“Should I Go to Grad School?”

PhD graduand shaking hands with Sir Dominic Cadbury, the Chancellor of the University of Birmingham - 20120705

Don’t get a Ph.D. just for the fancy gown. (Photo by Ede and Ravenscroft, via Wikimedia Commons)

Wrong reasons:

-You want to stay in school.

-You’re afraid of the job market.

-You don’t know what else to do.

-You’re really smart and do well in school, so you should prove that by going as far as you can go.

Right reasons:

-A graduate degree is required for the career path you’re aiming for, and you’ve researched it all thoroughly, including talking to people who hold the kind of job you want.

-You have specific research interests: there are significant questions that you want to answer, that with a little training you will be capable of answering, and that you can do at least as well, if not better, than anyone else at answering these questions.

(Note: This is a good reason for grad school with all other things being equal. However, given the current state of the academic/research job market and research funding, you must carefully research your specific field to rationally assess the chances that you’ll be able to get into a grad program and find a research position afterward)

-You have the means to pay for a program without debt, and you’re really interested in a given subject.

See also: my posts on what a Ph.D. program in history is like and how you might think about choosing a program, and why you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t go.

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