Straight Talk about Graduate School

Timothy Burke wrote a great essay, Should I go to Grad School? In a word, no. He writes:

Graduate school is not about learning. If you learn things, it’s only because you’ve already internalized the habit of learning, only because you make the effort on your own and in concert with fellow graduate students. You learn because that’s what you do now, that’s your life. Don’t go into it expecting to extend the kinds of healthily collaborative relationships you’ve had to date with your teachers and don’t go into it expecting to extend the kinds of educational nurturing you’ve had to date. Graduate school is not education. It is socialization. It is about learning to behave, about mastering a rhetorical and discursive etiquette as mind-blowingly arcane as table manners at a state dinner in 19th Century Western Europe. Graduate school is cotillion for eggheads. For all these reasons, graduate school is not something you want to experiment with. Think heroin–this is your brain, this is your brain on graduate school. Think Al Pacino in “Godfather 3”–just when you think you are out, you will l be sucked back in again. Academia, especially in the humanities and the social sciences, is a total culture. It colonizes most aspects of your life. You are never not an academic–the little mental tape recorder is on all the time, or it had better be if you want to be good at this life. Anything is grist for my mill as a teacher and a scholar, and that is as it should be. Graduate school is, if anything, even more totalizing than this. It gets into your pores.

Dorothea Salo’s tale of grad school burnout is sobering, but not unusual. She discusses misconceptions:

Misconception 1: Anyone who starts a graduate degree and does not finish it lives the rest of his or her life permanently embittered, resentful, and with a sense of personal inferiority.Sorry, not so. Sure, some people live that way; my mother (who left while writing her dissertation) is a textbook example. When I left school, my father discussed her lifelong regret with me to try to scare me into going back. But I’m not bitter, I’m certainly not inferior, and if I’m resentful, it’s a resentment of a ridiculously stupid, unfair, and ineffective system, and I express my resentment by writing these pieces in hopes of helping you survive the system and perhaps even forcing the system to change. I don’t automatically resent people who succeed in academia, I don’t resent all the academics I’ve ever known, and I don’t resent academia as a whole. Does a bitter, resentful person try to help other people do well in the same situation she failed at? That’s what I’m trying to do.

I finished my master’s degree in one year, and later wandered aimlessly through the business world. Actually, teaching at universities overseas was a delight because it allowed me to teach without having to go through the hoops or advance through the pecking order. Here are my superficial thoughts about academia:

  1. Grad school is a volume-based business. You better be able to crank out a lot of essays and reconcile yourself to the fact that a large percentage of it will be mediocre or ultimately unimportant.
  2. Tenure track jobs in humanities are impossible to find these days. Finding tenure-track jobs in any discipline can be practically impossible.
  3. Four year institutions are dinosaurs. The real innovation is occurring at professional institutes and community colleges. Unfortunately, a lot of these involve adjunct (i.e., part-time ) instructors.
  4. Despite the fact that I was in a literature/creative writing program, I accomplished little in the way of serious independent reading or writing. I did however accomplish a great deal of that immediately afterwards.
  5. I took two semesters of graduate level instructional technology courses at University of Texas at Austin. Great courses, great students, but it became evident that I didn’t need to be taking courses to learn the things I did. Grad school requires a lot of face time and renders your schedule absolutely inflexible.
  6. It really helps if you have a spouse not in academia who could move if you find a job in academia.
  7. Grad school sucks, and so do the politics and turf fighting, but the international demographics of it makes it good for potluck dinners.
  8. I never figured out what it meant to “give a paper” at an academic conference. For the sciences, you didn’t actually have to write the paper, only conduct (or help with) the research. For humanities, it meant merely submitting an essay and having them agree to let you give a talk on it to 10 other academics (optimistically speaking).
  9. It’s practically impossible to regurgitate well and say interesting/original things at the same time. Why? If you write an original paper, you are criticized for not mentioning Scholar X or Scholar Y or Theory Z. On the other hand, if you do cite Scholar X, Scholar Y and Theory Z (along with several others), you find little room left for original thought or analysis.
  10. The problem with PhDs is that your particular field of study or analytical method can fall out of fashion very easily. In the 80’s, using deconstructionist methods to analyze texts was a lively way to understand texts (and helped with academic advancement for practitioners). In the 2000’s, this type of analysis seems irrelevant and incomprehensible. Perhaps a scholarly approach will stay trendy long enough for you to find a job, but regardless of whether you find success, you need to face the fact that 10 years from now scholars will find your subject area or method outdated, irrelevant or overrun with prospectors.
  11. Absolutist and polemical rhetoric can help your cause, provided that your scholarship skills are basically sound. Notoriety is a great way to reach the top of the academic heap (but it’s a debatable question whether it makes you a better thinker).
  12. Many tenured faculty have unrealistic notions of what the job market is like now or how tough the competition is. Either they haven’t been involved in hiring decisions recently or they base their notions about the current job market on what they experienced when they were seeking a teaching position 20 years ago. Back then, many things were different: the minimum requirements, available opportunities and typical experience. Even the best-intentioned faculty member may not have access to fresh information (other than what they hear secondhand at conferences).

April 2008 Update: I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the steady stream of comments on this piece which I wrote without much thought. If you liked this, you might also like my piece, Graduate programs in creative writing are not a complete waste or time. In my blogpost titled Jobs for Writers at Universities & the Covert Intellectual , I reach this juicy conclusion:

For those of us who work as “covert intellectuals” in the workplace, taking subversive political and social positions, finding the daily outrage to blog about or the latest online philosophical conundrum to cogitate over, the key question is whether our advanced study makes us better-equipped to deal with the money-obsessed workworld or simply increases our alienation from it. One delightful essay described web-surfing-at-work as the ultimate “opiate of the masses,” calling it a reward for having to endure the soulless world of business. I laughed when I read it, thinking it a delightful pseudo-rationalization for workplace sloth. As the years go by, I have to wonder whether the clandestine nature of work surfing causes the thinker’s voice to diminish. When people seek academic jobs, what they are really seeking is a way to maintain a public identity as an intellectual; an academic job gives one the right to be a gadfly or a bohemian and not get fired. On the other hand, the technology/Internet boom has produced enormously interesting and profitable jobs for educated people. (I would argue that liberal arts graduates are one of its main beneficiaries). The work environment is comfortable, challenging to the brain and full of workplace diversity. I may be the only blogger in my group of technical writers, but the rest of us have equally diverse interests. In many ways, our workplace conditions are more conducive to intellectual cogitation than an academic niche. The modern work environments I have inhabited over the last 10 years have been enormously tolerant of intellectual curiosity, personal growth and diversity of opinion. Yet, everything seems geared to productivity, business goals and profitability. Such a work environment is conducive to learning; but can an intellectual find it satisfying over the long term?

March 2 2009: See also this persuasive and important piece by Penelope Trunk:  Don’t Try to Dodge the Recession with Graduate School.

Graduate school forces you to overinvest: It’s too high risk. In a world where people did not change careers, grad school made sense. Today, grad school is antiquated. You invest three to six extra years in school in order to get your dream career. But the problem is that not only are the old dream careers deteriorating, but even if you have a dream career, it won’t last. You’ll want to change because you can. Because that’s normal for today’s workplace. People who are in their twenties today will change careers about four times in their life. Which means that grad school is a steep investment for such a short period of time. The grad school model needs to change to adapt to the new workplace. Until then. Stay away.

Actually I’ve started to have a slight change in heart about my blithe dismissal of graduate school. I think investing 2 years in a master’s program makes sense, especially if you think you can derive some benefit just from that (without following  the full PhD path). Geek visionary Paul Graham suggested a brilliant criteria for evaluating career decisions: which career path will leave more options open?

In the graduation-speech approach, you decide where you want to be in twenty years, and then ask: what should I do now to get there? I propose instead that you don’t commit to anything in the future, but just look at the options available now, and choose those that will give you the most promising range of options afterward.

It’s not so important what you work on, so long as you’re not wasting your time. Work on things that interest you and increase your options, and worry later about which you’ll take.

Suppose you’re a college freshman deciding whether to major in math or economics. Well, math will give you more options: you can go into almost any field from math. If you major in math it will be easy to get into grad school in economics, but if you major in economics it will be hard to get into grad school in math.

Flying a glider is a good metaphor here. Because a glider doesn’t have an engine, you can’t fly into the wind without losing a lot of altitude. If you let yourself get far downwind of good places to land, your options narrow uncomfortably. As a rule you want to stay upwind. So I propose that as a replacement for “don’t give up on your dreams.” Stay upwind.

The problem with grad school is that it tends to limit your options. Consider my own academic fork in the road: should I go for the Phd in Literature/Creative Writing or not? I saw a lot of value in doing so, but it also made my whole career dependent on climbing the academic ladder (with all its  interdepartmental politics) and a finite number of funding resources.   Now that I’m outside academia, I can see lots of options I didn’t see  before. On the other hand, I still  miss the camaraderie and the contact with students. Sometimes I feel like a lonely intellectual.

One great thing about graduate school is that you are encouraged to focus on one research area and pursue it relentlessly. That experience can be educational in itself. I had a good friend who was a brilliant thinker who found himself incapable of writing even a master’s thesis (even though writing was one of his key talents).  He realized a valuable thing about himself. He enjoyed being a cultural critic but felt limited by concentrating on too narrow a  subject.  (I am precisely the opposite).  He writes prodigious amounts of highbrow film criticism, and perhaps getting out of academia was the best thing to happen to him.  That was a 2 year life lesson worth paying for.

Responding to Penelope Trunk’s piece, I think we all have a need to take off some time to focus on retooling, obtaining certifications, pursuing intellectual projects. That is not slacking off.  In fact, that is the path to growth and career advancement.  What does this require? Superior time-management abilities and ability to stick to a budget. This is really hard.  Also, I think we need to be able to change course rapidly. I took off 1.5 years from a full time job to work on various personal projects.  I quickly discovered that working on my novel seemed to take precedence over my  other projects.   That was where my heart and mind lay (and I still regard my writing  during that time as my best).  On the other hand,  I ended up living off a credit card for longer than was reasonable under the circumstances. Will finishing this novel help me in the long run (I mean, financially, not psychologically)?  Hard to say.  But when you carefully save for something, you tend to be very frugal with your time.

One of the underlying problems is the 40 hour workweek, which makes it next-to-impossible to pursue outside projects. A lot of  company benefits kick in only if you are working 32 hours or more.  Some people of course want to work 40 hours because they absolutely need the money.  But others can satisfy their intellectual curiosity and creative dreams simply by having 3 or 4 days a week to work instead of 5.  Some fields understand this need to allocate time for intellectual projects; other fields do not (it is equated with sloth or lack of ambition). Some fields  understand this perennial need to retool; other fields are less tolerant.   Even if you “drop out” of the job market for a year or two to work on fun/creative/intellectual projects, you still need to be  able to point to accomplishments during that time–so future employers can see that you are becoming a more valuable (and productive) worker.

The comments on Penelope Trunk’s piece are revealing. See this one:

I’m surprised that no one has mentioned the signaling value of pursuing higher education/advanced degrees. See:

It may not be possible to prove that an employee is smart or productive in a resume or job interview, but going with the assumption that education “costs” (i.e., is less challenging, not economic cost) high-productivity workers less than low-productivity workers, the pursuit of advanced degrees serves as a useful signal to employers as to which workers are actually high-productivity, even if it has no practical impact on their actual productivity.

March 2 Update #2. Thomas H. Benton asks seriously,  is going to grad school is like being in a cult?

Nevertheless, understanding the varied social experiences of graduate school (student culture as well as formal instruction), as a kind of cult helps to explain why so many people cannot be dissuaded from staying in school — or working, year after year, as underpaid adjuncts — when it is manifestly against their interests to do so, when they sincerely want to get out the academy but feel impeded by irrational fears.

And hey, maybe treating graduate school as a kind of cult from which one needs help to escape might give rise to some unconventional new positions for all the unemployed Ph.D.’s.

Let’s say a mother finds an application to Duke University’s Ph.D. program in English under her daughter’s mattress. Obviously the mother is devastated. If she does nothing, in a year her daughter will be dressed in black and sneering in obscure jargon at the Thanksgiving turkey and Aunt Sally’s cranberry Jell-O mold. Where can a concerned parent turn for help?

To serve this need, former academics could reinvent themselves as counselors; they could coordinate interventions with the friends and loved ones of people who are flirting with graduate school, or who have been enrolled for several years but lack the will to leave, or who are trapped in dead-end adjunct positions. These “academic exit counselors” could foster the kind of loving, supportive environments that “academic captives” need to return to a normal life.

Of course, in some cases, tough love may be the only solution. And former graduate students and adjuncts could put together a traveling program for kids who still have time to turn themselves around. They could even make a documentary. It could be a nerdy version of Scared Straight: “You fancy-ass punks think you’re so smart? You think you know something about hegemony? I got a Ph.D., 50 grand in student loans, and I clocked 20 years as an adjunct. Now I’m here to tell the truth to suckers like you.”

Here’s Benton’s recommendation to people considering grad study in the humanities: Don’t!

The follow-up letters I receive from those prospective Ph.D.’s are often quite angry and incoherent; they’ve been praised their whole lives, and no one has ever told them that they may not become what they want to be, that higher education is a business that does not necessarily have their best interests at heart. Sometimes they accuse me of being threatened by their obvious talent. I assume they go on to find someone who will tell them what they want to hear: “Yes, my child, you are the one we’ve been waiting for all our lives.” It can be painful, but it is better that undergraduates considering graduate school in the humanities should know the truth now, instead of when they are 30 and unemployed, or worse, working as adjuncts at less than the minimum wage under the misguided belief that more teaching experience and more glowing recommendations will somehow open the door to a real position.

March 2 Update #3. One reason why young people are attracted to the idea of going to graduate school is that job prospects seem so uncertain and dismal. Consider the advice I often tell recent humanities graduates: “Generally your career in your twenties will suck bigtime.  Most of your jobs will be unfulfilling. You may feel stuck.  However, when you get into your 30s and 40s,  your career prospects will improve considerably. Your ability to take advantage of professional opportunities will be a key asset.   Your ability to survive through your twenties will build character; it will  teach you how to understand   market signals and  adapt. It will also give you insight into what you really need in a career to be happy.  Many engineers/lawyers/medical professionals start  their career by choosing career paths solely on the basis of  job stability/earning potential. Only in their thirties will the enormity of their mistake become clear. On the plus side, these kinds of people will have  enough accumulated savings to make a radical career shift possible.   But these  practical types have a hard time imagining themselves  being happy in careers with incomes under $60,000/80,000/100,000, etc, so they end up picking another safe (and unfulfilling) path.

In my opinion, if humanities grads had a better understanding of how sucky jobs in their 20s will be, it will offend them less terribly if they have to do occasional gigs as a waitress/data entry clerk/bookstore clerk/substitute teacher.  Maybe humanities graduates are attracted to the status of being a graduate student because they cannot reconcile their identity of being multi-talented  with that of  working as a slave in an industry they care little about.   On many occasions, I’ve met  remarkable and talented and upbeat individuals working at  transitional jobs while  pursuing some outside interest or taking a night class or studying for a professional certification. There is absolutely no shame in that.

To follow up on that previous thought: when I came back from overseas, I worked a year or two as a temp worker doing a wide variety of things. I didn’t make much money, but I learned a lot about how businesses really operate.  I could see firsthand how technology had transformed many industries and what kinds of skills were in great demand.  Also, I got a chance to learn about many hidden jobs in areas I would not have known about. My point here is not to encourage people to work at these jobs forever (some of them really sucked). But it’s often easy to parlay this firsthand knowledge into a career you would find both rewarding and challenging.

September 6, 2009 Update: Dorothy Salo (quoted above) has updated her thoughts about graduate school.

