Why I didn’t go to grad school the second time.

David Ryan

David Ryan is a boat builder and USCG licensed master captain. He is the owner of Sailing Montauk and skipper of Montauk''s charter sailing catamaran MON TIKI You can follow him on Twitter @CaptDavidRyan

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43 Responses

  1. Philip H says:

    A well written piece that captures the struggles of many of us. I’m only 5 years behind you chronologically, and I did go to grad school once (MS in Oceanography), and I’ve gone as far level wise as I want to in my career (though there are still a ton of questions and challenges I can dig into). So like you, I’m looking for what’s next.

    I think the biggest problem our generation faces is we don’t (yet) have a huge challenge to confront (our grandparents had two – the Great Depression and WWII); we don’t (yet) have a revolution to foster (Our parents had the Civil Rights Movement). All we have is our careers, our families and our communities. It’s taken alot of aspirational pressure off, and so it makes the agency you speak of that much harder to discern.Report

  2. J@m3z Aitch says:


    Great post. It looks to me as though you made the right choice in not going to grad school the second time. You came to an understanding of what you really wanted and managed to shunt aside the (ultimately) less meaningful desire.

    Would you mind shooting me an email? I have a real long shot possibility of doing part of your coastal trip, but would like to discuss logistics with you.Report

  3. NewDealer says:

    I’ve read a lot of grad school hell stories from people on the Internet and friends. I’ve also read many essays on “Why you shouldn’t go to grad school?” or “Grad school will only make you poor, unemployable, and miserable.” Not saying that yours are similar. But I need to say this as someone who went to grad school twice (MFA and JD):

    It wasn’t that bad. I liked most of both my experiences in grad school. Now I was pretty convinced by the end of my first year of my MFA program that I was not going to be a professional theatre director and some parts of the program were comically misplanned but I went through all three years and am very happy that I did. I have a terminal degree in theatre directing which at least signals some form of mastery in the subject and it was fun more often than not. Most theatre people have day jobs or night jobs for rent and such. I had jobs during grad school but for three years of my life I got to do largely nothing but theatre. How cool is that? And the classes were interesting.

    I struggled with the curve like everyone else during the first year of law school and new ways of studying but found my ground. Finals were tough and I spent long hours in the library and many weekends in the library but it wasn’t that bad. The subject matter was really interesting most of the time.

    Perhaps I am just meant for school but people make grad school seem like a Kafkaesque nightmare and completely useless and I just don’t see it.

    Does this just mean I am built for school?

    The other thought:

    “1) I remember my high school guidance counselor telling me or us (I can’t remember if this was specific advice to me or general advice) that applying to a bunch of schools was a waste of money.”

    This was not the advice we received. We were told apply to a few reach schools, a few probably schools, and a few safety schools. This was 1997-1998. You could write on a computer but I don’t think there were electronic submissions yet.

    I wonder if there are socio-economic differences or just generational differences in the advice.Report

    • David Ryan in reply to NewDealer says:

      I have a terminal degree in theatre directing which at least signals some form of mastery in the subject

      Joe the Mennonite went from working on Mon Tiki to an MFA program in Arizona. His reason was quite straight forward: He wanted to be a gallery exhibiting artist and in that world you simply won’t get any consideration without an MFA. So yes, there is some signaling going on. Whether or not what is being signaled mastery? At least where the arts are concerned, I have my doubts.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to David Ryan says:

        I was told the same thing for being hired by theatres. I needed an MFA to get directing jobs. I don’t think this is completely true (there are always exceptions that prove the rule) but it is largely true.

        Now even most people who get MFAs will not have full-time careers and will need to do other things to pay the rent and such. I think most of my cohort new this.

        Though I am sure that there are people who would choose not to go if they could do it again. One classmate told me that it took grad school to figure out she did not want to be an actor.

        I just think there is a bit of anti-intellectualism going on with grad school hate. I loved seminar and setting around a table and talking about our projections and plays and theory. It is certainly much more interesting that setting around a table and talking about a marketing plan for Cheerios or planning some kind of big corporate holiday party.

        Law school was also interesting intellectually and so is the practice.

