Monday, April 13, 2009

Grad School and the Economy

I graduated from college in a year of relative economic prosperity. But I was terrified of the job market, and one of advantages to applying to grad school was the security of knowing what I would be doing months before I actually graduated. So I can certainly understand why people enroll in grad school in times of economic uncertainty. I wasn't willing to go on the job market when times were good, so I certainly wouldn't want to be on the job market now.

Unfortunately, I don't have much choice. Unless something goes horribly wrong with my remaining two experiments (always a possibility), I have no excuse for not graduating next Spring. And I have many more good reasons to leave (running out of funding, wanting to get a real life) than to stay.

Actually, I don't think I have any good reasons to stay; I think the only arguments in favor of staying can be summed up as "fear". These fears are supported by the news. First there was article in the NY Times that started me reflecting on the likelihood of getting an academic position. Now there's an article on Slate examining the true value of higher education. This article contains a very poetic and potentially apt description of career prospects for recent and impending Ph.Ds:
"I am hurdling toward being the saddest type of graduate student—the one who has finished and is at a loss for what to do next. I'm going to be the one sitting on the front steps of that Ivory Tower with my elbows on my knees and my chin in my hands just begging to be let back in."
Unfortunately, the Piled Higher and Deeper comic strip offering advice on whether grad students should worry about the economic meltdown does not fit my situation (I can't decide if "I'm going to graduate and I want a real job" just applies to "real world" jobs only or also faculty jobs). I have no easy source of humor to turn to in contemplating my career prospects. I just have the knowledge that professors never retire; that the only news these days if of people who fail to find jobs because there's no funding for new faculty; and that my advisor's previous grad students, from many years ago, sent out over 50 applications before getting hired.

I'm trying not to stress out about my job search until fall. There won't be any postings about job offers starting in 2010 until the 2009 school year starts. But it's very hard to maintain any optimism in the face of all these stories.

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