By Ophelia on All Things Converge
@sarah girl Yeah, I had a couple of those at my wedding, too. Wasn't weird, everyone had fun, etc.
I got my PhD in a humanities field almost exactly one month ago. I have not had time to read every single comment here but I want to address a couple of these points. First of all: Don't go into debt for grad school if you aren't sure you will be able to get a job. This is really easy advice to give, but less easy to follow. The average time for a humanities PhD, start to finish, is 9 years. It's true! A fucking lot can change in a decade, such as, for example, the availability of jobs in your field. Even if you somehow manage to breeze through in a miraculous five years, a lot can change in that time. Plus, the only way you can really do all that coursework, research, and writing in five years is if you are funded solely by fellowships and don't teach. But no teaching experience = no job. So.
I was fully funded, and pretty well funded at that (by humanities standards) and I still have a lot of debt. I picked a good program in a cheap city, and it made no difference. You have to pay rent and eat, yes, and you can be frugal about these things, but you also have to buy A LOT of books, present at conferences (you will be paying for travel since even in the top departments funding is being cut and grad student travel awards are the first thing to go), and publish. The last two you have to do a lot of if you want to ever get a job. Conferences cost money, but you have no choice (if you want a job). Publishing won't generally cost much, except in some circumstances (if you have to use images, you'll pay for the rights -- even really good journals will not pay). My point is, these costs add up, and it's not as simple as "get funded or don't go." As with any business, you have to spend money to make money in grad school. And in today's economy, I'd rather have student loan debt than a mortgage.
Finally, there's the argument about not going to grad school unless you are so good at what you do that you can't NOT get a job. I'm not even going to go into the reasons why this is bullshit. There is no formula, and no guarantee. The market changes every year, and you may be the best in your field and not match what the market wants in any given year.
(ETA: Full disclosure, I went to grad school hoping I'd eventually end up in a private sector job, so I have never been in thrall to the tenure track, which probably colors a lot of my opinions about the whole situation. Also I absolutely think the grad school industrial complex is a totally exploitative racket. Here nor there?)
This is all to say, it's really easy to give advice about grad school. The reality is much, much more complicated. So then I think what it comes back to is do you love it? Do you really really love it? That's the only part of this that you will be in complete control of, the only part that's certain. So maybe go with that.
I was enrolled in a top 10 PhD program in history, fully funded with a very good stipend for the metro area I was in. I left after my Master's despite loving my advisor/topic/students/classmates.
The fact was, I wanted to 1) eventually have a job where I could afford food and possibly nicer things also. 2) I wanted to live where I wanted to live. 3) increasingly, academia in the humanities looked like pointless navel-gazing that doesn't do anybody any good.
I found a great position in a corporation. It's a little hamster-wheely from time to time, but it more than pays the bills and I am so so happy with the life/brain time/work time balance. Book clubs at work! Read what you like! Enjoy big ideas about changing the world! Can avoid reading boring theoretical tomes that use diction and syntax that are unnecessarily complicated (I'm looking at you, Judith Butler and Benedict Anderson. Yeesh). And I can still publish, get people to read my work, and live a varied and interesting life of the mind.
To be honest my graduate worked probably worked against me in getting my initial job outside of academia, so keep that in mind. Your humanities degree is worth zippo outside the ivory tower and just makes you look questionable to potential employers. If you get a humanities grad degree, you realize that you are often going to be ranked lower than the undergraduates who are also scrabbling for the same entry level jobs.
Even my friends with Ivy League PhDs have had a ridiculously difficult time finding TT jobs. In fact they will probably have to look at the entry level private sector jobs, and will end up feeling hamstrung by their PhDs. The sad part is that they all would have been amazing profs and academics, but the academic market is collapsing in on itself like a black hole.
1) Don't go to graduate school in the humanities. As someone who's been there, I reeealllly would recommend against it, unless you are a millionaire heir(ess) with lots of time and ennui.
2) If you must go, make sure you are in a top 10 (preferably top 5!) school.
3) Do not go unless you are fully funded (scholarship + stipend).
4) An exciting and satisfying intellectual life is more than possible with a normal 9-5.
5) Make sure that you have job back up plans in case you decide to quit or the funding dies.
6) If you want a retirement, children, good healthcare, home ownership or other expensive things, you should not go to graduate school in the humanities.
@jennfizz I had a similar experience with my MSc. By the end I hated my thesis, hated my supervisor, and was highly annoyed with my committee and my school (and this is why I have no PhD and probably never will) but if I hadn't loved my topic I don't think I would have made it out of there without a degree, and certainly not lasted for a 5 year PhD. Passion isn't enough on its own, but I think it's a necessary componant
For me, being able to image doing something other than profess in my field is a great relief, not an indication that I shouldn't be here. I love teaching college kids and my ultimate goal is to become a professor. But I also know academia is fucked, there are barely any jobs, there are places I wouldn't live, etc etc, and knowing that I'd also be content to teach high school/be a translator/do whatever ' international consultants' do helps keep me sane. It means that, even if my number one dream job never opens up for me, I'll still have spent six (fully-funded) years devoted to studying, researching and teaching. Not a waste!
Oh, and I'm four years in. Totally stressed but no regrets beyond not studying harder.
In my meeting for my second year review (humanities PhD program), my committee chair had one of his strongest undergraduate students waiting in the hallway to ask for letters of recommendation for grad school. The professor told me he was planning to refuse to write a letter, and instead recommend the student chose another career path.
This is to say that if you do get into and attend a great PhD program, you will also be constantly confronting what a bad idea everyone knows it to be for the next six years of your life.
@misskaz: I have to confess, the lack of any shout out to credit unions in the first answer makes me question the writer's suitability for offering financial advice.
For the love of little golden apples, do not spend almost FIVE THOUSAND dollars for a dress you'll wear for one day (added alterations will push that over the $5k mark quickly). The cost of that dress is HALF of what my ENTIRE wedding cost. 15 years from now, you wont' be dreaming about your dress you wore that day, you'll be dreaming of the day itself, happy you were, and the look on your man's face as you walked down the aisle.
Also, please do not become a yoga instructor and expect to make a liveable wage: http://nymag.com/news/intelligencer/welfare-yoga-2011-10/ I know, this sucks and it's not what anyone wants to hear! I've had several of my friends quit the rat race and become yogis - one of which works in a very senior position at a very famous studio-and all of them are barely getting by/have second non-yoga jobs.