I hope you realize that the major contribution I made to my own survival and (eventual) prosperity was opening up my life to let serendipity help me, rather than ceaselessly bemoaning my fate. I hope you realize that it’s a great big wildly varied world out there, a world with as much room for ex-grad-students as anyone else.

One vital lesson I may not have made clear is that failures, even bad failures, contain the seeds of future successes. I landed the electronic-publishing job because of the manuscript-transcription work I did in graduate school. The job after that was with an ebook outfit, obviously attracted by my strong record in that field. Ebooks were dying on the vine at the time, but that turned out not to hurt me at all; the experience I gained working with them meant immensely more. A freelance tech-writing job I’m working on now, in fact, also stems from old ebook circles. The poorly-paid data-entry job I took ended up paying for most of my library-school degree, and the younger woman who got the supervisor’s job I had wanted became a brilliant example, a recommender when I hit the job market again, and a real friend. And some part of the reason I landed my new dream job has to do with my old publishing experience—some of my soon-to-be colleagues want to start a new journal. Look to the future, by all means, but don’t shut the past away. It helps in the strangest ways.

Update:December 22, 2009. The job market for humanities graduates is always sobering, but this MLA report is especially so:

positions in English language and literature will drop 35 percent from last year, while positions in languages other than English are expected to fall 39 percent this year. Given that both categories saw decreases last year, the two-year decline in available positions is 51 percent in English and 55 percent in foreign languages.

December 22, 2009 Update 2 I am right now working on a collection of literary essays about a brilliant and  underappreciated  American short story writer. I can’t say it hurts me to be writing it outside of academia, but for some intellectual pursuits, it’s next to impossible to do it without institutional support. Perhaps you should ask this question: in order to pursue my intellectual goal, do I absolutely require an academic institution to accomplish it? Note that we are no longer talking about career goals; we are talking about intellectual goals. Even if you require enrollment in a graduate program to write a book or conduct research, it doesn’t automatically follow that it will help your career. You need to have already accepted the fact that your intellectual goal is worth pursuing for its own sake.

Update:December 22, 2009 . Obviously the commenters on this post have given amazing insights into the graduate school experience. A request. Can you mention which subject you are studying in graduate school (that is, if it doesn’t reveal too much!). Thanks.

Update: January 27, 2010.  See this metafilter discussion of this article.
Update: Feb 11 2010 . This forum discusses what a master’s degree is worth. I also found these comments by readers to be helpful, especially this one:

Whatever the calculations or conclusions, a prospective graduate student should understand that he or she will become a paying customer who is handing over money to a program that only exists because there is a market for it — not because the world actually needs another 5,000 screenwriters or marine biologists or historians. Too many of us think that the number of programs is somehow scaled to the number of jobs that are available to all the graduates out there. As long as students are willing to pay, education institutions will be there to collect their money. Whether this bubble bursts depends on whether people wise up to this truth.

In 2007 Liz Pulliam Weston estimated how graduate degrees increase earning potential. There is little net income gain for people seeking masters in liberal arts or social sciences (and a mixed gain for people in law, science, or business). This is not particularly surprising, and it depends on the area of concentration. For example, I could imagine that some areas of linguistics might bring a person into lucrative areas of AI, natural language processing or even computer programming. Even in the low-paying field of creative writing, it’s conceivable that a class publishing project could introduce you to XML or web design or even multimedia production. Therein lies the paradox of graduate school. If your graduate program gives you lots of room to explore, there certainly will be payoffs. On the other hand, if your graduate program seems more interested in weeding people out (through burdensome requirements and prerequisites) and forcing you to narrow your intellectual interests,  these payoffs  will be  less likely. I mentioned before that during my graduate school experience, I felt as though I hardly had time to read or write anything. Instead I was writing pointless short essays about F.Scott Fitzgerald and workshop critiques. If I had to do this for more than a year, I probably would have gone crazy.

Here’s an interesting comment made by a reader on a thread about Immanuel Kant:

For me the constant problem in learning philosophy would be that I would think I understand something when in fact I didn’t. Probably 70% of my interactions with teachers consisted of me saying, “So Kant’s saying X Y and Z here, right?” and the teacher grimacing and saying, “No, I don’t think Kant wants to say that.” It’s a pretty humbling experience, and by the time I left I had a good appreciation for what it takes to have a legit understanding of some great philosophical work–namely, years and years of arduous study. So anyway, I think MY’s comment about needing to read philosophy under the “watchful eye and whip-hand of a teacher” is right on, because–after reading some dense passage a couple of times–you will start to convince yourself that you understand what the guy’s talking about, and you might even start having opinions about it. But when you actually have to explain the text back to someone who knows their stuff–unless you really are truly gifted–you’ll quickly find that you didn’t have a good understanding of the text after all. The real test of philosophical understanding is repeating back the argument to someone, not reading it on your own.

In other words, it is difficult to do textual analysis on one’s own without having a bona fide expert being around to wince whenever you oversimplify a thinker’s meaning. Perhaps the benefits of graduate school derive simply from being in the presence of another expert who is aware of the deeper nuances in a theory or text than you would normally be. Getting a master’s  20 years ago  gave me a better appreciation of how much more complex the literary/publishing world was than I imagined; I realized early on that what I regarded as “literary brilliance” was really nothing more than minimum competence.  What a rude awakening! I have learned a lot  on my own since then, but overall I think I benefited from having this awareness come sooner rather than later. The next question is whether keeping a blog or actively participating in a forum can provide a similar kind of feedback mechanism. Maybe so, but only if netizens restrain their distaste towards eager newbies.

Update Sept 29 2010. Here is a collection of comments and gripes by current adjunct profs about the job market and how adjuncts are mistreated and exploited.

Update October 26, 2010. Here’s a relevant video:

Dec 20, 2010 Update.  The Economist speculated about why people pursue PhD in the face of negative economic realities:

Proponents of the PhD argue that it is worthwhile even if it does not lead to permanent academic employment. Not every student embarks on a PhD wanting a university career and many move successfully into private-sector jobs in, for instance, industrial research. That is true; but drop-out rates suggest that many students become dispirited. In America only 57% of doctoral students will have a PhD ten years after their first date of enrollment. In the humanities, where most students pay for their own PhDs, the figure is 49%. Worse still, whereas in other subject areas students tend to jump ship in the early years, in the humanities they cling like limpets before eventually falling off. And these students started out as the academic cream of the nation. Research at one American university found that those who finish are no cleverer than those who do not. Poor supervision, bad job prospects or lack of money cause them to run out of steam.

My response: The Economist  assumes  that things like salary and obtaining a PhD are the most important way to measure whether the decision to seek a Phd is a good one. Also, the article misunderstands  how incentives differ in the humanities. In the humanities, it’s relatively easy to get admitted to grad school and even get a TA position or fellowship, but that is to compensate for low market demand post-degree. But it’s hard to distinguish your credentials from the rest and hard to continue being productive academically after obtaining a degree.  The comment section for the article gives several helpful suggestions: 1)go to a Tier 1 grad school  or don’t go!, 2)consider getting 2 master’s degrees instead of a Phd, 3)make your thesis on a practical topic likely to be of  interest outside of academia. All are interesting ideas. My feeling is that you should regard academia like a stay at a vacation resort (in other words: know it will end sometime, and eventually you will need to return to the “real world.”). Now that I’ve expressed this advice, I realize how badly I followed it. I wrote lots of things for my creative writing master’s  degree, but 20 years later,  very little of this writing is important. I wouldn’t call this experience a waste of my time; I certainly improved my writing, learned a few practical tips and met all kinds of people. Also, I honed my skills at writing and frankly learned from comparison what was unique and not-so-unique about my writing point.  At the same time,     if I knew at the age of 22 or 23 that none of the things I wrote during that period would matter to my career, I doubt I would have been as eager to pursue it.

Update #2. James Mulvey at is a 27 year old Canadian who recently completed his English master’s and decided to turn down an opportunity to  do a Ph.D. at a prestigious program with a full-scholarship. His blog records his transition into the “real world” and his reflections about whether turning away from academia was the right thing to do.  He offers a frighteningly accurate portrayal of the different types of characters who end up at graduate school.  Here’s his cynical thoughts about how liberal artsy types become cynical about their newly acquired knowledge:

.. (Y)ou can lament the demise of liberal education.  You can lament the triumph of techne (notice the last pretentious, learned word with a clever blend of modernist theory and Aristotlian baggage; your journey will be slow, even my former educated self is still breathing somewhere deep down there) over contemplation.  You can weep for a world that has lost its aesthetic center, and lament for a life of things forgotten outside of their utilitarian purpose.  You can do and think all of those things.

But those things won’t help you. They won’t help you get out of the crap job you will most likely end up in after grad school. Like me, mowing lawns and running chainsaws with the Cantos of Ezra Pound pounding in my headphones.  After graduate school has spit you out of production, after you have worked so hard to indoctrinate yourself into the total culture of academe, you will have to leave that self in the past and find a new job. You will have to find a new culture because the university doesn’t have room for you.

And if you do, it won’t be all bad.  You will get rid of the anxiety of having an obscure resume and be able to turn your intelligence into a livable, sustainable wage that doesn’t rely on the charity of grants, the luck of scholarships, or the mercy of a department budget. You won’t have to fear moving to some obscure state college to teach. You won’t have to delay having children till your late 30’s.  You could move to New York tomorrow.  Or take a break for a few years without destroying your Ph.D. job track to nowhere.

James Mulvey cites  a brilliant rule for being productive: the 25-50-25 rule:

The 25-50-25 rule says that you must divide your time as follows:

• No more than 25 percent of your time studying – i.e., reading books, attending workshops, listening to instructional CDs in your car.

• No more than 25 percent of your time observing – watching what successful people are already doing.

• At least 50 percent of your time actually DOING the thing you are studying and observing.

Perhaps this  is simplistic, but apply this rule to academia:  how much of what you do in academia is really “work”?  Is this work-like activity  actually meaningful and useful (at least in the philosophic sense)?  In academia there is a lot of cogitation and free discussion and even research papers, but what is the ultimate goal of these activities?  Will publishing 10 academic papers really convince others to hire you or advance the cause of scholarship in a way that would be impossible without you? And will it help you personally in a concrete way? Maybe I’m setting too high a standard here; after all in office settings, people spend an inordinate amount of time taking breaks, dawdling and surfing to web pages like this one.  But if the majority of the things you do in academia are not useful both to you and society,  how can you justify doing it and miss out on other more practical/useful activities?

According to Mulvey, one thing that hurts graduate students is that they are used to waiting for for everything.

Grad students are excellent at waiting.  They delay having a family till their thirties.  They wait for months to hear back about a publication in a journal.  They think about writing some fiction, and then decide to wait till they understand more about how literary theory works before trying their first novel.

They take a year off, work hard, and then wait to see what Ph.D. program accepts them. They wait to buy a house, wait to have a dog, and pull their partners around the country, chasing scholarships, jobs, and programs. Then they wait for ten years to find out if they are one of the “the lucky ones” who get jobs.

Life never really begins for them.  It is always in a stage of transition, almost ready to become real.

That’s because they don’t want a good job.  They want a great job.  They don’t want to be smart.  They want to be brilliant (which is the acceptable replacement for their first dream of being a genius).  They refuse failure.  They are willing to crawl towards a Ph.D., live in poverty, sacrifice family—anything other than being like everyone else.

Update #3. Michael White makes the somewhat obvious point that graduate students in the sciences don’t face the career hopelessness that a grad student in the humanities does:

Science grad students aren’t exploited quite so badly as their humanities colleagues. The grad student-slave labor problem is real, but there is an important distinction when it comes to the sciences. Humanities students who have to teach classes in order to get any sort of living stipend are being drawn away from their ultimate goal – a dissertation. Every hour spent teaching or preparing for a class is one hour away from the research needed to graduate.

In science grad programs, students don’t get paid to teach – they get paid to work in the lab. The key difference is that the lab work, which grad students are getting paid to do, is in fact the dissertation research necessary to graduate. So while humanities students have to spend much of their time away from their dissertation research in order to earn subsistence wages, science grad students get paid subsistence wages while working on their dissertation research.

In the sciences, that hardly counts as a “dirty secret” – you get paid to work in a lab on your PhD thesis, and you’re fortunate to have a faculty advisor who did some heavy lifting to get the lab funded.

Unfortunately, the humanities don’t have any hope of getting the kinds of funding that scientists get, so the problem of slave labor in humanities graduate programs is more intractable. Every grad student should be guaranteed at least some time free of teaching to make progress on the dissertation. To make sure there is money for such teaching-free time, departments should make an effort to cut down on the slave labor: it’s better to spend the limited money providing a healthy research environment for a smaller pool of students with real career prospects in the field, than to spread the money thin on a large group of graduate students without realistic career prospects, but who can teach for next to nothing.

100 Reasons Not to Go To Graduate School is an oustanding blog where every posts lists another reason to avoid the graduate school experience. (See the index of the reasons here).
Frankly, this blog has thought a lot more deeply about the subject than you will find here and the author  identifies many subtle problems  which are easy to overlook — like  the feeling of  your friends passing you  by, the irritating aspects of being constantly surrounded by undergrads and the tedium of grading papers:

Teaching assistants stare in envy at undergraduates taking an exam, because for those students the brief ordeal will soon be over. For the TAs, it is just beginning. It can take days to grade a written exam, and grading papers is worse. There are few things more discouraging than finding yourself at two in the morning reading the forty-third paper in a row on the same subject when you know that there are sixty more to grade. You will be handed another pile of papers after this one, not to mention the midterm exam and the final exam. To grade conscientiously requires a draining degree of sustained focus, and after all of your effort, you know that only a few of the students will give more than a minute’s attention to the comments that you have painstakingly written with your aching hand. And none of this work moves you one inch closer to finishing your degree.

Update #4. Literary journalist Ron Rosenbaum  writes a first hand account of why he didn’t attend grad school in the 1960s. He found offputting that teachers at his grad school were suggesting insane theories about Shakespeare. Later Rosenbaum left grad school to pursue  several journalism gigs which eventually allowed him to be a literary/arts journalist (and even to write several books for the general reader). An interesting account (although I’m not sure suggesting journalism for anyone is good advice except as an alternative to the English PhD). Rosenbaum makes the point that alternative career paths can also allow you to explore and write about  your love — often in more satisfying ways. Writing books or magazine articles seems to be a good way to pursue a subject in the same depth that you might do in school.  He revels in how journalism brought him into contact with lots of people and organizations in a way that literary academia failed to do. In grad school, it can feel wonderful  to be around people with a common love for Shakespeare and Kafka. But that becomes stifling when you realize that 1)they are your competitors and 2)most people in the real world don’t have these interests (much less know about them). The social capital you acquire by becoming an expert in one aspect of Shakespeare has value only within academia; step 100 feet outside it, and you quickly realize that this currency is now worthless.  The reader comments to the Rosenbaum essay  are  priceless:

Re: dissertation. The point of a diss is not to enjoy reading. You already know how to do that. The point is to come up with an interesting question and do the research and writing. That can also be deeply pleasurable, but it’s a different kind of joy than reading literature.


