Is Graduate School Really That Bad?
The blog 100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School has been stuck at reason #98 since August of 2018 with only two more to go! Despite its unrelenting negativity, prospective applicants to graduate programs will find the site useful. I cannot criticize it for being negative since that is its implied purpose: to compile 100 reasons not to go. But there is something whiny and wimpy about it.
Suppose you are paid to spend five years, from age 22 to age 27, studying in depth a subject you love and have an aptitude for in the idyllic environs of a college campus. You have been give tuition remission and a modest stipend on which to live. You really enjoy reading, writing, and ruminating more than anything else. You love late lamp-lit nights and early mornings of quiet study. You have good sense and avoid the folly of assuming debt in the form of student loans. You live within your very modest means and have the character to resist the siren songs of a society bent on crazy consumption. You understand that a little monkishness never hurt anyone, and might even do your soul some good.
You spend five years enjoying all the perquisites of academic life: a beautiful environment, stimulating people, library privileges, an office, a flexible work schedule, and the like. At age 27 you are granted the Ph.D. But there are few jobs, and you knew that all along. You make a serious attempt at securing a position in your field but fail. So you go on to something else either with or without some further training.
Have you wasted your time? Not by my lights. Hell, you've been paid to do what you love doing! What's to piss and moan about? You have been granted a glorious extension of your relatively carefree collegiate years. Five more years of being a student, sans souci, in some exciting place like Boston. Five more years of contact with age- and class-appropriate members of the opposite sex and thus five more years of opportunity to find a suitable mate. (But if you marry and have kids while a grad student, then your wisdom is in question. Generally speaking, of course.)
Of course, if your goal in life is to pile up as much loot as possible in the shortest possible time, then stay away from (most) graduate programs. But if the life of the mind is your thing, go for it! What's to kvetch about? Are you washed up at 27 or 28 because you couldn't land a tenure-track position? You have until about age 40 to make it in America.
In the interests of full disclosure, however, I should say that I was one of the lucky ones. I spent five years in graduate school and received my Ph.D. at age 28. In the same year I accepted a tenure-track appointment and six years later I had tenure at age 34.
Here is the 100 Reasons blog.