Why a PhD isn’t for everyone

For whatever reasons my post from January Why you shouldn’t go to grad school in the humanities has risen back to prominence in the last week. Please read the previous post for the comments (which was itself a comment on an article by Thomas Benton in the Chronicle) but I wanted to place one of the comments and my response here since I think it is worth continuing the conversation in a more public manner. “a” from Doxxa wrote:

While I understand your argument in terms of the economics of it.. just a thought: What is potentially lost in terms of the thinking capacity of our country, if the pool of those in the humanities shrinks further to only include those who fit your categories?:

“You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else. You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere. You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household. You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it.”

Yes, it is competitive, and often based on connections and etc., but how is shrinking that pool going to assist with that problem? It may be better for that individual, but something is lost when the diversity of the pool of thought is smaller.

Thanks a. I should have clarified that, like Benton, I was referring to PhDs (not just any graduate degree). I actually do not believe that this would result in a loss of our county’s “thinking capacity.” A PhD program does not necessarily make someone a better “thinker” (although I hope it does!) but its main goal is to educate students in a very specific area of study. Just because someone is not achieving a terminal degree does not mean they are not still thinking and learning. Consider think tanks like the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Many of their members have PhD’s but certainly not all (and I think not even most). Yet they are some of the sharpest and best thought leaders in our country today.

I am certainly in favor of greater education and our secondary system in particular needs serious attention. But my point was two-fold. (1) One should only go for a PhD if they are serious about and understand the costs, both in financial expense and potential for job opportunities. (2) Do we always need PhDs? We are seeing degree inflation just as we have grade inflation. People should not get degrees just because everyone else has them. They can still be smart, thoughtful, and contributing significantly to our thinking capacity without that piece of paper.

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