As a retired university professor, let me make some points based on the advice I used to offer students interested in going to graduate school in my liberal arts discipline.

a.) Graduate school is professional education. You go to dentistry school so you can become a dentist and earn a living, not because you happen to like teeth.

b.) You need to realize that for the past several decades there has been a terrific overproduction of graduate degrees in this country, so that far more are turned out every year than the market can possibly absorb (here I won’t go into all the reasons why this has happened). This means you need to realize in advance that if you successfully complete a graduate program, your chances of getting the kind of job you want are slim. How slim depends of course on your particular field, but in many (including the Liberal Arts) they can be very slim indeed.

c.) If you are fortunately enough to get a job offer when you leave graduate school, in many disciplines the only offer you get may be some from some very unexpected and faraway place. If you are not prepared or not able to move to wherever that place may be and begin a new life there, then you had best forget the whole thing.

d.) You should also realize in advance that it is difficult if not impossible to be successful in graduate school while having a normal family life and enjoying the comforts of a standard middle class lifestyle. Those who try to do both things at once usually bomb out of the program one way or another and have nothing tangible to show for the years they have invested in it (see below on MA degrees). So, once again, if you aren’t willing to postpone these things until you finish your degree, you would be well advised to forget the whole thing.

e.) You should furthermore realize that (unless you are a high school teacher looking to get your salary bumped up) in many disciplines a MA is a pretty worthless piece of paper that won’t help you land a job or open any doors for you, so you need to go the whole hog for a doctorate. This means you need to plan on enduring the kind of deprivations I was just talking about for no less than four years, and quite likely more than that.

f.) It helps if you are an absolutely singleminded fanatic with the thick hide of an elephant and a huge amount of confidence in yourself and your potential abilities. In fact, the personality profile of a successful graduate student who goes on to be successful in his or her chosen profession can sometimes look remarkably like that of an extremely high-functioning sociopath.

Now, if you have thoroughly digested everything I’ve said, and have talked to some people who are currently in graduate school and have successfully completed it to get some cross-bearings, then and only then you should go for it. Lotsa luck.


Best advice given by a professor: Go where the money is offered.   Only attend grad school with a tuition waiver and GA/RA (Grad Assistant/Research Assistant) assignment. Nothing matters more than $. Institutional status is always second to $.  If you are into economics, consider economic geography, etc. etc. (Major is also second to $, there are a lot of similar departments.) No debt for grad school!!

I wanted to say something about  that last comment.  Money is not a prime motivator for people in the humanities. But it fuels your ability to pursue an intellectual interest. A primary reason I quit graduate school (and teaching really) is that I didn’t see any money in it — either for the Phd or the eventual teaching job (if I got one).  If I received a fellowship somewhere to get a Phd in English or comparative literature or creative writing, I almost certainly would have pursued it.  But the odds of receiving funds or fellowships to do that became slimmer with every passing year.  I could spend way too much time trying to apply for these opportunities  instead of actually learning & writing on my own own.  At some point you have to recognize the value of pursuing things at your own pace and on your own dime than having to wait for some academic door magically to open.  Reality check time: right now (12/2012) I’m   in between jobs, practically penniless and pursuing my own projects on my own dime. Comparatively speaking, poverty in academia doesn’t seem much more terrible — at least I get to eat lunch occasionally with someone who reads a book occasionally.  In the “real world,” most of your peers  don’t want to talk about books or the arts; instead they want to talk about sports, the latest celebrity scandal, job  trivialities  and the occasional vacations.

Update #5. I think it boils down to whether you feel going to grad school is a good and useful experience in and of itself. My memories of grad school were that I enjoyed the people and the parties and the status, but I didn’t actually enjoy the work (well, except for the teaching, but that’s not really part of grad school). I was happy to be around like-minded individuals (in the arts, you feel this sense of camaraderie very rarely).  But the work itself — writing the papers, reading the essays and manuscripts by classmates, didn’t seem interesting and worthwhile. Maybe 50% of it was, but the other 50% seemed like a stifling burden. (In the field of creative writing, writing workshops often make you feel miserable and overworked….. )My attitude was, I don’t need to be around my classmates to write! Why subject myself to this torture? On the other hand, if I were writing a more analytical thesis or dissertation, I might feel differently.

Update #6 (December 29, 2020).  After being reminded of this post, I went back and read the whole thing. In the next year or so I’ll  write a response to this piece which revisit my assumptions and conclusions as a 55 year old. I am running my indie ebook press (Personville Press) and publishing lots of stuff. Also, I have completed (though haven’t yet posted) a long essay about “survival bias and the arts” which is relevant here.




182 responses to “Straight Talk about Graduate School”

  1. JDB Avatar

    Whoever wrote this is my new hero. I am a graduate student in one of the social sciences at a prominent university in the South and I hate it. I have always hated it. Every word of this essay is truth.

  2. Laurel Avatar

    I’m 42 years old and have already failed at evrything else. How can I be failing at my English Ph.D. work too? Yet I hate it so much I don’t function even on an antidepressent. How does one get out of this alive?

  3. Eliza Avatar

    I’m only in the first semester of a masters program and I already feel like a slave, even without the research requirement. Every second of every waking moment is spent either doing something for graduate school or thinking about doing something for graduate school. It’s like being in the one hundred yard dash with 75 other people and we’re all totally frazzled and stressed out and running on and off the track and panting and bumping into each other and wondering why it seems like the finish line keeps moving. Graduate school definitely sucks.

  4. Jaine Avatar

    I’m a sociology graduate student, and went looking for research last semester on graduate education so that I might understand if the bullshit I was going through is common. Curiously, the only empirical research I could find on graduate education was done in the 60s and 70s. Nobody really wants to talk about it. I guess we’re supposed to learn to study every other than ourselves and the fucked up excuse for higher education that is graduate education. I think it’s a shame. A big, fat shame. It’s no wonder that grad schools send power-hungry, psychotic, angry, and cut-throat individuals out into the world to educate the young–after all of the trauma they go through in graduate school, what else could be expected?

    Grad school absolutely sucks it.

  5. Scott Avatar

    I went into Grad School for a few reasons…
    1) Job market was very tough in my state and I wanted to be more marketable 2) I always enjoyed college and missed that feeling of learning 3) I wanted to get a degree that people respected and could get me into a cushy career in a tenured-position.

    Here I am, halfway through my first semester, and I don’t want to waste another second with school at all.

    First off, grad school is NOTHING like undergrad college. I have no face-to-face classes (all online) and being in a sea of 18-22 year olds who have never been in the real world for a day is frustrating to no end. Basically, you pay MORE than you did for college but only get the classes and nothing else…and watered down versions of the classes at that.

    Second, Grad School is not so easy once you have a 4 yr. degree. If you aren’t having a good day or a particular assignment is bothering you, you’ll think, “Why am I even doing this!?! MILLIONS of people “ONLY” have a Bachelor’s and they’re doing great! Get a grip dude!

    Oh, and full-time and tenure jobs are near impossible to find nowadays. Colleges want all adjunct (who don’t require benefits) if possible).

    Basically, Grad School is overrated. And as soon as I get a chance to be back in the real world, I’m escaping!

  6. Aaditya Mehta Avatar
    Aaditya Mehta

    I hate graduate school…I read the above article where it was theorized that dropping out of grad school causes a person to go through self-doubt phase, in fact staying in grad school, doing bad and feeling like an idiot is worse for self-esteem. I hate every second of grad school and going through the worst phase of my life because of it. Engineering is worthless to say the least…it is of absolutely no consequence, it is stupid and no relevance to the real world…it is making me stupid rather than making me intelligent! arghhhhhhhh….anyone else feels that way too ?

  7. Glenda Avatar

    I totally agree that grad school sucks. I have been obsessing about dropping out. I am so burned out that I can hardly function in any other area of my life. I honestly wish that I had just gotten a job after graduating with my BS. Now I am in a lot more debt and will feel like a total failure if I don’t make it through.

  8. tessy Avatar

    it’s validating — and sad — to read about other people who seem to hate graduate school as much as i do. i think that the issues already mentioned are compounded for students who did not take a linear path from high school to undergrad to grad school. implicitly and sometimes explicitly, i get the message from professors that everything i learned through my work-for-real-pay experiences is wrong. my department is full of cutthroats and gossips; there is so much pressure to publish and present that we are all in danger of getting grossly attached to our ideas and methods, as mediocre or brilliant as they might be. and no one wants to hear that you’re struggling, or having a month of bad days. to say as much is portray yourself as a weakling and a failure. i’ll echo a previous comment: grad school makes me feel stupid, rather than brilliant; i feel torn down, rather than edified. i hate graduate school. i regret applying and accepting the offer. i should have kept my job at that non-profit; the pay sucked but at least i was content. now i’m 1600 miles from home, i miss my lover, and i’m the most miserable i have ever been in my life.

  9. Krysta Avatar

    I needed to read this today. Grad school sucks. I’m surrounded by socially awkward and *joyless* professors. No one smiles, no one laughs. Rather, they are overtly consumed by their dimwitted articles that no one reads. It must be nice being so certain to have grasped the “truth” on life. It is equally more delightful when they feel the need to dominate and postulate their ‘enlightened’ ideas on a captured audience. You will quickly learn not to argue against them or you’ll be told, in no uncertain terms, that you’re simply not “academic” enough. It’s truly a system for and made by the most privileged individuals.

  10. Mike Avatar

    I’ve been thinking of leaving my graduate program for quite some time. I think I rushed into a thesis-based program, while I probably belong in a course-based program, or not in graduate school at all. I often wonder if it is too late to enter a different graduate program, while leaving the one I am presently enrolled in.

  11. Mike Avatar

    P.S. graduate school is an all-consuming entity. Like Glenda, I also experience an inability to function in every other area of my life; I’ve been disinterested in everything that I used to love. I feel like I’ve been exposed to a world that has changed my life forever. A world that many, luckily, never have to see.

  12. Danimal Avatar

    So you think grad school sucks? Just wait until you’re a ‘part time prorated’ postdoc. If you hate grad school so much then do something else. I read a joke somewhere that there are no winners in graduate school, only survivors and failures. Most failures reason that their academic demise was a result of something their advisor, colleagues, or university did when in truth they just weren’t cut out for the degree. Christ, will you all stop waxing eloquent about how unfair grad school is and man-up!

  13. Tallguy Avatar

    Danimal, I see your point as much as I see everyone else’s. You have just finished a graduate degree and its clear by the optimism dripping from your words. I believe many of us are not able to merely “survive” and be happy; we have always driven towards a more meaningful existence and we all find the graduate school existence to be demeaning and demoralizing because of the inability to feel like you are improving. At every turn we are reminded how terrible we are, and its only when you have survived that you are champion. That we all contemplate leaving and complain is not the issue, its that we continue to survive and complain that is really what matters. The obligation to endure gives us the right to complain. Oh, it will get better. It will always get better, they who have been through it say.

  14. David Avatar

    In December, I finished by Bachelor of Music degree in flute performance and have just taken a bunch of auditions for graduate programs on the East Coast. It is exhausting to do those auditions, be on the road for weeks, come back to my hometown, and play a full-length recital. The overall burnout I’m feeling now, I think, is more related to the bs I experienced in my program. A huge lack of communication, lots of backstabbing, a lack of boundaries between students and certain professors, most professors being unresponsive and uncaring, all sorts of double standards, seeing students of a lower playing level and dedication get all sorts of opportunites that those who deserved them did not get. I also wound up hating my main teacher because of all the problems she caused with all of the students in the studio. It got to the point where music and learning did not matter anymore.
    So, I’ve seen plenty already and am glad to be out of that program. I can just imagine what grad school could be like. As for where I finished my BM, I’m never staying there for any reason. A lot of classical musicians go to grad school because they feel they need more experience and honing, because as far as performing professionally goes, the degrees themselves don’t matter. I need to start thinking of some alternatives, but don’t know where to start. Ms. Salo’s website stated to create yourself a back door, and I’m trying to figure it out.

  15. Lynn Avatar

    Thank you for posting this, and thank you for the comments. I have spent the last four years of my life (yes four) in a graduate program hating–loathing–every minute of it. I experienced the “inability to function in every other area of my life,” and the “obsession” with quitting, but I also felt that it had drugged me to the point where I couldn’t fathom anything beyond grad school either. It is a serious, serious problem. I have been depressed, feeling inadequate–basically everything everyone here has said. I’m quitting after this semester. A lot of people think this is nuts. But it’s nice to know there are some other people out there who get it.

  16. txstingray Avatar

    I am so glad to hear I am not the only one who feels this way. I am in my first year of a social science PhD program. In addition to the workload and expectations being somewhat brutal, the social aspect is really depressing. Another problem is that in my program everyone is trying so hard to be perfect that no one will admit how demoralizing and encompassing graduate school is. I have heard it called “four years of boot camp for the mind.” In my case no one I know outside of school is an academic and they have no idea that grad school is not just going to school, there is a whole other level of mental bullshit you have to deal with. Personally, I will just be happy when my coursework is over. I really love my subject and doing research, but a large contingent of my classmates are so competitive and stuck on being perfect that they suck the fun out of everything. I think you can only keep going by reminding yourself that grad school is just a limited time in your life (4-5 years hopefully) and that you don’t have to let it define who you are as a human. That is my strategy for today anyway! Good luck to everyone no matter how you decide to pursue your career goals.

  17. MLD Avatar

    Txstingray, you’re SO right when you talk about the social aspect and mental aspects of grad school. The people are so anal retentive and obsessed that it’s hard for me to keep my own perspective about things. I loved the field I chose when I was in undergrad. I was excited and motivated and felt confident in my skills. I’m in my second semester of grad school and it’s hard to even remember what those days felt like. The grad school environment has managed to completely demotivate me, while also making me feel inferior and incompetent. And this is coming from a person who graduated Phi Kappa Phi with honors in undergrad. I have decided to definitely not continue on to get a PhD.

  18. ?? Avatar

    All good comments. Grad school sucks for sure. If you are doing sciences and experimenting, it may be a better fit. I am doing an Arts Degree and hate it. It is simply insane the amount of reading and essays we must do. I can’t believe it at times. Literally pumping out about 100 pages of reading per day, and about 150 pages worth of essays per semester.

    You think about only having 3.5 months to become an expert on several subjects and then have to write about it very difficult. Then the Dogma sets in. I am SO SICK of reading other people’s perspectives/ideas and then having to cite them. It is total crap. I have found the process so far to be both good but also completely myopic and absurd.

  19. AllenA Avatar

    I am at that stage of demoralization right now- 2 years in. Actually, 3 (I transferred due to a natural disaster in my area). Lemme tell ya- I see the mundane students who kiss ass get all the rewards (and monetary awards), and now funding has been cut for third year students- last years cohort was so big that all the money is gone. My experiences are a bit different…some of my professors even laugh at times. But I also so a lot of personal stories being shared in the classroom, and passing for teaching. Student’s ripped apart in front of their classmates.
    I also see some very good teaching and mentoring going on, but not a lot of creative thinking in regards to problem solving. Now I am seeking full time employment to keep on top of my expenses, and am very worried that I will now be seen as “not dedicated”, will not get to do the things a “good” doctoral student does, like conferences and paper publishing prior to graduation. It will be enough to get the comps and dissertation out of the way. Oh well… I guess I can see both sides of the coin, but right now, I am on the losing end of the toss.

  20. Brighter Future Avatar
    Brighter Future

    I am currently leaving my PHD program and I have landed an incredible job in the business world. My PHD program is in the humanities, so everyone is shocked that I could get such a job. Most of these people are academics or wanna be academics who couldn’t see themselves in my position so they project their insecurities and failures unto me and others like me who have the ability to function in both worlds. But what is the value of a liberal arts education if it doesn’t equip you to survive by using multiple skills (networking, broad knowledge,etc.) in the “real world” instead of retreating from it into the “ivory tower” to “research”. What good is your “research” if it doesn’t have an impact on the real world. Academics seem to be caught in the idea that a degree qualifies you for something.. there are ppl who had/have all A’s through grad. programs and somehow obtained PHD’s but that doesn’t neccessarily mean that they should be professing anything to anyone.. If anyone is interested economist Gary North talks about the economic stupidity of the PHD (esp. humanities. The several years of study which finally pay off when you receive a pittance for a salary and the chance to compete for tenure (if you get it.) . I wish all who pursue this road the best. Maybe one day the academy won’t be filled with bitter, selfish individuals…but until then the world of menial pay and useless stress is a great place for these people who have no real contribution to make to the world.

