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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

334

Ask a Humanities Grad Student, Part One: Scotch and Lentils

I'm about to graduate from the University of Arkansas with a degree in English/Creative Writing. And I got my degree in only three years because I took summer classes and loaded up on hours every semester. So I'm about to be a 21-year-old college graduate who still lives with her parents (I grew up in the town where I went to college so naturally lived at home through school so I wouldn't have to work and, duh, could graduate in three years).

I'm kind of freaking out about what I'm going to do next. All anyone tells me when I tell them I'm about to graduate with an English degree is some variation of "Hmmph, good luck working at Starbucks." And I'm aware that the economy is bad and it's hard for anyone to find a job, etc., but is there really no hope for me? I want to move to Nashville, because I hope to go to grad school at Vanderbilt (where my mom went). But I can't do that until I've saved up enough money for the first couple months of rent on a Nashville apartment and a new car (mine's dying all the time and really unreliable).

This all sounds kind of whiny, but I assure you I'm not some spoiled rich kid. My parents (though they each have masters degrees) do not make much money, and I've only gotten to go to the UofA because I get half price tuition because my dad is a staff member. So, because of lack of funds I'm going to have to work for at least a year or two before I can go to Vanderbilt. I definitely don't want to go to the UofA for two more years, but I also don't want to be stuck in this town anymore.

Should I...

1) Go to grad school at the UofA anyway?

2) Take out loans and go to Vanderbilt, or wherever I get into (and potentially end up making only $25K a year like my parents for the rest of my life)?

3) Work and go to grad school in a couple years?

4) Forget about grad school entirely?

I should also mention that I do really like being in school and ultimately, as far as career goals, all I really want to do is write (whether that be for magazines, websites, film/tv, novels, etc.). Any advice?

So wait. Are you saying you want to go to UofA/Vanderbilt for an MFA or an MA? Creative writing or English lit? Because those are two very different things. 

I’m going to go out on a limb and ask you a scary question, because literature-types can’t help but close read: what are your motivations for wanting to go to Vanderbilt? The way you phrased it — ”I hope to go to grad school at Vanderbilt (where my mom went)” — sort of raises a red flag for me. Also, you keep talking about grad school without really putting a lot of focus on what it is you want to study, mentioning it as an afterthought. Granted, the name of this feature does have Grad in it, so that might play more than a little into how you’ve phrased your question, but I think my point holds: why do you want to go to grad school?

If the answer is “because I like school,” then no, don’t take out loans. Liking school is super laudable and understandable, but grad school can become a good way of avoiding the 9-5 working world, which, let’s be honest, is nowhere near as fun or unstructured as school. Do you like school $40,000 worth? Because that’s a conservative estimate of what a year-long MA will end up costing you, if you live on ramen and lentils and walk or bike everywhere. (People really underrate living on lentils, actually. It’s a great way to live well on a grad stipend. Assuming your definition of living well doesn’t include supplementing that lentil diet with very expensive Scotch. Because that’ll make you broke very quickly. I know because it happened to a friend.)

On the other hand, if your answer is “because I want to be a writer,” then no, still don’t take out loans. Guess what Austen, Eliot, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Joyce, and that lady who wrote 50 Shades of Grey who’s making bank right now all had in common. Yup: no MFA. The best way to learn to be a writer (IMHO!) is to read. Then read some more, and keep reading. Read everything you can get your hands on, and then start writing. Imitate what you’ve read, imitate what you’ve seen, write your life, write your memory, just write. Then put it away, read some more, and make sure that when you go back to what you’ve written, you won’t be satisfied. You shouldn’t be satisfied. Start a blog, write daily, pitch incessantly, and then write some more.

So yes, move away from home. Get a job — tutoring, slinging coffee, copywriting, proofreading, whatever, the possibilities for a flexible major like English are endless — get a place, with or without roommates, and write your ass off. Then, if and only if you get into Iowa fully funded, go to grad school.

Oh, and read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, a perfect point of departure for anyone thinking about becoming a writer. A taste: “Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge it to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you to write.”

I was a history major in undergrad and LOVED it! And I was really good at it! (I still don't even know what I was doing that other people weren't, but really I'm considerably better at history than pretty much anything else in my life, especially the general social, leadership, organizational, and mathematical skills that I think are required for lifelong success in other fields.)

But I also worked like crazy on a senior history thesis topic that I realized halfway through the year I hadn't developed that well and didn't have great sources for, and by the time it all ended I felt super burned out, and also my professor for Ottoman Empire I and II told me that "research is a very lonely life," so that bummed me out and I buried my history pursuit dreams.

Now three years and two decent jobs into the real world (non-profits so I am making nothing, but I have nice co-workers and I'm supporting something I believe in), I find myself itching to go back to school and missing history. But now I feel so far removed from academia that I don't know how to go back! So, advice on taking the plunge into applying for a PhD when you've been out of the field for a bit? Try to get a masters first (is that a waste of money)? Don't even bother, the train has left the station, I missed my chance and should just go do something practical like business school?

My answer sort of addresses all three questions.

First, I’m not so sure that a PhD in history is really the best way for you to go. Let’s talk a little bit about what “being good at history” means. (Sidebar: I can’t imagine it’s the only thing you’re good at! There’s a ton of stuff you haven’t even tried yet, sister.) I’m guessing you’re saying that you’re good at research, primary source analysis, and academic writing. That’s great, and those are useful skills! However, what a PhD actually prepares you to do is to teach history to undergraduates while also doing your own research. That is what the degree does and that is what many of the (very few) jobs are hiring for. So the next question you need to ask yourself is, do you like teaching? Are you going to like teaching the early modern Europe survey, because you’re probably going to have to, no matter where you are, probably many times. You will certainly end up doing so in grad school and you could very well do so for the rest of your career, possibly as an adjunct, possibly in a terrible location, and possibly as an adjunct in a terrible location.

(Sidebar: Is that what you even mean by “being good at history”? Because if it’s not, then you probably don’t want to get a PhD.)

And the next question is whether you’re going to be into developing an independent research project. The senior thesis experience is probably not the only determinant of how you’ll do, but a lot of graduate school is trying stuff out, seeing what sticks, and accepting the frustration of a failed project without getting burned out. A lot of your research process will be like the thesis process. If you want to test the waters, I would pursue an MA, if and only if you can find one that provides funding. Most don’t, but some do, and if you can get it paid or, by all means, spend two or three years on another project and figure out whether you can see doing it for the rest of your working life.

I suspect that you would be happier making a career in history in some other way. THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO DO THIS. Beyond Academe discusses this for post-PhD folks, but museum work, editing work, historic site work, archaeological work, archival work, work at various cultural institutions — all are ways to do work as a historian without a PhD (AHH YOU COULD BE A HISTORICAL INTERPRETER). Some might require an MA in history or an MLIS in archival preservation and records management or in historic preservation; others might not. I would start looking for an internship in the field — "public history” is a good term to search — in order to get a sense of how historians make their careers. You could also try an informational interview with a professional in the field. I suspect there are PhD dropouts among those ranks, and they're probably pretty happy with the paths they’ve chosen.

Finally, girl, fuck business school practicality unless you love business. But maybe think about what it is you really love if you’re going to be shelling out for grad school. It honestly doesn’t sound to me like history is it for you. And there’s nothing wrong with that! And hey, the nothing you make now is probably way more than the nothing I make as a history PhD candidate out of college more than twice as long as you’ve been. Feel free to be smug about that, if it helps. Everyone else is.

I am joining your ranks soon. I got admitted to a lovely program that only takes six people a year, and is fully funded. I. Am. So. Excited. Thing is: yay for not going into deep debt to follow my poverty-inducing dreams, but my stipend is still slenderer than my current (already slender) nonprofit work salary. I want very much to be able to focus on the reading and the writing and the teaching which means, at first, I'd love not to have another job. But RENT is presenting a challenge.

I could try for on-campus housing — only good for nine months of the year, filled with college kiddos, claustrophobic — or I could try to find an apartment with strangers nearer or farther from school (it's in a city where you need the dolla dolla bills to live), or overspend myself trying to afford A Room of One's Own. My parents live in the area, and would be willing to house me rent-free, but I'm 25 and have a life's worth of my own stuff. It feels regressive to move back home, give up freedoms, etc. I also worry that it will hamper my ability to DO WORK, being in a childhood environment, having familial expectations, etc, etc. Am I being a big proud whiner for not wanting to live with the 'rents, and have freedom and boyfriends and parties? Should I suck it up and live in undergrad city? I guess I'm asking, do you have an opinion from your experience about whether a) saving the most money (at parents') or b) having the best and most convenient work environment (on campus) or c) having the possibility of a balanced life (an off-campus apartment) is the highest priority in the grand scheme of Grad School life? Thank you!

This is a tough question, but the answer is going to rely on how well you know yourself.

1) If you are a flexible person who has never found it difficult to be happy in the space where you are, if you’ve done well with nearly every roommate, if you don’t care that much about having your books in a row in your own personal space, if you don’t even really think of space in terms of “personal,” if naturally find friends and a social sphere, and if you have a steady, communicative relationship with your parents [READ: ONE THAT IS NOT PASSIVE AGGRESSIVE], then you should absolutely live with your parents. Why not? It’s free! You’ll be able to create a space and social life that works for you.

2) If you like a bit of your own space, but get lonely and want to talk to people every so often in between chapters of massive books, if you love communal meals, if you don’t mind sharing a bathroom, if you take pleasure in after-midnight dance-parties with more than one participant, if you like having an actual yard, if part of you almost kinda misses the dorms from college, and if you don’t have enough furniture to actually outfit an entire apartment, communal living in some iteration is for you. If you don’t know anyone, go on Craigslist. There are tons of wackos, but there are just as many totally normal people who will actually help make grad school sane for you. Don’t try to room with people from your cohort or department — at least not yet. But grad students ISO of other grad students is always a solid idea. People in Art History, Studio Art, Geography, Environmental Studies, Spanish, and Architecture are somehow almost universally awesome, and they will introduce you to their friends, which will widen your dating pool exponentially. Just make sure you have your own room, and that you don’t try to live with another couple [BIG FLASHING BAD IDEA SIGN]. This option will be significantly less than finding a place of your own, and you’ll get to share annoying expenses like Sewer Fees and internet access.

3) If you like hanging out with people several times a week but not all the time, if you’re really into aesthetics and arrangement of space, if you don’t want anyone to break your funky cute dishes you’ve spent the last five years collecting, if sitting at your desk all day and hanging out with your thoughts is deeply satisfying, if sometimes you’re relieved that your Friday night is a giant glass of Sauv Blanc and S02 of Misfits, if the idea of coming home from a long day of seminar and having small talk is deeply unappealing, if space has and will influence whether you actually get your work done or fall into a pit of despair, then you should consider finding a studio apartment a reasonable distance from school. If this is your option, make sure there’s a public transportation to-and-fro, not just because it’ll make your life easier, but because it’ll make it easier to actually stay out drinking after seminar and get home. [I’ve seen far too many grad students exclude themselves from social gatherings simply because there’d be no way for them to get home afterward.] I will also say that it’s hard to go from living on one’s own to living with one’s parents/a group of strangers, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been successfully done.

You need to be honest with yourself: are you over- or under-estimating what you need from a space? How social are you? How can you create an environment that facilitates your ability to concentrate and write? But always remember that you can change your mind after a year. A year in a place is always bearable — and even if you make the “wrong” decision, you’ll learn a tremendous amount about where you can and cannot live and thrive.

As a final point, I am categorically against living-as-a-pauper-while-grad-studenting. If you’re going to school in the States, the extra $200-300 a month it’d cost you to live by yourself (instead of with a group) is worth it, if it means you’ll finish on time and sane. Sure, you’ll have to pay that much back a month when you move on, but I’d rather live a slightly decadent life during grad school and live a slightly less decadent life afterwards. Of course, all of this is contingent on finding gainful employment post-PhD, but I’m generally against living off of ramen for the next six to eight years of your life. Your 20s are awesome, even if you’re in grad school: live them.

Previously: It Begins.

“A Humanities Grad Student” is a collective of Hairpin authors who are currently/ have been recently in humanities grad school. They have many opinions. If you have a question (300 words max, please), email them.

Photo via Flickr/FranciscoDaum



334 Comments / Post A Comment

melis

YOU COULD WORK AT COLONIAL WILLIAMSBURG LETTER WRITER NUMBER TWO

IF THEY'RE HIRING

PROBABLY

Sarah Argodale

@melis True! I went to William & Mary (the college that's right by Colonial Williamsburg, literally right by it! I could see all the Colonial people right from my dorm), and knew a few people who did this and loved it.

The Lady of Shalott

@Sarah Argodale I legitimately have always wanted to be an interpreter, but never lived close enough to a place to do it. Then I met a girl who actually did it, while doing my Master's, and she was such an insufferable snot that it coloured my opinions on the entire thing!

I, uh, still want to do it, though.

Reginal T. Squirge

Isn't this where Timothy Treadwell met that crazy lady that was his girlfriend/now runs his estate (not the other crazy lady that was eaten)?

atipofthehat

@melis

When I lent you my long-handled Warming Pan, Miss Melis, it was because of your many Assurances that I would one day receive it back in the Fine Condition in which it was given; and yet here it is, burnt, grabbled about with scratches, and indelibly marked with a Sticky Residue of Popping-Corns.

melis

@atipofthehat IT WAS THE WITCH SARAH BLACKWOOD WHO POPPED THE CORN; NOT I; BURNT IT FOR HER NUMEROUS AND CALUMNABLE WITCHERIES

Miss Dashwood

@melis Umm, I may or may not have an audition tomorrow morning for a historical interpreter job at an estate in Northern Virginia. As an underemployed actor (and former English major, hey oh!), the idea that someone might pay me money to dress up in pretty clothes and hang around 200+ year old furniture is just. Too. Much.

thebestjasmine

@Miss Dashwood For you and everyone else in this thread -- Past Perfect by Leila Sales is a super fun book about this!

TheHotRock

@Reginal T. Squirge Oh well I got the sense that they worked at Medieval Times or some such place.

Hot Doom

@TheHotRock I see downthread a bit that people are pointing out how aspects of Cultural Resource management and archaeology can be physically taxing and low-paying, and I just wanna put out there that being an interpreter can also be really effing physically demanding. Of course, it depends on your role and the museum and all that mess, but I used to work with interpreters at a museum, and they had to do basically all the daily labour that constituted being An Early American. It was mostly dudes doing the heavy lifting, but the ladies sowed a shit-ton of corn, bent over for hours in gross humidity, got charged at by bulls (one got thrown!) and one I knew had petticoats that caught fire. All on minimum wage/no benefits! I mean, it is awesome and really fun, and there were a few 'lifers' who didn't have MAs (most of the younger interpreters did though), but it was hard for even the directors of departments at the museum to crack $35k per year. just sayin. But dooooo it! It's fun to say that you caught on fire at your job, honest.

nonvolleyball

@thebestjasmine Leila Sales rules!

teebs

This could not have come at a better time for me. Just yesterday I met with a professor for advice on what to do next. I'm a 28 year old undergrad student and I want to go to grad school for my MFA and he's going to help me figure out which schools to apply to and figure out how and where I can get funded because I have no idea what I'm doing here. He actually suggested Arkansas for me.

harebell

@teebs Arkansas is really good for creative writing! See also: University of Virginia, University of Michigan, and U of Iowa. Those are the ones I know about that will fund you. Fingers crossed for you!

teebs

@harebell Thanks so much!

()
()

@teebs The MFA Research Project is a good place to start.

damselfish

@teebs I just graduated from law school and a bunch of my buddy-classmates have MFAs. Make of that what you will.

(Law: where humanities people go to die. /anthropology degree)

harebell

@teebs sure! another great one that I forgot, btw: Emerson College.

blee

As a newly-minted graduate of an MA program (social science, not humanities, but close enough) I'd volunteer to do one of these, but my answer to every question would just be "DON'T GO TO GRAD SCHOOL"

Brett Phillipson@facebook

@blee My thoughts exactly.

Having said that, though, I'm starting another grad program in the fall. Why? I really don't know.

phenylalanine

@blee Hahaha I just finished my first year of a two-year MA program (also social science) and I want to grab random people on the streets and take them by the shoulders and shake them a little as I stare deeply into their eyes and say, "DON'T GO TO GRAD SCHOOL."

Is that weird.

blee

@phenylalanine I have definitely considered walking around campus and doing the same thing to starry-eyed undergrads. And actually kind of did, when some of them would tell me that they were thinking about grad school.

I mean, hopefully I'll be able to get some kind of job where I'm actually using the degree in some way? But I graduated last Thursday and I'm very unemployed right now, so.

bashe

@blee No, it's the truth. DON'T GO TO GRADUATE SCHOOL. DON'T GO TO GRADUATE SCHOOL. I actually hand out an info sheet with this title to students who ask me for grad school recommendations. Of the 1000+ students I've taught in the last 12 years, only ONE was right for graduate school. ONE.

redfox

@bashe I want a copy of your info sheet, that I might crib from it shamelessly.

phenylalanine

@bashe Ohhhh my goodness. Please send us your info sheet. I love that you have an info sheet!

