Great piece in Slate that fits nicely into the relatively packed genre of recent works on the decision to go to grad school or not (which is probably just a subgenre of bearish pieces on academia). The bitterness just drips off the page, from the title (“Thesis Hatement: Getting a Literature Ph.D. Will Turn You Into An Emotional Trainwreck, Not a Professor”) through to the end. Here is just one awesome paragraph:
So you won’t get a tenure-track job. Why should that stop you? You can cradle your new knowledge close, and just go do something else. Great—are you ready to withstand the open scorn of everyone you know? During graduate school, you will be broken down and reconfigured in the image of the academy. By the time you finish—if you even do—your academic self will be the culmination of your entire self, and thus you will believe, incomprehensibly, that not having a tenure-track job makes you worthless. You will believe this so strongly that when you do not land a job, it will destroy you, and nobody outside of academia will understand why. (Bright side: You will no longer have any friends outside academia.)
I’m fairly ambivalent about my decision to go into grad school and then to double-down by ultimately staying within academia (and it didn’t help to hear tonight at dinner from an extremely successful lawyer who doesn’t b&lls^&t people that I would have been a great and very highly-paid lawyer). But right now I’m one of the 4-pack-a-day smokers among the 6% who survive small-cell lung cancer (see the Slate piece to get this reference). So life is good. And I love so much about my job and the human capital I’ve built. Yet I wouldn’t – and don’t – advise students to follow my path. Too many chances to fall off (or be pushed off) that path or to be extremely bitter and/or broken mentally even if you make it to the promised land. And let’s not even get into the personal wreckage one might face even in the promised land when creative destruction comes to higher ed. But if you must go to grad school, choose economics or something in the sciences that will give you more fungible capital.