  21. Mike Avatar

    Oh Grad School, how i loathe thee…..I am currently in my 4th year of a doctoral program in clinical psychology. The thing that bothers me the most…..aside from in essence having to teach myself and learning much more by practice is the unbelievable narcissism and “holier than thou” mentality adopted by many professors at my fine institution (and i use that term loosely). At times i feel like i am in middle school again jumptin through hoops continuously with no end in sight. I believe like many things, grad school is a money racket.

  22. Romano Avatar

    I happen to find this website by searching “grad school burnout” on Google. It makes me feel glad that I am far from alone with my current predicament. The reason why I am feeling burned out already at the end of my second year is due to the trauma that is prelims. I took my prelim oral exam at the beginning of this month in front a three-professor committee that were renowned for being incredibly tough. Unfortunately, I had no say in who my committee members were and they picked courtesy of my graduate advisor and the abstract topics I submitted for the exam. After being given a grueling three weeks to pound out the proposal and a two-hour oral grilling session by the committee, I was given four weeks to rewrite my hypothesis and aims in my proposal. Sounds like a lot of time, huh? Well, after going through the whole hazing process, my productivity level shot down and hasn’t recovered ever since. I have no more than a week and a half to submit my proposal rewrite and I am still wrestling with my lack of motivation. I thought that the rewriting process would be easy but instead I have found it more frustrating, sniffing out any fire of passion for my prelim. Honestly, I have to let this out – I HATE PRELIMS! This whole hazing process has removed my desire to get a biology Ph.D whatsoever. Right after I finished prelims and realized how traumatizing it was, I talked to some folks I knew who earned biology Ph.Ds in the past. One told me how much he regretted toiling his butt off for that degree and losing the rest of his 20’s in the process. The other told me that the employment prospects for biology Ph.Ds in academia and industry are getting more dismal. Teaching and consulting are probably the jobs that are still in high supply. I closely observed my colleague, who will finally get his Ph.D this summer after spending seven years in the program. I never mentioned this to him but he is seriously the errand boy for my adviser and has to carry out several projects at once at his whim in order to graduate. He sleeps only 5 hours a night and works more than 12 hours in the lab. He also comes in both days on the weekend. I know that when he is gone, my adviser will set his sights on me. Knowing that I can never match my colleague and I am unwilling to give up the things I enjoy (especially serving at church), I will definitely settle down for a master’s. However, I run the risk of losing my funding from my PI since I will no longer be worthy to be his student. Therefore, I will have to play this game with him very carefully. I guess what is motivating me to get over this prelim rewrite is to maintain my status as a Ph.D student and keep the manna flowing. Also, I plan to work extra hard this summer to get enough data for my research project. Once I possess enough working data, I will spill the beans to my adviser. That way, all I have to do is write a master’s thesis and I’m on my way out of grad school. At the same time, I’m working on a contingency plan after exiting grad school. I happen to know a friend from church who works as a high school math teacher. I will ask him more about getting the teaching credential for high school science and work on getting a job teaching chemistry in a local high school in Texas. I heard that the starting salary for inexperienced teachers possessing master’s or Ph.D degrees is the same.

  23. Romano Avatar

    In addition to my previous post, I might as well for fun describe how studying for a science Ph.D is like communism. You will never get this in Jorge Cham’s Ph.D comic strip. Not that I found his strip amusing in the first place. Actually, I find it incredibly depressing. But here we go:

    Studying for a science Ph.D is like communism for the following reasons:

    1. When your undergrad profs are impressed with your grades, they praise you and convince you to apply for grad school. Most likely, you are brainwashed into thinking that grad school is like an extension of undergrad. This is no different than the propaganda the Soviet Union and North Korea pounded out to repatriate unsuspecting overseas Armenians and Korean-Japanese. They were tricked into thinking that their respective countries were socialist paradises following with milk and honey.

    2. As the years go by in grad school, your adviser wants you to give up your own personal interests and well-roundedness for the sake of your project and his/her reputation. This is no different than North Korea and China during the Cultural Revolution, where citizens were forced to give up their land and belongings to the government. The more they gave up, the better the reputation of the commune/county and the local party chief/commissar.

    3. When you want to quit or settle for the quick consolation prize of the master’s degree, academia scorns at you and labels you as a “sell-out” to the real world. This is no different than in the Cultural Revolution in China. If you turned your back against communism in that era, you were labeled as a “capitalist-roader” or “counterrevolutionary.” “Capitalist-roader” seems more appropriate a term for academia to label the quitters or master’s degree seekers. Both are already set for the real, capitalist world anyways.

    4. Every year, my graduate program will invite a professor with renowned credentials to speak at the university. Last fall, the program got James Watson, the scientist who discovered the structure of DNA, to come speak. Obviously, the program wants to use these speaker series to encourage us to get the Ph.D and go through the academic route. This is no different than the brutal propaganda spewed out by the Soviet Union, China and North Korea. The propoganda constantly batters its citizens with false hopes that it can aspire to be the top communist cadre ever like Lei Fang, Karl Marx, Kim Jong-il and the proponents of the Juche self-reliance philosophy.

    5. Lastly, many science Ph.D’s at the end of grad school will be so brainwashed into thinking that climbing up the ladders of academia is the way to go. They will then spend the next 5-10 years as a postdoc earning a measly salary, waiting for that break to get an assistant professor position, whose job market is continuing to shrink as time passes. And for those that are lucky to get that post, they have to face the next 7-10 years fighting for tenure and wrestling with the “publish-or-perish” environment. This battle involves applying for increasingly elusive grants, working almost every day in the lab and aggressively recruiting new grad students into the lab. This regimen to break and gain respect in the academic world takes you nowhere most of the time, just like the economies and societies of the Soviet Union and North Korea.

  24. Sine Scholastica Avatar
    Sine Scholastica

    I’m finishing up a phd this year after a long, tortured journey at an institution I hated. I was adamant about not quitting because I am a very stubborn person. Unfortunately, I now realize that for various reasons I am not suited for academe and have come to loathe my chosen field. Having said that, I would not automatically tell someone not to go to grad school.

    If you have a real love for your discipline, and are content to lead a quiet, quasi-monastic existence with few rewards, and no expectation of academic glory, then I would say by all means go to grad school! These austere souls are the people who succeed no matter what, because their reward is being able to do something they love every day: studying, thinking, writing, and teaching undergrads about a cherished topic.
    If, however, you want to go grad school because you have a burning desire to prove your brilliance to the world, boost your intellectual self-esteem, please your parents, etc– for God’s sake don’t go! Furthermore, if your head is full of dreams of gaining professional adulation, or simply modest hopes of ultimate employment and minimal financial security–disabuse yourself of those notions immediately!
    Expect a life of toiling away in obscurity. Expect to be poor. Expect to go unacknowledged, because that’s most likely what you are in for. Expect that your love of your topic will be your only form of compensation.

    If your love for your field doesn’t exceed your capacity to weather a 7-10 year shitstorm generated by colleagues, department heads, and profs, then for the love of God, don’t do it!!!!!!!!

    A last word. If you drop out of Grad school there is no need to wallow in self-loathing or point fingers at advisors, departments, etc. (though I’m very aware that many people get shafted by such individuals). It doesn’t mean you aren’t intelligent, or that academe is just a craphole full of effete useless ivory tower eggheads. Rarefied as some of their productions are, I admit I have enormous respect for genuine scholars–some of us are just more suited for other professions.

  25. Sine Scholastica Avatar
    Sine Scholastica


    To brighter future:

    It’s great that you have landed a good job and are out of an environment that you don’t like. Kudos. But I don’t think it’s right to dismiss those who stay in academe as economically stupid, or incapable of surviving in the real world– some people are there because they truly love classics, philosophy, science, etc. Some people, also, were just born to fill that niche. Trust me, I am no grad school apologist– I have been miserable for years now! But I have also seen a great deal of intelligence, hard work, and pure idealism in academe that I continue to respect.

  26. Brighter Future Avatar
    Brighter Future

    To Sine Schoastica:

    I agree with you. Some people are born to be academics but it was economist Gary North who labeled their efforts as “economic stupidity”

  27. Appelonia Avatar

    I’m glad I searched “grad school sucks” on google, but I’m somehow shocked that I haven’t done so before now. I recently spent several months considering dropping out, but now I have decided to stick around until they kick me out with my M.A. (I’ve seen it happen with others and I’m at a prestigious place).

    On the other side, part of me still thinks I’ll stick it out, but here are a few problems I see:

    1. I’m in political science. We have nothing. We’re not a science. Damn it. If we DID follow more stringent methodology and research design we might get somewhere…but even then there are problems. Bayesian? What the hell can formal modeling tell us when the whole point of politics is to be strategic and change payout structures. As I said, we have nothing.

    2. I feel so guilty for not working harder. I’m fully funded at a top ten university (in my field) and the professors have been great. The students are nice. So what is my problem? Mostly…it’s that I don’t believe in political science AND I’m jealous of my friends who are REALLY starting to jump up in salaries now… (late 20s and the NY crowd seems to be doubling salary every 6 months) But objectively (because really, isn’t that what the social sciences are all about…grrrr) I understand that I am paid to do almost nothing but read things that I find interesting, and at the end of the day someone will give me a PhD.

    3. It is nice to have an excuse to NOT worry about things like buying a house, finding a husband, doing a 401K, etc. However, I think part of the thing that really pisses me off is that I don’t understand why smart people get sucked into this deal… I mean, I do understand because theoretically we spend our time reading about interesting things and discussing them with others… But it is so damn frustrating to realize that the time lag between political science and public policy is AT LEAST 15 years. Oh yeah by the way, there’s this dude Stathis Kalyvas who wrote A LOT of things that would be abs invaluable to any US administration… Do they read him? No. What the hell are they waiting for? His book is called the logic of civil war, and guess what…he didn’t just pick that out of a hat. It’s really fucking good, and once I realized that no one was listening to him I was like…well SHITE, there’s no hope for me…

  28. Matthew Avatar

    I am currently finishing my MFA and it has been one of the worst experiences. I have been told by my advisor when I wanted to leave because I was not getting what I wanted (access to facilities, advising, community, developing a body of work) she said, “if you graduate you can get a job.” The students are basically funneled through the system. I refused to pay for the experience and got scholarships. But the standards of education at my school, scholastically and teaching professional and artistic skills was very low. The program was on the verge of collapse until the hired a chair previously from Northwestern and now we have been stuck with a program in continual flux. The administration and some faculty have contributed to an divisive and toxic environment. Then inarticulate angry students decide to complain about everything irrelevant without the desire to change the situation just to complain. It has been HELL. Last fall I was so worn out and sick that my doctor told me to take a leave of absence. We are required to write a thesis paper, have an art show, create inteactive DVDs of our work all has been good experience. But in an MFA only fashionable thought is allowed. So your thesis paper is scrutinized on the basis of whether you are speaking current art speak bullshit. I have done an extraordinary amount of research on psychology and post-psychology in relationship to my work. But if you don’t mentioned deconstructionist theory, that my faculty does not understand anyway then it is not legitimate. Then when I did that research I found the teachers knew little or nothing about it. It is an absurd situation because my teachers are criticizing what they in most cases have not even read. They don’t even read the theories they profess are the “right” ones. In some cases they simply looked up the subject in Wikipedia! Today art schools have reached this level of insane absurdity. When what I really wanted from it was to gain more skills in art making! I am now exhausted but have only a week left. It is almost over.

  29. Jung Avatar

    my drunken thoughts on grad school:

    i hate the morons in grad schools. they are all worried about what other people in their field think. all these morons do is regurgitate what’s already been published, so their paper has better chance of getting accepted. don’t get me wrong, there are truly good papers, but they are very rare. a whole lot of these people in grad schools (profs mostly) are followers, and are not original thinkers at all. fucking asshols.

    anyways, i agree with most of the statements on this board. grad school definitely sucks, and is for certain type of people only (the shitty type of people). and i am drunk this evening cuz the skool’s got me down!!!

    i cann’t wait to get out of this shit hole. i am out!

  30. Therapy New York Avatar

    I am in the process of thinking about going to Grad school for my MBA. My husband had a really hard time with graduate school. Yes, you have to do a lot of writing in Graduate school. I think what really sucked was he had to do a lot of group projects. He had a person in his group that didn’t turn in her work on time. The professor allowed the students in the group to decide on the group grade.

  31. Thank You! Avatar
    Thank You!

    I am in my second-to-last semester of grad school, hating every minute of it, and COUNTING the days until I am finished. I am absolutely miserable.

    On the bright side, finding this website made me smile and feel much better about the fine mess I’ve gotten myself in. 🙂

  32. My two cents Avatar
    My two cents

    The fact that I feel guilty if I spend my weekends doing things other than my grad school work is ridiculous. I miss spending time with friends and family, and I find myself saying “no” to their invitations due to my massive workload! I cannot wait to get my M.A. and have my life back!

  33. Sally Eckhoff Avatar
    Sally Eckhoff

    I am in two MFA programs simultaneously and I love it. There’s another way to look at the forced weenery and language globs: they polish you. They make you mature. They refine your ability to focus. Some of it is time-wasting, and those are the parts you zip through.

  34. Susie Avatar

    Good God, I hate grad school. I am a first semester Master’s student and I am already jaded, 7 weeks into my graduate level education. In order to fund this ridiculous endeavor, I must work a 30-hour a week, menial job on top of my classes and the work that comes with it. Our department is so poorly funded that hardly anyone got funding and those that did are total tools. They have no personality, no passion, no spark, no teaching experience (though I am told that that is how you GET it in the first place). Luckily, I went to a private undergraduate school where undergraduate teaching was part of upperclass seminars and publishing opportunities were abound. I have two years of experience already in assistant teaching, yet dumbasses with no teaching experience got appointments and the TA positions that fund their education. I, unfortunately, must work retail full time in order to live off campus and away from undergraduate life.
    I feel completely incapable of original thought, I have no idea how to please professors, and I am under constant scrutiny from Ph.D. students in my department who like to pull the seniority card on me when convenient. Ugh, pluuuuuhlease! Already having a master’s doesn’t make you ACTUALLY intelligent.
    I, like so many others, left a fantastic job at a non-profit organization when I was poised for a promotion and salary increase for this piece of shit we like to call “higher education”.

  35. Anonymous Avatar

    I have to disagree with most of these posts. I loved graduate school. I completed my MA in 1.5 years and the program that required coursework and a thesis. The program was hectic and I was ripped apart by my instructors for the first semester, but the people and writing experience gained was well worth the stress. I completed my degree at a university in Australia. If anyone is interested in pursuing a social science degree in another country, Australian universities offer a lot of scholarships.

  36. Anonymous Avatar

    P.S. – Sorry about the typos 🙂

  37. Susie Avatar

    Dear Anonymous,

    If you loved your grad program SO much, then why the heck are you even here? If you’re so optimistic, then why are you commenting on a page that clearly states that “grad school sucks”. In fact, I googled the keywords “grad school sucks” to find this page. What drew you to this den of cynicism, then?
    In short, don’t crap on our whining because you loved your program. A lot of us have good reason to be upset and unhappy. I’d like my space to wallow and loathe because that’s how I, sadly, get through my day. I’m sure that we’re all very happy to hear that someone enjoyed themselves, but for now, we’re all in this hell-hole trying to navigate our way through the bureaucratic bullshit and it’s not a pretty sight. Give us a break…

  38. Hillary Avatar

    Oh for fuck’s sake, grad school is a HUGE PIECE OF SHIT. I can’t stand it, never have, never will. The only consolation that I have is that next year, I get to give the new cohort “advice” during their orientation week…and I am just waiting to lambaste the entire department.

    Fuck the power plays, fuck the impenetrable bureaucracy, fuck the intimidation, fuck the belittling, and fuck the dishonesty.