Sea Ermine

@blee Can I please have a copy of your info sheet? My boyfriend is applying for grad schools because he loves learnings and had no idea what grad school is really like and just want to give him your info sheet to think about.

boyofdestiny

I thought the English majors of the world had done enough myth-dispelling that taunts like "good luck working at Starbucks" would no longer carry any sort of weight. Sigh.

melis

@boyofdestiny "Thanks, it enables me to pursue building a stable of freelance contacts while providing me with excellent health insurance. Also, the people there are pretty friendly and the company is a vocal & public supporter of gay marriage. It's not the best coffee or job in the world, but, you know, at least I'm not a viciously unoriginal and small-minded person who does things like lob that tired old taunt over the hedge. You want that chai non-fat, you said?"

PistolPackinMama

@melis Have I told you lately how much I love you? I love you thiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiis much. *holding arms open wide wide wide*

Seriously, people? It's their major and their degree and their life. Keep your job prospect outlook commentaries to yourselves. Yikes.

meetapossum

@boyofdestiny Because obviously the only people of value in the working world studied the hard sciences and math!

melis

Alternately:

pew pew pew

pew pew

stuffisthings

@boyofdestiny Oh so you're saying Starbucks has finally started requiring MFAs?

PistolPackinMama

@melis I am totally wearing deodorant today, yo.

(sniff sniff sniff)

yeah, I am

laurel

@melis Is that "firing while backing away"?

PistolPackinMama

@laurel Hopefully with a @melis trademarked flame thrower (tm). For the logo slut, being toasted by US Army Issue wouldn't be as good.

Megasus

Yes! Real talk! Don't go to grad school just because you like school! That is your fear of change talking. If you don't go for something specific, it will not be worth the debt!

The Lady of Shalott

@Megano! GOOD GOD YES.

Lorelei@twitter

@Megano! YEP. also I have always been the kind of person who "loved school" and always felt like school was kind of the only thing I was good at, but grad school TOTALLY CURED ME OF LOVING SCHOOL.

but by the end I realized

1) grad school involves so much in the way of academic politics and I HATE academic politics. I was insulated from the worst of it by having super-great profs in my one little specialization, but the larger school was sort of dysfunctional and I heard about a lot of shitty shit happening to my friends in other programs.

2) I also do not like teaching undergrad one bit. I enjoy one-on-one tutoring, I do not enjoy classroom-based teaching, particularly when I have all the responsibility and none of the power in terms of curriculum or exercises (and the instructor of record was sort of a lazy POS). Some of that would be mitigated by being a faculty member if I were really going that direction, but point 1 would multiplied manyfold. Plus I'm pretty sure adjuncts are in a similar position in terms of not having real self-determination over their courses. Plus also, shitty pay.

3) academic life is bad for me. the biggest reason I thought I was bad at all non-school things was because I am TERRIBLE at taking care of myself in a reasonable, adult way while in school. I am so much better rested and productive and less-stressed when I have clear, consistent structure, when I go home at the end of the day and I'm just home and am not constantly plagued by guilt over the work I *could* be doing, and I'm not surrounded by a culture of competitive stress & unhealthy habits.

I mean, I went to pre-professional program in a career field I love the heck out of and it was definitely a good choice for me (and I got out of it with 25K of debt for a two-year program, which is half my yearly salary now, so the math works out pretty well for me there), but I don't miss school one bit and I'm not sure I ever will again. There are things I do miss about my undergrad, but the "being in school" part of it is pretty low on the list.

The Lady of Shalott

@Lorelei@twitter POLITICS OH MY GOOOD I FORGOT TO MENTION THE POLITICS.

They suck.

acookieaday

@Megano! Also, PhD programs are a great way to kill your love of school.

Apocalypstick

@Lorelei@twitter Oh man. That is very enlightening. I dream of the distant, far-off, misty days when free time is actually free and not guilty stolen time.

theharpoon

re: the politics, let's make every person applying to PhD programs read one of those cheesy "how to be a PhD student" books

damselfish

@Lorelei@twitter I LOVE SCHOOL.

Politics is the reason I didn't pursue my PhD. I realized it was 10% awesome field work, 20% shmoozing with creepy old dudes who are calculating how best to get in your pants while all you're thinking is "he's a great contact, try not to punch him in the face, great contact, great contact," and 70% politics.

Just put me in the field, you guys.

Bittersweet

@The Lady of Shalott I spent 3 years as a university administrator and it cured me forever of wanting to get a PhD and spend life in academe. The corporate world has its share of giant-ego a-holes, but at least they're fighting over larger stakes and as a peon you get paid a decent salary to mediate.

whateverlolawants

@Lorelei@twitter Word. I am so happy not being in school, even though I like learning and the fun social parts and the ivy-covered walls and all that shiz. I've been out of undergrad for 4 years and have considered a few graduate degrees, but I couldn't see the point. Unless I find a big passion and the funding, it's not worth the debt and the anxiety. I see my grad student sister and friends stressing out constantly. My job is low-paying and service-oriented and not exactly saving the whales, but it's low-stress and I can enjoy lots of free time. When I'm clocked out at work, I am 100% free to do whatever I want or need to do. I have other ideas about what I'd like to do someday, and they generally don't involve grad school. I've also already worked for a political campaign in another state and taught English abroad, which I found quite rewarding.

The advice about not going to grad school just b/c you want to write is intriguing. Because creative writing programs are the one thing I have consistently considered.

PistolPackinMama

Most archaeological work will require some grad credits and really, an MA. You can look at a Cultural Resource Management degree if that strikes your fancy as a historian/archaeology type, and then transition into CRM work. (Hang on... Everpresent Wordsnatcher is one of those types of historians! Isn't she? Aren't you?)

But for archaeology in particular, you need fieldwork experience. In addition to documents, there's the survey/GPS/maps/consultation skills involved.

Upside of doing archaeology stuff... it's not usually very lonely. It's you and a team. So there is that. And CRM jobs exist, because companies that want to build, develop, and sometimes renovate, have to do environmental evaluations, including the cultural significance of a site.

flapadactyl

@PistolPackinMama Before we go advocating CRM as a viable career choice, please let's emphasize how incredibly physically demanding it can be- you only need a BA and field school to perform some of the most highly educated manual labor out there. And how success is not pinned on degrees but your social adroitness and the ability of your company to land contracts. And how, at least at my company, generally the folks who have MAs and PhDs make about $0.50 more than those with BAs (and don't always appear to know that much more than someone with 3 or so years field experience).

In my experience, it is very hard to earn more than $32,000/year in CRM.

I would endorse CRM and/or academic archaeology careers with strong caution, and tell anyone deciding to go that road to SPECIALIZE early, especially in a related science field. THAT SAID, CRM jobs can be wicked fun. In short all you arch hopefuls out there, shovelbum for a while and sound out the field before going to grad school in archaeology.

PistolPackinMama

@flapadactyl Oh yeah. Who wants to be trekking around a hot sweaty cornfield in the humidest humid part of summer, carrying a test shovel and survey gear (answer... not me, that's for sure).

I am not particularly advocating for it or against it. I don't especially love the people-consulting part of CRM, even if I find it interesting. I wouldn't want it to be my main thing.

Just commenting on the option.

I pretty much think most jobs that have the awesome level of CRM work at its best (or museum stuff, or historical society archiving, or whatever) are never going to be the paygrade we would wish they could be. And people I know in this field also adjunct and freelance at other things besides site evaluations.

If anyone here needs a reminder, $32,000.000 isn't totally disreputable for a job doing this sort of thing. Which still means its peanuts, in the long run, but there you have it. The starting salary for an adviser of mine at a research I school was $38,000.

Derbel McDillet

@flapadactyl Ditto. CRM is for the young, able-bodied, and unattached. Living out of hotels, drinking all night, and sieving through soil in the sun all day can be fun for awhile, but it can be hard to make a life. The company I worked for had us 10 days on, four days off, which meant essentially living in a hotel room (sometimes shared) for 20-22 days a month.
Also, there can unscrupulous practices in CRM (you are often times hired by companies who would strongly prefer that you not find anything interesting) so starry-eyed grads should be prepared for a little disillusionment.

EpWs

@PistolPackinMama Yes, I am, here I am, hello! I'm in the historic preservation/architecture part of CRM, which is less slaving away in hot sun and soil all day and more go out, take some pictures of bridges, go back, write write write write write. (The archaeologists have it much worse than I do.) I am not making a lot of money ($32k starting salary, with an MHP) but it's a job that pays me money and uses my degree and that'll work for a few years!

janey

I seriously registered just to comment on this. Archaeology is not for history drop-outs! We are professionals! With PhDs!

too many degrees

@janey If I implied that it isn't a professional field, it was a mistake of editing and I'm sorry. I do think it is sometimes the right field for people who like working with historical evidence, particularly material culture of one sort or another, and does not always require a PhD, but that doesn't mean it requires no graduate work. Hope this clarification helps!

atipofthehat

@janey

With PhDs AND Marshalltown brand solid-cast steel pointing trowels.

muralgirl

@janey So many other secret archaeologists coming out of the woodwork here! I also had a "Huh?" moment at that. Not that I think you need a PhD to do CRM, but you need some sort of background in archaeology.

acookieaday

@janey I think the author was saying that the kid might still be interested in a PhD field, but that he or she should definitely figure out what career they wanted, and thus which PhD program, before committing to such folly as a history degree cause they like school.

flapadactyl

@muralgirl In reality, ANYONE with a brain could do the physical aspect of archaeology- theory gets you only so far in the field. What counts is experience and practice recognizing landforms, structural elements, soils, features and artifacts, most of which comes after doing it for a while. I don't have a degree in archaeology, I arrived at it from a completely unrelated humanities degree. Sometimes, a company just needs bodies.

And what AconyBelle says is very true- many CRM companies take advantage of the backs and naivete of recent grads. This is a good series of articles regarding working in the field: http://archaeology.about.com/cs/fieldlabgear/a/havetrowel1.htm

I've come to realize that <$30,000/year is not worth your back and long-term physical and emotional health. I have early onset arthritis from my VERY physically demanding job, and who knows what chemical hazards I've been exposed to. CRM is short on job security and you're lucky to be working 9 months out of the year, sometimes living out of fleabag hotels for unethical companies, as AconyBelle notes. For many, the burnout rate in CRM is about 3-4 years.

I'm not meaning to sound dire or discourage anyone, and I'd love to hear from academic archaeologists and/or others who've had better experiences in this field (or getting out of it), I just think wide-eyed grads should know about the serious realities of living the vagrant life of a shovelbum archaeologist (in the US).

flapadactyl

@flapadactyl Oof, I had a bad day and I'm ranting. Sorry if my tone has been snippy or if I've misunderstood anyone- I'm ordering myself to take a nap now. Sknnnnnnnnxxxx

PistolPackinMama

@flapadactyl The company ethics things... ugh. Just... ugh. My involvement with this sort of thing has been as the ethnographer in the mix, and there seems like there is just an awful lot of pressure on the digging people to make decisions that follow development timelines and the desires of the state/company/whatever.

I also think, at least where I am, that firms aren't always organized to/ interested in doing meaningful consultation with stakeholders. "We sent a flyer, what do you mean we didn't engage in meaningful consultation." Which, for the staffers is frustrating because they know it's not enough time/engagement, but that is what the plan allows for, there is budget to do, and sometimes capital in stakeholder communities to carry out.

It's the contradicting "we want preservation and development, and we want development more" attitude in development planning that is the worst.

All of which, you have just said above. But yeah. I hear you.

janey

@muralgirl I think that a lot of people watch tv shows about archaeology and think "hey, I could do that" but it's a lot more complex than it seems and requires some background as you ay.

janey

@flapadactyl I think that certain aspects of CRM certainly don't require all the education of an academic archaeology position but as you say most people burn out after a few years. In order to move up, run projects, or your own CRM firm you probably need a PhD and significant experience. Not to mention that CRM is a very small subsection of archaeology globally, and not exactly what lay-people have in mind when they picture archaeology as a career. I'm an academic archaeologist and seriously, no one will even look at you for a job without a significant language skills (I have studied 2 ancient languages and 5 modern ones), teaching experience, publications, and an active field project. Hardly the kind of thing that one just "picks up" over time. I think you make some good points though about being realistic about what the field is like and its demands. I guess I was having a crabby day too and hearing archaeology seemingly tossed out like some kind of fun alternative to studying history pushed my buttons. But it is seriously an interesting and fun job (I think).

BosomBuddy

@flapadactyl I'm an academic archaeologist, and though I've never personally had any experience with CRM, my perspective is that it is both for the young and short-term. In the US, the work is seasonal, depending on where you live, and irregular. My colleagues in the UK and Europe who are professional archaeologists, while they are more active in the field, mostly look for a way up (e.g. into academia) or out. Excavation is physical work, and definitely takes it's toll. I wouldn't necessarily recommend that someone in the US go into archaeology just to do CRM.

atipofthehat

@BosomBuddy

I'll be spending the weekend with archaeologists.

Kristen

I am finishing up my last year of a PhD program and I've lived with roommates the whole way through. I found that it was a wonderful way of keeping perspective and maintaining a foothold in life outside of academia. My grad school friends are awesome, but it's really, really nice to have friends who don't care that much about your stupid dissertation. I found all my roomies through Craigslist and they are all the best.

Also, some grad-school dormitory housing is SERIOUS rip-off.

Oliver St. John Mollusc

@Kristen Roommates are the way to go! I lived with about half and half people from my MFA program and Craigslist people, and they were all lovely. I had my own place in undergrad and didn't ever want to go back to living with people, but it turned out to be awesome to have people around to talk to/drink with/get over hangovers with.

I'm Right on Top of that, Rose

@Kristen Loved my grad school roomies. Some were stoners, some were teachers, some were runners, some were siblings, but none of them took anything too seriously, which was delightful.

Kristen

@Kristen I've been mulling over this thread all afternoon. I have something to get off of my chest, and I am going to take advantage of my up-top-comment to do it, even though it's a wild tangent.

Here is the thing about internet advice. If you ask someone if you should do something on the internet, you are GUARANTEED to get one of the following three responses:

1) You are not qualified to do that.
2) You are doing that for the wrong reasons.
3) You will be miserable if you do that.

When I was a college student and recent graduate, I considered several writing-related career paths. These including reporting, publishing, creative writing, and nonfiction writing/criticism. I received some variation of the above advice about all of these fields, and I listened. I never pursued any of them. Therefore, I am neither a reporter, an editor, a creative writer, or a book critic.

When I decided to apply to a PhD program in English, I received all three of the same pieces of advice. For some reason, this time I didn't listen, and I got in. Numberswise, this was a feat far, far more impressive than landing an entry-level job in my hometown newspaper, a job I didn't even apply for because I was sure I'd never get it.

Was I qualified? Reasonably, but I also got lucky, and luck is a big part of the process. Was I doing it for the right reasons? Kinda sorta. (Not really). Was I unhappy? No. I've been pretty happy, overall, and I'm excited about where the future might take me.

At the same time, I look at all those other careers I might have had, and I'm shocked and saddened by how quickly I gave up on them, and how I let my future be shaped not by what I wanted, but what other people (not even people who knew me well!) said I could accomplish. Why did I take all that vague, discouraging advice so much to heart?

My advice to people considering humanities grad school would be: if you really want to fucking do it, then do it, and don't let anyone else tell you otherwise. Apply to the best programs around (not the best programs you *think* you can get into) and fight tooth and nail until somebody offers you a decent (i.e., funded) deal. Recognize the huge part luck plays in the process: don't take rejections personally, and keep on rolling the dice until luck breaks your way.

BUT. Don't go to grad school unless you're 100% sure it's what you want. You probably can't know that until you've done a few other things first. School is both familiar and intellectually challenging; your first job won't be either of those things, so going back can feel very seductive at first.

If you want to do something that other people say is hard, try it, and let someone else reject you. Never, ever disqualify yourself first.

Passion Fruit

@Kristen I am reading this over and over again in regards to my medical school application. Luck DOES play a large part in it; I hope it's on my side.

I am the type of person (moron? the type of moron?) that interprets every little thing as a direct reflection of me and my efforts, so I take failure as a personal slight. I'm trying really hard to learn how to relax and roll with the punches. ("I am trying really hard to learn how to relax." Do you see what I'm saying? I can't even deal with myself today.) I want to remember that luck and outside circumstance has a lot to do with my life's course, that it's not just about me and my will, which is what I normally believe and what normally paralyzes me with fear and indecision about life's big choices. (I feel like this is the personality type that results from perfectionism and a very American belief in "work hard and win.")

Anyways, I think this is the pickle about taking advice from anyone at any time. No one can knows my situation like I do, and no one can predict my future for me. At a certain point I have to leap into the unknown on my own. Scaaaary.

In sum, today has been rough, and I need to get off the internet and take a walk before I angst myself into a seizure.