        Then again, my joke is that law is for people who are too nerdy for business school but not nerdy enough to get PhDs in engineering or science (usually).Report

    • Michael Cain in reply to NewDealer says:

      I have a terminal degree…

      I have two masters degrees in diverse subjects (the first in operations research, an applied math specialty, and the second in public policy). I’ve been asked more times than I can count why I don’t have a PhD, since I have a track record that says I can do the research. My answer is that I lack the tolerance for the academic bullsh*t that is required to get a PhD. That’s what drove me out after the first masters, and as it turned out, 25 years had not mellowed me enough to tolerate it the second time I tried. No disrespect to anyone with a PhD intended, it’s my personality flaw :^) I love being a terminal masters degree grad student. If money were no object, I would happily spend the rest of my life picking up such degrees in fields that interest me. But I intensely dislike being a PhD track grad student.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Michael Cain says:

        I am allowed to teach at the university level or grad school with my degree but some people choose to get PhDs in Performance Studies and Dramatic Lit.

        I considered it for a second. I also considered teaching instead of law school and decided against it for these reasons.

        1. Where I live is important to me. I could see being happy in lots of places but did not want the chance of needing to embrace my Inner North Dakotan or Mississippian. I like being around some semblance of a Jewish population, at least 30,000 or so.

        2. I don’t know if I could complete a thesis. My MFA required directing productions and academic papers but not a full book. Theatre grad school is a weird mix of the academic and art school.

        3. I was smart enough to see that adjunct hell was going to be the future probably especially for arts and humanities professors.Report

      • David Ryan in reply to Michael Cain says:

        What I’m going to say now takes some chutzpah, but what the hell:

        One of the things that was disappoint about my tour of Bay Area MFA programs is that rather that seeing teachers’ faces light up the way Paul Tetzner’s did, what I saw was something else, and what that something else was was somewhere in the fear/envy sector. There they were, dicking around with sloppy black visquine and I arrived with a museum-ready piece in the back of my station wagon.

        20 years later, when I started thinking grad school again I was warned by one of my well-placed academic friends (degrees from elite East Coast and West Coast unis both) that my films and writing would were in danger of receiving similar treatment (he didn’t know about my experience 20 years earlier) “What you’re doing, the level you’re working will embarrass them. You’re going to need a sponsor” he told me, “or these places will just close ranks to keep you out.”

        There. I said it.Report

      • Kim in reply to Michael Cain says:

        oh, the fine arts are murder, aren’t they?
        Commercial art tends to be a lot more friendly…
        (If nothing else, you’re less in competition with the
        next person).Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Michael Cain says:


        There are probably plenty of people who do produce envy among their professors and fellow students in art grad programs for being too good. Sigourney Weaver was voted “least likely to succeed” by her Yale School of Drama classmates. She also went to school during the time period that really made the Yale School of Drama. Her classmates were Meryl Streep and the playwright Christopher Durang. This was an uncommonly strong/successful cohort and Yale is still riding on their coattails. Though they have had other really successful grads as well.

        I was not in that condition when I applied to grad school. Sometimes I am surprised that they even accepted me.Report

      • Johanna in reply to Michael Cain says:

        In the next year or two we will have a full-time tenure track opening in our theatre department here at the college – We do both musical theatre and plays. Detroit’s Jewish population is 3 times what you are looking for, we have the oldest continuously active theatre in the US and yes they are constantly looking for experienced directors. Actually, the local theatre community in Michigan and Ohio is quite vibrant and active. I thought I would throw that out in case you are feeling nostalgic for theatre life 😉Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Michael Cain says:


        That sounds tempting but I wonder if I am too far from qualified right now. My last direct involvement with theatre was in 2008 for my Master productions. I’ve thought about getting involved in the Bay Area but have not done so yet.

        There are probably a million people more qualified even with my Hanley in.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Michael Cain says:


        You interested me enough that I e-mailed your husband. He is surprisingly easy to look up 🙂Report

      • J@m3z Aitch in reply to Michael Cain says:

        He is surprisingly easy to look up

        So much for academic obscurity.Report

      • …You’re going to need a sponsor” he told me, “or these places will just close ranks to keep you out…”

        Related, I was 50 when I went back to grad school the second time. I started in an econ PhD program (and though I didn’t finish there, I don’t feel like I wasted my time given what I was trying to accomplish). One day one of the professors told me, “You do realize that you could write the most brilliant dissertation seen in a decade, but no department at a research university will give you more than a token interview? Because we’re all looking for the new graduate who’s going to win a Clark Medal, and you have to be under 40 to be eligible.”Report

    • dhex in reply to NewDealer says:

      “Perhaps I am just meant for school but people make grad school seem like a Kafkaesque nightmare and completely useless and I just don’t see it.”

