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Thread: Opinions Needed - Grad School Article

  1. #1

    Opinions Needed - Grad School Article

    I've been asked to include this link on my site (I'd probably use the links page). It has some advice from a number of university deans, professors, and program directors on graduate school. It is not geared specifically to music. Do you folks think it will be a useful resource?

    Thanks!

    https://graduateschoolsite.com/prepare-for-grad-school/
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  2. #2
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    It does try to speak to a wide selection of grad school majors, and has plenty of good advice, but not much that isn't probably repeated in many other places. My suggestion, skip it.
    - Sara
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  3. #3
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    I think this would be worth a post in your 'links' section like you pointed out. My youngest son is a professor at NC State and teaches grad students up through PhD. Any help or advice for a student contemplating this path should be helpful.
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  4. #4
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    Pretty much cookie-cutter info, if not downright misleading--I agree with Sara above. All you have here are people who have a product to sell. Additionally, much of the content is based upon the false premise that "if a four-year degree is valuable, then additional degrees should be more valuable." In many fields, there are quickly diminishing returns to more education.

    1. I see only tangential reference to "at least two years of foregone income in a good economy" or "incremental costs vs. incremental benefits of your degree" or "payback period for the degree or "value added by the degree."

    2. I don't see much about the *huge* oversupply of graduate students in certain subjects, leading to massive underemployment. People may think the image of the PhD in English working at Starbuck's is just a myth...it isn't.

    3. I see only a bit of distinction between STEM subjects and the social sciences. Opportunities abound in the former areas while the latter areas (Psych, Sociology, Poli Sci, etc.) lead to what I've described in number 2 above.

    4. There is a need to realize that faculty in social sciences and many other areas have an overwhelming political tilt in one particular direction. If that's not your direction, success will be difficult.

    At my little college--at which I no longer work--there were over 300 applicants for a position in art a few years ago. At least 250 of them were more than qualified. Fields such as English, History, Psych, Sociology, Poli Sci, etc. typically produce hundreds of applications for vacant positions at even the smallest colleges.

    When my position came open (35 years ago, I admit) there were FOUR applications from people with my (highly quantitative with a strong liberal arts background) skill set.

    Do some reading about the slave wages earned by peripatetic "adjunct instructors" who are beloved by administrators because the administrators can pay them so little. The adjunct instructor subculture is huge and growing--I have trouble coming up with too much sympathy for them, however, since they knowingly chose a path that led to their current plight and I get tired of their constant blaming of everything outside themselves for their current plight.

    One may correctly assume that I view graduate study in many fields with a jaundiced eye. For those who don't know, I was a professor for almost 40 years at a couple of places. I've served on hiring committees, tenure & promotion committees, and admission committees, so I've seen all sides of the operation.

    Having said all that, I guess the same thing applies to grad school that people say about music: If you can't imagine living your life without intimate and deep knowledge of the lesser-known left-handed poets of 17th-century Northeast Crete, go for it--but with your eyes open, and realize that the world may not share your passion for those poets or value it as highly as they would value other bodies of knowledge...and please don't blame society for any inability to make a comfortable living explaining the intricacies of lesser-known 17th-century left-handed Northeast Cretan poetry.

    Interested parties may hit me up for a reading list, but I'll ask you to do your own homework, starting by searching under "adjunct instructor plight." (I don't use Google, and using "Duck Duck Go" as a verb doesn't cut it.)
    Last edited by Snorlax; 01-18-2020 at 08:00 PM.
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  5. #5
    I'm with Snorlax on this one.
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  6. #6
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    I can only add one thing to what has been written. (Well, maybe more than one thing.) In terms of finding a good job, a PhD is basically the ticket you need to punch if you want a career in scientific research. (There are a few exceptions, but not many.) Even engineering, which is quite close to science in some ways, does not require a PhD as a ticket to a good career. Also, while it is possible to make a decent living in the sciences without a PhD, in terms of average income levels having a PhD is a huge advantage over having a lesser degree.

    As far as other fields are concerned, I could not say, but my impression is that the value of a PhD as a career enhancer can vary widely, depending on the details of what one wants to do. For example, in most subject areas a PhD is required for people seeking faculty positions at most universities, with perhaps a few exceptions in a limited number of subject areas. On the other hand, (and I stand to be corrected on this from someone more knowledgeable in the field) if one's career goal is to be an artist or a music performer I suspect that a PhD would be only marginally useful as a career enhancer.

    One final note: in the sciences if one's career goal is to obtain a PhD then it is basically a waste of time and money in most cases to get a masters degree. Just go straight for the PhD.

    One more final note: In some subject areas, such as most of the hard sciences, you can go through graduate school without accumulating much if any debt. Basically, you will get paid to be a teaching assistant and/or researcher on the research topic you are pursuing in your graduate work. This is a huge advantage from a financial point of view. Getting and MD/PhD is even better because you will normally have both your MD and PhD paid for by your program whereas most MD graduates accumulate about a quarter of a million dollars in student loan debt while pursuing their MD.

  7. #7
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    I'm with Snorlax also -- partly from my perspective of about 30 years in business/industry and my prior perspective of 10 years as a professor in academia.

    I was struck just reading the initial statement on how narrowly focused it seemed to be on the relation of grad school to people who would later become academics. That was from a Dean whose own background was "Communication and Fine Arts", and so who likely has NO experience with people who either want or need to go to graduate school in order to pick up genuine knowledge and skills that they will need in order to perform at a high level outside of academia.