  39. Sandy Avatar

    I am seriously depressed right now from the two months of hell that I have been going through doing my Masters. I totally agree with many people here and agree with that person who said that theories and theoretical schools (the coming and going of them) are like trends and fashion. They are!! I am finding myself learning theoretical models that I intrinsically disagree with or find problems with. I find the professors not able to explain and teach.. I constantly feel stupid, inadequate and it’s absolutely killing me. There is no support or compassion amongst my group of grad students and no support offered anywhere on campus (like mental health services.) My confidence has been in steady decline since week 1 and i am SO EXHAUSTED from homework and writing essays (even though my program is supposedly a practical-based program) that I can’t think straight. All the years (12 to be exact spent in the real world, and all my experience from the real world are discounted.

  40. econ burnout Avatar
    econ burnout

    hey guys,

    i have not been able to get out of bed the whole day. i woke up in the morning with a huge headache. why? i am
    emotionally drained. im in the third semester of an econ phd program. i am still traumatized from my first year,
    which could only be described as pure, un adulterated hell. it left such a huge psychological impact on me, that
    i cant seem to accept the fact that i am smart. 8 people left my cohort in the first year. the fact that i didn’t
    was not because i was smarter than them, but i became so obsessed with not losing and not disappointing my dad, that
    i sacrificed my physical and mental health to be here. now i am here, in my third semester, my TA responsibilities
    have overwhelmed with, with a prof who thinks that this is the only thing that i am supposed to do. i have been
    neglecting other courses, those profs are pissed off with me. i passed only one prelim, after my first year (again,
    i had to KILL myself for that). i have another one in january, but i dont have the time to study for it. my time-
    management skills are not great, but i cant even think straight anymore. if neone told me now, i will give you a
    ticket to go back home ( 8000 miles away) i would pack now and leave…its funny, i feel more dumb now than i ever
    did in my life. i think academics fool themselves into thinking that what they are doing is something great. but
    i see through them and i see through all the BS. i will mostly take a masters and leave, and regain my life back.
    this is not a way to live.

  41. Brighter Future Avatar
    Brighter Future

    Bravo Econ Burnout! You should probably take the Master’s. You may be protecting yourself b/c if the economy keeps going the way it’s going, they might just put you and your professors out.

  42. FrustratedPissedAngryAnxiousInferiorUltimatum Avatar

    A Master’s Degree. Sounds inviting, important… The chance to continue the wonderful experience of undergrad study at a brand new college in an exotic location away from home… The chance to meet new people and make a great choice to continue “higher education”.

    Yeah fucking right.

    I still know hardly anyone here after over a year, I have 40,000 in student loans to finish school which effectively locks me in for the duration, I like many others, despise the frolicking freshman who actually have time to *GASP* joke around and bother me in the library while I am finishing yet another paper, working my ass off, consulting my APA manual, editing and re-editing, only to recieve a much lower grade than I believe I should have and be forced to do the same thing next week, except it will be twice as hard. Oh yeah, I have a 62 right now and I have to get a 75 to pass the class and we have two assignments left.


  43. Sasha Avatar

    reading this thread does help me alleviate some of my pain a bit, as it’s nice to feel that I’m not the only one in the world who’s suffering from the same misery…

    but…like many of you, who are taking the time to vent online, I hate grad school, but at the same time, I don’t want to quit yet…there’s still that last strand of hope that if I just suffer thru this, life will be beautiful again, and I can look back on all this and say, it was all worth it.

    I’m seriously suicidal right now…and feel so dejected, and feel like I’m stuck at this singular path of no return, and the end is so dismal.

    for ppl like us, this frame of mind is the least conducive for learning, or let alone do anything productive…

    so what do we do?? I need help!! I have no idea what to do!!!

  44. Johnson Avatar

    Why is everyone so down?

    I’m a third year Math PhD student at a good school and would not trade it for the world. I get paid to learn about a subject I love, teach undergrads, do research, drink beer with other students and professors, and generally have a great time. Yes, there are times when I feel like I’m going insane (grrr to long problem sets). I’ll be out when I’m 27 years old and can work in either aca

  45. Kiereh Avatar

    Graduate school is great if you don’t mind working really hard with no breaks. Winter break? ungrads get to go home and enjoy the break with their families. a biology masters grad student, have to work on my research.. even on the weekends.. I just got through my first semester here. Goodbye to any free time. Goodbye to any life. Hello to long hours writing papers, working on research in the lab, looking at data, being frustrated that you only have a certain amount of time to get the research done, spending long long hours in the office, working on weekends and during holidays.
    I love when I give my proposal to someone and ask them how it is, they say that it looks great, but then they hand it back with hundreds of corrections! All they do is push for publications to make them look good. If I could get a good paying government job without a masters degree in biology, I definatly wouldn’t do it. Grad school does suck the life out of you.

  46. Devin Avatar

    You know, I’m glad I found this site as its making me laugh in the face of my insanity!

    I’m going to grad school at the same school I received my BA in History so I can get my MA in History. As I know of the good and bad professors and their styles, I figured it would be easier for me to move through the program. Well, I have been proven to be very wrong on that belief! There was this one professor who as an undergrad I took three classes with and loved it all. This past semester I happily decided took a grad seminar with him on US colonial history, and now I NEVER want to be in his classes ever again. Sometimes I have to wonder if this some big sick joke being played on me. In addition to the over the top amount of reading inept books and getting enough words in to make a twenty page research term paper, as a TA I have to grade over forty nonsensical papers written by freshmen and work in a lowly job sometimes up to thirty hours a week to pay for this disaster.

    I’m burnt out, sometimes I’m wonder what would happen if I took a day to sleep it away or watch TV. As it stands now, I get five hours of sleep on the typical school night. Each book to read becomes more excruciating to read, each essay becomes more agonizing to write. I’m getting grey hairs. I drink more on the weekends. It’s getting old, and as I get older, it gets worse.

    My only hope is that this all pays off in the end, but that train is ready to leave soon. No regrets, right…?

  47. William G. Avatar
    William G.

    These are some interesting responses to graduate school, and I had many of the same responses years ago (at least ten) when I was getting my M.A. in literature. Back then, I thought I’d go on for my Ph.D., but I discovered I was more of a creative writer than a research scholar and really didn’t fit into the English Ph.D. mold. So I have mixed opinions on not having obtained a Ph.D. There is the inevitable sense of failure, not to mention the loss of a prospective career in teaching at an advanced level. There is the dismay at watching mediocre peers succeed where I did not (although I should stress I was undoubtably just as mediocre myself back then!). On the other hand, I appreciate the chance at becoming acquainted with the great literature in the English tradition, and I enjoyed the hard work I put into my master’s education. I think my master’s program made me a better person emotionally and morally (if not materially!).

    Most of my professors were terrible, especially those in creative writing (sinecures if ever there were).

    I should mention that I actually went to two schools, transferring midway through my master’s “career.” The first school was I think geared more toward generating English teachers than research scholars, but it would be a mistake to say this made it a worse school. The second school was more of a “Research One,” high-class operation, designed to produce research scholars. The curious thing is how much more warm and welcoming the professors were at the first school. They may not have been at an A-one school, but they were more human, and I don’t think I learned any less from them.

    So, a few thoughts from someone who remembers what it was like more than a decade ago. In large part, graduate studies in the humanities haven’t changed much, I can see from the comments above.

  48. Jill Avatar

    I am a first year doctoral student in a top ten program in my field (social sciences). I already have my MA. I really thought I wanted the PhD, but now that I’m here I feel absolutely drowned in doubt. The interesting thing about graduate school in the social sciences at least, is that SO much of the work people does seems so detached from reality. People study such things as inequality and stratification, etc., and yet on the whole have NO real world experience AT ALL. Most grad students have never been out in the real world – never worked – never anything but school. 99% of what is written in graduate school is only read by other academics. Where is the social impact in that. How is this so-called culture of knowledge more valuable than really being out in the world and affecting social change. People seem to just randomly pull topics and subjects ot of their asses, having no real association whatsoever to the cultures or places they want to look at. Yes I do feel like I’m learning to structure my thoughts in a specific way, but I also feel that the unspoken pressure, competition, bureaucracy, etc. suffocates creativity. I am so frustrated. Seriously considering dropping out but I worked so hard to be in such a good program with full funding! Sometimes I think that 99% of grad students are only in school because they can’t think of anything else to do in life…

  49. Headly Avatar

    i am in my first year of a phd program in the humanities. last semester sucked; i thought i was going crazy. seriously. the workload was ridiculous. it still is, but now i complain less and make daily strategic decisions about accomplishing a day’s worth of work. but still, it’s a very steep climb. this semester, i spend more time in the department and try to socialize more at departmental events. but in part because i wasn’t as social last semester, i feel sort of like a pariah now. like i missed the boat in a way, and now i’m sort of on my own. there is definitely hazing going on–faculty and students alike target the weak or those who don’t conform. I have fallen into both categories on occasion. but it’s hard to know whether the mistreatment is malicious or just part of a rite of passage conferred on the new students. that is to say, it’s sometimes hard to know whether the mistreatment is mistreatment or good-faith training. I agree with the person who said grad school all about being socialized, groomed, molded. it’s not about your intelligence. they wouldn’t have brought you in if you weren’t intelligent. rather it’s about fucking with your head about your intelligence. professors know all about impostor syndrome and the anxieties of being a grad student. their job is to replicate that nasty, irreverent, ego-killing experience for their grad students. it may or may not be out of love or commitment to quality training. sometimes i think people are just blowing off steam by abusing their grad students. they break you down almost completely. if you get up again, well, that’s fine. no one really gives a shit either way. but i think that that’s the point. to survive and thrive, you have to be internally reliant–something that is perhaps not easy for those who have always been straight-A students and who liked getting praise from authority figures. that life comes to a screeching halt in grad school. this is where you either drown or become a very strong swimmer.

  50. Susan Avatar

    I’m back to read some of the new comments…

    I’m half way through my 2nd semester in the Master’s program. It’s starting to get a little better, but the work is so overwhelming, tedious, mindless. I can’t find anyone to sit on my committee or help with my dissertation topic.

    Besides all of that…What bothers me the most is that the profs can’t teach. They are fantastic at the undergrad level, but once they’re in your seminars, it’s like the lightbulb switched off. I have an exam in statistical analysis tomorrow and the prof simply doesn’t teach. He reads from the book and then expects us to go home and teach the concepts to ourselves. The 3 hours of class once a week is spent watching the professor write equations and sample problems on the board with minimal explanation and listening to the droning mathematical rhetoric that exactly mirrors the text. I have flat out given a wrong answer and the professor did not catch it… VERY disturbing and bothersome.
    Needless to say, I’m screwed for this class and this exam…

  51. odio-la-grad-school Avatar

    I really needed to read this today– although I wish I would have read it before I started grad school. Everything I read in my PhD program (spanish lit) just highlights the “big picture” about life and the fact that we only have one shot at it. Yet, here I am, wasting my one shot at life alone in my room, reading and writing my brains out about trivialities! It’s such a sad contradiction. I feel like crap because my husband has to suffer for my bad decision. Like everyone said, though, it sucks you in and you can’t get out. It takes your life away!!

  52. Don't Miss Grad School Avatar
    Don’t Miss Grad School

    I’m amazed at how many experiences I’m reading on this board that are similar to my own. Of course I knew going in that grad school was going to be tough, but I had misconceptions about just what the tough experiences were going to be. I’d read advice that grad school could “kill your love” for your field, and thought that couldn’t possibly happen, because I was in it for the research. What I didn’t know in advance was that the research has little to do with exploring tangents of intriguing thought (you can wave goodbye to that pleasure when you get your undergrad degree) and everything to do with indoctrination into whatever school of thought is dominating academia at a particular point in time. However, if it were a simple matter of being bored with the material, I would have been only moderately discouraged by grad school. Class discussion is conducted in such a way that thoughtful commentary is not required, only glibness. Tiny bits of minutiae are argued as if they contained the answer to the question, “Why are we here?” These arguments go round and round, with no more than the most cursory attempt at relevance to the human condition (and by that, I mean relevance to real people’s lives, not hypothetical people), until you start to wonder, “Why the frak am I here?” And if intellectual exhaustion weren’t enough, add in the fact that sycophancy is rewarded to a degree much more obvious than in any other endeavor I have ever participated in (and I’ve been to boot camp, y’all). In retrospect, I think that leaving grad school was one of the best decisions I ever made, though it didn’t feel like it at the time. I really wish that these home truths about grad school were better known, so that incoming students could make more informed decisions about whether or not they want to pursue a postgraduate degree. The fact that this information is still underground makes me wonder if the accusations about racketeering don’t have at least a germ of truth to them.

  53. Headly Avatar

    i’d like to amend my previous post. more than anything, in the last post i was venting after a rough day. i inaccurately generalized when i characterized my department as uncaring about grad students. that simply isn’t true. and although there is little chance that anyone is going to find out who i am or where i go to school, it doesn’t feel right to let those inaccuracies hang out up there because i became frustrated and careless. there are professors here who have been tremendously supportive of me, sometimes despite my occasional immaturity and awkwardness. if grad school is sometimes frustrating and ego-killing, and the other things i wrote above, it is largely because i am daily forced to take an honest look at myself and to work on myself, not just as a professional or as an aspiring academic, but as a person who finally has an opportunity to be immersed in interesting, stimulating work but who sometimes doesn’t feel equal to the task. but this is a process; i have to keep that in mind. graduate programs don’t usually accept unintelligent people, but neither do they accept perfect people. there are a number of areas in my life that need improvement, and i simply have to accept that and work to improve those areas that are visible to me. one of those areas is my level of confidence in my abilities. and if i am experiencing any hazing in my department, then it’s probably a good thing for me, because the sense of self-reliance and self-confidence that can result from such experience is invaluable in any setting–even, and perhaps especially, in one’s relationships outside of academia. working with people of very high intelligence, keen perception, and refined communication skills is a privilege that i am trying to deserve. that’s not to say that this environment is easy to negotiate–especially for someone from my particular background. in other words, being surrounded by keen perception regularly means that i get to see my flaws, faux pas, unexamined assumptions, and other undesirable traits play out in front of me like a horror film. (more often, though, it’s a comedy.) and if “nobody gives a shit,” then that also applies to those moments when i screw up. i am learning that this ride becomes rough when i lose a sense of gratitude and forget to have a sense of humor. i am actually quite happy to be where i am; in fact, i have begun to think that i am exactly where i need to be.

  54. Bilbo Avatar

    Actually, there is shame in working shit jobs during your 20s. People treat you poorly, look down on you, and almost never think of you as multitalented. And too long in those jobs can crush your talents out of you. They take time away from activities that use your talents and help you to develop new ones. They wear you out and make you small.

    On the contrary, graduate school is not shameful. People suppose that you are doing interesting things and making progress. It is a sign of wealth, class, culture, and productivity. Your poverty is excused, because it is seen as transitional and in service of something higher: understanding, accomplishment, that multitalented person whose future seems assured.

    Also, TAing and adjuncting are on balance much better than most shit jobs; you make (at least in Canada) more than $20 an hour, which is not terrible, in a clean and civilized environment.

    Those of us who have spent time in grad school mostly know that it is an exercise in deferral. We also mostly know that a great deal of what goes on in academia is not what it seems to those outside of it. While I was a grad student, I found this discovery devastating; I felt that I had a made a terrible mistake.

    Many years later, I now think that graduate school was very good for me. It looks better on my resume than shit jobs would have. It was better for my sanity. I developed more talents there than I should have otherwise. And most of all, my degrees signal to other that I could afford to spent my 20s in school and travelling rather than working shit jobs.