      while this is indeed an overgeneralization, if people are looking at it from a career/”dream job” pov, it probably more often than not actually is a really dumb thing to do provided the program in question is not a big name, a .

      if you have the resources and ability to just go off and do school and not have to support families or what have you, and their expectations are managed…i’d probably still argue against it just on its face. mba, mfa, ymca, whatevs – better have a real good reason other than “i have no idea what to do with myself”. there are better avenues for that – volunteering, nonprofs, ngos, cbos. this goes double, perhaps triple, if someone’s exploring a phd.

      it’s only slight hyperbole when i say that programs that offered phds in much of the humanities (presuming a destination of instructor rather than jumping to public/private industry) from 2008-2012* who didn’t justify their existence (and i’d say upwards of 90% outright lied about their job placement rates) in really concrete ways and actively encouraged people to understand that getting a tenure-track job was damn near an impossibility and that they were facing the fight of their life to even get an adjuncting gig for more than a year at a time…etc etc anyway i would totally award damages against most of those schools were i on a jury and some poor sad sack with a phd in the poetics of nobody cares actually got to that point.

      the wife has been lucky on many fronts (if you count a 3 year job search as “lucky”, which in this context it most certainly is) but i’d still like to have a jersey-style talkin’ to with some of her advisors around the 2005-2006 era who knew full well that things were changing and basically pretended it was 1979 no matter what reality was telling them.

      * actually i’d go as early as 2000-2002 but that is a bit extreme, even for me.Report

      • dhex in reply to dhex says:

        sorry that line above should be “…a big name, a degree pipeline with direct connections to employment, or best of all – both.”Report

      • NewDealer in reply to dhex says:


        These are not invalid points but as I stated above. I might just be a bit of a bookish and academic type who really likes school. Most people probably dislike school. I like being a practicing lawyer but also found law school to be intellectually interesting and the reading was kind of neat. Many people do not and just want a career.

        Part of me feels compelled to defend grad school because I feel like swipes against grad school ring with a bit to a lot of anti-Intellectualism depending on the speaker. Only nerds like school and things like that.

        I can’t deny the cost issues and the modern economy though.

        When I say Kafkaesque it just seems like bad hyperbole. I went to a lecture given by a man who spent decades on death row for a murder he did not commit. His mother died thinking he was guilty. Most people thought he was guilty for a very long time and he worked as his own crusader for many years alone. He was in a Kafkaesque experience simply because he made out with the murder victim on the day she was killed and he had a juvie record from some car-jacking.*

        So I think calling grad school kafkaesque requires a degree of prospective.

        *The real murderer was probably the woman’s lover. She was a secretary at a local college, her lover was the dean and married and she broke it off. The cops found the lecturer’s prints when investigating and pulled his record and found an easy match and a gullible enough jury.Report

      • dhex in reply to dhex says:

        though this makes me unpopular (more than usual) with many a professor, i think the anti-intellectual streak of america is secondary in many reactions to the “you do this to get a job, not feed your desire to do something with books” thing. and i mean, frankly, as a first generation college student i fully understand. all of my decisions (in that arena, not during those years to be sure) were driven by practicality and the incredibly dumb things i think i believed because i had no one else to really dissuade me. but the idea of just being able to say “i got this for the fun of it” is simply not comprehensible for many people from my background or similar backgrounds. i mean, i was told from the age of 5 that i was going to college so that i wouldn’t have to work with my hands like every other male in my family going back to the 18th century. who the fuck would major in poetry with a setup like that?Report

      • NewDealer in reply to dhex says:


        I don’t disagree but I think there is a very complicated debate about what is the point and purpose of a university education and right now the answer seems to be a complicated mix of the two. We have colleges and universities that cater to the education for the sake of an education crowd and also practical/vocational programs (I have no idea what you studied) in university but students are required to take a liberal arts and sciences core to get some semblance of a well-rounded education.

        There are also probably of kids from middle-class and above families who just want a business degree and just shrug through the core classes as well.

