Open Buddha

Open Source Buddhism, Technology, and Geekery
Bay Area, California

Is graduate school a mistake?

Today, I read the following two articles while looking at a discussion amongst graduate students online:

I’ve read the first one before but the second is fairly new and done by the same author. It makes the arguments, basically, that there are few real job prospects towards actual academic careers for graduates in the Humanities and that graduate school, itself, is very difficult, isolating, and often unhealthy as an environment. Basically, that grad school for the Humanities is a bait and switch game and you’d be better off finding another career.

I’ve thought about this before and I continue to think about this. By the time I start at GTU this Fall for their PhD program, I’ll be 38. I did my MA while working full-time because it was something that I’ve wanted to do. I will probably be able to keep working half-time while doing the work on my PhD (to keep working was advice given to me by a number of fairly recently minted PhDs in the last years). That said, by the time I graduate with my PhD, I’ll probably be at least 43 years old and more likely to be 45.

What does a 45 year old with a newly minted PhD do with it? What does this new doctor do that couldn’t be done, for the most part, with an existing MA? I basically decided this because I had been thinking about it for several years and had been wanting to get a doctorate since I was an undergraduate. I picked an area of close importance to me (Buddhism) and decided to follow that path for a doctorate but I do wonder, at times, if I’m making a horrible mistake.

I have one friend who has just been accepted to a Clinical Psychology doctoral program. Unlike a Humanities PhD, there is a pretty clear and straightforward career path for him once he graduates doing various kind of psychological work. The same goes, to a lesser degree, for the various people doing Engineering that I’ve known.

I’m fairly well paid and have a career in the tech industry. I could keep doing what I’m doing, growing in that position, for quite a while, amassing savings, paying into the 401K, etc. I have to wonder if I’m engaging in a quixotic quest at times or looking for the greener grass.

I had one friend outright ask me if this is the case and I had a hard time articulating to him why this made sense for me from any sort of financial or time investment point of view. The argument that makes the most sense has to do with my love of learning, the life of the mind, and opening up the field of my life to other possibilities as I live out the (hopefully) next four or five decades of my life.

It is definitely not a golden era for the Humanities or any of the non-sciences when it comes to the historical set of careers. It seems like people either need to carve out their own kinds of careers or settle for something other than the old tenure track professorship as a goal. Out of the PhDs that I know personally as friends and acquaintances, I cannot think of any in a tenure track position. Most serve as adjunct faculty, fairly early in their careers, teaching classes at local universities as they are offered to them.