Chris Blattman

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Beware graduate school?

Penelope Trunk warns us away from grad school:

The more desperate you are for a job, the more likely you are to take a job that doesn’t teach you what you want to learn. And then you get to that job and you think, “Grad school could solve this problem.” But in fact, grad school creates larger, and more insurmountable problems. And some the problems you’re trying to solve with grad school might not be problems at all.

Her arguments are eightfold:

1. Grad school pointlessly delays adulthood.
2. PhD programs are pyramid schemes
3. Business school is not going to help 90% of the people who go.
4. Law school is a factory for depressives.
5. The medical school model assumes that health care spending is not a mess.
6. Going to grad school is like going into the military.
7. Most jobs are better than they seem: You can learn from any job.
8. Graduate school forces you to overinvest: It’s too high risk.

See the explanations here.

These arguments seem to better reflect people who get a PhD when they have little chance of getting a faculty position (sorry, humanities) and professional school for the sake of professional school. But sometimes professional school gives you technical skills needed for a job (accounting, tropical medicine, law…) and PhDs are a must for professional researchers. Without those caveats, the advice reads more like a rant.

Besides, who says delaying adulthood is pointless?

4 Responses

  1. When I was headed off to grad school one of my recently graduate classmates who was headed of Houston for her first job in the business world, said incredulously, “I don’t know how you can stay in school and put off life for another 6 years.” My internal response: who says grad school is “putting off life!?” Years later, still perfectly happy with my choice to get a PhD rather than go right into the “work for $ world,” I see that the message is about the underlying value in our culture of making money as well as the unbelievable idea that learning and life are incompatible! It’s true that I did not begin saving for retirement and I lived very simply, but that’s simply a choice, not a real problem. It’s only a problem if you believe it is, and of course we are taught in this culture that the most important thing we can do is to make and save money (and spend it). What a ridiculous proposition. Thanks for stimulating this, even after a couple of years.

  2. Trunk is a big fan of entrepreneurship, and sees that as the only viable path. I can’t imagine why she’d be so down on schooling…

  3. Oh, Chris, please don’t mention “law” in the useful professional skills. Many have JD degrees only to work at Starbuck’s for $8 hr. The JD degree is the new assembly line/textile worker.

  4. It’s good that you posted this today instead of last week, because I handed my dissertation over to the committee on Friday. I would’ve completely agreed with Trunk while I was checking my footnotes for the 3,000th time last week, but now her arguments seem silly. I need this credential to do what I want to do with my life, and I landed a tenure-track job, so it’s not as though it was a complete waste of time. Also, who says grad school is delaying adulthood? I pay bills and taxes, take care of my home, and maintain a car and family relationships. What else is adulthood?

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