With love,
Passion Fruit

bashe

@Kristen THANK YOU. You speak the truth. I just want to tell people again and again and again, do not go to grad school UNLESS: you are going to an ELITE school. Podunk U, which is what U of Arkansas is, will NOT GET YOU A JOB. Never, ever, ever, ever go to your undergraduate school for grad school unless there are extenuating circumstances. These are limited to: dependents, aging parents. That's it. Go to the name schools in the discipline. If you can't get in, with full funding, DO NOT GO TO GRADUATE SCHOOL. Also, be completely obsessed with your discipline. You do not have to be the best at it, but you do have to be obsessed to a pathological degree. It must define you. It must BE you. If it does not, DO NOT GO TO GRADUATE SCHOOL. Because the people for whom it IS a life and self-defining thing will get the jobs. I know, because I am one of these cadaverous hags. Good people are going to graduate school, and they have to be warned.

lesleygee

Don't live with your parents! Obviously I don't know you or your parents, and maybe you have a great relationship with them, but grad school has a tendency to be infantilizing, the longer you stay there, in my experience at least, and I imagine living with your parents would augment that, or vice versa. (it's your life though, so follow your heart!)

EternalFootwoman

@lesleygee I lived with my mom during grad school (and am still living with her as a look for a job, wheehappyfuntimes). My advice is to think long and hard about the pros and cons. You will obviously save money and this is not a trifling thing. It is particularly nice to not have to worry about rent when you're unemployed. But. Think not only about the quality of the relationship you have with your parents, but with the dynamics. I get along very, very well with my mom, but she is an anxious person and I am her only child. So if I'm out late, she doesn't sleep well and worries. She likes me to give her an estimated time of return and starts worrying ten minutes after that time. Things like coming home after drinking or deciding to have an impromptu adult sleepover are tricky. Additionally, you will not be living in your own space. I have my own room and all, but it is my mother's house. I feel obligated out of respect for that to clean on her schedule, keep my music down, etc.

This is not to say don't live with your parents. My mom and I have gotten closer during this time and the savings in rent and utilities has been amazing. But it has also been limiting in many ways that I was not expecting.

Ophelia

If you can swim, at all, don't underestimate how lucrative it can be to lifeguard, particularly at a gym/university pool. It's how I got through the first six months after college. You'll need some cash up front to get certified, but it might be worth it if you're looking for something with flexible hours that lets you write and explore. And it pays better than coffee shops.

redheaded&crazy

@Ophelia oh my god lifeguarding pays the best for the littlest work and did I mention WATER POLO PLAYERS

Lila Fowler

@Ophelia Yes! Also if you don't hate nature, national park jobs(and other resort jobs) are a great way to get on your feet after school. Free housing, super low living costs, a community full of young fun weirdos, and the most beautiful backyard in the whole world.

Other ideas: Teaching English overseas! Substitute teaching! PeaceAmeriCorpsCityYear! BUNAC! Long term WWOOFing! Finding work as a college grad can be super depressing, but there's lots of options out there other than grad school and death (despite what everyone tells you).

meganmaria

@Ophelia Truth. Lifeguarding was the best job I ever had. Except when the elderly man had a massive heart attack and died on deck. THAT sucked. However, that was the only significant event that happened in 8 years doing that. The rest was bloody noses, some barf here and there and the occasional poop in the pool.

Ophelia

@redheaded&crazie TRUTH. Water Polo Players = The Bartenders of the Sporting World

blee

@Ophelia after I read this comment I started to look up lifeguard training in my city, and then I realized that all of the lifeguard jobs would be out in the suburbs and I have no way to get out there :(

Ophelia

@blee Are there any gyms/universities in your city? Particularly over the summer, they might need extra hands, since students go home/away.

bonnbee

I know this isn't completely on topic since I wasn't a humanities grad student, but I did go to to law school for one year! I took the last final of my 1L year today, walked out of the building, and will never look back.

If anyone, especially undergrads, are thinking of going to law school, the short answer based on my very recent experience is "Don't."

I "knew" why I was going (as opposed to the kids who just go because they can't get a job after undergrad or have a degree in English and think law school is the ticket to $$$). I was a social work major in undergrad, and told myself that the best way I could "help" the populations I wanted to work with was through being a lawyer. This was total bullshit. Number one, with the job market the way it is, you're lucky if you get a job, let alone a nonprofit job that will actually be enough to pay your bills. Secondly, after some serious self-reflection I realized that I went to law school to please my Dad since he was unsupportive of my wanting to be a social worker. Live and learn!

Anyway, I made the decision a few months ago to just finish out the year and GTFO. Best decision of my life! Don't take it from me, search "law school" on the NY Times website and read their trove of articles, all of which ring very true, about why law school is a shitty investment. Or read this: http://thoughtcatalog.com/2012/before-you-head-off-to-law-school/

I write this comment because I have a lot of friends/acquaintances in their early to mid 20s who are like, "I'll go to law school because I can "help" people/because I don't know what to do with my history degree/because I'll make a lot of money/because I'm good at arguing" and having gone through it, it's really not a ticket to a six-figure career and it's not always a very good financial decision in this economy! $100,000 worth of debt for a degree you can't get a job with, especially on top of undergrad debt, is a lifetime of scariness.

Alixana

@bonnbee I think at some point we could have a whole thread of reasons not to go to law school - and I LIKE being a lawyer!

PS - Good job pulling the plug. I know lots of people who should have done exactly what you're doing, and stuck it out, and now have 2 more years' of debt and opportunity costs and STILL don't know why they went to law school.

charmcity

@bonnbee I am a public interest lawyer, and I still totally agree with your entire comment. Do not go to law school, people. And kudos to you for knowing when to get the hell out!

bonnbee

@Alixana Oh boy, we could have like a 100 person Hairpin panel of "DON'T GO TO LAW SCHOOL HERE IS WHY."

Major shoutout to Hairpin commenter Waity Katie (where you at, girl?) who, back in some comment thread in October or something where I mentioned how much I hated law school said something like, "A girl I went to law school with took her last finals and just didn't come back." And I thought, "Wait, I can do that??" And many months later I was like, "Maybe I should do that." And then I did it! Freedom!

automaticdoor

@bonnbee LIKE LIKE LIKE LIKE LIKE. Like. LIKE. I will be walking down the stage to accept my $100k fancy-schmancy law diploma on Sunday and every time I think about it I want to start crying and never stop. You have the courage to do what I didn't do. LISTEN TO BONNBEE. I am unemployed and I feel so hopeless all the time. All. The. Time. And my career services people don't give a rat's ass about me. I went to law school for the same reasons but straight out of undergrad and god I wish I hadn't. I don't know anyone who's graduating who's happy with their decision to go, even the people who are employed, even my (VERY) few friends with fancy jobs awaiting them. What I'm saying is, DON'T GO, DON'T GO, DON'T GO, DON'T GO.

Alixana

@automaticdoor All the hugs for you, sweetie. Where are you located / where will you be taking the bar? I can offer some networking help in Chicago ...

automaticdoor

@Alixana Thank you for all the hugs and the offer! I'm in DC, unfortunately. I want to do nonprofit work / that's where all my background is. Unfortunately, that's what EVERYONE ELSE wants to do too, and so they can afford to be picky. I'm taking the DC bar because almost every job I'm applying to is either with the government or wants someone with DC bar cert. (Around here, that's sacrilege, you either take the VA or MD bar and waive in quickly, but I have "other reasons" too *cough* probing mental health questions that I didn't want to answer! *cough*)

Alixana

@automaticdoor I have a few contacts on the Hill and in the repro rights community there, if that's your kind of thing. I am currently a non-profit lawyer, and I know well how tough that job search is!

bonnbee

@automaticdoor I came straight from undergrad too, so when I was graduating undergrad last spring I read all the articles about how law schools rip off students, how there's no jobs, etc. But I stupidly thought I was different.

"I'm smart! I got a great scholarship and a great fellowship! I want to do good for the chillldddreeeennn! I can definitely keep my scholarship! Sure, 1L year will suck, but once I start doing the public interest stuff it'll be fine!" Wrong on all counts, self! Law schools give fucktons of scholarships, knowing full well that most people will lose them after 1L. So they hook you in with a nice scholly and then know that you'll probably end up paying full tuition anyway for 2L and 3L. A lot of my law school friends are still deluded and think that they'll be the ones out of every law school grad in the country to find the good jobs.

Best of luck to you! Keep your head up, I know how hard it is out there. It sucks that your career services office are jerks, it's in their best interest to help you find a job!

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@bonnbee
Are we voting? I also vote that you should not go to law school, reader.

@automaticdoor
Oh my, my heart goes out to you. Best of luck!

christonacracker

@bonnbee wellllll I wouldn't say the legal market is that dire. But there is an important point here, which is that you have to consider the elitist nature/snobbery of the field you're planning on pursuing. Law -- and plenty of other fields -- really judge your abilities based on the name of the school you attended. The less prestigious your institution, the harder it will be to get your foot in the door after graduation.

Alixana

@christonacracker Yeah, I have a hard time getting this out without sounding insufferable, but my position is usually: Don't Go to Law School UNLESS (a) to a top 20 school and (b) with either enough savings, or enough income from a partner, to allow you to take out loans ONLY for tuition. Which were my two true, true blessings, and I did not value either of them NEARLY highly enough at the outset.

automaticdoor

@Alixana I am interested in both of those things! If you want to take this off thread, I'm doorautomatica at gmail.

Also, *yes* to both your points re: snobbery and loans. I was lucky enough to get a great scholarship to a T14. That's the only reason I went. (I did see the writing on the wall. I just thought we'd be out of it by now, or at least that I wouldn't collapse as spectacularly as I did.)

@bonnbee I'm so, so lucky that my scholarship was only contingent on, like, not failing out. (Not that I didn't come damned close sometimes probably! I think my profs must have taken pity on me and our curve was made more lenient my 1L year to match other schools more closely.) If my scholarship was contingent on anything other than not failing out I would have dropped out after 1L. ...Man, now I wish it had been.

Anyway! I have one BFF from high school who's starting here as a 1L in the fall, and she's SO EXCITED, and I gently tried to get her not to go because I think it's going to break her because she's got such a nervous personality as it is, but it didn't work. I don't even know, you guys. I guess she's going to have to learn the hard way. :( :(

@josiahg Thank you!! I appreciate all well wishes.

charmcity

@automaticdoor You have an excellent bullshit detector, because that "take the bar in [x] state and just waive in" is dumb. And it costs $1000 and takes 9 months AFTER you are licensed in State 1 to waive into DC. Public interest jobs here are thin on the ground, but the situation is still better than probably anywhere else in the country. I'm happy to keep my eyes and ears open for opportunities if you have a particular area of interest.

automaticdoor

@charmcity Oh thank god. Everyone has been side-eyeing me, but I also didn't have the $$$ to take the bar elsewhere and waive in. DC is a cheap bar. I'm interested in health law (disability law in particular as a sub-field, but I also have ACA/Medicare experience), education, LGBTQ and repro rights. Thank you! ♥

bonnbee

@automaticdoor One of my best friends from college has her heart set on law school. She took a year off between undergrad and 1L and is starting in the fall and keeps asking me about my experience. I don't want to be a jerk and say, "DON'T GOOOOO YOU CRAZY DIAMOND" because she, like your friend, is a pretty nervous person. I gently tried to tell her, "Maybe there are other ways to pursue the career path in which you're interested," but she's adamant that law school is the ONLY way to, in her words, make her life plan work. I've just accepted that it's not up to me to talk her out of it and that she'll have to learn the hard way, and hey it might work out for her and that would be wonderful!

stuffisthings

You know, I have a huge amount of sympathy for the poor prospects of law school students, but whenever I see threads like this I somehow feel the level of outrage and despair is somehow disproportionate, both compared to recent graduates in other fields (like mine), and the population in general. Is it because I never EXPECTED to make big bucks that I'm not disappointed that it turns out I can't?

Also, how does "there are no law jobs" translate into "I am completely and utterly unemployable, forever"? Surely you have to be at least sort of smart and capable and hardworking to get into and graduate from law school? And you have an undergraduate degree in something? I've had all kinds of interesting and varied and even decent-paying jobs that have nothing to do with my degree.

Finally, before you let something utterly consume your psyche, "Income Based Repayment" -- Google it.

So I guess how I read these complaints is "Oh no! I may have to work in a different, lower-paying, lower-status field than I thought, and also will have to spend up to 10% of my income over the next 12 years paying back my loans, and also will have the option of possibly resuming a high-paying and/or high-status career should the economy improve." Which doesn't strike me as THAT bad, on the scale of human tragedies induced by the current recession.

(I did my best not to sound like an asshole here and probably failed, so please correct me on any points I'm wrong about.)

Alixana

@stuffisthings Without writing a novel, I think 2 big points are that people signed up for HUGE amounts of loans (because law school tuitions are pegged to big law salaries) with the "promise" - implicit or explicit - of commensurate earning power, which turned out to be a big lie. And also, IBR is lovely for your federal loans, but I don't know a single person who was supporting themselves on loans at my law school who escaped with ONLY federal loans. And, in fact, I know lots of people who owe hundreds and hundreds a month in private loan repayment, in addition to whatever they've worked out with the feds. So, much more than 10% of their income.

Tuna Surprise

@stuffisthings

A few points -
Also, how does "there are no law jobs" translate into "I am completely and utterly unemployable, forever"?

1. Once you have a law degree, people become very suspicious of you applying to jobs that they think "are below you". My understanding is that many unemployed lawyers would be willing to take any job but struggle with being seen as overqualified.
Finally, before you let something utterly consume your psyche, "Income Based Repayment" -- Google it.
2. My understanding (which could be 100% wrong) is that the repayment program is only for your federal loans. At my law school, current tuition plus room and board is $68k per year. If you had to take out full loans, you would be looking at $204k at graduation, only about $60k of which is federal.

stuffisthings

@Alixana I would quibble on the first point: no school's tuition is "pegged" to the salary of jobs in the field it prepares you for -- otherwise English degrees would be free, har har. (Though faculty costs for law and medicine are higher because the cost of hiring someone qualified away from the private sector is higher -- but that's not a huge component of higher education costs.)

On the second point, as someone now facing down a defaulted private loan larger than my annual salary (one which I signed on to at age 17) I sympathize.

However you haven't really challenged my caricature of the Law Grad's Lament: "I was promised big bucks and status and now I probably won't get them!" If I can possibly detach all pejorative meaning from the word, that comes across as a very entitled reason to feel so terribly upset and betrayed.

At the very least, a law degree should come in useful for shielding your meager assets while using your smarts to pursue a career in a different field. A student loan is unsecured and I don't believe that private lenders can garnish your wages, so...

stuffisthings

@Tuna Surprise Has anyone ever been fired for leaving a degree off their resume?

Rock and Roll Ken Doll

@stuffisthings
Private lenders can garnish your wages. They would have to get a judgment against you first, but how would you avoid a judgment if you truly haven't paid the loan?

But how about those Kurds? Anyone checked in on them recently?

Alixana

@stuffisthings Pegged isn't quite the right word choice - maybe "justified by"? Certainly the prospective law student looks at a $40,000 annual price tag as more reasonable where the expected post-grad salary is falsely stated to be $180,000. And I think that the harsh discovery of the falseness of that expectation, which we know law schools ACTIVELY encouraged, is an excellent reason to feel upset.

Ophelia

@Alixana Yeah, and even when you DO get the job, it's still not easy. My husband finished law school in 2010, and actually DID get a job at a big law firm. We're paying off the private loans as aggressively as possible (since the federal ones are more flexible), but suffice it to say that it's a good thing we both work, because we wind up paying as much in loans each month as we do in rent (in NYC). It also means we pay a LOT in taxes (which I don't mind in principle) for money that we never actually "spend." Again, we signed up for it, and it's do-able, but it wouldn't be doable if he was making $50k/year.

bonnbee

AHHHH JUST WROTE A NOVEL AND IT WAS DELETED.

Gwdihw

@bonnbee
I too am a proud law school dropout! Even knowing that I would be walking into a job and knowing that I could make a decent living was not enough.

Only go to law school if you *truly* love the law! Wanting to be a good person is not enough;

Alixana

@bonnbee I got it in my email notifications! Do you need a copy?

bonnbee

@Alixana Thank you! But no, forget about it. I don't have the energy to argue about how it actually is that bad to graduate with over $100K in debt, overqualified for most jobs but unable to get those for which you are qualified.

Alixana

@bonnbee Well, I quite enjoyed your novel, anyway :). All the hugs for you too.

Tuna Surprise

@bonnbee
That's weird because I just read your whole comment. Where did it go??? (Your points were spot-on).

I know there are some disgruntled law students that whine about not being able to get jobs that start at $160k, but I think for the most part, students have a right to be upset. Law school is unreasonably expensive (especially because all you need is a few professors and a lecture hall); it doesn't teach practical skills; and they lie to (or at least mislead) students about job prospects.

For my personal story, I graduated eight years ago with about $100k in debt. I took on a big firm job and just paid off my loans last week (woot!!) When all is said and done, I would rather be making less money and working in a job I liked. Nothing is wrong with my job, I just don't love it. Sure the pay is good, but the hours are brutal and the job itself is often demoralizing. Knowing what I know now, I never would've gone to law school. Kudos to you for getting out while you had the chance.

beanie

@bonnbee so I guess this isn't the thread to mention that I'm starting law school in August? I'm working on loan stuff right now, and it's scaring the shit out of me. I've read all these horrible stories, but am very grateful to have a supportive partner with me so hopefully that helps. But yes, please yell at me in the comments.