        LeeEsq thinks that education in America has always been more practical/vocational.Report

      • dhex in reply to dhex says:

        “We have colleges and universities that cater to the education for the sake of an education crowd”

        this crowd does not exist. believe you me, if they did i’d be hoovering their info like [pun related to fellatio] and courting them like [pun related to fellatio].

        i don’t actually think the debate is that complicated unless someone wants a one size fits all thing – and who knows, maybe obama’s zagat-for-colleges thing will take off. it would be insane, but who knows?

        you see plenty of (incredibly misleading, highly unethical) “this is the 30 year roi on a degree from notre dame” and what have yous, which i think are largely an attempt to head off obvious objections. no one wants to end up a ny times trend piece about your kid who went to vassar and studied feminist basketweaving or social work (may god have mercy on your soul) and now lives in your basement because they made no real inroads towards making it work outside of a classroom, or whatever their problem happened to be.

        if you run a liberal arts (as in branded as such) school you gotta justify charging a ton of money and having art classes and the like. prospective parents with some money are looking at some kind of shortfall for anywhere from 90 to 20% of the tuition costs want that question answered to hell and back.

        and frankly, for the longest time, the answer generally was “our work speaks for itself” or “life of the mind blah blah blah” and whatnot. that lie is done and buried. it’s stupid. it’s “let them eat cake” rendered by people who should – in theory ha ha get it? – understand how poorly the tone of that kind of response works. especially when it’s delivered with the nurtured resentment of someone who thinks america is a stupid place filled with stupid people who hate their groundbreaking, exquisitely crafted work.

        now, there is a really good answer for “why the liberal arts”. but it’s impossible to deliver it from a place of resentment or self-satisfaction, which is where it used to come from.*

        vocational education is totally separate from almost all of this, and certainly not on the radar of people complaining either about the cancerous spread of college administrators or the maoist insurgency that is your local professoriat.

        “practical” is more difficult to suss out, because at the end of the day i can take a driven rock star and make them learn nothing but critical theory focused entirely on the intersection of late capitalism, factory-fed cased meats, and rape for four years and they’ll still do well for themselves. practical is what puts kids in touch with industry, or business, or charity, or whatever, and forces them to directly learn how things work outside of the classroom. and make connections, etc. without that you’ve got nothing.Report

      • NewDealer in reply to dhex says:


        I went to Vassar and for the most part my classmates are doing really well. Vassar generally produces members of the middle to upper-middle/professional classes as well as any other institution even though we don’t have business, or accounting, or engineering degrees. I imagine the same goes for other liberal arts colleges like Williams, Amherst, Swarthmore, etc.

        Even in the law school crisis, I am doing well all things considered.

        So yeah, I am a bit tired of the feminist basketweaving jokes and the pernicious idea that it is STEM or Business degrees or bust.Report

      • dhex in reply to dhex says:

        “So yeah, I am a bit tired of the feminist basketweaving jokes and the pernicious idea that it is STEM or Business degrees or bust.”

        as i said, when such defenses are borne of resentment it is a less-than-effective tactic.

        and 4 year private schools are not really the problem, the past decade of ny times trend pieces aside. your cohort are largely kids with money who came from college educated folks who knew the dizzle – the sorts who know, at least on some level, that college is about networking and laying the ground for the next 5 to 10 years of your life. even if they spent it smoking dope and taking feminist basketweaving (pottery being too phallic), they’re still laying the groundwork for being able to tap into a network of talented people with cash.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to dhex says:


        if you run a liberal arts (as in branded as such) school you gotta justify charging a ton of money and having art classes and the like. prospective parents with some money are looking at some kind of shortfall for anywhere from 90 to 20% of the tuition costs want that question answered to hell and back.

        When I was an adjunct, two of the classes I taught were at a local private liberal arts school, perhaps not quite branded as such, but close enough (it was heavily focused on liberal arts and humanities curriculum). The sticker price of tuition was about $18,000 a year, and the school targeted inner-city people, many of whom were assumed to be first generation college student.

        I remember feeling very guilty that these folks were paying what I considered to be a huge amount of money just to have me, who at the time held only a MA, and other adjuncts teach them. The college did have generous financial aid packages, and offered a lot of “half-tuition scholarships,” but it wasn’t the funding experience of “everyone can go regardless of ability to pay” that some people claim is true of all or most liberal arts colleges. These students had to take out massive loans. (I know one liberal art college professor, at a different school, who told me that many of his students can’t even by the course books until their loans come through.)

        A similar problem obtained at the public university I adjuncted at, although the sticker price was less and therefore less guilt-inducing.

        If I ever teach again (history), I’ll have to somehow reconcile that guilt.