  55. Arcrage Avatar

    I’m feeling the pain as well! In my last semester of a tech related masters program (took all my “harder” classes first) but got stuck in a group project class this semester with the following quality group members:

    1- Someone who plagiarized 2 pages on the individuals 4 page assignment (not just forgetting quotes or citations – literally copy/pasting with denial afterward).

    2- A combative egotistical maniac who just yesterday went on a rant about his “5th Amendment” rights after I shut him down on defying the instructor and our analysis host organization (when referring to freedom of speech…lol)

    3- Someone who took an online course and now claims they have limited Internet access (as a reason not to contribute any work)

    The clock is counting – 7 weeks left… 45 pages done, 21 left… I’ve digressed to one word e-mails to group members and am essentially doing all the work myself (since the Instructor views appeals for assistance in this class as a failure criteria). Bring them hoops on but I’m gonna laugh at anyone telling me to do a PhD!

    For all of you have finished, congrats, for all who are still in the firing line, hang in there, and for those who have not been here, don’t do it (unless you’re REALLY dedicated and willing to put up with loads of stress and hoops).

    Regards to all!

  56. JS Avatar

    thanks everyone for all of your posts. I have had a very difficult experience in my grad school, most of it being difficult because of internal politics. I worked hard and long to be here, and I hate it, and it is nice to hear that I am not the only one. Sometimes misery does love company!

  57. Susie Avatar

    Only a few more weeks until summer– that means that I just get to work on my dissertation at home without the hassle of coursework. Huzzah!

    I am seriously considering finishing my Master’s degree and getting the fuck out of dodge. I managed to get an A- on a statistics exam that I was not prepared for. It helped that the prof gave everyone 30 points to curve the scores; that’s how poorly everyone did. The sad thing is that 50% of us are getting tutoring and we’re still performing badly!
    Tells ya something doesn’t it?
    Oh yeah, this makes things so much better. This is my last year and the chair of my committee is going on Sabbatical. I won’t be in contact with her at all; she made it explicit that she won’t be reviewing anything. How, exactly, can she be the chair of my committee then? I have no idea.

  58. Paul Avatar

    I’m pursuing an MA in English, but not hard enough. I’m burned out enough to be behind in 3 of 3 courses, and am seriously considering taking Incompletes and bugging out to finish the last month’s work at a saner pace.

    My big mistake, I think, was being here at all. The work in grad school can be interesting, but the volume of work itself is part of your education. It is fundamentally ritual in nature. Most of it serves little purpose, but you will need to keep up to do well in papers or tests. And keeping up is not a benign one-foot-in-front of-the-other process. It demands everything, and what’s worse, few will acknowledge it.

    If you need your “me time,” but you don’t know how or want to plan your life meticulously, you will fall behind and burn out anyway. And then you’ll feel guilty for taking the “me time” and not burning out earlier.

  59. sphaerie Avatar

    for all of you still in classes, you _do_ get your life back after prelims. i promise. but getting my life back (i’m about halfway through a humanities diss.) hasn’t meant a resurgence in interest… either in my field, or for what i planned to do with the phd, teach. i’m finishing because i’ve invested in this… because i love the life i created after moving for school… because it’s sustainable to work part time and dissertate part time without feeling like i did in classes, that i had to work every second of every day… but all of that said, it’s likely i won’t become a professor. the economy says no, and my heart says no.

    somehow, even on the days when it all seems to mean nothing (especially when i want to crawl under the table during poetry discussion because i’m not as “up” on recent poetics as i was when i was taking classes) i still want to finish. i know it might sound strange, but even if i do nothing with the phd i’ll feel good about finishing. i can’t really explain it… maybe it’s because my life has the balance it didn’t when i was pulling 60+ hour weeks, or that i can, unlike a lot of you on this list, put my studies away when i need to. right now, though, thinking about having more time for writing, for finishing, and for finally moving on (whatever i end up doing next) i feel like finishing the phd is the right thing. (well, who would quit after 6 years anyway?)

    still, i hate the competetive feeling i get when i hear someone’s gotten really good funding! it’s frustrating–i’ve always worked my way through TAing and whatnot, taking on freelance, odd jobs, working a second job for the last 4 years, while a lot of people around me have sailed through on fellowships, scholarships, project assistantships. maybe the reason i feel good about the phd is because in the end, i will have actually earned it, both intellectually and monetarily. and doesn’t pscyhology have something to say about “owning” the choices you make?

  60. tia Avatar

    Grad school has been a soul sucking experience for the most part. I’m a 2nd year Phd student in political theory and my colleagues are a bunch of pontificating morons, who are sexist, racist, and full of shit! TA ing gives me anxiety attacks, we were the keeners us folks in grad school and I think we have forgotten what most to the undergrad body was like – there to pick up! I had to learn an still learning about the “culture” of grad school, keeping tabs on everyone else, pretending to have read everything, trying to out do everyone, I am not of the same mind, I believe one can succeed without trying to run over everyone else, or being jealous, or being sneaky, I love my research and I have purposefully selected an area which is meaningful to me, very personal, and has a practical component… these days I try to hide from most, in and out no hanging around, people are so untrustworthy in grad school, I def.. do want to date a grad student!

  61. lostingradschool Avatar

    What the hell did I get myself into? I finished my MA last year…b4 that I said to myself: No PhD, no way, I am going home. Then, when my application to PhD program was accepted…I did not know what to do. One morning after several weeks of hard thinking and maybe influenced what others would think if I did not continue into PhD…I entered the program…Right choice? I dont think so…I feel stupid, inferior to everyone around me, hopeless. Am I a failure? Most of the times I answer that question affirmatively . That is what being surrounded by people with no life other than writing and presenting articles has done for me. I cry many nights. All I want to do is tell these people who look down on me to fuck off, you are ruining my life. In case I did not make myself clear: Grad school SUCKS!!!!!

  62. Ex- grad. Avatar
    Ex- grad.

    So most ppl who enter grad school find out that it’s not what they thought it would be. On top of that, there’s a new problem for grad students. Do you stick it out, milk that grad stipend for all it’s worth, and get that useless degree and be unemployed or do you take the plunge, leave the superficial shelter of academia and take the Master’s and enter this economy only to compete with the largest graduating class in American history and still be unemployed. Decisions, Decisions Doesn’t it feel great to have so many options…and you thought that by getting several degrees you were increasing your employment opportunities…tisk, tisk.

  63. spoiled but miserable Avatar
    spoiled but miserable

    It’s been up and down for me. Yes, I know that as a fully funded PhD student in a science (well I think it’s a social science, but the university says science) department. I’m spoiled by my advisor’s negligence, in fact. I live in a crappy town, but crappy = affordable, so I’m comfortable, if lonely at times. The sad part is, even though I’ve got a great grad school gig, it’s still demoralizing and deflating. I miss being a work-a-holic! I don’t WANT to spend more time doing work nobody cares about, work that I don’t even feel good at. I love working in general, but I can’t force myself to work on my dissertation. I’m five years in, and I’ll probably need another 9 months or so before I can land a mediocre postdoc. But I want to be making a contribution and be excited about my work again. I don’t know what that will take. Is this just normal burnout, or is my heart telling me to look for other options? And what ARE the other options? Nobody in my department seems to know, and asking about this makes you look like you’re not dedicated to the field. I wish people could have an honest discussion about career possibilities post-phd. We won’t all get tenure-track jobs, so where is the weakness in discussing the other options? I know I want to finish, I love my subject area, I don’t think I want to continue doing mediocre, low-impact research…What next? And why is looking else where so frowned upon? The system is deeply flawed.

  64. Goodbye social skills, hello awkward Avatar
    Goodbye social skills, hello awkward

    After a few days of reflection in a state of post-Master’s defense trauma, I have come to the realization that I am going to struggle through this PhD program if I continue to display any signs of my humanity. I must quickly jettison any outward evidence of my ability to engage with others and enjoy life— my desire for sunlight, my zest for interpersonal human communication through language, and my uncanny ability to “shake it like a salt shaker” (Urban Dictionary, 64) — if I expect these people to take me seriously. Fuck! I can’t tell you how much work it’s going to take for me to stop making eye contact!

  65. Doubting Thomas Avatar
    Doubting Thomas

    One poster earlier said that he no longer believed in political science. At first, this statement seemed quite laughable, like saying that one doesn’t believe in peanut butter. But I understand what he means. Although I graduated with an MA in English literature, I’m not sure I believe in my field, either, at least in the sense that I no longer think it’s an essential field of study. In grad school, my professors commended me for my fluency in literary theory, and I still love literature. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening changed my life. But I slowly became aware of the huge disconnect between my field and the real world. Producing literary criticism is such an isolated act that has no appreciable impact on anyone else’s life. At least a grad student in the sciences could say that he/she helped create a new type of plastic that could be used in an artificial heart, a development that helped improve someone’s life. So I wouldn’t say that grad school in the sciences is always a bad thing, but I’ve begun to question the usefulness of a humanities education.

  66. Doubting Thomas Avatar
    Doubting Thomas

    BTW, hello awkward is right. Grad school does negatively affect one’s social skills. Although I’ve never been an outgoing person, I emerged from undergrad with the ability to converse well in professional settings and carry on small talk at fancy gatherings. Grad school left me with no time for any social interaction that wasn’t strictly required, so my skills have evaporated and I will have to relearn them all over again. Maybe grad schools should offer free social skills classes as part of their programs.

  67. infinity Avatar

    I agree with doubting thomas. You have to have some deep inner drive to keep you motivated.

    I’ve been having my own set of difficulties in grad school–much like those posted here. I’ll also admit that I have somewhat less respect for the “softer” areas of study, being a science student. Your drive has to come from within yourself in grad school. As an undergrad, I was sick and tired of exams and other students that were unmotivated, as I was very much interested in learning the material for its own sake.

    In grad school, you must be self-motivated to some grander vision in order to get through it, although I will admit that many of the students at my school are just doing what they were previously good at (i.e. doing it because they are avoiding real-world work). My personal motivations have shifted somewhat, towards helping improve the currently abusive teaching practices at grad and undergrad levels. I don’t think “hazing” is the most effective way to produce original, creative, independent-thinking scientists…it’s better at creating narrow-minded and bitter autocrats, such as are common in our institutions. So perhaps all you bitter grad students can take these negative experiences and turn them around in the future? I.e. instead of complaining and whining, take on the responsibility of leading a new generation and new style of teaching?

  68. Frank Avatar

    Yep. Grad school has been the most alienating experience of my life. It is designed to make you feel inferior. Those who succeed are good at doing what they are told. Come to believe in the radical social theory that you study only to feel alienated by your family and friends (the ones who insisted that this degree give you credibility, so that you can “help” people) who mistake your professional advice for casual opinion.

  69. Thomas Avatar

    To the individual who posted: why a science PhD is like communism: this is why people in the sciences are complete idiots (in the Lacanian sense of the term).

  70. Theo Avatar

    Thank you all for posting. It’s Saturday night and I’m home alone studying for a qualifying exam although there’s a good chance I’ll fail it. I am a misfit in my PhD program and don’t have any one to study/commiserate with. Reading this blog has made me feel like less of a failure for continuing to stay at home on Saturday nights. I am especially grateful to Bilbo for reminding me that shit jobs where people treated me badly weren’t exactly a career either. The phrase “a fine and pleasant misery” often comes to mind when contemplating grad school. Best of luck to all of you.

  71. RnS Avatar

    This article is wonderful, and the tens of people chipping in with experiences make it all the more useful.

    I wanted to pursue a PhD in Engineering, and was admitted with a fellowship to one of the top 3 universities in America. Halfway through my Masters, things started to go very wrong. Every day became a nightmare, because I was clinging on to the prestige that I think a PhD degree had, and yet there was an ever-present subconscious discomfort. It took me weeks to realize that I didn’t want to do a PhD, and finding the reasons for that was relatively straightforward after that. I’ve finally decided to quit, and am truly seeing how bigoted and short-sighted most advice on grad school is.

    Now that I am somewhat stable, I don’t wish that this period in my life should disappear. I learnt a lot, and it seems that going through a reasonable amount of pain gives you a strange kind of lasting contentment and happiness after the pain is past.

  72. Kate Avatar

    I am in week three…I’m already looking for jobs that I could maybe get in January if I drop out. I just realized that it is not where I want to be. I went to a very small liberal arts college for undergrad and now I am at a large southern university of like 45,000. It’s my first exposure to real academia and, frankly, I think it’s awful. I am enjoying my TAship, which has opened my eyes to possibly doing an alternate route for a teaching certificate. I think I would really enjoy teaching…so I guess this little bit of grad school hasn’t been a complete waste of time!

  73. You-Know-Me Avatar

    Thank-you for this board. I’ve been languishing in a (state-run) Master’s of Urban Planning program for 2.5 years…Required courses are only offered once per academic year and I’ve actually avoided taking a “core” courses because the professor annoys me so much! Top it off, the majority of people in my program are socially-inept and seem to hate PEOPLE. Ironically, they’re in a field which is(supposedly)geared toward improving urban space to benefit the public (which is primarily comprised of PEOPLE). There are times when I’m so frustrated by the attitudes exhibited by my “peers” that I’ve contemplated quitting. I only stay because the school’s my parents alma mater AND becoming an urban planner is my childhood dream.

  74. Skeet Avatar

    It’s good to know I’m not alone. I just started a MPA program in Texas and I am doubting whether I should have even started. I hate the writing, doing the work and what not. I love working and I have this sense of being lazy about doing homework, research papers, etc. Sigh.

  75. Allie Avatar

    I am in the same boat as you guys. I started a master’s program in teaching and I hated it. I was absolutetely miserable. So I switched my program to a Master’s of Arts in Social Sciences. I feel like I should have taken time off between switching programs because now I am terrified I won’t be able to find a job. Meanwhile, I am getting more and more into debt. I can’t even afford to take time off now because I will have to start paying back loans.

  76. slpwannabe Avatar

    I’m not a PhD student (and after only 1/2 semester of grad school, all thoughts of pursuing such have now vanished), but I am working toward a masters in speech-language-pathology, which is required to work in the field. BUT it sucks! I agree that the professors act like they are high and mighty, but yet, a few of them aren’t much older than me. The assignments are just busy-work (i.e.- read an article…try to make sense of it…then write down the main points). I’m a GA and an absolute NOBODY, yet I too have worked out in the “real world” and worked directly with every level of a multimillion dollar company. Now, I am sitting here venting on this blog because I just don’t give a damn right now about doing all the crap I have to do. But, I will soon start studying after finishing this rant simply because I must finish this degree in order to make enough $$ to pay back the freakin loans I took out to do this in the first place. Yes, Grad school sucks. It’s boring. It consumes your life. You gain weight because you don’t have time, money or energy to workout. And, interestingly enough, I find myself wondering if I will actually enjoy this as a career.

  77. sparkleydiva Avatar

    Thank goodness I found this website – I don’t feel alone anymore. I’m in my first semester in grad school and absolutely hate it. I’m a mature student and have worked previously. Thought I would do PhD – but not now. I’m doing first year MA sociology – its just so pointless. Trying to understand theories which are of no use in the real world. Do I really want to spend the next 20 years of my life having to ‘publish, publish, publish’? I don’t think so. I’m quitting at the end of this semester – not willing to waste my time feeling so depressed, anxious and lonely. Every morning when I get up I can’t face the amount of work I have to do – I even dream about theories! You get no reassurance that what you do is ok. I get top grades – A’s all the way – but still hate it! Thank you so much for helping me make the difficult decision to quit and not feel like a failure – because no matter how much you go over it in your head you still think that by quitting it is failing. It isn’t, there’s so much more to life than the world of academia. It’s not that I will stop life long learning – something I’ve always done – it just won’t be in the world of grad school.

