I’m a bit less enthusiastic.

I totally disagree.
The blog, as most do, posts the most recent first. So I started at 68 and went backwards from there. Each reason is not simply listed, but has a few paragraphs of explanation and discussion. So you don’t have to just take their word for the reason, you can examine the reasoning too.

Reason 68 is ridiculous. “Grad school is stressful.” Yes. Grad school is stressful. Everything is stressful, at least some of the time. Shoot, sleeping was stressful last night, because I had a horrible charlie horse that woke me up wanting to scream. But avoiding graduate school because it is stressful seems a bit of a whiny reason.

Reason 67 is true, but it is also true for the business world. People get paid more at some companies, in some jobs, in some groups, because someone somewhere thinks they are worth more. Why should academia be any different than anywhere else?

Reason 66 is goofy. You shouldn’t go to grad school because some people will ask why you are studying your field/subject/specialty/topic? Really? People ask that about undergraduate majors, too. “Why are you studying that?” or perhaps “What are you going to do with that?” Sometimes that question isn’t an indictment of your stupidity for studying something. Sometimes that question isn’t an indication that the speaker knows more about your field than you do and thinks you are wasting your time. Sometimes the question is an actual desire to solicit information. “Why am I studying the semantics of humor? Well, I know my jokes aren’t particularly funny and I think that play is going to be important…” Off you go. Give them a legitimate answer.

Now, if you don’t KNOW why you are studying the field->topic, that is a different basket of grain entirely. If you don’t know why you are studying, then you probably shouldn’t go to grad school.

Reason 65 has me stumped. If you have never taught before, how will it be less rewarding for you? If you have never taught before, then the sight of laptops open will simply indicate that the students are following along in the online calendar.

If the author is saying that teaching now is less rewarding than teaching twenty years ago, I will say, nope. I was teaching twenty years ago. The students then were getting an education for less money (not adjusted for inflation at least), but they still were consumers and felt like they were paying to get the grades they expected. Twenty years ago I was told my grading system was too hard and not in line with my colleagues’, so I needed to give out better grades. Inflation? Or reality? That hasn’t changed in twenty years either.

If the author is saying that students are less interested now than they were twenty years ago, I will refer them to the speaker to our campus who mentioned that he hated going to class, that he got drunk every weekend, and that he sat in the back of the class because he didn’t want to know what was going on. That was forty years ago! So, no, interest levels haven’t changed either.

Twenty years ago you couldn’t tell who was taking notes and who was writing notes to their girl friend. So today I can’t tell who is actually following along and who has a second screen open? Big whoop.

What would I agree with for Reason 65? I might agree with, “Students Sometimes Don’t Want to Learn, Which Makes Them Hard to Teach.” I would agree with that.

Are any legitimate?
I would not say that most of the reasons are legitimate. In fact, I would say that few of them are.

Despite the fact that I don’t know that any of them are totally false, they are negatively slanted and biased. They can’t give a balanced view on a topic and sometimes the slant is just so sideways it’s not anywhere near true.

Things to think about:
Some legitimate concerns, or things that should be thought about, are included in the list. The two-body problem (Reason 48), or even the one-body problem (Reason 58), is an issue. But it is an issue for any household with two income earners. It isn’t that much more relevant for academics than for accountants.

Other ideas may be legitimate, but probably aren’t relevant for an individual, such as Reason 27. The Academic Bubble May Burst.

Some of the reasons are an indictment.
Reason 47. It requires self-discipline. Yes? And what doesn’t?
Reason 39. You are asked to do the impossible. Isn’t everyone? At some point? Because you aren’t asked to do it all the time.
Reason 28. Writing is hard. Really? The author is implying that you should never do anything that is hard. Good luck with that.
Reason 46. You may not finish. Wow. We should never start anything, because we may not finish.
Reason 62. You have no free time. That’s ridiculous. You have to prioritize and plan, but you can and should have free time.

These reasons are ridiculous. They say that people contemplating grad school are lazy. I don’t think that is true.

The problem with all these not true, not legit, not really relevant reasons for avoiding grad school is that they hide the reasons people shouldn’t go to grad school.

Are any of the reasons legitimate?

You betcha’!

Reason 8. There are very few jobs. That’s the best, most telling, most important reason to avoid graduate school. Every year hundreds of students graduate with a PhD (and very few full-time positions are available to someone with only an MA), but only a handful of jobs open up each year, due to death or retirement. The jobs that open up due to someone moving to another school aren’t new jobs. They’ve just switched where the open position is.

Every once in a while, a job will come up because the school has increased enrollment. During boom years, a lot of jobs will come up. But boom years aren’t common. We haven’t had any in a while. And right now, most schools are both not hiring new and not replacing old who leave. Some of the schools, perhaps many, have let people go or are planning to let people go. There just aren’t very many new jobs due to enrollment increases. That’s because even though right now they may have an enrollment increase, anyone with a brain (hopefully all academics and administrators) can see that we are in a bad economy.

That bad economy leads to Reason 14. Adjuncthood awaits. This is also a good, valid, legitimate reason for avoiding graduate school. There are too many folks with more experience, more presentations, more publications, more ideas out there and they are getting the full-time jobs. You’ll be trying to make a living as an adjunct. Yes, it is possible. Yes, it can be done. But, no, it isn’t what I would want for anyone, much less some of the brightest minds I know. Did you know that 250 people applied for the job at an inner city community college as an English teacher last year? Yep, they did. Do you want to bring the number to 251?

On the other hand
The folks mentioned in this blog post should definitely not go to grad school because they are totally unprepared for the experience.

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