        When it comes to grad programs, in my experience as a MA and later PHD student, the problem was less outright lying about placement rates than it was a certain lie implicit in academia, that, as you mention, it’s all about the life of the mind, etc., when it’s really about publishing, getting noticed, and making money.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to dhex says:


        I think “anti-intellectualism” does a lot of work here. To me, accusing critics of higher education of being anti-intellectual is like accusing critics of clergy of being anti-religion. There’s some potential overlap, but it’s not a necessary collection.

        I think much of what gets counted as anti-intellectual tends to be more usefully described as an opposition to credentialed experts being granted a privileged position as arbiters of culture or as determiners of public policy. There is some overlap. If one really wants to address a problem, they study for years at it, and eventually write on it once they’re well-versed in the relevant literatures and the evidence. To do that successfully, it helps to get an advanced degree, both because getting the degree introduces one to the various literatures and provides opportunities for mentorship from others and because it provides the social connections that make it possible to get oneself heard. And it’s hard to oppose the credential=smart/competent/authoritative formulation without also incidentally opposing something like the “life of the mind.”

        Still, I don’t think it follows that severely questioning the credentialing system necessarily means opposition to a “life of the mind” or to using reason and engaging existing scholarship.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to dhex says:

        “….but it’s not a necessary collection.”


      • Pierre Corneille in reply to dhex says:

        In spite of what I just wrote (and sorry to hog this sub-thread), I don’t think grad school in the humanities/liberal arts is a uniformly bad idea. But I think anyone considering doing a grad program ought to think thrice about the commitment they’re getting into, especially if they are opting for a PHD program.

        In this vein, I think the trend (I think it’s a trend….maybe it’s just what’s happened at the two schools I’ve paid attention to) toward post-BA, straight to PHD (with the MA being either a handshake on the way there or a consolation prize for those who couldn’t make it) is a bad thing. It’s helpful to the person to do an MA only, because that person is likely to waste as much time and opportunity cost on the project.

        If I ever teach again, I’ll try to observe a “first do no harm approach.” If a good student asks me for a letter of rec to grad school, then I’ll write one and hope she or he gets accepted. But I’m not going to go out of my way and say, with the force of my authority as an instructor, “hey, you should go to grad school.”

        Of course, “the force of my authority as an instructor” isn’t all that impressive. But I had my own encounters with an extremely charismatic, larger than life former professor who put a lot of pressure on me to get a PHD. I did so in large part to please him. Which is a horrible reason to go to grad school. And I should have known better, especially because I had already had an MA and knew the shot. I have to take responsibility for my decisions. But I don’t want to presume to do that to another person.Report

      • dhex in reply to dhex says:

        “When it comes to grad programs, in my experience as a MA and later PHD student, the problem was less outright lying about placement rates than it was a certain lie implicit in academia, that, as you mention, it’s all about the life of the mind, etc., when it’s really about publishing, getting noticed, and making money.”

        novelty is a tremendous driving force, sort of like xmas toy selling, but with slightly more foucault.

        though honestly i think our xmas toys could use more foucault.

        i do think there’s a lot of value in a liberal arts education. but i certainly don’t think it’s self-evident, nor do i think it’s particularly well-demonstrated or packaged – especially by “non name” schools, which is most of them.

        and on the most boring, practical level, what do (reasonable) people want out of new employees? an ability to write, condense, summarize, argue, and (especially) communicate effectively. being adaptable is nice too, but the above is often more than enough to stand out when your cohort is hella terrible at even the basics. in theory, those are exactly the base skills that should be developed and sharpened by a well-rounded liberal arts education.

        “If I ever teach again, I’ll try to observe a “first do no harm approach.” If a good student asks me for a letter of rec to grad school, then I’ll write one and hope she or he gets accepted. But I’m not going to go out of my way and say, with the force of my authority as an instructor, “hey, you should go to grad school.”

        that seems very reasonable – however, would you caution them to really think about what it is they want from this avenue? i know more than a few professors who are actively dissuading people from the phd pipeline (both stem and not) because outside of a few cases it’s a huge time investment that acts as a drag on one’s ability to work outside of a few narrow fields. there’s also a big pay hit to consider, especially if the end zone is professor or nothing.Report

      • Pierre Corneille in reply to dhex says:


        that seems very reasonable – however, would you caution them to really think about what it is they want from this avenue? i know more than a few professors who are actively dissuading people from the phd pipeline (both stem and not) because outside of a few cases it’s a huge time investment that acts as a drag on one’s ability to work outside of a few narrow fields. there’s also a big pay hit to consider, especially if the end zone is professor or nothing.

