Wednesday, 30 November 2005

Go to grad school!?!

Brian Weatherson has some advice that is contrary to the conventional wisdom for his readers. Color me deeply skeptical.

þ: James Joyner, who aptly summarizes Weatherson’s argument thusly:

Go to grad school if you can get a free ride to a top ten institution or if you don’t mind being relegated to the backwaters of academia teaching dull students or don’t mind losing ten years of earning potential before going into another line of work.

Since none of those three really apply to me (except possibly #3), I think we can safely say I am an idiot. Frankly, if I weren’t really good* at teaching a class (research methods) that most political scientists hate to teach with an unrivalled passion†, I’d have no career.

* By “really good,” I mean “not as horribly as 99% of other professors.” I freely admit that I could be better.
† The reasons are two-fold: people who teach methods typically get terrible student evaluations, particularly at schools where methods is a requirement for the major, and teaching methods is typically harder work than sitting around talking about one’s own “substantive” research interests or spewing out the intro outline for the 17th time.


Any views expressed in these comments are solely those of their authors; they do not reflect the views of the authors of Signifying Nothing, unless attributed to one of us.

Why the assumption that grad school means getting a Ph.D. and going into academia? That’s not my intention.


Because, usually, when professors tell their impressionable acolytes to “go to grad school” they mean “go get a Ph.D. and go into academia.” As opposed to going to graduate school for a terminal master’s (e.g. an MPA or MPP) or a professional degree (law school, med school, etc.).

That said, a surprising number of the same caveats apply no matter what sort of postgraduate study you are interested in pursuing.


Oh, okay (why would professors want more people in academia? that means more competition, no?)

Of course, there’s still a big difference in the opportunity costs of 7–10 years and 2–3 years.


why would professors want more people in academia? that means more competition, no?

That assumes strategic behavior on the part of professors. And, since most people giving this advice already have tenure-track positions, or are tenured, they don’t have to worry about competition.

More generally, professors like academia, so they assume that other intelligent people would like academia too.

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