Ophelia

@beanie My biggest advice (as the supportive partner to a former law student) is: live off your salary alone. Take out loans for tuition only, and as much as possible, pretend that taking out any more is just not an option. Once you've graduated, and are employed, have your loan payments automatically deduct each month before everything else, and mentally assume that your salary is what's left over, not what you started with, when deciding how much of your income to spend on housing, etc.

Sorry, that sounded super-grim, and it isn't necessarily!

beanie

@Ophelia Oh, I don't mind super grim advice because I know it's realistic. It took me forever to find a job right out of college (09 graduate, what a terrible year), and I feel semi-nuts that I am opting to leave a paycheck to go into huge amounts of debt. Especially bad since I am dragging my fiance into this as well.

thebestjasmine

@stuffisthings I mean sure, you can leave the law degree off your resume, but a) people will wonder what the hell you've been doing with your life for three years, b) there's this thing called the internet, where people will be able to look you up and see that you went to law school and then didn't put it on your resume. So no, you wouldn't get fired for leaving it off your resume, since you wouldn't get hired in the first place if you did.

automaticdoor

@thebestjasmine THANK YOU. I just... I can't. I'm sorry. I went out and got tipsy and came back to this thread and you and Tuna Surprise and Alixana wrote what I was going to say only with more coherence. This has just not been a good week. Just... yes, I know what options there are to pay back my loans! I'm super thrilled that I might be in debt for 25 years because who knows if I'll get an elusive public service job to excuse them in 10! ("Google it" does kind of make you [stuffisthings] sound like a jerk.) I never went in expecting a 160k job! I never said other people can't whine! I just feel really upset because this is a professional degree and I have been busting my ass alone because the people who have been hired by my university to supposedly help me get jobs are doing nothing of the sort, as far as I can tell. No one wants to hire me because I'm overqualified. No, I can't leave this off my resume, because I've worked, but it's pretty obvious that they're legal internships, so gee, what was she doing for the last three years? I've had interviews. No one wants me for a not-law job and law jobs are scarce on the ground and I am scared. But you can be scared too if you're in the non-employment boat, stuffisthings! We can all be scared! This is not a fight nor is it a zero-sum game.

Tuna Surprise

@automaticdoor
Best of luck on your job search/bar exam! You will be fine taking the DC bar only. You can always add more bars later if you need to.

My only bit of advice to you (in case you don't already know this) is to stay as focused as you can on your area of interest. Read the relevant articles, join the facebook groups, go to the rallies for the causes. I'm constantly surprised when law students tell me "I want to work in your practice area because I'm interested in it" and then they don't even know what the current hot topic is. If you have to take a paying job in a field you don't love, keep your pro bono focused on the area of your passion. It will eventually pay off.

stuffisthings

@everyone Sorry for my assholeishness above, I just find that there is something really irks me about these kinds of complaints -- but it is hard to articulate, because I do feel genuine sympathy for law grads in these situations. I guess the feeling is somewhere between "Hey, don't worry, you'll be all right" and "Wow, ok, it's not THAT bad."

thebestjasmine

@stuffisthings $200,000 of debt is pretty fucking bad, especially if you don't think you're going to be able to even start paying that back in the near future. I am not in that position, but a lot of people graduating from law school (public law schools, mind you) are, and it sucks.

stuffisthings

@thebestjasmine On the bright side, there is a pretty easy policy fix for this issue, which thousands of white people with upper middle class backgrounds, large reserves of social capital, and law degress are now incensed about. From crisis, opportunity!

(ETA: The policy fix is making student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy, in case that wasn't clear.)

lovelettersinhell

@Alixana I'm a criminal defense attorney in the southwest, but reproductive rights is totally my dream and I wish I could practice in that field so so much.

Dorothea

@everybody law school is hard and the legal market is shrinking. But going to law school was absolutely a great decision for me. I do not agree with the blanket "don't go!" statements at all. Here is all I would say:
1) law is a stupidly hierarchical field. Getting a good LSAT score or grades doesn't mean you're smart or will be a good lawyer, getting bad grades/LSAT score doesn't mean you'll be a bad lawyer.
2) but if you're thinking about law school, study as hard as you can for the LSAT. Retake it if you're not satisfied with your score. There absolutely are merit scholarships floating around even at top schools. If you can get in to a top 5 school, you can get a big scholarship at a top 10 school.
3) the rank of your school matters so so much for getting a job. Even people at Harvard end up unemployed, but 90+% get jobs. It gets worse as you go down the scale, at a pretty shocking rate. At my top 10 school, 20-30% graduated without jobs last year. I would advise people to think carefully before going to a school below top 5, and advise reluctance below top 15. Do not go to a lower ranked school if you require financial security.
4) law school is very competitive--your class rank matters a lot. You have to work really hard just to be in the running for good grades, and that's still no guarantee. Luck and random test taking aptitude make a big difference.
5) if you can handle points 1-4 and accept the risks involved--and you actually want to be a lawyer-- go for it! Law school was in some ways the hardest thing I've done in my life, and there are a lot of aspects of legal culture that at stupid (see point 1), but it can still be a great opportunity for some idealistic English majors.

thebestjasmine

@blahstudent I agree with all of your points except for 4. I mean, yes, law school is very competitive and class rank can matter a lot -- but if you pay attention to your third point and go to a top law school, then not really. Some of the top 5 schools don't even have class rank, and are much much less competitive than lower tier schools.

Also don't agree on the blanket don't go statements, but I will absolutely say that you should not go straight to law school from undergrad absolutely, and you should only go to law school if you absolutely know that you want to be a lawyer (take those years in between college and law school to be a legal assistant or paralegal to see what you're getting yourself in for).

damselfish

@stuffisthings Well, I graduated from law school with no debt and even from my uber-privileged perch I have to say: it's bad. It's not just people being jilted about taking out huge debt for salaries that're lower than they thought. It's the lack of jobs, the obscene hours if you do get a job (because there's always someone else willing to put in the time), and the fact that you're not qualified for anything else. I loved law school, I like the work I've done. I don't need to make a lot of money to be happy. The problem is, they lie about what you can do with a law degree. Law degrees aren't that good for business because MBAs are thick on the ground. Why get a JD with no business experience (even if they have experience, actually!) when you can get a MBA? And there's no interesting tidbits like there are with humanities. I've bent more ears to my cause because I have an anthropological background, but it was the law degree that put me in the position to be heard in the first place.

I've been told by lawyers that I should go back for my MBA because I could easily work in healthcare (say, counsel to a hospital)-- that's where all my family connections are, and most of my work experience is in a hospital. Seriously. Get a MBA. To be a LAWYER! The whole system is like some kind of sisyphean comedy.

Dorothea

@thebestjasmine As to point four, you're right that it matters a lot less at top top schools, i think rank still matters at almost all schools, except Yale. Harvard has pass/fail, but there's "high pass" and a 500+ students. People calculate their GPA and stuff, just without As and Bs and Cs.. Maybe rank at Harvard only matters for things like clerkships, but it still keeps doors open. /end quibble

I went straight through and everything worked out, but I agree with bestjasmine that it's not a good idea. At the very least, employers increasingly prefer people with work experience, no matter what it is. Plus, working a hard job for the rest of your life starting at 25.

Bittersweet

@blahstudent et al: This thread just makes me glad that my dad (lawyer and lobbyist) started telling me "Bittersweet, don't go to law school" in about, oh, preschool. And glad that I listened. Good luck, all!

thebestjasmine

@blahstudent So, while you're right that no matter the school, grades matter, my point is that class rank does not exist at many of the top schools. Harvard, Yale, and Stanford law schools don't have it. Yale and Stanford don't have GPAs anymore, even. The grades that you get matter, but rank is not calculated or known.

dtowngirl

I was super-motivated to get my MA in English because I thought I wanted to get a Ph.D. To LW #1, I would say this: don't go to school unless you really want to be in academia. I really enjoyed getting my MA, but ultimately decided I wouldn't continue for the Ph.D. I would say that if you want to be a writer, you don't need to go to grad school. Find a job that lets you write, or write while working at a Starbucks-type job, or get an internship that helps you beef up your resume so you can get a writing job (I really, really recommend this if you don't have work experience). Go to school only if you really want to go to school. And, school will always be there! You can go later if you decide that's what you want to do. And, there's hope for English grads!

SarahP

@dtowngirl You and I are grad school twins! I am so glad I got an MA, because it's the only thing that could make me realize how much I didn't want a PhD after all.

dtowngirl

@SarahP
Twins! Yep, me too. And I can still read all the Virginia Woolf I want, though I pretty much have to talk to myself about it. But since I find myself endlessly charming and witty, it's really no problem.

SarahP

@dtowngirl This is one of the reasons I got myself a husband. He is very polite and lets me ramble all about books he hasn't read (and won't ever read) and how they connect to other books he hasn't read (and won't ever read) so I don't end up looking all crazy and talking to the cats.

OneTooManySpoons

@dtowngirl I feel like I should add to your statement of "Don't go to school unless you really want to be in academia" by throwing in some valuable points previously told to me as I was starting down the grad school application road:

1. Being "in academia" is not the dreamy scenario you're probably picturing. It's just as political and bullshitty as anything else, you just happen to be teaching and researching. (As one of my friends put it, "It's been pretty dream-shattering; mostly a lot of academic dick-measuring contests.")

2. If you are AT ALL particular about where you want to work--or if you have a partner who might want/need to be in a certain location--that will be incredibly difficult, maybe next to impossible. There are so few positions that you should prepare yourself for the likelihood of being at the University of Southwestern Saskatchewan or something. (I do not know if that's a real school, I just made it up, but the point still stands.) The chances of just picking a place are slim to none.

Finally--and this is directly from me!--if you're someone who "really likes school," (as I am), I STRONGLY recommend not going straight into grad school. Anyone I know who did that just because they liked being a student ended up miserable, and usually dropping out. I waited several years and have a much clearer idea of what I want, and what kind of degree I need for it. It's still scary and a risk, but I feel like my chances of success are much higher than they would have been had I just blindly gone to school at age 22.

the angry little raincloud

@OneTooManySpoons I am no longer in academia because of #2. I did not want to live out the rest of my life in that place, and I wasn't going to get a job, as a professor, anyplace better.

Maryaed

@OneTooManySpoons "Being in academia is not the dreamy scenario you're probably picturing. It's just as political and bullshitty as anything else"

Only with way less pay! Score.

anachronistique

@OneTooManySpoons I will say this, on the administrative side I find academia WAY less soul-killing than my corporate job.

OneTooManySpoons

@anachronistique True, so true! I can definitely attest to the soul-killing-ness of many corporate jobs. I haven't (yet) worked full-time in academia, so I can only HOPE it's better in that regard, and expect that it probably is.

SarahP

WHOA WHOA WHOA. Studio Art majors, while awesome, are at their most awesome when you don't live with them. Be careful.

(<3 u, all three former roommates who were art majors.)

Oliver St. John Mollusc

@SarahP Haaahaha totes. I lived with a graphic novelist who was utterly brilliant and sweet but so not-of-this-world that I just accepted the art supplies strewn all over the living room as a matter of course. Aaah memories.

highjump

@SarahP Even though they had their own university-provided studios there were projects and glue and wax mice EVERYWHERE! All of your kitchen things will either be art projects, be turned into art projects, or be ruined by art projects. (Love you all art major roommates, miss you terribly)

Cat named Virtute

@SarahP Yeah, my roommate is an ex-studio arts major who sounds a ot like @quickdrawkiddo's.

Equestrienne

Regarding the final paragraph: oh my.

The Lady of Shalott

OH FUCKNUTS I JUST ACCIDENTALLY DELETED MY COMMENT. Hang on for my advice to LW2.

SarahP

@The Lady of Shalott How frustrating! But reading "OH FUCKNUTS" all in caps like that just made my afternoon.

The Lady of Shalott

LW#2: Honey. I just finished my MA in history and let's real talk. Listen. You will not get into a Ph.D program in history without an MA, first, unless you have A DAMNED GOOD CV that includes publications, teaching experience, and a damn good set of references. Really. Secondly, why do you want to get your PhD? It doesn't sound like you have a desperate love of one area of study, which you MUST HAVE, because you are going to eat, sleep, and breathe that area for the next few years. You have to love it. You HAVE to love it. If you don't love it, don't bother. Seriously.

Secondly, funding: If you don't get your Ph.D funded, don't bother. I know this sounds harsh, but...if the university wants you, they'll pay for you to be there. Don't go into debt for your Ph.D, because it's not worth it--you're going to be poor for a long time, so don't send yourself into debt while you're at it.

Thirdly: You're going to have to teach. So if you don't like teaching...don't. Because there are people like us who LOVE teaching and desperately want to do it, and can't get into PhD programs anyway.

So, I know this sounds rough, but it doesn't sound like you should be gonig to grad school for a PhD in history. First of all, you will need to find an area that you LOVE. You will need to get a Master's, with 99% certainty. (Which is difficult enough in and of itself!) Then you will need to compete for the vanishingly few spots left for PhDs, which I can tell you ALL ABOUT. So...it doesn't sound good. I'm sorry.

bocadelperro

@The Lady of Shalott I'm a history postdoc, and I second everything you said.

lesleygee

@The Lady of Shalott re: Master's degrees: A) I don't think it's necessarily true that you need one? In my experience, at least. I'm an English PhD, and some people in my program had Master's degrees, and others didnt, and it made no apparent difference. No one I know WITHOUT a Master's had any publications before entering the program.

B) My sister is now in a History PhD program, and entered it with no Master's and no publications.

You may of course need a strong CV in other ways, but I'm skeptical about needing publications in particular if you don't have a Master's degree. My understanding is that most 5+ year humanities PhD programs will also award a non-terminal master's degree along the way. A Master's obviously cannot hurt at all, but I would also be surprised to learn that people without them are significantly disadvantaged.

I 100% agree with you about funding though! Nobody get an unfunded PhD!

The Lady of Shalott

@lesleygee Okay, my only experience is in Canadian schools, which may make a difference. At every school with a PhD program in Canada, you must have an MA first, and publications are essentially a requirement. I can't speak to American schools, but I'd be willing to say that this is mostly universal here in the frozen North: applying to a PhD without an MA first is going to be extremely difficult. I know there are some programs in the States that offer MA-into-PhD programs and other things of that ilk, but I can't comment to them.

stuffisthings

@The Lady of Shalott This is accurate advice for anyone considering any kind of post-graduate education really. Do you really, really love not just your subject area, like "History," but some very specific sub-facet of that field? Like what if I said you could only read books about, say, the Byzantine Empire under the Komnenos dynasty for the next five years? BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT YOU WILL BE DOING silly.

bb
bb

@The Lady of Shalott Most American PhD programs are a kind of MA/PhD combination - where you do coursework and exams as part of a PhD track, and many people enter this entire package right out of undergrad. A separate MA can be useful but is not necessary (and in some cases is a waste of time/money .. it seems the best ones have an emphasis like public history or museum studies). If one applies for a PhD program, takes courses, and realizes the PhD is not for them, they can drop after a certain point and still receive an MA (IMO this is a great way to get a funded MA, assuming you can get accepted).

MilesofMountains

@The Lady of Shalott There are MA-into-PhD programs up here, too. I know two people who enrolled in one (they both dropped into regular MA programs when they realized there was no real reason to get a PhD)

muralgirl

@The Lady of Shalott I'm a Canadian in a US PhD program. There are actually more people in my program who came without masterses (how to pluralize that is eluding me at the moment) than with them. I had one, but then I basically ended up doing the equivalent of another MA in the course of this program. The Canadian system is quite different. I don't actually know of anyone in my field in Canada who went straight to a PhD from undergrad.

TheHotRock

@The Lady of Shalott I'm an American in a Canadian MA-into-PhD program. They exist, and I'd say they are a way better bet than stand-alone MA programs. Because the PhD is attached, you get funding for both degrees (at least in my program) and if you do the MA and decide it's not for you, you can bow out gracefully before the PhD starts (with the MA in hand).

bessmarvin

If it's free (and only if it's free), why not go to grad school? There are no jobs and graduate school isn't going to hurt your resume. Even if you're just going if you "love school," what's wrong with a debt-free delay to real life?

The Lady of Shalott

@bessmarvin Grad school isn't for everyone. It is not like undergrad. AT ALL. It is real work, and there is A LOT of it involved. If you just "like school" in that you liked undergrad, you're probably not going to like grad school. It's an entirely different universe of work.

too many degrees

@bessmarvin Because in many ways it's not "debt-free." A) What programs consider "full funding" does not always mean "matches the cost of living for the area." You may need loans anyway. B) You spend years--between 2 and 10!--not actually developing the skills you'll need for a career that actually advances, without getting raises, and generally losing major earning potential that you will never catch up. C) If you have undergrad debt, you will go 2-10 years without being able to pay your undergrad loans, if you have them, while also accumulating interest debt. D) "Loving school" as an undergraduate doesn't actually tell you anything about what it will be like to be focused on a very limited subspecialty.

