A college student who has some interest in further education, but who is unsure whether she wants a career as a professor, is not going to risk investing eight or more years finding out. The result is a narrowing of the intellectual range and diversity of those entering the field, and a widening of the philosophical and attitudinal gap that separates academic from non-academic intellectuals. Students who go to graduate school already talk the talk, and they learn to walk the walk as well. There is less ferment from the bottom than is healthy in a field of intellectual inquiry. Liberalism needs conservatism, and orthodoxy needs heterodoxy, if only in order to keep on its toes.
And the obstacles at the other end of the process, the anxieties over placement and tenure, do not encourage iconoclasm either. The academic profession in some areas is not reproducing itself so much as cloning itself. If it were easier and cheaper to get in and out of the doctoral motel, the disciplines would have a chance to get oxygenated by people who are much less invested in their paradigms. And the gap between inside and outside academia, which is partly created by the self-sorting, increases the hostility of the non-academic world toward what goes on in university departments, especially in the humanities. The hostility makes some disciplines less attractive to college students, and the cycle continues.
We choose to [do these things] not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
You know, I'm going to be very interested to see the effect the cumulative attitude of "DO NOT GET A PhD IN HUMANITIES NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU THINK YOU WANT ONE" is going to have in 20-30 years. I really do wonder how many talented people have been talked out of the Academy, scared and bullied to no end by an endless stream of advisers and others. I know at least a dozen people from my undergrad and MA days who were given that attitude who gave in, who sought lives elsewhere than the discipline they loved simply because they were told so many times it was impossible for them or anyone else to get anywhere in it.
We may be our own undoing in the end.
-The system works well from the institutional point of view not when it is producing Ph.D.s, but when it is producing ABDs.
-The academic profession in some areas is not reproducing itself so much as cloning itself.
I'd argue that this points to a problem with society and not with advanced degrees. We are going to become rapidly culturally impoverished because people don't see the value of education unless it can be eaten like food, spent like money, and used as a shelter to cover us when it gets cold.
Many NSF-funded tuition grants and waivers that look like free money are actually structured as loans that can either be (1) forgiven when the recipient works 'in the field of study' for two years for every year of funding, or (2) repaid.
I've never, ever heard of these. What programs in specific are you talking about?
The 2:1 ratio is standard, and according to a friend at the NSF, this still applies to any NSF stipends that are not part of a dedicated scholarship program (i.e. not to the GRF or to IGERT). NSF and NIH both offer R1 institutions subsidiary funding for incoming PhD students in their first three years of study, and some of these funds come with this restriction.
The upshot of what I said is clear and pretty non-controversial: Read the fine print on your funding, as it may come with unsavory strings attached.
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