        I agree with the rest of what you wrote there.

        And yes, I would caution them. I might temper my caution with the realization that while I’m pretty sure grad school is a bad idea even for the best students, there’s a lot on heaven and earth, and about any given student in particular, that I don’t know. The older I get, the more I realize I have little business telling people what’s in their best interests, even if deep down I think I know.Report

      • Patrick Bridges in reply to dhex says:

        I’d agree with that caution as well, and do give it both to undergrads looking to go to graduate school and new graduate students. By and large, a Ph.D. is a research degree – a license to conduct independent research in a particular area. If you don’t want to do something that requires that, why are you signing up to spend a large amount of time in that direction?

        That said, for undergrads who want to gain more expertise in a field and don’t *know* if they want a Ph.D. or not, I’ll suggest they apply to a Ph.D. program, make sure they can get an M.S. along the way, and tell them to get involved in research as soon as possible. Most graduate schools favor Ph.D. applicants for admission and funding, and it gives them a way to try out that direction while still getting something along the way that’ll be useful whether or not they decide to pursue the Ph.D.Report

    • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

      It’s kafkaesque if you’re in creative writing.
      The point of being in creative writing is to
      go work as a clerk, or a sewerman,
      or some real job experience, and then
      write about the interesting characters you find.

      Academia is not helpful in encountering
      the real world people want to hear you write about.

      (Okay, the real world is implausible enough
      to have me walk around on a dead mouse for
      a full mile. Write about the plausible fake world
      if you want. But you’ll use your real experiences).Report

    • Kazzy in reply to NewDealer says:

      I think it is important to note the people/times/situations where grad school is not only not a terrible idea, but perhaps even a good or great idea.

      I’m a teacher. I got my undergrad degree in teaching. For the position I was seeking (head teacher in a private preschool in a major metro area), this was insufficient. It is possible that tons of experience would have gotten me where I wanted to be, but it would have been a much harder route. So my masters in education (gained 3 years after completing undergrad) opened doors for me that likely wouldn’t have been opened. And, perhaps more importantly, the knowledge and experience I gained in my masters program made me a much, much better teacher. Again, it is possible I would have gotten there otherwise, but I got there faster because of it.

      Now, my experience is not universal. First off, I’m someone who generally thrives in the academic environment. I was also young (23-25), living alone, and had a steady girlfriend 200 miles away (which meant I could see her on weekends but didn’t have that competing interest during the work/school week). Second, I attended one of the top graduate schools for education in the nation. Third, my ideal job was uniquely structured around the acquisition of a masters degree.

      I’m now at a point in my career where I toy with the idea of going back yet again. It is unlikely at this precise time what with the baby and all, but it would again open up doors for me much earlier than without the second degree AND would make me better at those positions.

      So, yea, I get that probably too many people go to grad school and that it sucks and/or ends up being a regret for many people. But that doesn’t mean it is a waste for all.

      I’m glad you were able to take the route you did. And I’m glad I was able to take the route I did.Report

  4. NewDealer says:


    Somehow I thought of this when thinking about your post on the uses of education. The “crisis” in the humanities may be more driven by admin and “very important people”:


    • dhex in reply to NewDealer says:

      i can dig into it later but i’d be a bit more swayed if he also examined the #s for competing degrees from all of those eras. that’s the root of the actual crisis/”crisis” – the explosion of interest in business and pre-professional (pre med, pre law, etc etc and so forth) programs being the biggest one. if kids want to study waterboarding and the hermeneutics of pokemon, someone’s going to offer it to them. but compared to other departments, the philosphy dept (outside of places like nyu, etc) has lost a lot of the power they had in the 80s.

      there’s also loss of power and prestige on many campuses as the old admins (who used to be professors) have gotten pushed out by professionals. maybe this is good or bad, but there’s a lot more competition out there. (disclaimer: i’m considered part of the problem by folks like that, so your salt may vary)Report

  5. morat20 says:

    I’m glad I went to grad school. But when I went, it was 6 or 8 years after my undergrad degree, was funded entirely by my company, and I viewed it like continuing education — it gave me a chance to dig deeper into theoretical frameworks (which was a bonus to my job) that I’d only skimmed before, as well as indulge in some personal interests of mine.

    Even did a thesis entirely so I could carry out some research and development on those personal interests.

    I did get the impression I was having an entirely different experience then many of my classmates — the Master’s program there was split fairly evenly with “straight from bachelor’s” folks and “returning to school while working in the field” 30-somethings.