Scandyhoovian

@too many degrees this, exactly. My "fully funded" research assistantship for graduate school simply meant that I didn't pay tuition. The stipend it came with covered less than one month's rent, so I still had to find income otherwise, and ended up working nearly full-time in data entry to make ends meet. Higher education funding cuts tend to hit GRA/TA position funding first, so "fully funded" will mean "we cover your education costs but your cost of living is all on you" more often than not.

stuffisthings

Two words for y'all: Opportunity. Cost. If you're physically capable of finding and working a minimum-wage job, then the true "cost" of your two-year degree STARTS at about $34,000. And that's not counting the possibilities for advancement. Just met a guy who used to work at the nonprofit where I recently found a job (at age 27, with a master's degree, earning about the same as the manager of a fast food restaurant). He manages a Caribou Coffee now and is super happy.

bessmarvin

@too many degrees Okay, that seems like really good advice! It is just seriously so rough out there right now that it seems like doing a fully-funded Masters program (while working part-time to gain experience and make money) seems like a really good bet, and I wouldn't want to discourage someone from doing that.

muralgirl

@bessmarvin Also because it is exhausting and soul-crushing, so you'd better get something more out of it than just a way to put off a job search for a while! Serious, almost all the other doctoral students I know suffer from some degree of depression, anxiety, and/or general self-loathing. It might have been that we were prone to these things before we started grad school, but this environment exacerbates them and makes them harder to cope with. It's like an extended adolescence - remember how terrible that was? I'm doing this because I REALLY KNOW that it's what I want to do. I love the material and writing. But it's not exactly a fun little vacation away from the real world.

BosomBuddy

@Scandyhoovian Graduate school, in my experience, does incur some debt, no matter what. That may depend, however, on your specific program. Even with decent-ish funding, most scholarships, fellowships and assistantships do not pay you during the summer months. You are expected to either work elsewhere, save your already meager stipend to spend during the summer, or get another assistantship, if available, during that time.

And, if you're really serious about what you're doing, and you give papers at conferences, you must often pay for them fully or partly on your own. Again, depends on the institution, competition and luck. I also work in a field that requires overseas travel every year, and it's only after 5 years in the business that I can get it paid for, but it requires yearly applications to grants, luck, and so on.

nonvolleyball

@BosomBuddy it's also arguably true that "being in your 20s" often entails the incurring of debt (see: The Billfold).

charmcity

@bonnbee I am a public interest lawyer, and I still totally agree with your entire comment. Do not go to law school, people. And kudos to you for knowing when to get the hell out!

Scandyhoovian

It is my firm belief that the most valuable nugget of information in this entire column is this one: "If you want to test the waters, I would pursue an MA, if and only if you can find one that provides funding."

I wasn't testing the waters when I went in for my MA--I started it with the full intent to go on through, get my PhD, and be a professor once I was done. By the time I finished my MA I knew that I 1) didn't actually want to teach and 2) didn't want to continue on to get a PhD. Graduate school is HARD WORK, it is grueling, and it WILL let you know if you're on the right track and if you actually want it as much as you think you do. It's easy to build it up in your head and say, "Yes, that's what I want," but until you get in and do the work you're not actually going to really KNOW.

In my personal experience the MA was rewarding and I'm glad I did it. I do not regret it, not even a little bit. But it also burnt me out, and taught me real fast that teaching others is not my calling.

I also recommend taking a few years off between undergrad and grad to really let your "what I want to do" plans fester in your head (which helps in knowing that going to grad school is Really What You Want To Do) and to get some real-world working experience, which is SUPER valuable on a grad school application: it shows that you can get by outside of academia and is, according to my graduate advisor, something they actually highly value in applicants these days.

harebell

@Scandyhoovian Oh, no. We are probably in different fields, hence the different advice. However: in most humanities fields, certainly any type of literature and most history or art history programs: APPLY FOR THE PHD! This way you get funding while you are doing your master's work. If you drop out after passing your generals, you still get the MA, and all is well.

In most elite humanities grad schools, MA programs are considered the cash cow that pays for other things. The standards of admission are different, and the professors are highly, highly aware of who is an MA student versus who is a PhD student, and they will parcel out their attention accordingly. You can't really blame them (us) too much since our time is so limited anyway -- so we want to spend it on the people who are going to stick around and be our students and become colleagues in our field, and collaborate with us, not the people who will disappear completely after 2 years. Also, the MA students tend to be a lot weaker at what they do than the PhDs so sometimes it is less fun to teach them. All this can be a bit of a raw deal for the MA students who don't understand the system, hence I would strongly strongly recommend shooting straight for a PhD program and full funding, and postponing grad school/doing something else if you don't get that.

mishaps

@harebell I agree completely, except with the caveat that your Ph.D. program will be designed to socialize you mercilessly into PhD professionalism, and there will be people and situations that will try to make you feel bad about leaving at the MA level. Heck, I finished my doctorate and the spoken and unspoken pressure to stay on the academic job market was a couple of years of therapy worth. So, yes, avoid a terminal masters, but do everything you can to treat your program, in your head and your heart, like a terminal masters program.

oh, disaster

I've pretty much spent the last five years bouncing between saying I'll apply to MFA programs and swearing that I never will. I don't know. I'm glad I don't have the extra financial burden, but I can't help but wonder where I'd be now if I did.

Canard

@oh, disaster If it helps, chances are you'd be adjuncting. Which is not a bad life at all (I've just finished my fifth year as an adjunct and am pretty content with my lot, as long as they keep hiring me semester by semester), but not wild glamour. I make livable money and have plenty of time to write. You could do worse!

An MFA doesn't have to bring an extra financial burden, not unless you have unusual expenses (like children). Tons of programs will fund you fully enough that you can live a somewhat lentil-intensive life in a reasonably priced area, especially if you get a summer job or pick up extra editing/tutoring/grading work.

bocadelperro

I'm a history postdoc, and I have some things to add to LW2.

What your adviser said about loneliness? It's super-true. History research means sitting in an archive or a library. Alone. Reading. Quietly. For 8 hours a day. If you specialize in the history of a country not your own, it means sitting alone in an archive or library in a foreign country, which is much less glamorous than it sounds. Also tangling with foreign bureaucracies, potential language and culture barriers. In my observation, this is the downfall of more history ABDs than anything else. If you don't think you can handle being away from your support system for 6-12 months, this is not the career for you.

Jobs in academia are hard to get, and are geographically dispersed. Generally speaking, you can't pick where you live if you want an academic job. The lucky few will be able to choose between offers. This fact will wreak havoc on your personal life. I currently live an 11-hour plane ride from Mr. Delperro.

Do not pay for a Ph.D. program in the humanities. Let me repeat myself: DO NOT PAY FOR PHD PROGRAMS IN THE HUMANITIES. If a school wants you, and thinks you will succeed, they will fund you, especially if it's a "bumper sticker" school.

A professor of humanities is a teacher. Research is nice, but, at least in North America, the day-to-day job of a humanities professor is teaching students. There are very few research professorships in history, and they only go to very very very senior historians. If you don't think you can stand in front of a lecture hall and deliver a lecture to 500 students who exhibit varying degrees of interest in what you're saying, this isn't the career for you.

bb
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@bocadelperro yup (recent History PhD here). Ask a Humanities Grad Student will be worthwhile only if these points are repeated over and over again in the comments each time.

The Lady of Shalott

@bocadelperro I concur with everything in this comment. Even if you love what you do, a lot of your work will be BORING. Because....alone. Reading. Quietly. For eight hours a day OR MORE.

And jobs! There are very few. They are hard to get. You will be lonely.

bocadelperro

@The Lady of Shalott yes! One more thing that is specific to historians. If you decide to work outside of your own culture/language group, you will need to know a foreign language as well as you know your native language. I am not kidding about this. I work in German history, my mom is German, and I have a BA with honors from one of the top US Universities in German lit. I lived in Berlin for 3 years before going back to the states for school. I live in Germany now, and speak German almost exclusively. I still feel like I'm stretching my German to do my research.

too many degrees

@bocadelperro you will need to know a foreign language at least FAIRLY well even if you write about your own culture/language group! you will probably have to take a language exam as a part of your course requirements!

the angry little raincloud

@bocadelperro All of this. A million times, all of this. Every potential grad humanities student ever should read that comment. Especially the language thing. Not knowing the language will very much slow you down.

bocadelperro

@the angry little raincloud Awww, thanks.
Just to clarify: I'm not trying to scare anyone out of going for a PHD. Rather I think anyone who decides to go to grad school, particularly in the humanities, should know what they're getting into, and what their lives will look like if they do actually get a job in academia. I actually love what I do (I would have quit a looong time ago if I didn't), but it takes a lot out of me, it is definitely not for everyone, and (in most cases), it's really different from a BA in history.

the angry little raincloud

@bocadelperro I feel the same way: I cannot imagine doing anything else, being anything else, even though I'm no longer really an academic, but still very much involved with research, etc., just not teaching.

But your comments are great precisely because they are what potential grad students need to hear, and too many of them aren't hearing them from their undergrad professors. (And many undergrad professors are really woefully out of touch with the current state of the job market, especially those who don't have grad students of their own, so don't have immediate experience with seeing extremely smart and good people struggling for years to find appropriate employment.)

bashe

@too many degrees Yes!!! Many, many, many languages -- even if your degree will be in English. This is what you should spend your UG years doing. Learning languages. Because thinking about a doctorate is basically what you should be doing as an undergraduate, IF you are right for a PhD in the humanities.

rabswom

@bocadelperro Also for letter writer 2 -- the mention of consulting your Ottoman history professor makes me think that you might be interested in studying Ottoman history?

If so, other things you should know (if you don't already):
1. The academic job market might be a teensy bit better for you than for historians who focus on Europe or America, since there are a lot fewer people who focus on the history of the Middle East and a lot of universities/colleges are adding Middle East specialists.
2. BUT: the languages required to study the Middle East are really quite difficult (which is why there are few people who do it). And Ottoman Turkish is very hard -- it's written in Arabic script and, honestly, pretty much requires working knowledge of at least Arabic and modern Turkish and probably Persian too. It takes a long time to learn those languages. Furthermore, most Ottomanists have to spend a lot of times working in old administrative archives of the Ottoman Empire. If this doesn't appeal to you, run. Also, considering some of the unrest in the region right now (and how the federal government is cutting funding for language study abroad and research), learning those languages and getting the funding to study in those dusty archives could be difficult.

Much love,
A PhD student who works on medieval Islamic history and had to learn Arabic and Persian. I do love it (I'm in the dissertation writing phase) but it's a lot of work and takes a long time.

Facultywife

I just HAD to post . . .

My DH got a PhD in history - he's an Ottomanist, in fact. Late Ottoman Balkan social history. He taught undergrad courses while putting off his defense while he looked for a job. He also made sure to acquire proficiency in as many languages required to do sound research. He also made sure that the four subfields he took his comps in were marketable. So while he really doesn't have a deep interest in 'Modern Middle East,' he was able to credibly say he could teach courses in it. It took him 3 years to land a tenure-track assistant prof job and he beat out about 170 other applicants for it. Meanwhile, I worked to support us.

He taught successfully for over a dozen years before leaving for a much better paying and, arguably, more interesting job working for an educational foundation. He loved AND loathed being a professor. For his department, he covered everything from the Baltic to the Persian Gulf, Central Europe to the Urals, and everything in between. Are you willing to become proficient in all those flavors of History? And while I can see why your Ottomanist prof said that research is a lonely life, it is because you'll be marooned at a school with a crummy library and with colleagues who really don't give a shit about what you're doing. They care more about early American religious history or gender differences in Meiji Japan or other stuff YOU don't care about. One needs to look outside for encouragement and understanding. It's there, you'll find your tribe. We're a small but great group and we have wonderful times together at academic conferences. But the nearest real 'colleague' may live 800 miles away. As for being buried in an archive or library, that's a professor's vision of Nirvana! You'd better share that feeling or you won't be successful. Oh, and all your primary source research will most likely be abroad. Nice work if you can afford it - Istanbul's gotten really expensive (but it's still lovely).

Okay, here's what he tells and has always told his students who want to go on to grad studies: find the person you want to study with. Sounds simple, but it requires (and shows) that you've done the needed background work to show you can focus on studies as soon as you walk in the door first semester. You will work intimately with this person for at least two years and you'd better find a good fit to make it work. So read, read, read the literature for your topic! You MUST be able to show up prepared. And that often means prepared to do research which can benefit your mentor.

Which brings me to the specific requirement for Ottoman history: languages. Do you have AT LEAST a research knowledge of any of these: modern Turkish, Ottoman Turkish (suitable for the centuries in which you'll work), French, German, Bosnian/Serbian/Croatian, Bulgarian, Greek, Russian, Persian? Depending on your era and research agenda, you might need Arabic or Ladino. If you don't have these, then you're dead in the water. If you WANT to get them, you'll need to go to a really big school with a federally-funded Middle East Program which not only offers the history studies, but also the language studies. U of U, U of WA, Princeton, IU, UCLA, etc. You'll need to hustle for IREX and Fulbright grants to study languages in-country (an almost essential component). And someone wrote up above that Turkey/the Balkans wasn't a stable or safe place to be now - that's utter bullshit. I jump at every chance I have to get back there with the DH.

As for getting a tenure-track job out of school, you can pretty much kiss that dream goodbye. Someone above also said that the market for historians is better than most. NOT. The DH's old dept. lost about a third of its teaching staff in the past 4 years. Only a couple of positions are being hired this year. Most of the positions have been taken back by the Dean because the U's so short on cash, starved by the state legislature. That's the reality out there.

SO, do it if you absolutely LOVE your subject, LOVE research, WANT to develop advanced analytical & language skills, but not if you want to be a professor. Count on looking to an allied profession, maybe becoming an analyst for think tanks, investment firms, multinationals, or for the gummint. A guy who graduated w/DH went into the software industry and has a successful career putting together education programs for firms.

Good luck, or as they say in the Ottoman Archives, iyi şanslar!

stuffisthings

A good alternative to an MFA or creative writing degree would be to live only on credit cards for two years, hang out near a college, drink a lot, and read a lot of books. You'll save a heap of money in tuition, probably end up a much better and more interesting writer, and the debt is dischargable in bankruptcy.

(If anybody asks, you can even say you're a student -- nobody will ask questions, and no book publisher will ever demand to see an MFA diploma before considering your manuscript.)

meetapossum

@stuffisthings Seriously. I don't like being a hater, but I still cannot figure out the point of getting an MFA in writing.

stuffisthings

@meetapossum I think the idea is that if you're lucky, it will qualify you to teach a writing workshop in a remote and slightly shabby location where you can spend time refining your novel about an unsuccessful and bitter failed writer who teaches a writing workshop in a remote and slightly shabby location.

acookieaday

@meetapossum Connections and a built in review system? I've heard that MFAs teach you how to write beautifully but they can't teach a writer creativity and personal style.

Ophelia

@stuffisthings So....you can be Philip Roth?

Canard

@acookieaday Well, no, because creativity and personal style can't really be taught, and you're unlikely to be admitted to an MFA program without at least the vestiges of both. What a good MFA program will do for you is give you time and motivation to write a lot, help you refine the mechanics of writing so that your creativity and personal style aren't buried in clunky prose and cliches, give you practice in dealing with criticism (and sorting useful critiques from less useful ones), and position you within a community of people who value the same things you do.

Of course MFA programs aren't the only way to become a writer, but they can provide a lot of valuable opportunities and support. And since an MFA is a terminal degree, it also, much more quickly and easily than a PhD, qualifies you to teach at any college.

dancemeep

@stuffisthings I just finished a 2-year MFA in which I was paid (not a lot, but enough to rent a cute place/eat/have a social life) to write, teach one or two classes a semester (during my first year I did not have to teach) and attend one workshop a week and any seminars I felt like going to, led by some pretty great writers. I can't understand why anyone WOULDN'T see the point in getting an MFA...if it is funded. And there are totally programs that are funded! Time to write is great/crucial for writing. However, I didn't exactly emerge with a book deal, or a job. I wouldn't ever advise anyone to pay for this degree.

damselfish

@acookieaday This. I'm a published writer, I have no MFA, but every time I finish a short story I wish I had someone to review it for me. They'd be useful, but I would never in a million years pay for one. The classes I took in undergrad, though, were priceless, so I can see the value on the MFA work in terms of honing the craft. Unfortunately, writing just doesn't pay the bills (even at the pro level /sob).

If you really want people to review your stuff? Write lots of fanfic, make friends on the internet via fanfic, and then say "hey, I have something original I'm submitting to Lightspeed... read it for me?" Works for me!

RK Fire

"People in Art History, Studio Art, Geography, Environmental Studies, Spanish, and Architecture are somehow almost universally awesome"

::fist bump::

raelite

I graduated with a BA in English in 2002 - I immediately got a diploma to work as a pharmacy technician, worked as one for 4 years, did a post-grad adult education certification as a mature student and now teach pharmacy techs and am working on starting my own online school. Find something you like doing, and work in that direction. I love to write so I get to teach and write fiction on the side.

Passion Fruit

@raelite Hey, oh my gosh, a family member of mine wants to go into pharmacy tech, but doesn't know where to begin. Are there any online sources you could direct me towards? I googled it, bien sur, but became confused with the requirements for my state and then, uh, gave up for a while.

raelite

@Passion Fruit The best place to start is www.pharmacytechnician.org, this is the national association of techs and it can help point you in the the right direction for your state. I'm sorry I can't be more specific but I don't know a lot about US techs - I'm Canadian! The above website even offers the full certification course online.

