Should you go to graduate school?

Everyone else (Daniel Drezner, Joshua Rothman, Rebecca Schuman, Katie Roiphe, Annemarie, tressiemc, etc) is making pretty obvious points about graduate schools and becoming famous for it.

Here are some actually useful questions to determine if you should go.

1. Do you want to go?
-> If No, DO NOT GO.
-> If Yes, read on.

2. Are you thinking about being a lawyer, medical doctor, or nurse?
-> If Yes, that’s not what I’m talking about. Read this blog instead.
-> If No, read on.

3. Is the degree you’re thinking of a STEM (Science, TEchnology Engineering, or Math) degree?
-> If Yes, GO. Start filling out applications. You’re done.
-> If No, read on.

4. Can you get a job even if your graduate degree is worthless?
-> If Yes, GO. Start filling out applications. You’re done.
-> If No, DON’T GO.

There, that saved you a lot of time.

The reason this quesitonaire is so short is that this is a good approximation of success.

1) Do something you enjoy, AND
2) Do something you can get paid for doing, AND
3) Do something you are great at


(3) will come with practice, which you will have plenty of it’s (1) and (2).

2 thoughts on “Should you go to graduate school?”

  1. Famous? Really?

    Anyway, thanks for the link. I agree with almost all of your questions except for this one:
    “4. Can you get a job even if your graduate degree is worthless?”

    That doesn’t matter in my opinion. Because if the you in the question doesn’t go to graduate school, they still have to get a job. No one loses skills in grad school and most of us gain some. I think anyone capable of getting into a Ph.D. program is capable of supporting themselves.

    My advice to someone getting a Ph.D. in the humanities: make sure the university you go to can support you through teaching or fellowships or that you have outside fellowship money. Basically don’t go into debt for the degree.

  2. Hey Annemarie,

    Thanks so much for your comment. One of the great parts of the internet is all the different people you can interact with. It’s a big reason why I blog, so thanks 🙂

    That said, your advise is incredibly dangerous, and should be ignored by everyone.

    Skills acquired in graduate school can be harmful (“destructively interfere” in edpsych jargon) to jobs required by employers. The ability to think for extended periods of time in isolation is vital in graduate school, but relatively few jobs require that. At the same time, being able to communicate with lay audiences, work well with others of all different skill levels, and focus on practical results instead of theoretical beauty is important for many jobs, but emphasized by relatively few academic programs.

    The opportunity cost of graduate school is not nothing. It is all the money you would have earned working, and all the skills you would have gained from that. So even if you are able to break even through assistantships (which I agree is vital) and actually do gain some skills, in many cases the newly minted PhD will be much poorer — in both wealth and intellectual capital — than if he or she had never gone.

    It’s easy to say that income doesn’t matter — I think this is especially true for the population that is thinking of graduate school, because a more reflective nature and a richer life of the mind can dramatically cut down on the desire for costly conspicuous consumption. But the worst part of being poor isn’t lack of money. The worst part of being poor is living near other poor people.

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