Tuesday, 3 February 2004

Grad-school dropout

Chris has already commented on Drezner's post about low retention rates at graduate school, but as a bona-fide grad-school dropout myself (ABD in philosophy, 1997, University of Rochester), I just have to put my two cents in.

I dropped because after five years my funding ran out, my dissertation on Kant's Theory of Substance was going nowhere, and the job market was looking awful. Why put myself through it anymore, when the newly-minted PhDs I saw were teaching multiple part-time gigs at Monroe Community College and St. John Fisher, and making less than I was making as a TA? So I ditched it all to become a computer geek, and seven years later, I’m doing better financially than I would have teaching. I’m making an upper middle-class income according to the Calpundit scale, and I’m living in a city that I like where there’s very little snow.

I’m not bitter, and I have no regrets except for not shooting higher in terms of what schools I applied to. I had the chance to study with a brilliant metaphysician, who was also an excellent teacher, and even got two footnotes in his book. (Even if, due to a typo, one of them reads “Sider (1997)” instead of “Sides (1997).” Grrrr.)

I could have spent 1992–1997 working some job I hated, trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Grad school was a fun way to kill some time, and it’s better to drop out of grad school with very little debt than graduate from law school with a huge mountain of debt, only to discover you hate practicing law.

So go on and go to grad school. But don’t get your hopes up about a career in academia. Have a back up plan.

Lazy link blogging

Lots of interesting stuff out there today. I’m too lazy to comment on it all, so here are some links:

Tuesday Lyric Blogging

Juan Non-Volokh is doing Sunday Lyric Blogging, and Michael at Countertop Chronicles has followed up with Monday Lyric Blogging. Far be it from me not to jump on the bandwagon, so I hereby stake my claim on Tuesday.

Apropos of something or other, here’s the first verse of David Bowie’s “Savior Machine,” off his album The Man Who Sold the World (1970):

President Joe once had a dream.
The world held his hand, gave their pledge
So he told them his scheme for a Saviour Machine.
They called it the Prayer, its answer was Law.
Its logic stopped war, gave them food,
How they adored till it cried in its boredom:
Please don’t believe in me, please disagree with me.
Life is too easy, a plague seems quite feasible now,
or maybe a war, or I may kill you all.
There's a moral in there somewhere. Or maybe it's just a stand-out track from one of Bowie's best albums.

Sing for the Moment

Somehow, Nickelback’s “Someday” seems oddly appropriate as a eulogy for Howard Dean’s campaign. Don’t believe me? Take a look-see at the lyrics:

How the hell’d we wind up like this
And why weren’t we able
To see the signs that we missed
And try to turn the tables
I wish you’d unclench your fists
And unpack your suitcase
Lately there’s been too much of this
But don’t think it’s too late

Nothing’s wrong
Just as long as you know that someday I will
Someday, somehow
I’m gonna make it alright
But not right now
I know you’re wondering when
You’re the only one who knows that
Someday somehow
I’m gonna make it alright
But not right now
I know you’re wondering when

See, it’s all so obvious when you look back…

I want my 0.5% cash back!

I just ran into this annoyance while getting my groceries today at Wal-Mart. Grrr.

But it's OK to have killers on the basketball team

PG at En Banc notes the case of a gay theology student who lost his scholarship after coming out at Baylor University. In completely unrelated news, Carlton Dotson will stand trial later this year for killing ex-Baylor-teammate Patrick Dennehy.


From Wednesday’s Jerusalem Post:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon intends to do everything possible to pass his Gaza Strip unilateral disengagement plan in the cabinet and Knesset, even if it means forming a national-unity government or going to new elections, officials close to Sharon in the Prime Minister’s Office said on Tuesday.

More in Ha’aretz here.

The "dropout crisis" in academia

Dan Drezner has a post looking at a piece in today’s Chicago Tribune on the high dropout rate of Ph.D. students (registration required; use your favorite combo). Dan writes:

So, if there’s to be reforms to ensure a higher yield of graduate school entrants earning their Ph.D.s, there would also have to be a radical change in the culture of most academic departments. Faculty would have to tell their Ph.D.s that it’s OK to get a job in the private sector. That won’t happen soon—for tenured faculty, a key measure of prestige is how well they place their students. The more students that get jobs at top-tier institutions, the better it looks.

I think a higher yield would also require a reduced intake. Certainly at lower-tier schools, programs take in quite a few grad students on “spec,” who eventually wash out because they plainly don’t belong in grad school. That doesn’t happen so much at places like Stanford and Chicago, who have their choice of qualified potential grad students, but out here in the boonies of academia it does.

And, this gives rise to a second question: assuming all these grad students stick around, where are they going to get jobs? It’s a bitch placing the survivors now, even in fields like political science that have good placement rates (on the order of 80% and up for applicants with Ph.D.s in hand). If you think the job market is arbitrary and capricious now, just wait until departments have twice as many applicants per entry-level position—and the burden of that is going to fall squarely on the shoulders of potential professors like me, who have the same (or better) skills as students coming out of “big name” programs but whose degrees come from institutions without that name.

The only realistic solution I can see is to start revoking accreditation from Ph.D. programs to get supply and demand closer to being in check, even though I suspect the results would be monumentally unfair to many potential grad students who have the ability and interest to succeed in grad school. It’s not a solution I particularly like, but if we’re going to encourage students to stick around I think we also have to ensure they have a decent shot at a job at the end of the process.

Update: James Joyner says, “If one doesn’t fit into the academic culture in the comparatively collegial graduate school environment, one is almost certainly not going to be happy as a professional academic. This is a winnowing process that should be hailed, not cause for alarm.” And, Laura McK* thinks Dan underestimates the degree to which grad students are often treated like crap. (Speaking just for myself, I’ve had it much better than the horror stories would have you believe is typical; then again, it’s possible I just have a thick skin.)

Dean getting creamed in exit polls

Taegan Goddard has the exit poll roundup from five states, duplicated below:

South Carolina: Edwards 44, Kerry 30, Sharpton 10
Oklahoma: Edwards 31, Kerry 29, Clark 28
Missouri: Kerry 52, Edwards 23, Dean 10
Delaware: Kerry 47, Dean 14, Lieberman 11, Edwards 11
Arizona: Kerry 46, Clark 24, Dean 13

If these results hold up (a big if, given the poor exit polling performance in New Hampshire), predictions of a delegate-free Tuesday for Howie look strong and—realistically—Edwards is the only candidate who can claim to have a shot at unseating Kerry, although Clark may have an outside chance depending on how he does in the caucus states.

Update: Wonkette! reports that the Columbia Journalism Review is throwing a hissy fit:

Political Wire did the same thing in New Hampshire, though nobody raised a peep. Some readers have written in to suggest that since National Review's The Corner, and Political Wire, are blogs, rather than more traditional news outlets, and since they likely did not have contracts with the poll organizers, they're bound by different rules than, say, The Washington Post. By the standards of contract law, that may be true. But in terms of journalistic ethics, it's a copout. Once the numbers are out there, they're out there, and possibly influencing voters who haven't yet made it to the polls.

And that the culprits are blogs, and not networks, doesn't let them off the hook.

WHO THE FUCK CARES? Ahem. Thank you, I just needed to get that off my chest. (Dan Drezner has the sober response more properly befitting an academic.)