    Us old fogies had an entirely different approach than the kids.Report

  6. daveNYC says:

    “Is there some reason you can’t start building your boat right now?”


    “Then why do you want to get a Ph.D?”

    “Because I want to show them.”

    “Show them what? What do you want to show them?”

    “I want to show them that I’m right and they’re wrong.”

    Bigger Brothers Employee: And what are your reasons for wanting a little brother?
    Homer’s Brain: Don’t say revenge. Don’t say revenge.
    Homer: Uh… revenge?
    Homer’s Brain: That’s it. I’m getting out of here.
    Homer’s Brain: [sound effects]
    [step, step, step, step, step… slam]

    You chose wisely.Report

  7. NewDealer says:


    Maybe it was too strong a word but I do think anti-expertism is a serious problem.

    Experts are not always right and experts can certainly disagree but I see a lot of people just ignoring experts because they are experts and this is getting out of hand.

    I worked on a case about a defective piece of construction equipment. The piece was an elbow that connected pipes used to flow concrete. The elbow failed and concrete exploded in a someone’s face and blinded him in one eye. He can’t work anymore.

    One of the issues was how often was the part replaced and how did the mechanics at the construction company check for wear and tear. The engineer who created the elbow was also deposed. The mechanics said they hit the elbow with a hammer to do a sound test.

    The engineer said this was a bad idea because it could cause structural damage and that his company recommended using an ultra-sound device which would test for thickness on the elbow.

    The mechanics said that they did not like the ultra-sound device because it was difficult to read.

    So someone lost sight in their eye because expert instructions were not followed.Report

    • Kim in reply to NewDealer says:

      This, believe it or not, is better than standard home building practice.
      where the “experts” routinely lie to the homeowners, and defy
      government regulations.Report

    • @newdealer

      Well, that’s certainly an argument for expertise, but even in that case, it seems, at least from your summary, that it was an instance of the expert not providing easy-enough-to-read instructions on how to analyze the pipe, and not as the result of any hostility to experts as such. However, if there’s more to this than meets the eye from your summary (and I understand if you can’t go into more detail, re: privacy, etc.), then I’ll defer to your say-so.

      At any rate, thanks for the thoughtful answer to my comment. I do admit to a certain….maybe not anti-intellectualism, but an anti-academia-ism that is not always rational. In what I believe to be my well-warranted criticisms of academe, I sometimes choose to smear all academics (both in the sense of “those who are members of academe” and in the sense of “that pursuit of knowledge peculiar to universities”) as snobs who are primarily interested in status and money. At the same time, I’m reading and enjoying Judt’s book “Postwar” (courtesy of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s excellent commentary on his blog recently), and Judt, as far as I know, is a bona fide academic, and his book is certainly worth engaging.Report

      • Patrick Bridges in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        There are plenty of problems with academia; as someone in the middle of it, I’m well aware of its strengths and weaknesses. That said, anyone in the U.S. going into academia for “money and status” is foolish and so are criticisms that attack academia from that direction.

        For example, median assistant professor starting in Computer Science is, according to the CRA’s Taulbee Survey (http://cra.org/resources/taulbee/), $90k for a 9 month (academic year) contract. Faculty with external funding (e.g. from government agencies, companies, etc.) can add an addition 2-3 months of funding at the same rate, depending on where the funding is from. That sounds great, but starting industry salaries for someone with a Ph.D. in Computer Science are generally much higher than 90-120k/year.

        Basically, you don’t go into academia for the money. More freedom to research what you want, yes. Desire to teach, yes. The security that comes with tenure, absolutely. But money and status?Report

      • NewDealer in reply to Pierre Corneille says:

        @pierre-corneille @patrick-bridges

        I suppose some of my defense of going to grad school is also familial.

        I always knew that I was expected to get some kind of graduate/professional degree. This was never explicitly said until I was much older but it was just something my parents thought was important, showing some degree of mastery in a subject. They thought of an undergrad degree as a good foundation.

        I went to grad school with people whose parents did not even know graduate school was a thing or existed.

        For some reason when I tell people that it was expected of me to get an advanced degree, they think I am telling them the most horrible thing in the world.Report

  8. Patrick Bridges says:

    I’m glad some people have the “why do I want a Ph.D.” conversation with themselves before they go to grad school. I’ve had that conversation with students a year or three after they arrive, where there’s still no clear answer.Report