Monday, April 8, 2013

The value of grad school - it's all relative.

In the last few days there's been a debate over the value of graduate education, spurred in large part by a Slate article warning anyone and everyone that Ph.D programs are a one way road to misery and destitution.  This article was the basis of a critique by tressiemic, who noted that while graduate education might not be the path to fortune and glory suggested by some popular notions of tenured professorship, it can be quite valuable for minority students and job seekers for whom graduate credentials prove quite useful in overcoming institutional racism

Both of these articles made me reflect om my own circumstances.  Although the Slate article was written from the perspective of a humanities student, I can attest that the bitterness and second guessing of ones life choices are a universal element to graduate school, be it biology, engineering or fashion design.  In the case of anthropology, I've heard and felt the bitterness expressed in the Slate article, regardless of subfield.  Speaking personally, I certainly don't lack for employment and do well enough for the area I live in, but this is because I work full time in addition to being an adjunct instructor.  So on the one hand, my graduate degree has led me into a career path common across the modern workforce where middle class seekers work two or more jobs to attain the same level of comfort their parents achieved with one.  On the other hand, my job is something I decided I wanted to be in the 3rd grade, I don't work in a cubicle, and I don't have to wear a suit to work (well, I could if I wanted to, but it's a bit impractical when digging 1 x 1 units).  Overall, my graduate education has been a net positive. 

My 2 cents for anyone thinking of pursuing graduate work? 

1) Chose a topic you love, and can see yourself doing for the rest of your life.
2) Go into the program with a very clear idea for a topic and how you want to pursue it. 
3) Don't idealize your topic - IT'S NOT YOUR LIFE!  It's a means to an end.  I had a conversation with Daniel Lende after his talk at Binghamton, and he really hit the nail on the head when he told me to think of the Ph.D as your union card.

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