    Then there was a lot throughout the various pieces about "research" and finding "the best graduate school". If graduate schools actually depended on students to think this way, most of them would be out of business and their faculties would be out of jobs.

    There was a lot of other wonky advice and (perhaps worse) highly conflicting advice -- such as whether to proceed directly to grad school or to "wait" or "work" for a few years prior to grad school. There are some professions, and some disciplines, and some careers where if you decide to wait, then you'll be lost.

    Then there's virtually senseless (I mean, literally, meaningless) advice like "Get a solid foundation in math." This is meaningless because ... well ... we have no idea what it means. A solid foundation in math for a professor of accounting is really pretty different than it is for a professor of high energy physics, and certainly very different than it is for a professor of "communication".

    If I were considering graduate school, and I was reading these "recommendations", and I was supposed to take these people as representatives of the sort of folks I'd expect to find on the faculty in graduate school ....... I'd turn and RUN away from the idea of graduate school as fast as I could. Very little thought has gone into these snippets of advice, and it's not very good thought in general.

    I have no idea (and can't get one from the site itself) who is behind this "The Graduate School Site" or why it exists, how it's being funded, or what the plan is to "monetize" it (surely there is one). The "articles" on it are authored by someone we can know only as "Travis". Fishy.

    "We are curators of the wisdom of these wise and generous people." Yeah, right. But who are you, and why are you doing this? And what are your credentials? And who in their right mind would "contact" you about anything on the site?
    Last edited by ghmerrill; 01-21-2020 at 02:51 PM.
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Snorlax View Post
    Do some reading about the slave wages earned by peripatetic "adjunct instructors" who are beloved by administrators because the administrators can pay them so little. The adjunct instructor subculture is huge and growing ...
    If the environment for these jobs was not the university (bastion of intellect, education, and preserver of academic freedom and our accumulated knowledge) there would be talk of company towns and oppressive immoral systems that create and ensure their own low-wage labor forces for generations for the sake of an aging elite who retain their own domineering positions through suppression of competition and guaranteed employment during their work lives and beyond. Visions of smokestacks, blast furnaces, overseers, despair and lost opportunity. But the smokestacks, blast furnaces, and overseers have different names and titles, and everything seems so clean and reasonable, if not genuinely noble. Just a narrow road of perdition towards that longed-for opening that never comes: "I could have been a contender". No you couldn't -- they only let you think you could while they used you for their own benefit. (They're not all like that. But as "education" has spread in the US -- and the EXPLOSION in graduate schools in EVERY discipline is a great example -- there are WAY TOO MANY programs that have absolutely no objective reason to exist and could not do so if their existence depended on objective measures of useful success.)

    I must challenge the concept of LESSER-KNOWN left-handed poets of 17th-century Northeast Crete since I don't think that the population of the time was sufficient to make such distinctions. But I could be wrong -- if, for example, a number of the otherwise qualifying poets IDENTIFIED as LEFT-HANDED. Surely there's some grant money for that research.
    Last edited by ghmerrill; 01-21-2020 at 03:25 PM.
    Gary Merrill
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  9. #9
    Thanks folks for the considered feedback. I shall pass on this opportunity.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
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  10. #10
    I haven't read the attached article, but let me add additional anecdotal information from my own experience as an adjunct instructor.

    What Snorlax says about the vast numbers of wandering adjunct instructors is true. In the Humaniiies branches of the liberal arts, the number of qualified applicants is voluminous.

    I finished a PhD in the history of Christianity so my graduate degree bridged both history and religious studies-- I had considerable coursework in both and briefly looked for academic work, including a couple of serious interviews, but no job offers. A number of the jobs I applied for only generated the "there were many qualified applicants, but unfortunately you did not make our final list" sort of responses. Some sent formal letters, others simply emailed me. This was many years ago, but from what I've heard the situation today is no different.

    I ended up reentering the pastorate-- I had taken a break to finish the PhD-- and was grateful to teach as an adjunct for 20 years at the local community college. It allowed me to use my academic credentials, but my wife called the adjunct salaries "hobby wages." Since I had other income, it was fine, but I saw scores of recently minted PhD's trying to string together multiple adjunct jobs at those hobby wages to keep themselves afloat and I have no idea if very many of them ever found academic jobs.

    It must also be pointed out that certain "affirmative action" issues play a role in academic hiring to a much larger measure than in some other fields. Without mentioning the exact details to protect the innocent, so to speak, a good friend mine from grad school who was a real high achiever-- he's now world reknowned in his field-- took a position and remarked to one of his veteran colleagues that our alma mater was looking for someone to fill a faculty position, but the rumors were out that the dean of the graduate college said that the department was underrepresented in that area of affirmative action and only candidates would fit the bill would actually be hired, no matter what the job posting actually said.

    My friend shared this with his new colleague who burst out laughing because there were only a couple of such folks in the whole US and they were tenured profs at elite schools. The department we graduated from simply brought in a string of 1 or 2 year temporary profs for several years until such a person could finish his/her PhD and fill this affirmative action slot. The person the dean found eventually found turned out to be very highly qualified, but all those applicants who believed they had a true shot at the job, simply had no idea of the reality behind the scenes. This simply is reality in academia and as Snorlax has said, political commitments now often play a large role as well.

    I have no regrets about getting my PhD and teaching at the local community college was fun- I recently got called out of retirement to teach one of my classes again-- but finding a fulltime academic position in the humanities especially is in no way guaranteed. My role as a pastor was rewarding as was being an adjunct instructor, but my career ended up much differently than I expected when I entered graduate school years ago.

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