OwlOfDerision

LW3: have you considered living at home for the first year of your programme, then using the money you save to cover the costs of renting elsewhere for the next couple of years? I lived at home during the first (unfunded) year of my PhD, and worked part-time to pay for, you know, travel and books and Doritos. I was lucky and secured funding thereafter (so now I live in a fancy flat! which is too expensive! but anyway!). At least consider it, and give it a year to see what it's like, so if you really can't stand it you have at least put some money aside to enable you to move out.

Also, protip: if/while you do live with parents, and you can't make a private and quiet study space for yourself at home, the library is your friend. I don't mean that snarkily. Find a study room or something that isn't festering with undergrads, and go there a few times a week for Serious Work And Getting Shit Done.

editrickster

@OwlOfDerision I'm just commenting to say that I have fond memories of your avatar. It was on a book of matches that my friend found in the street during study abroad.

TheCheesemanCometh

@OwlOfDerision Second the library suggestion, especially since many of them have study rooms that grad students can "check out" for an entire semester. You might not luck out with getting one of those (I always imagined blood tournaments at the begining of the year to determine room assignments) but if you make yourself known (in a good way) to the librarians and library staff, they might point you towards quiet, comfy study areas.

turnipcake

Is anyone else about to start grad school and dealing with the stress of relocating/ does anyone have any tips for finding shared housing with a cat? No one wants me and my cat! :(

Decca

Do you have some lentils / scotch recipe?

okaycrochet

@Decca ...That's what I was hoping to get out of this column. Damn.

Ophelia

@Decca I bet if you sauteed onions, then deglazed the pan with scotch, then poured in some stock, and cooked lentils in it, it would be awesome.

Decca

@Ophelia I'm on it.

L M
L M

@Ophelia waste of good scotch.

Ophelia

@Lucia Martinez I was going to say you could use bad scotch, but I'll admit that your comment would still be valid.

thebestjasmine

@Lucia Martinez Just make lentils the way Ophelia said, but deglaze with wine. And then DRINK the good scotch after you eat the lentils.

Lorelei@twitter

For LW 1, and really anyone who wants to write but doesn't know how to go about making money at it, one little-known possibility is content strategy.

If you like writing, but you also like the planning/strategizing aspects of getting things written - like, what am I writing? why? who will care about it? can I write something better they will care about more? content strategy could be a really good fit. I also happen to think that it's work that way too many companies don't actually do for their websites.

rabbitheart

@Lorelei@twitter I do this kind of work (among other marketing type writerly things) and this is definitely true, but I am also fleeing to graduate school in the fall and it is partially BECAUSE of my work. I am excited to study a very specific area of a growing field, blah blah graduate school. ANYWAY, I would caution anyone considering this type of work (content strategy, social media consulting, writing for interactive agencies) to keep the following in mind:

1) Clients are sadly and deeply confused about the internetz and that's why they need you to write for them.
2) Clients think you can do ANYTHING/EVERYTHING and they set the bar very high and if you fail, everything ever is your fault. If you succeed, you won't get credit.

One of these is almost always true. Sometimes both are true. Just...it's not like Mad Men! It's more like Sad Writers Dumbing Things Down And Drinking Coffee Alone While Consulting Thesaurus.com.

Lorelei@twitter

@rabbitheart oh, yeah, I do interaction design for a client agency, ridiculous clients are for sure a frustrating part of the job! I'm lucky in that I have some good project managers that do the buik of the relationship management, and interaction designers who don't like client-facing work can pretty easily work for a company that makes their own products or something like that. I don't know if writers have the same kinds of in-house options.

Anyway I think how you deal with it is something you only find out about yourself after you've tried it? The things that bother me the most now are not what I would have predicted before I started.

all the kittens in the club gettin nipsy

@Lorelei@twitter Hey, you are in the field I want to be in! I am very good at strategy, project management, and I know some stuff about web dev. Which makes me think I'd be good at this. However I really really can't figure out how to get there from here (currently in print-focused graphic design), so I was thinking about grad school in something relevant (UX or Comms)? But it sounds like from your comment above that grad school was not your favourite. Do you think it was worth it for your career, or should I just skip the whole idea and try to make it happen some other way? (what would that other way be??) Any thoughts would be super helpful!

Lorelei@twitter

@hipsterkitten oh hey! I have a lot of thoughts! my program was really good, and I don't regret it a bit, it was for sure the right choice for me, I'm just also really glad it's over. I went to Indiana University's Human-Computer Interaction Design program, and I would recommend it to anyone who is pretty sure they want to a master's. I have my concerns about the school that houses the program (not IU as whole, necessarily) but the HCI/d faculty are amazing.

I went straight from undergrad to the master's program because I was completely freaking out about my future and completely torn between possible interests/career paths, and then I heard that this field is a thing and pretty much since then I've known in my heart that this was the place for me, and have not looked back. BUT, formal schooling is not the most common way to get into interaction or UX design. It was the best way for me because I'm the kind of person who gets into habits and has a lot of trouble getting out of them, and while I could have gotten a programming or maybe front-end web dev job out of undergrad and transitioned my career, it would have been an uphill battle against my nature, and likely taken me a lot longer than two years. Also for my personal development I really, really value the foundations of design as a discipline and way of working that I was taught, it was a major change from my earlier education studying psychology and computer science at a SLAC. But if you're a graphic designer you likely have a lot of the foundation I was missing. A career transition is absolutely doable in your position.

If you have some web development experience, I'd say focus on improving those skills, because most companies love people with multiple skill sets, and visual + front-end dev is a great combo to have. You really don't have to start big, most typical front-end dev stuff is easy to pick up on your own, and tools like Jquery make even the more complicated interactive work much easier to deal with. Make yourself a great portfolio site as an exercise, and look for opportunities to do small web development projects wherever you can. It's possible to get hired as an entry level front-end dev on the strength of a few sites and good scores on an HTML test. From there it's really a matter of incorporating good UX design principles into your work, and depending on the flexibility in the environment you have, convincing your employer to give you more UX/interaction design responsibilities or proving to another employer that it's something you care about and are eager to dive into.

I have more to share (including success stories of people I know and work with, and big ol' list of resources for learning) but this comment is already really long. if you want to hear more, feel free to send an email to otc.ielerol@gmail.com and I can tell you more!

I am such a UX evangelist, it's field that offers opportunities to do really important, impactful work, and also it's just a great freaking job. I love what I do. Everyone, do some flavor of user experience work!

all the kittens in the club gettin nipsy

@Lorelei@twitter Rad! I will totally send you an email.

Springtime for Voldemort

I do not think Beyond Academe is up and running at the moment???

peacrow@twitter

Don't go to grad school. :( It sucks the life out of you. Or, at least, it sucked the life out of me. I had no friends outside of the PhD program, no interests, hobbies... It was my entire life. And that's what grad school is there to do. It's like an Ivory Tower boot camp. It breaks you down, but never builds you up again. When I realized this, I hightailed it out of there; I'd rather be happy without a PhD than waste anymore time being miserable. And I'll probably make more money just jumping into the workforce with my BA than if I tried to be a professor.

Ophelia

If you want to get the life sucked out of you WHILE writing (and without actually getting a master's degree, if you're me), then I highly recommend writing international development proposals.

...I'm having a long day at work....

Lila Fowler

@Ophelia That sounds like a job I want. How did you get into doing that?

tigolbitties

LW1: As a Vandy alum (undergrad and master's) and a freshly minted PhD (courtesy of a state flagship in the midwest) I would advise not taking out loans to get your Master's - especially since AaHGS notes you don't need that degree to do what you want to do. If I didn't know without a shadow of a doubt that all I wanted to do was teach and research in my field, I would be supremely unhappy (rather than sadly resigned) at the amount of student loans I have to pay back.

As a lover of all things Vandy and Nashville, maybe there's an alternative (?) - I'm sure it's not as easy as I'm about to make it seem, but if you could somehow find a job at Vandy, you get your tuition discounted (by half or more I think)...

va_vacious

@tigolbitties
...or consider some of the other Nashville schools that aren't as expensive. (Trevecca, Belmont, TSU, etc) I've been trying to move to Nashville the last four years and have not even been able to get an interview at Vandy for a job. (And I have a MA in history and 10+ years professional experience!)

I love Nashville- it's home, so there is something to be said for just moving there, which I'm doing at the end of the summer, job or no job.

lenka_V

@tigolbitties Ah so there is someone else to rep Nashville here. Vandy was actually my dream school (or so I thought) but it didn't work out and I'm actually doing undergrad in NYC right now for waaaaay cheaper than I would be there. So my advice to LW1, as far as moving goes, is that Nashville is a pretty great place to live for fairly cheap, and maybe wait and try to work and save money before starting school (or, yeah, one of the many cheaper schools around). If you feel you want to move out, move out! I think it's an important step for personal growth.

AnalogMetronome

@tigolbitties I also did my undergrad at Vandy. Graduated five days ago, actually! I'm leaving Nashville for grad school though...sad.

Tulletilsynet

@tigolbitties
Represent.

tigolbitties

@va_vacious yes, there are so many schools! @everyone - hoooray nashville!!! and Vandy! @mademoiselleML - CONGRATULATIONS!!! awww, commencement was one of my favorite moments at Vandy!

Tulletilsynet

@tigolbitties
The excellent reasons for studying in Nashville are not the schools.

PomoFrannyGlass

I have an MFA (and a boatload of debt). I don't regret it; I learned a lot, had a great time and met fantastic people, and I have a non-teaching job now where I get to use what I learned (though I don't make much). That said, I wouldn't advocate for anyone to get one, unless you're very rich, or fully-funded AND have at least 5 different (realistic!) professional back up plans other than teaching or writing. And I think it's a very, very bad idea to consider getting an MFA if you haven't held a job and paid your own bills for at least 2 years (i.e., young'uns should not go straight out of undergrad, or spend 1 year after undergrad bartending and applying to grad schools). Should you choose to pursue it against my advice, congratulations, you totally have the commitment, single-mindedness, and mild delusion that will make you an awesome aspiring writer! RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH your schools, meet or correspond with profs and/or current students and make sure you're clear on the structure of the program and whether it's going to work for you.

Catherine Bryant@facebook

I just want to say thank you for having this column, this is clearing up a lot for me!

Donovan Gentry@twitter

DGTGS is the new DTMFA

BadWolf

@Donovan Gentry@twitter Yeah, word. I am graduating tomorrow (I'll have am MS! and no job!), and I kind of want to put "DGTGS" on my mortarboard in electrician's tape.

Meanwhile, every few minutes, I am like, "But I really want to do more reeeseaaarch...whinewhinePhD?"

blee

@BadWolf I seriously thought about putting "don't go to grad school" on my mortarboard but decided against it because my ceremony was in an auditorium and people wouldn't have really gotten the full effect of it.
(also congrats! I graduated with an MA in a social science field on Thursday and also don't have a job!)

BadWolf

@blee Congrats to you, too! Man, jobs are for shit! But, worst case scenario, we can always go into business designing snarky mortarboards.

nyikint

What about grad school for international relations? At least it's not law school, right

nyikint

@nyikin Also somewhat linked, anybody looking for an intermediate Arabic study buddy in DC?

Ophelia

@nyikin NO. Emphatic no. Sorry. If you want to actually work in international relations, go get a concrete marketable skill. Work in a bank and get an MBA in finance, so you can do technical work in microfinance. Get a degree in agricultural economics or agronomy, so you can work on ag projects. Get an MPP so you can work in policy development. Get an MPH or an MD so you can do health work.

Sorry to be so down on the IR degrees, but I work for a big international development company, and the people we hire for entry level admin positions are the ones with degrees in IR. It sucks, but those degrees don't (with very few exceptions) confer the skills our clients want in their field personnel.

If, like me, you like writing, and want to do US-based work (whether new business/proposals or project management), then by all means! But I also don't have a masters at all, and have just worked my way up.

ETA: I speak only tiny bits of Arabic, and apparently I talk like a Palestinian, but if I lived in DC, I would totally have fragmented coffee conversations with you!

Ophelia

@nyikin Actually, to make my comment more helpful - some of the more concrete courses at places like SAIS actually can be useful, but make sure you FOCUS the coursework around a specific tech area, and take some of the hard (quantitative) classes.

nyikint

@Ophelia Out of curiosity, how is Georgetown's MSFS regarded in the intl development field? I picked it over SAIS...but still have time to change my mind.

And thanks for your reply - it is helpful!

Ophelia

@nyikin I actually have a BSFS from Georgetown, and I'd rank SFS comparably with SAIS in terms of market-worthiness? The one difference I've noticed is that I think Georgetown prepares you to be a diplomat, and SAIS prepares you to work overseas writ large?

I'm not sure, however, how much the grad curriculum differs from the undergrad (I know they overlap somewhat, as we had the option of tacking on an extra semester or year and doing the MSFS at the same time, which I didn't take advantage of and probably should have).

That said, I think the general rule of "find something you like, and do whatever hard-core quantitative stuff you can" still applies. It's a much easier sell to hire an IR grad with a background in economic statistics and econometrics to do an economics job than one with only economic theory. And honestly, if they have any field work opportunities (whether overseas or with an organization in DC), take advantage of them. I know my company does an internship program with grad students (generally from the DC area), and if we get an awesome intern, those are the people who kind of jump the queue for technical positions.

ETA: Hoya Saxa! :)

Ophelia

@nyikin Oh, also - significant prior work experience in something relevant also helps a lot (and can make people view the degree in a better light, I think?), since it shows that you understand how stuff works in real life. People get twitchy about too much theory.

I think @stuffisthings also works in this field...might have a different opinion than I do?

stuffisthings

@Ophelia Nope, I totally agree. In my case it turns out that the job I found was in communications, skills I developed through side jobs, but I am still very happy that I focused hard on practical skills in my Master's. I would add that, depending on the setting, name-brand schools are often not worth as much as demonstrable skills. If you can say "I did an IR masters at Random State U where I became fluent in Arabic and gained extensive experience with applied GIS systems and econometrics" that's probably more valuable than "I have a degree in Peace & Love Studies from SAIS and I wrote my thesis on puppies."

Also, LSE probably doesn't have as much cachet as many people seem to think it has.

Ophelia

@stuffisthings That said, if you really wrote a thesis on puppies, I'd be tempted to hire you.

And yes, WTF with LSE? From what I can tell of witnessing friends' experiences there, it's a good way to go spend a year drinking beer in London? And sometimes writing papers.

stuffisthings

@Ophelia There are much better ways to spend a year drinking beer in London.

And puppies? Maybe for my PhD.

stuffisthings

@nyikin Also: you should consider what the day-to-day realities of the job will be. Whether you work in a think tank or international development or for the government, you'll spend several years after you graduate pretty much doing nothing but spreadsheets, invoices, grants, and formulaic report-writing. Once you move up the totem pole, you may get to travel, but said travel will be preceded and followed by months of spreadsheets, payment requests, grants, and reports. If you join the Foreign Service, it will mean literally YEARS of grueling tests and waiting, and your first assignment will consist of denying nice people's visa applications and helping drunk driving tourists find lawyers.

On the other hand, you will work with smart people and can have interesting discussions about international affairs, and one of your entry-level perks will probably be the ability to attend events and, if your employer is well-funded, conferences. I also have to say that once you're past entry level, the pay is not nearly as bad as people make it out to be. You won't live like a lobbyist, but you won't live in a garret either.

But basically, in terms of day-to-day activities, it's mostly a normal office job.

Also: I hope you like DC, because you will be living here. Maaaybe New York. (Rent is outrageous, it gets really hot and muggy in the summer, and the Metro gets worse every year, but there are some good restaurants and the museums are free. Don't go to student bars after you graduate because you will feel very old.)

There is also a lot less baby-kissing than advertised.

[redacted]

@nyikin I'm in NewYork, not DC, but I'm also doing intermediate Arabic right now - let me know if you have any interest in an email pinpal type thing! (Or anyone else? As they say in Arabic...I will love someone I speak to you with.)

nyikint

@redacted yes! email me at a v 5 4 6 AT hoyamail dot georgetown dot edu, but without the spaces, and we'll sort it out!

@stuffisthings thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.

BosomBuddy

A few points:
1. Everyone here is giving excellent advice.
2. It bears repeating: do not attend graduate school without funding. You will go into more debt than the degree is worth. You cannot expect to work another full-time and likely even part-time job and fulfill your student obligations.
3. If you do go to grad school, treat it like a job. There will be people (peers, professors, etc.) that you like, and others you do not. Try not to take anything, especially rejection, personally. If, at some point in your graduate career you get depressed, wonder what the hell you were ever thinking, and/or think about quitting, that is ok. Everyone goes through this at least once. Some people quit, others don't, for reasons that are entirely personal.
4. This, too, bears repeating: you're in your 20s. Live them. Grad school requires a lot of hard work, so, do that, but also remember to have a life (as best you can). No regrets, ok?

Miss Maszkerádi

Ugh it should be ILLEGAL to make snide comments to humanities grad students about the "unmarketability" of our studies and how we're going to be working at Starbucks for the rest of our lives. First of all--no, we won't necessarily, but secondly: those of us who take the time and effort to pursue a post-graduate degree in the humanities, be it music (hello) or English or philosophy or what have you, are under NO ILLUSIONS that it's a ticket to fabulous wealth and power. We do it because we love it and we need to do it. And we're willing to live in smaller apartments and not eat as much caviar as our "practical" friends who went to business school or majored in engineering, so that we can spend our one chance at life on this earth doing what we love.

