Graduate School: Whether to Go (Sources) (5 December 2012)

Compiled by Mark Jones, December 2012, with subsequent additions.  Suggestions welcome.  

As universities seek to increase graduate admissions and at the same time to reduce full-service tenure-track faculty employment, a question arises, particularly for students specializing in fields where the major source of post-doctoral employment is academic: why pursue a higher degree?  This post provides references to (mostly) recent sources on this question.  Most of it is not pleasant reading, but it should be made available somewhere for students considering graduate degrees. 

figure 3.10

from CAUT Almanac of Post-Secondary Education 2011-2012 (

Note:  The suggestion of this chart is that an MA degree may boost your earnings almost as much as a PhD—compare the article in The Economist for 16 Dec. 2010 (below).  Bear in mind that the chart is not sorted according to specializations, nor does it represent career earnings; it gives only the average 2007 earnings for those who received degrees in 2005.    This is apparently the most current information available, and the 2012-13 CAUT Almanac reproduces exactly the same chart.

Time to Completion Table-PHD

from CAUT Almanac of Post-Secondary Education 2011-2012 (

Note: Doctorates apparently take longer, on average, in Humanities than in any other indicated field.  Why, is a matter of some dispute; it could be that Humanities degrees are inherently more demanding, it could be that a poorer job-market gives less incentive for rapid completion, or it could be some inefficiency endemic to the discipline.  See also Jaschik, below.


100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School (blog).  Sept. 2010-.

Alexandrou, Andri.  “Don’t Just Go to Grad School.”  Vanderbilt Orbis, 30 Sept. 2011.

Bauerlein, Mark.  “Will Graduate Work in Literary Studies Have to Cut Back or Shut Down?”  Minding the Campus, 3 Dec. 2010.

Benton, Thomas H.  “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go.”  Chronicle of Higher Education, 30 Jan. 2009.

Benton, Thomas H.  “Just Don’t Go, Part 2.” Chronicle of Higher Education, 13 Mar. 2009.

Benton, Thomas H.   “The Big Lie About the ‘Life of the Mind.’” 8 Feb. 2010.

Bousquet, Marc.  How the University Works.  New York:  NYU, 2008.

Burke, Timothy.  “Should You Go to Graduate School?” Easily Distracted [blog], n.d.; ca. Oct. 2010.

Burt, David.  “Grad School Scrutinized.”  Yale Daily News, 21 Sept. 2011.

Campos, Paul.  Don’t Go To Law School (Unless): A Law Professor’s Inside Guide to Maximizing Opportunity and Minimizing Risk. 2012.

Coviello, Pete.  “Love in the Ruins: or, Should I Go to Grad School?”  Avidly [blog], 13 November 2012.

Cyranoski, David, et al.  “Education: The PhD factory.”  Nature 472, 276-279 (20 April 2011).

“The disposable academic:  Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time.”  The Nation, 16 Dec. 2010.

Iqbal, Mahmood.  “In Canada You Can Get a PhD, But Maybe Not a Job.”  Huffington Post.  Posted: 09/26/2012 4:01 pm.

Jaschik, Scott.  “The 5-Year Humanities Ph.D.”  Inside Higher Ed, 4 Dec. 2012.

Kamenetz, Anya. “Wanted: Really Smart Suckers: Grad school provides exciting new road to poverty.”  Village Voice, 20 Apr. 2004.

Nagle, Robert.  “Straight Talk about Graduate School.” Idiotprogrammer:  Musings on Technology and Culture (blog).  2004-2010.

Nagle, Robert. “Adjunct Profs, Academic Poverty & the Quixotic Quest for a Tenure-Track Position.” Idiotprogrammer:  Musings on Technology and Culture (blog).  29 Sept. 2010.

Podolak, Erin. “The Truth About Graduate School [Infographic].”  21 June 2011.

“The Postgraduate Population.”  New York Times, 24 July 2011.

Talpalaru, Margrit.  “Structural Solutions: #PostAc & #AltAc Jobs for PhDs.” Hook & Eye blog, 13 October 2013

Tamburri, Rosanna.  “The PhD is in need of revision.” University Affairs, 6 Feb. 2013.

Toron, Alison,  “Paging Dr. Noodle: On not “using” my PhD.”  Faculty Orientations blog, 7 October 2013.

Trunk, Penelope.  “Don’t try to dodge the recession with grad school.”  Penelope Trunk Blog, 3 Feb. 2009.

Wirzbicki, Peter.  “Please… no more ‘Don’t Go to Grad School’ Articles:  A Latenight Rant.”  PhD Octopus (blog).  29 May 2012.

Wolf, Eliza.  “A Bleak Market.”  Inside Higher Ed, 13 Aug. 2010.

“Working Classes.”  jsench [blog], 28 July 2011.

This entry was posted in Grad. Students / Grad Programs, Recommended Reading. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s