  78. PaperSlave Avatar

    I googled “grad school sucks” and all of this sounds like my diary. Im not a good student, I accidentally got good grades in my BA (only because the tiny bit i tried was more than my peers)… and I could not find a job. College is a pit of quick sand! I cant seem to get out! Is it so much to ask that I just get a job, go to work, come home and have time to MYSELF?? How does the world function? Why can’t I find a place in it?

  79. GradSchoolGrrrr Avatar

    Finally after years and years of torture, that darned degree is done with !!!!!!! Grad school for me started out with expectations of achieving a higher state of being/mind etc etc. What it later morphed was a very survival of my dignity and piece of mind.

    At some point life caught up with me, I got married, got a job and left graduate school. I was happy. Then I made the super duper mistake of listening to my wife/parents/inlaws and put this idea in my head, that I started it and I might as well finish it! That led to having to do some “serious asskissing” to get my sorry ass back into grad school. I did that. Regret the second time around (I must’ve been glutton for punishment). I worked 40hrs a week and then sacrificed what measly measure of sleep that I needed to work on my thesis/experiments. Literally 1.5 years later I finally defended.

    What is displeasing is that darned trauma that I’ve work to do after finishing my everyday work still lingers in my mind 2 months after graduation 🙁 I think it’ll take a while for me to mentally train myself that 5pm means done, and weekend means that I “really don’t have homework/thesis/experiments to conduct”.

    What did I get out of grad school? I got my piece of mind that I finished what I started, but it’s still significantly scarred.

    Think 10^10 times before you decide to goto grad school. If you love studies then by all means, but have realistic expectations.

  80. circles Avatar

    I’m so glad I found this site. This too is my first semester, I admit I jumped into grad school right after UG because that’s what the “smart kids” do and I hate it. I hate the knots in my stomach, spending 15 hour days on campus doing work, and worst of all losing what I loved about my subject before coming in, and everything I enjoyed outside of homework. I break down crying every day, I feel like an outcast, the only joy I get from grad school is the class I TA.

    Add to the fact I am doing a degree a little different than my BS and I’m only in one actual grad class (the other two are advanced UG to fill in the holes I had) and here I am, 3 in the morning trying to figure out how I’m going to not completely break down or succumb to the urge to drive my car off a bridge on my way home.

    I just want to be me again.

  81. what Avatar

    It’s nice to know that there are others who are experiencing what I am going through.

    Like circles, I went into graduate school because I assumed that it was what I am supposed to do, since I have a BS in behavioral science. To add insult to injury to myself, I went into something primarily for what salary I could make when I get my Master’s.

    I broke down three times last week under the pressure of my workload. I am taking three challenging classes, a seminar, going to a conference in a week, and an officer in a student chapter our advisor wanted us to form. I am doing all of this to keep my advisor placated. I am starting to seriously consider that I am in the wrong program, if I’m not even supposed to be in grad school anyway. My stomach lurches when I hear about anything to do with the grad program I’m in.

    Granted, there are people who do what I do AND hold down a full time job. While this should make me get off my bottom and work harder, it only makes me feel guilty for getting burned out.

    It’s terrible, really. I feel as if everything I learned as an undergrad has gone out the window.

    Graduate school can open doors, but I tell anyone thinking of graduate school to take their time (if they can) with it, and be damned sure that it’s what they want to do.

    I wish I had read more about graduate school from more honest sources before diving head first so fast.

  82. gradschoolrocks! Avatar

    I too am in my first semester of a social science PhD and don’t know what the fuck I was thinking when I started. The only thing that seems more appalling than going to class for one more god damn day is the thought of having to write a dissertation! My ass is out of here… good luck to everyone.

  83. So over it Avatar
    So over it

    Im a Microbiology student in a PhD program at a top 3 university. I am so glad to find this site…can’t believe how many other people are going through the same feelings of misery.
    The classes are terrible, and my PI is a meddling micromanager. I’m intellectually not in the same league as many of the people here and I’m not sure I want to be! I spend much of my time simultaneously in awe of their smarts and annoyed by their tendency to dissect every single point down to the tiniest of minutiae. It makes me sleepy and passionless.
    The first year was really tough, but I thought I could make it. Ive begun year two now, and can hardly take any more. I’ve put in applications for menial jobs so I can make a fast exit. Yes, I’ve decided to quit. No one knows yet. The only thing holding me back right now is the paycheck…once I get confirmation that I will have work, I’m outta here. I feel like I’m drowning every single day – they have me on two antidepressants! This is no way to live. So I’m cutting the ties to this prestigious place to save myself. It sucks to see a dream die, but I had no idea grad school would be like this. I’ve been through a lot of shit in my life, but I’ve never been more miserable.

  84. Me_again Avatar

    I’m still in the wretched State U Urban Planning program…Life’s a bit annoying, the constant advise from my profs to “study more.” All I can say is “B**tch Puh-leaze. I’m not lazy, I just don’t care.”

    However, I just figured something out: you don’t have to do well, just well enough. So, I’m going to eat well, excercise, go out (de-stress), take fewer credits (no more than 9) and tell the bastards what they what to hear–that they matter (when, truthfully, they don’t.

    Eventually, I get a degree out of this mess…I’ll just have to hustle a little more.

  85. Laz Avatar

    Glad I’m not the only one…..

    I’m 8 weeks into a fully funded Masters and am very, very close to dropping out.

    The workload is insane. I’m so busy between TA’ing, classes, assignments, and my RA’ship that I have no life. Moreover, I’m stretched so thin that all my work is mediocre at best.

    I absolutely loathe the coursework. None of classes have anything to do with my research interests and I simply can’t force myself to write the garbage I’m being asked to write. I’ve been at my computer for 5 hours tonight and wrote 1 line for an essay. I graduated with top honors in my undergrad and loved every minute of it, but for some reason I just can’t do it anymore. I’ve lost all my motivation and am completely jaded with academia and my discipline.

    My department however is great and my advisor is a fantastic and supportive. Really phenomenal person. I did my undergrad at the same school and dropping out would make me look like a failure to my advisor and all the people in the department who I respect and worked with in the past. I fear I would ruin my reputation if I drop out which I think I will.

    What a mess, I wish I never accepted….

  86. ArtSchoolConfidential Avatar

    This thread is amazing. I feel that we can all agree on that.

    For the record: 3rd and final year MFA grad in top university. Hating every minute of it, but hanging in there as I’m over the hump. Can;t wait to exit from this cult.

  87. wtfwasithinking Avatar

    This is the second time that I’ve been through these posts…thank you so much for your honesty!

    I am finding grad school to be just out of my ballpark. Yes, I am intelligent and performed exceptionally well in my UG, and yes, I have real-world experience (through relatively prestigious part-time jobs). But this shit has made me feel inadequate, empty and left with zero drive. Why did I even start this? I am disallusioned with the propaganda that my UG profs spread (and continue to spread), and am burned out beyond belief. I haven’t had a break since the 3rd year of my UG, including 50 hours/week of work each summer with minor vacations, and absolutely regret thinking that I was ready to just continue on to do a masters.

    Oh, and what the fuck am I studying?! Ridiculous theory which is all math… I loathe my coursework (and am not comfortable in math). I am not ready to throw in the towel but don’t have it in me to better the situation. Ugh I just want this shit to be over.

    Thanks again for your posts. Misery loves company!

  88. jellyfish Avatar

    This website was a welcome relief after discussing dropping out of grad school with classmates and friends. They never understand, they always put it in terms of how much time I have left – 6 months to a year. Instead, its not a matter of time – its a matter of writing a bullshit thesis on a core area of linguistics. My original topic was the structure of the french syllable. How do I put this? “I don’t care.” That probably describes it best.

    Since starting grad school I’ve gotten a job in an applied area of my field: I work in corporate america as a researcher in literacy. I feel like I’m actually doing something worthwhile there, and I even get to read lots of interesting articles and get paid for it!

    Then I come home after a long day of thinking about real issues, to either read more articles about some obscure topic, or to feel guilty for going out with my friends instead, or even – god forbid – for reading a book that I want to read.

    Linguistics has been ruined for me. Graduate school is for followers, not for creative thinkers, as someone put it on an earlier post. Professors (at least in my field) guarantee themselves a job by doing nothing more but criticizing the work of a few who produce it, and never come up with anything new. I find that my program only teaches one way of doing linguistics – and indoctrinates all of the students by forcing them to work under certain frameworks. Not explicitly of course, but the pass/fail thesis takes care of that.

    Leaving grad school is so scary that even though I’ve been reading this blog for over an hour now and feeling so happy that others feel the same way as I do, I won’t leave. I have 1-2 semesters until I get my masters degree. Unfortunately, I feel obligated as I was hired with a masters in progress. I feel like it is expected of me. And I want that piece of paper – I want to have something to show for my time and everything I’ve learned. Some of it has been useful, but some so obscure that I need to justify it somehow.

  89. Anon09 Avatar

    I’m almost done with my first semester of an MA in Museum Studies and I’m tired of it already. I had a project that I’ve been working on all semester (which I thought was pretty good) torn apart publicly today, with a week left before it’s due. All of the “critiquers” involved knew what I was doing the whole time and yet waited until now to tell me that I just can’t do a big part of it. How am I supposed to come up with something else in a week when it took me 2 months to do that??
    MAYBE I could have done more research so I could have some back-ups if it wasn’t for the insane amount of reading in this and other classes, most of which we never discuss so I wonder why I wasted my time. Not to mention the random trivial essays that take more time.
    I’m almost at the point where I don’t even like museums anymore. My undergrad degree is in archaeology and I really enjoyed my time in that program, but I realized I didn’t want to be a professional archaeologist, so I went for an MA in a related field. I doubt I would like an MA or PhD program in archaeology any better. The problem is, most jobs that you can get with only a BA in arch. are very low-paying, not enough to live off of. I don’t know what to do now. I guess I will have to stick it out for at least another semester and see if I can find a decent job with what I have and can get health insurance (I would lose that if I dropped out now; I have a pre-existing condition so I couldn’t get it or afford it on my own).
    I guess the worst part is the blow to my self-esteem. I was an almost-straight A student all through school including all 4 yrs of undergrad and I took some pretty tough courses. And now to have my projects which I’ve worked so hard on torn apart like that with the high probability of a C in my classes is downright demoralizing and I feel very depressed over it. I cried my eyes out in the car after class tonight, and that wasn’t the first nor will it be the last time that happens.

  90. Robert Nagle Avatar

    I am humbled and grateful for the wisdom in the anecdotes presented here.

    Anon09, there is no shame in admitting that your particular graduate degree wasn’t suited for you. (It isn’t just a matter of your “not being good enough.”) The criteria by which academics assess new academics has built-in flaws and blind spots. I remember once in graduate school I wrote what I thought was a brilliant and unconventional paper and the teacher ripped it to shreds. I was infuriated (and I wrote her a pointed but civilized rebuttal), but by then I had seen the big picture. Each professor teaches one way to analyze problems, and this teacher did not want to see it the way I did.

    That said, if everyone in graduate school had free tuition and expenses paid, there would be more freedom to pursue intellectual interests. That would be utopia, but it would prevent you from valuing intellectual endeavors appropriately.

    By the way, I would be curious if people who posted earlier who come back and then tell what happened 1, 2 or 3 years later — to show that life after graduate school is not a grand tragedy.

    Now is probably a hard time to be looking for work. But you are young and educated and talented. If you love archealogy, you can always find a way to channel it into another productive area (although it may not happen immediately).

    (By the way, what ever happened to peace corps or Teach for America? I finished peace corps and it changed my life).

  91. NiKi Avatar

    “Grad school is a volume-based business. You better be able to crank out a lot of essays and reconcile yourself to the fact that a large percentage of it will be mediocre or ultimately unimportant.”

    Oh my God..this is so frigging true!! I am a second- year grad student in journalism, at a very reputed university. Even tho I’m in a friggin professional track, all I am doing is submitting reams and reams of papers, and getting really low grades on them because I just can’t write anymore!! All I wanted to do was get some hands-on experience in reporting but I seem to be stuck in a research-based course!! Why are papers given so much importance that failure to submit even one results in a F grade?? especially since we are expected to write at least TWO 15-20 pages papers for EVERY course! and they call it a professional track. I came to grad school knowing that i DO NOT want to get stuck writing lit reviews and research papers. and now tht is exactly what I am doing! And they call it the professional track.

  92. Maureen Avatar

    Oh thank God I found this place. Honestly, I really believed I was totally alone in hating graduate school. And you know, it only took me two weeks into it to size up the situation and clue into my feelings on the topic – ie., the hostility of my advisor, the stupid, witless feedback I was getting, etc. – I was ready to drop out, to be quite honest – not because I felt demoralized, but because it was like – okayyyy – I just had a clear reading of the whole dynamic and knew, knew, knew it was not for me. What got me was the power-tripping authoritarian crap my advisor was laying on me, after “safely” luring me in…I think he finally felt confident enough to treat me like shit, and seriously expected me to take it and lick his boots. I remember my third meeting in, giving him the devil stare – and he actually got up and moved to a seat across from me, because I really think I intimidated him. I have worked in my field. I am pretty street smart, and I knew exactly what I had gotten myself into. The only reason I didn’t quit – because I seriously thought about it – the second week in – was that I had a TA ship and funding and it seemed wrong to “leave a job” without proper notice, etc.

    Things have not improved, I’ve just adjusted my expectations accordingly – as in having none. What else am I supposed to do? Delude myself into believing I”m going to have some kind of useful, purposeful, productive “mentoring” relationship with an asshole? I feel really burnt out however, and I’m losing energy. I decided I was going to finish this thing – but I’m really going to have to start taking care of myself. The whole experience is so isolating and demoralizng – its like being a battered housewife. Pathetic, really. I’m glad to have found this place. I’m glad I’m not alone, although I sure don’t wish my experience on anyone. My Education. What a fucking joke. What I’ve “learnt” is that I fucking hate this discipline.

  93. Michelle Avatar

    I know I started my MA for the wrong reasons. I’ve always thought that the route to money and prestige was through obtaining degrees.
    I am 2 weeks away from finishing my first course and I already realized that this is not what I want to do. I hate writing research papers…grading is so subjective and it really sucks the joy out of learning. I was learning a lot, but I realized that I don’t have to be in a degree program to learn.
    I’m going to follow my gut and say adios after this class is over. And I feel oh, so relieved.
    I have never felt so inadequate.

  94. Candace Avatar

    I googled “I hate grad school,” and this site turned up. I am now in my second semester of grad school in a neuroscience PhD program and I am giving much consideration to dropping out and going back home. Since starting, I have met quite a few disappointments and it seems as time goes by I become even more disappointed with my decision and the program. One thing people don’t tell you (by people I mean professors and others who advise you to attend grad school) is that some programs don’t allow you to work. The program I am currently in falls under that category, and I didn’t even know about this “minor” detail until after I made plans to move. I accepted this fact because my stipend was pretty decent (at least I thought so at the time), and had planned a potential budget. When it was time for us to receive our first payment, however, someone had messed up on the paperwork so we didn’t get paid (they said someone “signed in the wrong place”). No one seemed to care about this, either, which further infuriated me. Our payment finally came a month overdue, however, we didn’t receive the amount we were supposed to. After we received our second payment, a classmate and I realized the gross amount was less than promised in our letters of acceptance, which had been updated with a higher stipend amount upon our arrival for orientation. We questioned a woman in human resources who didn’t understand why we were being paid a completely different amount from what was promised, and upon furter consideration, my classmate and I decided to drop it and move on.

    One student didn’t know that we weren’t allowed to work and once the chair found out she was working, he more or less threatened her by saying she signed a contract (she didn’t and the first letter of acceptance said nothing about working, I only knew because I asked if they thought it was possible time-wise to work and go to school). At the time of this confrontation, we had still not been paid. Needless to say, she wasn’t very happy and when she told me about their “talk” I was even more pissed off that he would approach her like that. If I had even thought there would be such a screw up with our money, I would have kept my job, too.