AnalogMetronome

@CountessMaritza
SECONDED. People started this shit with me in high school (I am a violinist and have wanted to play professionally since I was 7) and I am pretty tired of it. If I thought I would be happier being a business person and living in a nicer apartment and drinking expensive wine I would do it. But guess what, if I'm not doing music I'm miserable and that's not a price I'm willing to pay.

I wonder sometimes if people are snide about people who do what they love for a living because they feel badly that they don't have something that they love like we do. Or that if they do they didn't have the guts to put up with the hardships and turn it into a career.

Tl;dr Haterz gonna hate.

Passion Fruit

@MademoiselleML "I wonder sometimes if people are snide about people who do what they love for a living because they feel badly that they don't have something that they love like we do. Or that if they do they didn't have the guts to put up with the hardships and turn it into a career."

Yeah, you pretty much summed it up. Outside of giving sincere, well-meaning, solicited advice, people should shut it in regards to other people's life pursuits, hobbies, passions, etc.

Miss Maszkerádi

@MademoiselleML Oh, violinist fist-bump! Just graduated from conservatory! *we rock*

I was also always the nerdy kid learning some or another unconventional language or reading philosophy for the fun of it, growing up in a part of the country where the prevailing culture is rather anti-intellectual to put it mildly......so. Tired. Of. All. The. Haters.

Miss Maszkerádi

@MademoiselleML also, we CAN drink expensive wine. Just not so often that we get bored with it! ;-)

Scandyhoovian

@CountessMaritza I agree wholeheartedly that it should be illegal to get on someone's case about their choice in this stuff! I was poo-pooed so hard about my choices from high school (when I was considering becoming a piano teacher) to undergrad ("well what are you going to DO with a music degree?" became "how is that any better than a music degree?" when I swapped majors to history) to graduate school ("well if you're not going to teach then what's the point?"). I am not under the illusion that I'm going to be making a bajillion dollars working in a field that directly requires the Things I Majored In for me to work in it. I am not deluded into thinking I will somehow be a multimillionaire historian-musician. It's not going to happen. I don't need someone to tell me as if they're the first to come up with this particular nugget of information, and I especially do not need them to snidely slide it down their nose at me as if my life choices have any impact on them or their lives.

...wow, apparently I had a rant in me.

Miss Maszkerádi

@Scandyhoovian I'm a huge history nerd too. We're not going to be multimillionaire historian-musicians....we're going to be spiritually fulfilled and intellectually satisfied historian-musicians.... which is worth the occasional period of cheap dinners to pay the rent.

PistolPackinMama

Ugh. All this advice is good, and I am still so depressed that Americans at least live in a social environment that doesn't vakue education/educators to at least try and make funding and opportunities available.

Blah.

BosomBuddy

@PistolPackinMama Word.

bocadelperro

@PistolPackinMama FWIW, I live in Germany, where public intellectuals are celebrities and PHD students can get federal stipends to live off of (and school fees are EU 75-250/semester), and they have pretty much the exact same problems for humanities PHDs (no jobs, too many students/too few places, brutal treatment of PHDs and Postdocs by Universities, institutionalized sexism that would make your hair curl, and the two body problem). It's actually kind of comforting to hear my European colleagues complain.

PistolPackinMama

@bocadelperro Okay. To the bunker of sorrowful academia. I have cognac.

bocadelperro

@PistolPackinMama I'll bring Gin. Also, fwiw, Europeans, (Germans in particular, I find) think that America is the promised land of Academia because the system is "semi-private," as one of my colleagues put it. I think it may have to do with the fact that we don't have to habilitate (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habilitation).

PistolPackinMama

@bocadelperro Right. Gin, brandy... and chocolate and really good crisps, I think.

Semi-private. Right. It's not all that, as I am sure you know, even if your colleagues don't.

bocadelperro

@PistolPackinMama There are good and bad points to both systems, which I won't belabor here, but I will say that I have dual citizenship (German mother, American Father) and chose to go to University and Grad School in the US. (I'm just a lowly postdoc here)

BosomBuddy

@BosomBuddy I suppose I'm not finished yet.
5. Most of the comments here and elsewhere on the internet present discouraging figures and comments. While I think this is great, because it provides a perspective that most professors and schools will never tell you, don't let it get you down if this is what you really want to do. I went through a phase where I got really down reading various articles on the Chronicle of Higher Education and sites like 100 reasons not to go to Graduate School. It's natural to question your choices and (re)evaluate your life, but don't let that take over your life.

angelene

I feel like I need to add a voice as someone actually enjoying a humanities PhD, despite all the anxiety that comes with it (mostly, will I get a job at the end of it). I know academia has many maddening flaws but think, on balance, it may be the right for me (I enjoy teaching, which helps) – I also fall into the camp of people who move towards academia partly because they really-like-writing-stuff, but can't imagine making it as a novelist and don't think I'd want that to be how I earn a living.

My question is – as I doubt I'll walk straight into an academic post, even if the PhD goes well – how do other post-PhD people get by? Presumably the PhD flags up that you're quite interested in academia, so how do you convince people you're worth employing in other jobs? I've worked as an editor before and am good at it, but don't really want to elbow my way into publishing if it isn't my dream, there are enough people who fervently want to work in publishing to make me feel guilty. I'd almost rather tide things over on some kind of part-time jaunt like the one I already have (waitressing, babysitting, tutoring), but don't want to spend ALL of my twenties in an extended poverty-stricken adolescence. What are the options? What have you all gone on to do?

BigBangBaby

Okay, can we PLEASE stop hating on grad school, and particularly on MFA programs? Grad school serves a specific purpose: training people to be professionals and experts in their fields (you wouldn't tell a doctor not to go to med school, would you? No? Didn't think so). And MFA programs do produce better writers by emphasizing craft, something about which a few contemporary authors I could name desperately need to learn.

LW 1, I have two words for you: low. residency. Not only can you work while you're in school, but doing so will help you learn to be a writer in the context of the real world--rather than spending all day in class, you can earn money and figure out how to prioritize your activities (by which I mean determining how to make sure you have time to write while tackling other responsibilities). Yes, the program will still be expensive. But if you enroll in any low-res program that has earned its reputation, you will have amazing support from professors and fellow students alike. Having said that, graduate study is not for everyone, but I do feel that low-res programs are better suited to people who don't enjoy classroom learning.

L M
L M

@BigBangBaby hey man, I wrote my reply as a person loving and successfully navigating her phd, who did her MA and doctorate separately, and who's very realistic about both the costs and the rewards of those programs and the decisions that attend them.

I think I can safely say that all of us in this round love/d grad school, actually.

thebestjasmine

@BigBangBaby You can't become a doctor without going to medical school. You can become a writer without getting an MFA. The two are not at all comparable. That is not to say that there are not benefits of getting an MFA, but you can't really compare a professional degree like medical school or law school with an MFA program.

Anne Helen Petersen

@BigBangBaby Cosign! I loved/only-sometimes-hated grad school. But as I tried to emphasize in the first iteration of this column, you must, must be realistic about what grad school actually entails, and what it can and cannot bring you.

stuffisthings

@BigBangBaby Conversely, you wouldn't tell your friends you're going to med school because "I think organs look neat."

mecmec

@BigBangBaby yeah, as a current MFA student I feel somewhat obligated to defend that path of study - I don't think it really changes your odds of getting published or even necessarily of being a good writer, but the most important thing is you get TIME TO WORK ON YOUR SHIT which I found it very challenging to do with a 40 hour a week job + 1 hour commute each way. I'm funded/teaching now and still work 2 other jobs on the side, but even so have developed better discipline about writing, submitting work, etc. The only thing about low-res programs, I think, is that you have to have a pretty decent day job because they don't offer much funding.

caveat: everyone should have to wait until they are AT LEAST older than 25 to apply to MFA programs, or until you've worked for a few years, gotten the heavy drinking out of your system, and realized 99.99999% of people will never even remotely care about what you write anyway.

silverscreen

museum work, editing work, historic site work, archaeological work, archival work, work at various cultural institutions — all are ways to do work as a historian without a PhD. [...] Some might require an MA in history or an MLIS in archival preservation and records management or in historic preservation; others might not.

I have to take issue with this advice, at least in regard to museum work, records management, archival/historical preservation. Firstly, I have worked in records management, and although I liked it, it has very little to do with historical work (and honestly, the others don't have a lot in common with what one thinks of as historical research, or at least the kind of work you do in school). Secondly, one would be really lucky to work in any of these fields without a Masters. It's tough to break into these kind of fields even with the MA/MLIS/etc, because so many more people graduate from these kind of programmes than there are jobs available.
Sorry to be a debbie downer, but I think any museum/library/archival studies graduates would agree.

BadWolf

@keaton Yes, we do agree! As of tomorrow afternoon, I will have a brand-new MS in Historic Preservation because I had to be professionally trained to make historic site museums. And it is hard to get a job even with the shmancy, expensive degree because when the economy sucks, no one wants to give money to the historical society, or the Victorian house, or the battlefield, let alone the people who make those things run. I was a costumed interpreter in undergrad, and I would actually cut a bitch to have that job now, but it is not to be had, funds are that tight. And, yeah, you can be a volunteer docent without the degree, but if you want to do research, or handle the collection, or teach the material to bored schoolkids, you need one. Or several. I am contemplating doing the PhD, just so I am better set for a curatorial career, rather than constantly getting hired to shuffle tourists around like an illiterate robot.

...I'm so sorry, everyone, can you tell this is REALLY bothering me today? Graduating is even scarier than the past two years of school, no foolin'.

theharpoon

@keaton 2nded - just see the Ask an Archivist thread for a dose of reality on getting a job in that field. There are probably, however, a lot more options (that is, job options directly related to the degree) for someone with an MLIS-type degree than for someone with a history PhD.

silverscreen

@BadWolf

Yeah, I am in an archival Masters programme somewhat similar to yours in its specialization (I don't want to be too specific), and I'm terrified that I won't even be able to get the kind of jobs I had pre-Masters after I graduate. (My last two jobs were permanent and full-time why did I leeeeeavve)

I worked for several years post undergrad and I really made this decision based on career prospects. In order to advance, you need further study, but then the work you've been (implicitly) promised evaporates - it's infuriating, heartbreaking, and terrifying ...

silverscreen

@theharpoon
I did read that, and I guess I was also surprised that given the content of that piece/its comments, this author would advocate going in that direction. Of course, you're absolutely right about more options for those with MLIS-type degrees compared to history PhDs ...

theharpoon

@keaton Unfortunately, everybody wants to work in traditional libraries/archives/museums - and that's where there are the fewest jobs.

silverscreen

@theharpoon: Ha, ny work background is in tradition libraries/archives/museums. I realized much too late that to get the kind of work I'm interested in, be competitive in the field, and get beyond the entry-level positions, I probably should have done a computer science-type undergrad. I don't have my heart set on working in traditional institutions, but I'm not really set up to pursue other avenues either. :(

TheJacqueline

@keaton Yup! I am doing an MA in Public History, and the worst part is? If you really, really, want to advance in this field and become a curator/reach director level....you need a PhD anyways

EpWs

@BadWolf SIDEBAR yeeeeeeee congrats on your impending graduation! I am taking this as proof that your thesis is done, which is just the best. :) We were talking about you the other day on the Ask An Archivist thread--I found another HP person on the 'Pin! It's all very exciting.

But yes, graduation is fucking terrifying, I am right there with you. But please take congratulations for your graduation anyway--the MS is a huge accomplishment, and you should celebrate it.

BadWolf

@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher Oh, lady, congrats to you too!!! You were my rock this whole time. HP 'Pin for Lyfe!

And yeah, the thesis is finished! I am actually really proud of it? But also, I've been meaning to ask forever if I could read yours, it sounded so fascinating. Would that be totally creepy of me?

EpWs

@BadWolf No it would not be creepy it would be AWESOME. I want to read yours too! Swapsies? (Email me! wordsnatcher DOT everpresent AT the gee mails.)

slutberry

I am going to use this thread to talk about how I am nervous about finding housing because I need to find housing for September before mid-June and I'm broke and I will NEVER FIND AN APARTMENT.

....any Montreal pinners need a roommate/moving out of a cheap studio or one bedroom in Sept?

Cat named Virtute

@sniffadee I need a roommate! But it's for right away and I know you're not crazy about St Henri, so. :-(

slutberry

@Cat named Virtute I am feeling more optimistic about St Henri because there really are all the pretty houses, but I will be out of the country from mid June to the end of August, so taking an apartment for the summer is silly :(

Cat named Virtute

@sniffadee Oh, have fun travelling! Where are you going?

slutberry

@Cat named Virtute I'll be in Syracuse, NY, for a month, working with a church doing inner-city work-- food pantry, youth camps, etc. Then I'll be travelling cross country on the Greyhound to visit my grammas in Seattle and Sacramento, possibly going to Vancouver, and stopping in Chicago to see a friend along the way. AM SO EXCITED. (p.s. totally thought you were "a cat named VIRTUE". So awesome)
P.P.S. do you have a Craigslist ad up? Cuz there's one I'm fondly pretending is you, because it would make me happy.

Cat named Virtute

@sniffadee I don't, but that reminds me I need to put one up, stat. Virtute is Latin for strength, and it's from the Weakerthans song "Plea From a Cat Named Virtute." Your summer sounds great; have an excellent time.

anachronistique

Christ, this column is going to drive me to drink.*

* even more than I already do

theharpoon

@anachronistique Let's have a "how to drink like a grad student" column at the end of this series!

blee

@theharpoon and/or a "how to smoke weed like a grad student" column

I mean uh.

theharpoon

@blee Perhaps "how to drink with your professors" (carefully).

theharpoon

"How to impress your dean by carrying a bottle opener in your purse."

blee

@theharpoon "How to take full advantage of the spiked egg nog at the department Christmas party"

blee

@theharpoon "How to gauge the amount of drunk you need to be to write this paper"

slutberry

@theharpoon This one time I went to a party with a whole bunch of my professors. I think I was the only one not drunk at the end of the evening.

CVFA

Another vote in favor of MFA in Creative Writing if and ONLY if you can get it funded.

Results, two years out, none of which possible (for me at least) w/out program--
1. Story in good magazine
2. Story nominated for Push Cart and other prizes
3. Agent read this story and wants to represent my book once I finish it

Side note: friend with two novels, one a best seller, applied to teach creative writing at college but program director said she wasn't qualified b/c no MFA. amusing, b/c she's clearly qualified, but there that is.

Neil S.@twitter

My general rule of thumb about grad school is, as many have said, don't go if you're not getting paid as well as where there's a good job acceptance rate for their graduates.

I'm an English Literature person who just jumped ship to my department's Composition and Rhetoric program. I got in to several terminal MA programs at shinier schools without funding and then went with what I first perceived to be "less prestigious" Ph.D. track program where I did get funding. Then I realized grad school sucks everywhere, and, boy, am I glad that I'm getting paid to read everything under the sun rather than not. I also realized that many schools that seem good really aren't as good as they pretend to be and that schmoozing with your faculty will get you anywhere you want to go anyway.

If you're an average Joe or Jane, you are probably not going to be the next Judith Butler (though we all aspire to be), so go where you're going to leave with the least debt and the best job prospects.

Now back to writing five thousand papers before Sunday.

mystique

I am literally the luckiest motherfucker here, I think, cos I went to grad school ON A WHIM. I went all the way across the country, away from everything I knew for a two year program that I was only mildly interested in.

Luckily the program is messy and open-ended as fuck! I found so many of My People (including the first person I kissed!), am working on a dream project, and am finally working at a couple jobs and an internship that actually use my skills and don't COST money to do (barring one credit argh seriously what asshole thought that up).

Of course...it is wincingly expensive, the program doesn't really take care of us AT ALL, and sooo many people graduated this past week without jobs. It's not for the faint-hearted, and I don't know how I got so lucky (watch it all fall down?) but it cost me a lot of work and a lot of personal growth to get here.

BUT DON'T GO FOR WRITING SERIOUSLY. Maureen Johnson went for an MFA and she is strongly against it: http://www.maureenjohnsonbooks.com/2010/05/08/ask-mj-how-to-get-an-mfa/

Scandyhoovian

@mystique LOVING the Maureen Johnson link. I wanted to find it earlier, but I couldn't remember which of the authors I follow on twitter had written it!

orejitasmiamor

And if you want to write please do read the Rilke. That book caught me when I was having trouble motivating myself to pursue anything literary and reminded me why I was interested. It is more about creative process than anything else.

orejitasmiamor

And if you want to write please do read the Rilke. That book caught me when I was having trouble motivating myself to pursue anything literary and reminded me why I was interested. It is more about creative process than anything else.

