Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Shooting Fish in a Barrel?

This one may be too easy, but there's someone over at Dear Prudence actually soliciting advice (Hi, Monkey!) about whether to get a Ph.D. in English Literature:
Q. Two Roads Diverged in a Yellowed Wood: I’m about to graduate with my Master’s degree this spring and I’m at a loss of what to do next. I’ve been (informally) offered a more permanent job where I’m currently a graduate assistant. I love the work I do and I know the money/benefits would be a great start in this field. But the job has nothing to do with my degree in English Literature. I’ve wanted to get my Ph.D. and become a professor since I was in high school but the cost and time burden with no real promise of a guaranteed position at an institution has me favoring the job offer. Any advice?
Prudence's advice  seems pretty good to me (and I also like the fact that she's standing up for the value of a job that doesn't require a college education earlier in the column), but I thought we might have an additional word or two of advice to add.  If so, have at it below.  


  1. Dear Two Roads: Quit while you're ahead. Even if you go on and earn a Ph.D. in English Literature, it is very unlikely that you'll get a permanent job teaching it. Much more likely is that you'll teach basic composition as an adjunct, with no guarantee of a permanent position even doing that. Which sounds very much like the position you are considering taking.

    So take the "more permanent" job, continue loving what you do (and the pay and benefits), and count yourself lucky to have avoided incurring the great debt and stress that accompany getting a doctorate. You can still enjoy English literature for the rest of your life! In fact, you may enjoy it more, and longer, than if you had pursued the Ph.D.

    Yours in misery prophylaxis,
    Dr. Galore

  2. A: Before I even go to read Prudie's advice, I predict that she is way too wordy and likes to play tricks with low-brow puns and double-entendres. I find her almost unreadable.

    B: What precisely did you intend to do with your degree in English literature?? Be a book?

    C: Take the job with benefits. Teach online. Write a book on the weekends. Post to CM in the evenings.

  3. Oh, I blew it--I read Prudie's advice first, and it's about what I would have said.

    To my (math) grad students I say there are many non-academic jobs these days for people with advanced math training, and that they should at least become informed about those while still in grad school. And they would still be doing something intellectually challenging, and in many cases original. To be a good candidate for those you need a more broad-based training than the typical graduate program currently requires; so they have to do that at the ABD stage, while working on their theses. I think graduate programs fail their students, by not acknowledging the job is no longer what it was when we were starting out (and never will be again, except maybe at the one-percenter research-oriented schools.)

  4. A bird in the hand beats a turd under the foot.