KalinkaMalinka

guysssss...need some grad school advice. i did poli sci in undergrad and now i'm abroad, teaching english and doing some intl dev projects until 2013. a) when do i start applying for real girl jobs? b) what can i do to make my resume beautiful for employers in this field and c) grad skool? IDK!!!!!

joythemanatee

I love these!! And we should totally do one for engineering, whiiiiich I would be so happy to do. Women in engineering, we need youuuU!

edited to add: seriously, during my bachelors we were at 10% and now at work there are 6 women in a company of 90.

sergeant tibbs

@joythemanatee Yes! Please do this, send an email to Edith and Jane! I'm looking at going from a BS and MEng into a Ph.D. in Public Policy using my background in engineering and I'd love advice.

Anne Helen Petersen

@joythemanatee Yes, send your contact info to Edith so that we can send any engineering-type questions your way for the next round....

oodelally

@joythemanatee Engineer solidarity! I'm graduating/starting a job in the tech industry and I'm excited but nervous. Navigating engineering as a female is hard and we need Internet advice too!

idizzle

Maybe its the sage-ish practicality (read: jaded-ness) of experience, but it seems like PhD students and professors are always the first to tell you NOT to go to grad school. I can't help but sense an underlying message of "This works for me, but I don't think you're cut out for it," in the first two comments. I know that they give semi-reasonable alternatives, but they are also the slightest bit condescending. Grad school can-be/is being used as a safe haven from the real world in a lot of cases (mine included), but all I ever heard was "stay away!" when I was trying to get advice on grad school and I couldn't be happier in my current program. It's as if part of the gauntlet is proving yourself worthy of even trying to go to grad school. I would have benefitted in my journey from some more encouragement and more tips of the trade and such, rather than the cynical mantra repeated by my successful superiors. Good advice, but a little too "PhD clique-ish."

nonvolleyball

@idizzle I feel like there's a bit of a Fight Club element to it, though. (remember how the inductees had to stay on the porch & wait out a few days of discouragement?) if you're really passionate about your topic, about becoming an academic, you won't listen to the naysayers. but the truth is that a LOT of people go into grad school with unrealistic expectations about what they'll get out of it, or about what it'll be like. if you're just looking to hide out from the proverbial real world for a while, then grad school probably isn't for you--& I think that's what the "stay away" comments are trying to help weed out.

if anything, the fact that you ended up going anyway, & are now really satisfied with your program, is evidence that the truly committed won't be deterred. :)

L M
L M

@nonvolleyball @idizzle here's the thing: I was told to go, helped through the process, etc. but I did it coming from an academic family, with realistic expectations of what an advanced degree entails. I will tell the vast majority of my students that they're not cut out for it because they're not. I will tell the right ones, who will do well and, more importantly, will be able to get a job in the profession when they're done, to do it.

bocadelperro

@Lucia Martinez Third generation PHD here. As an undergrad, I was told the exact same stuff that I wrote in my comments upthread, and I'm really glad of it. I was fortunate enough to have an undergrad adviser who respected me enough to tell me the truth, and also important things specifically related to my field. Had I not had that advice, I really don't think I would have been a successful grad student. I personally don't tell people that they're not cut out for one thing or another, but I try to repeat the same useful advice I was given.

Also, there is no way I would have gotten through grad school without my family's support. I read somewhere (the chronicle, maybe?) that a majority of PHDs in the US are given to people whose parents have PHDs. While this worries me (we get more and more removed from our students this way), I'm constantly amazed by my colleagues who finish their dissertation as their families carp about them being 35 and "still in college."

L M
L M

@bocadelperro twinzzzzzzz I too am 3rd gen!

emb343

LW3--As someone who has now lived with my parents, rando roommates, and (as of today!! ee!!) my fiance, be realllllly conscious about the kind of environment you need to work. Living with my parents, while sad and lame (love you mom and dad!), actually helped me get a lot of work done. They're nice, quiet people who go to bed at 9, and so I had all of the grad student witching hours to myself to read and write with no noise and no interruptions. The shared house I just moved out of was a nightmare--not beause the people were awful, because they weren't. They were all med students, actually. But they all did their work at school/in the lab, and so when they came home it was time for LOUD television and LOUD talking etc etc etc. Have spent a lot of money on earplugs in the last year. Figure out what your personal zone is for productivity (do you need quiet? silence? noise? need to take a lap around the house everytime you finish a paragraph?), take into account what facilities the school will offer (office? nice library? shitty depressing awful library that's only open weird hours?) and your willingness to spend your weekends working at school rather than at home, and then decide. The wonderful and awful truth about grad school is that, at anytime during the semester, you will always have work to do, at any time of day. You can choose to put if off for awhile, but you really have to acclimate to the face that you'll spend a few hours on campus teaching and taking classes, and then need to spend the next few hours reading/researching/writing/etc. Living situation can make or break your productivity.

Manatee

#1: who gives a rats ass wheeled your mom went to college? Not sure how this impacting your decision? Is it some weird, romantic, Southern notion? Seems to me like you might want to research programs and pick one out on its own merit, not some decision your mom made eons ago. Also, why not get the fuck out of TN and expand your horizons?
#2: good at history. Lol. Kill me dead w your undergrad hubris. Wasn't aware history was a special skill, like auto repair or makin risotto.
#3: a lifetime of stuff? Dude, your 25. If you have a lifetime of stuff, you might be a hoarder. I bet you can throw about 2/3 of it out and not be sad. I've lived a pretty badass life and have gone on many adventures. I've been through like 5 lifetimes of stuff. It's only stuff, dumbass. What's more important? Living an interesting, fulfillingife or being attached to some Etsy bullshit?

Dumbasses, all of you.

nonvolleyball

@Manatee *you're

#irony

Manatee

Sorry, I was laying in bed commenting on my phone when I posted. Thanks for looking out!
#Lazyandcuddledupwithmypomonarainytuesday

And while we're at it, can we get rid of Twitter hashtags to express a mood/emotion?
#Tiresome

Ellie

@Manatee What the fuck is a pom

Manatee

Ellie: http://bit.ly/LS9Sny

Ellie

@Manatee I was more implying that you sounded like a cunt than asking a real question. I assumed you were referring to a Pomeranian dog.

nonvolleyball

@Ellie ...which, oddly enough, was not one of the (numerous, unrelated) definitions offered via google.

Manatee

@Ellie I may be a cunt, but at least I am not a clueless 22 year old flailing about in the real world with an 8 foot stick and a thesaurus up my ass like the letter writers. They need a healthy dose of reality. Maybe 10 minutes less of hand wringing per day would be good for these ladies. I stand by all my original comments, esp. The one about the 25 year old future hoarder.

Tulletilsynet

@Manatee
I hope you stand by making Arkansas part of Tennesse. That means we get Charles Portis.

sudden but inevitable betrayal

Reading all these comments makes me soooooooo jealous of my science-PhD friends. :( Why couldn't I be interested in science? WHY?

theharpoon

@sudden but inevitable betrayal just read Latour's Laboratory Life and you won't feel quite so bad.

Rebecs

Here's my advice for anyone (not just those of us who are sad sap humanities folks) who is fresh out of undergrad and/or working but not making a lot of money and is "maybe, kinda, sorta" interested in going to grad school. Stop. Do not dump money into a degree that you're not sure you want or can use. Find a school you would consider taking classes at, get a job at that institution as a staff member, and reap the benefits of staff tution remission! I work as a level 1 administrator at an R1 public university making almost 3X what I did as a substitute teacher/tutor/retail associate and can take undergrad classes for 3% of tution (that's $58 a class, folks) and grad classes for 10%. It will take longer but you'll be debt free and have a 401K by the time you finish! WUT! Not to mention that going straight from and undergrad to a grad program without any legit employment experience will make it harder to get a job later. I can always spot the person who made this mistake because they are totally useless as employees (if they are lucky enough to get a job doing anything).

Ellie

I recognize this is somewhat idealistic and I absolutely recognize that poverty can make one legitimately unhappy - but I don't think people go to graduate school with the expectation of riches. I think they go to graduate school with the expectation of pursuing a career that is in some way related to that field. And there are things you can do with a graduate degree besides teach undergraduates. I just don't think money is that important. I know that you have to have a certain amount for it to not be important, but . . . I don't know. I'd rather have a graduate degree than money. It's just money and if you have enough to survive and have a family, and are happy, then who cares.

I thought I was going to apply straight out of college but, like LW2, I had become incredibly burned out, totally depressed by my thesis, etc. So I waited two years and am applying this fall. In this time I really didn't do anything academically related and just waited until I had kind of built up a mania of academic desire where I was starting to do research on my own just for fun. I just finished a graduate level class in my subject (at the Harvard Extension School), got into a fairly exclusive summer program in it, etc. so now I not only have better credentials now but I have proved to myself that I'm capable of that level of work. Not only do I not feel burned out anymore, but I can tell I'm just more mature, a better worker, and better at time management, which I think has come intrinsically with age. So I would definitely recommend waiting, I'm happy that I did.

synchronized
synchronized

@Ellie No one's arguing you shouldn't go to humanities grad school because you won't end up rich -- that's a given. People are saying that you shouldn't go if you have questionable, touchy-feely reasons for doing so: "My mom went to this university!" "I hate the real world!" "I am so good at history!" (What does that last one even mean?)

And your "It's just money" comment is more than a little offensive. For many of us, it's NOT just money. And that's why commenters here are advising against grad school: If you recognize the importance of money AT ALL, you probably shouldn't go.

Ellie

@synchronized What is offensive about it? I genuinely don't know. What do you mean, it's NOT just money for many people - what circumstance are you referring to? I agree, if you think having a lot of money is important, don't go to grad school in a humanities field. I just honestly think money is a terrible reason to not do something you really want to do, and people are projecting this false idea that money is somehow intrinsically important in a way that outweighs all other concerns or values, when in reality it's not equally important to everyone. My brother and his wife literally lived on food stamps in order to go to graduate school and now both have really reputable academic positions, publish, have a house, all that. I feel like people here would have advised them not to do it "because of money." This is such a nebulous concern. Most graduate students I know are really happy to be doing what they're doing, getting their degrees, and are not starving to death.

synchronized
synchronized

@Ellie I agree that if you really want something, you should go for it. But like I said in my first comment, it seems like LWs 1 and 2 (plus many others here) don't really want to attend grad school at all.

I'm glad things worked out for your brother, but your "It's just money" remark was flippant and naive. How do you know when enough is enough? For example, say I go into debt pursuing graduate-level work, but when I'm done with school, I get a job that allows me to pay my bills. Great! But what if further down the line, I lose that job and can't find another in academia or my field? Or, say someone I know gets sick and I have to help out there? At this point, the debt I incurred has become seriously damaging.

My point is, some of us always have to put financial concerns first. Don't brush them off as if they're minor road bumps on The Ph.D Dreams Highway.

Ellie

@synchronized I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. I have never heard of anyone who went into financial ruin and became homeless as the result of successfully pursuing a Ph.D. degree. There was a New Yorker fiction about that, though, once.

OBVIOUSLY if you don't "really want to do it" you shouldn't go to graduate school, but I don't think that money is a good reason NOT to go to graduate school if you DO "really want to do it."

synchronized
synchronized

@Ellie I read that New Yorker story, actually!

It cites some extreme cases, but this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education about Ph.D's on food stamps is pretty eye-opening: http://chronicle.com/article/From-Graduate-School-to/131795/

Hilly

Hey reader #1 - I was an English major, and I absolutely know what you're talking about when people make snide remarks about your major, it seems like it's always the example of a worthless liberal arts major to some people. But here's the thing - you now have a very marketable skill: you can WRITE. It's absolutely stunning how few people in the world can do this competently. I'm not talking about writing the Great American Novel, just writing a press release or blog post coherently is impressive these days! I work in PR, and I write all day long - blog posts, tweet, fundraising emails, press releases, newsletters, you name it. Think about trying a job in communications, or if that doesn't appeal to you, at least feel confident in bragging about your writing skills in job interviews. You have a talent and a skill that many employers value, so use it to market yourself!

Waiting

It sounds to me like LW#1 needs to do some soul searching. I think it's great that you know that you love history. This may or may not mean that grad school for history is what you want to do. I would really scrutinize different programs and get to know intimately what you will be doing because as the Lady says, it's a lot more than just immersion in a topic you love. I'm sort of in the same boat as you right now and these are the steps I'm taking (but for music).

pumpkinseed

LW1 - As someone who spent this year applying to MFA programs and will be attending one in the fall (and assuming you also intend to do an MFA rather than an MA) I feel the best motivation in pursuing the degree is because you want to write and feel that the program will afford you time and money to do just that. There are many fully-funded programs, many that fully fund only a certain percentage of their students, and many that offer lots of funding options (GAships, work in other departments, etc etc.) You can definitely do an MFA without paying for it if you do enough research and take enough time to apply intelligently. (I'm not saying that nobody should pay for an MFA--if you've got the money, go for it! But I don't, and LW1 doesn't either.)

Somebody above mentioned the MFA Research Project which is an AMAZING resource. It will tell you a lot of incredibly useful things, including the fact that Vanderbilt is the most selective program out there. Doesn't mean it's the "best" or that there's no chance you'll ever get in--it just means that there are a lot more applicants and a lot fewer spaces. Getting in is about writing the kind of work profs on admissions committees want to read and work with, so it's really anyone's game. But I'd say that if you're going to take the time to research and apply to programs, it would be good to apply to as many as you can afford provided they're schools that a) will fully fund you and b) where you think you'll be happy and would be excited to attend if they happened to be the only school that accepted you.

As others have said, you do not need an MFA to write or to be a "real writer." But if getting the degree would make you happy and wouldn't put you in debt, you should absolutely go for it! I'd also point you in the direction of this facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/166593920107461/ which will probably be another great resource. This year's group was invaluable to me, and I hope you'll find this one helpful, too.

Good luck, and I do hope you were talking about an MFA and not an MA because if you weren't my comment is totally useless.

Ms.Wallaby

Has anyone here gone into a first professional grad degree program in architecture or landscape architecture? I *think* that I want to pursue a Master of Landscape Architecture. I am in love with the field and the thought of working as a landscape architect is really exciting to me. I can justify this grad school in my mind because it is more of a vocational degree and so I could actually have a (somewhat) decent job at the end. However, the job market for landscape arch. isn't 100% stable. The potential debt I've determined from grad school is less than 1/2 of what I would probably (?) make my first year out. I think a lot about MBA programs and "holy cow I need to go back and do a bachelor's in accounting/engineering/CS." Eventually, I end of realizing there is a reason I didn't go into those fields in the first place and so I end up right back at "just go to landscape arch grad school and stop freaking out. You would be the worst accountant in the universe!" Right now I feel like I am drifting through work, just trying to find something-anything that pays and is remotely related to landscape arch. I want to go to grad school so that I can learn about what I love and then really get my career started. But is it all just because the prospects of finding a job with a BA are terrifying? Should I be pursuing a grad degree/career that is more lucrative? I know that these are things I can only really answer for myself, but if anyone from the arch/landscape arch realm has any input about the field I would really appreciate it.

EpWs

@Ms.Wallaby Would recommend LA WAY over M.Arch. The architecture field is totally flooded right now, no one can get jobs, and a lot of architecture programs are kind of insane--the ones I have experience with tended towards the do-what-you-feel-you-are-a-god-creating-something-from-nothing end of the spectrum rather than the pragmatic here-is-a-budget-and-how-you-work-within-it side of the spectrum.

Apply to good programs, know your strengths, and see how much money you can get! I'm not terribly familiar with LA programs but hopefully there are some out there with money. Good luck!

Ms.Wallaby

@The Everpresent Wordsnatcher Thank you for your response! I have heard similar things about the architecture field right now. These things are discouraging and it's been a little difficult for me to determine where arch & landscape arch diverge in terms of job outlook. My hope with LA is that if I can't find work in a strictly LA firm, I could work for an engineering or environmental remediation company.

Maybe someday I will get a job where I can be creative, use science, look at plants all the time, make a difference! for the planet!, earn enough to support all of the cats and also have health insurance. It's a lot to ask but a wallaby has got to dream.

Facultywife

@Ms.Wallaby I'm just finishing my MLA. The market is not great. It takes many grads from my program (which is ranked in the top 10 nationwide) at least a year to find a job. But if you want to acquire a toolkit of knowledge to make our built environment more ecologically responsive, or if you want to create public spaces which are beautiful and make sense, or if you freaking love plants, or, like me, want to apply sound science to healing and rejuvenating brownfields, you've come to the right field. If all you're thinking about is your marketability, become an accountant. Really. You don't "just go to landscape arch grad school and stop freaking out." If that's your attitude, you'll be gone after one semester.

Manatee

I'd like to dedicate this quote from Aaron Sorkin's recent commencement address at SU to all the clueless letter writers with their panties in a bunch:
Make no mistake about it, you are dumb. You're a group of incredibly well-educated dumb people. I was there. We all were there. You're barely functional. There are some screw-ups headed your way. I wish I could tell you that there was a trick to avoiding the screw-ups, but the screw-ups, they're a-coming for ya. It's a combination of life being unpredictable, and you being super dumb.

theharpoon

@Manatee perhaps your hostility on this thread is actually directed towards your younger self?

theharpoon

That or you're trolling.

Miss Maszkerádi

@Manatee Socrates once said that no one on earth knows anything. But Socrates, KNOWING that he knows nothing, therefore knows *something*, and is therefore the wisest man on earth.

You, sir or madam, are no Socrates.

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