    The classes are also very different from what I expected. Of course I knew they would be more difficult than undergrad courses, but…wow. One of the classes from my first semester was an introductory course, so we all figured there would be some teaching on the instructors part since some of the students had never been exposed to that particular material. Instead, we would all read a chapter, come to class and there would be a discussion among the students. If someone asked the professor a question, he would direct it to the other classmates as if we were qualified to explain the topic in question. The class quickly became an opinion course when it was supposed to be about scientific facts about the foundations of neuroscience. The only knowledge I gained was from my own reading, from which most of my notes came. I am now in a class in which the professor constantly says, “Come on, you guys should know this, you’re in graduate school.” I should point out that my program is in the biology department. As a psychology major I didn’t have to take many biology courses (I took 4, more than most of my fellow psych classmates probably), so I knew I had to work a little harder than some of my classmates. I was comforted to learn that some of those students hadn’t been in school for a while or like myself graduated with a major in something else (chemistry). I was told upon visiting the campus by some members of the faculty that I should take a few biology courses in order to prepare myself, and by some that I should be fine as long as I did the work. I decided to try out the first semester with all grad courses to see if extra undergrad courses were necessary. I was satisfied with my performance at the end of the semester and got good grades, so figured I should be fine this semester. Now, the class in question is completely different from what anyone expected. Even tbe people who have majors in biology don’t know what’s going on.

    My biggest problem is the fact that the professors in the department more or less expect you to just sit around and wait for them to come up with something for us to do, whether it be a seminar or some random meeting they just decided to have. Last semester, someone didn’t pay attention when they scheduled the class times, and as a result one of our classes took place at the same time we were all supposed to go to a seminar at a school an hour a way. These trips occurred weekly for a month on the same day and time. The professor of this class was not happy, and later on in the semester when he needed to reschedule a class he said “It’s time for you to accomodate me,” as if we had asked him to reschedule the previous times because of one of his colleagues mistakes. There were events that were deemed “voluntary,” however when only a few people showed up, the heads of the department would get upset and send out angry emails. These events are now mandatory, and there will even be sign-in sheets. I understood coming in that I would have virtually no life as a graduate student, but at the same time these people need to realize that we do make plans based on our schedule, whether it is important or not. I constantly have to check my email in case one of the professors decides we should meet or if something departmental came up all of the sudden.

    There was a time when I loved neuroscience. I couldn’t wait to have a career doing research, making my own scientific findings, curing diseases, and all those other cliche dreams. I enjoyed reading about it, talking about it, going to conferences to hear from great researchers that I aspired to be like. Now, I am completely uninterested. I hate my classes and I keep thinking of things I would rather be doing. I have always been a procrastinator, but now I do something that is well beyond procrastination. As far as stress goes, I’m more worried about whether or not I’ll be able to pay my rent and other bills on time or at all than I am about getting all of my work done. The department made a huge point about providing funding so we didn’t have to work and could pay more attention to our studies. Ha!

    At first I felt bad about wanting to drop out, but little things keep happening that further assure me I should just get out while I can. I feel I have no reason to stay. If I’m going to be away from my family and everything I’ve ever known, it has to be for something far better than this. When I would tell people what I was going to school for, the first thing they would say was, “You’re going to make so much money.” I don’t even care about that. I never have. What’s the point in having a lot of money if you are completely unhappy with what you are doing and have no one around you that you care about to share the experience with? I am definitely leaving.

    I apologize for the long rant. It’s been a long week and I just needed reassurance that I’m not making a huge mistake by ducking out early. This website did it for me.

  95. Me_Again Avatar


    First, I fully and completely understand your position. My program (in urban planning) is also staffed by the grossly incompetent…That being said, perhaps the answer isn’t abandoning your dream, but simply finding another (better-run) neuroscience PhD program? I’m one to talk, but it’s just a suggestion…

  96. Fred Avatar

    What a bunch of whiners. Sheesh. Grad school was one of the best times of my life. Yeah, I was broke. Yeah, I had to learn some things that were pointless later. But afterwards, it got me a lot of work and even a little respect. The degree can help you stand out from the crowd. Boo-hoo, it doesn’t fit with your busy schedule. Then don’t go!

  97. A. Fox Avatar
    A. Fox

    Whiners. Exactly. I’m sure you will succeed marvelously in an easier profession like medicine or law.

  98. JJT Avatar

    My experience with graduate school was mixed. In my MFA program, there were all sorts of politics and misbehavior and narrow-mindedness. But I also felt a strong sense of community, produced a good body of work, and learned a hell of a lot. I also landed a tenure-track job. Lots of these complaints about no tenure-line jobs are focusing solely on graduate/research institutions and there are plenty of undergraduate/teaching institutions out there as well.

    By contrast, my first attempt at a Ph.D. program (in education–sort of) was an experience of indoctrination into Marxist thinking, with surprisingly narrow-minded professors and their disciples who created a thought-police-state that was too extremist for me and tolerated little dissent (even though dissent was the M.O.).

    My second attempt at a education was worlds different, but problematic in that they put through many people (students and faculty) who had no business being there in order to build a new program. Ultimately I decided to quit at ABD stage and there is a strong cultural pressure to feel that I “failed” somehow, even though the two experiences helped shape my thinking dramatically and even though I successfully completed many different courses and two comprehensive exams. In fact I used to feel that way myself. Now I am content in that I have a secure job, I enjoy my students, and the interest I pay on student loans goes to help other students attend college. (I feel my student loan debt has more to do with my lack of skill in managing money than anything else).

    I also think that there are many positive experiences in graduate school and many people here are making the mistake by assuming their experience is representative. It is not easy by any means, but I was willing to endure it to be a bohemian with health insurance and a retirement account.

    Graduate school is definitely NOT the continuation of undergraduate school—there is a whole new level of professionalism and higher standards and also politics and gamesmanship. And of course it is hard. If it were easy, everyone could do it.

    My advice to anyone who is spooked by this page is to SERIOUSLY investigate the institution you might think about attending (talk to students, talk to professors, read the work of the professors, find out the truth about funding), examine your motives for attending, do some real research on your intended job market (for academics, read The Chronicle of Higher Education, look at the job postings there, etc.). Realistic expectations are in order.

    My final words: Graduate school sucks. And it doesn’t.

  99. mid-20s girl Avatar
    mid-20s girl

    I am in the 3rd year of a PhD in Economics. And I am very pleased with it so far. However, I realize that my being pleased with it is a result of a few factors:

    1) I didn’t stand a chance being satisfied with a “real job” immediately after graduation from my BA, nor even my MA (in a different field — had to start from scratch with the PhD).
    2) With economics as my discipline, I know that my options outside of academia are pretty good, so I’m neither worried about being stuck in academia nor worried about not being able to become stuck in academia — the other stuff I can do with the degree looks good.
    3) I have already had doors opened to me that would not have been without the program.
    4) Crucially, I have considered it my job to work round-the-clock as much as possible and thought that way even in undergrad, so there was no transition of losing “a life” — I didn’t have much of one to begin with. Well, at some point I did, but that was a very long time ago, so long ago that I don’t feel its absence anymore.
    5) Faculty have been generally supportive (I have been fortunate enough to not have had a horror story occur, like I have seen other people suffer).
    6) I have even learned something!
    7) Again, #4 really tells most of the story. The first two years of courses and prelims and such were incredibly boring and unfulfilling, but that kind of didn’t matter, because I wasn’t expecting to be doing anything more interesting with my life anyway, so I was content with it. And nowadays, I know that if I worked less, I would quickly fall out of favor with the profs, and I see how miserable some of my colleagues are, but doing all that work is fine with me, because I’m still content to at least partially sell my soul, at least for another few years. I’m just not sure what I would do in the evenings and weekends right now if it weren’t for work. I used to love the social life I had, but since I lost it so long ago, I don’t really have anything left to lose.

  100. Loxy Bagel Avatar
    Loxy Bagel

    Grad School has very little to do with reinforcing norms. Well, it does, but it has much more to do with the intellectual insecurity of the tenured profs. Every year, the profs get another crop of best-test-score, most-accomplished, super-enthusiastic kids. All of whom have great opinions of their intellects.

    There is the real possibility that one or more of them could actually show the professor up. They need to be shown their place. They need to know who’s in charge and to toe the line. The whole idea of higher learning is meritocracy, but it’s really about people having undeserved sinecures keeping them. More than anything, that’s responsible for academic orthodoxy.

  101. Antonio Avatar

    I have to say, in contrast to a lot of the other posts here, that what I hate about graduate school is NOT tied to the petty politics of my department, the mediocre ass-kissers who monopolize all the plum jobs and study-abroad positions, or the coursework and reading that I’ve had to do. I have been able to avoid department politics by re-shaping my research interests based on which professors I could identify as decent human beings (mind you, I had to switch from sub-Saharan African francophone literature to Renaissance francophone literature, but I still did it). What I hate about grad school is the shitty career prospects waiting for me on the outside, and the fact that the ass-kissing and inside connections are what determines, for the most part, who will get good jobs. The chair of my PhD committee is a big-time scholar, and he could probably throw me an OK job at some institution in the United States. The only problem is…I don’t want to live in the U.S. after I leave school. I’m half Belgian and when I was a kid, my siblings and I all planned to live over there for at least a while. Now that I’m grown up, my brother and sister have long ago abandoned that dream, while I’ve gone to graduate school essentially because I didn’t see a better way to go on improving my French and Dutch to the point that I might be able to function as a Belgian. I’d love to work at ANY Belgian university, with or without tenure, but people keep telling me how no European university will hire me, no matter how good my work is, because their employment is even more of a patronage-based system than ours. FUCK!

  102. Fox in the Henhouse Avatar
    Fox in the Henhouse

    A. Fox who posted above is Professor Aaron Fox of Columbia University (see here:

    Feel free to send him your feedback concerning his opinion that you’re all “whiners” at

    [Note from Robert: I am neither going to confirm or deny this. However, I will say that nothing about the comment as expressed here would confirm this fact.]

  103. Fox in the Henhouse Avatar
    Fox in the Henhouse

    For proof of A. Fox’s identity, go to the metafilter discussion of this post at

    Aaron Fox’s username is fourcheesemac. He called everyone who comments here whiners and babies several times, just to make sure everyone got the picture.

    A quick search of his previous posts on that site will confirm his identity.

  104. what_again Avatar

    I left a comment around last October, and I’m still chugging away in grad school.

    The thing about all these comments is that it allows people to feel that it is okay for them to gripe about what they are experiencing. Spilling my guts here alleviated much of the psychological discomfort I was experiencing and allowed to get on with what I needed to do. I couldn’t do this anywhere else–not even with people I consider my friends.

    I think that’s what most of us here are doing. And it’s okay, as long as it helps you get on with life.

  105. Me_Too_Again Avatar

    What-the-deuce! Well, I’m not sure who the above poster is, but I am still in the (loathesome) State U Urban Planning program. Unfortunately, the same group of despotic personalities persist…I’ve finally rationalized that these people are archetypes…They won’t go away, they won’t change. They’re two-dimensional and rather predictable. As such, I’ve rationalized that I should simply ignore them. Happily, my lack of interest seems to be causing a considerable amount of “psychological discomfort”–on their part.

    In short, I’m doin’ grad school my way. If I want to procrastinate, I procrastinate. If I don’t want to deal with the sophmor-onic, ego-stroking, I don’t deal with it. Bottom-line I’m paying for the education (and the salaries). It’s a state university, the profs suck, the students (present-company excluded) are mediocre–whadda I care what they think or do? No apologies. I’m sure the above poser, er, poster shares my sentiment ….:p

  106. Educated Loser Avatar
    Educated Loser

    Wow, so glad I found this article and comments, thanks to everyone who took the time to write.

    I received an MA in 1979 from a prestigious university. It was very hard (linguistics), but not in the way you guys write about, it just took a lot of work, but not soul-sucking work. I was an RA and enjoyed that for one year, and the second year, I got pregnant (was married), but the department was supportive and I finished the MA and found it to be a really great experience in most ways. Except…I was voted out in a tie vote as far as passing my PhD prelims, apparently I was borderline. So no chance to continue on, at least not there. At the time I felt somewhat mystified, as I knew I was smart and could do it, and all the profs seemed to like me. The cohort I was in was also pretty close, no politics to speak of. No idea why I was deemed unfit to continue, but in retrospect, they did me a favor.

    Anyway, I also felt relieved, hard to explain, on an instinctive level. So, I carried on with my life working in a well-paid high-tech profession, then changed careers and became a consultant in economic development. Neither were related to my MA. Fast forward to now, I’ve always loved film and photography, so I applied to a very well-rated MFA program and was accepted, a very small class of 12. I was elated. I remembered my first MA and what a good experience it had been, for the most part, and was happy to be getting back into a formal setting where I could learn from people who had real-world experience (this program required that of their profs, many had Emmys and such).

    I went to one class, spent an hour after class asking the prof how studying Woody Allen films had anything to do with nature photography and didn’t receive an answer, he was lost in the ozone of film theory. It was an agonizing decision, but that one class, plus discussion with some former graduates from the program (who told me basically it was a worthless degree), made me decide this was not where I wanted to be. Three years of this would drive me insane (that’s what the program required, three years).

    I limped back home, dropping out before tuition was due (this would be on student loans), all the time feeling like a loser. This was last fall, and I’m still on the email list for my would-be cohort, so I’m getting all the scuttlebutt about what’s going on, and it ain’t pretty, half are ready to drop out. All the same issues you’re all talking about.

    Reading this has really confirmed what I did was right, as well as the emails I’m getting from the other students. I either got really lucky the first time around or grad school is nothing like it once was. But what my cohort is going through is a repay of all the things in this thread and some are sounding very depressed. Me, I’m having fun hiking and taking photos and setting up my own stock photog biz, webpage, and also writing a nature photography book. 🙂

  107. Educated Loser Avatar
    Educated Loser

    PS If I had it to do again, even though my first MA so long ago was a partially rewarding experience, I would have quit after undergrad and NOT gone to grad school. It was a big waste of time, in all honesty. I could have spent that time doing something I truly enjoyed and not had the humiliation of being refused entrance into the PhD program for unknown reasons (they said my prelims score wasn’t quite there, whatever that means, I had to spend a very long weekend analyzing the Japanese language).

    If I had it to do again, I’m not even sure I would’ve gone to undergrad school. I could’ve made quite a bit of money in the 6 years the whole educational experience cost me (I came out 5k in debt, but this was in the 1970s dollar), and it wasn’t hard to get into decent jobs until relatively recently (last 10 or so years). My real passion is in photography, and you don’t need a degree for that.

  108. what_again_and_again Avatar

    Educated [Winner], you’re my new hero.

  109. Educated Loser Avatar
    Educated Loser


    Thanks, made my day!

  110. Me_Too_Again Avatar

    Nice story, educated!

  111. Educated Loser Avatar
    Educated Loser

    Thanks, made my day.

    Again. 🙂

  112. Special Guest Avatar
    Special Guest

    I am glad I found this site. It helps to vent and whine sometimes. I am currently in grad school, and I despise it with a white-hot, burning passion. I am truly miserable. I had NO idea what I was getting myself into, and if the economy was good and I could find a decent job in my old field, I’d be there in a New York Minute.

    I am willing to bet money I am NOWHERE near as smart as the majority of you. I really am not very smart at all. I have ALWAYS hated school, even as a little kid, and I always made poor grades. I was fortunate to find a really good, supportive undergrad environment with a relatively easy major. But grad school is the opposite. I am in *WAY* over my head and I can see no way to escape. The only reason I went back to school is because the economy crapped out and I couldn’t find a job. And socially, I feel like most of you–grad school has pretty much consumed my life. I can no longer hang out with friends, take dance classes or attend parties or events. Sometimes I’m at school for twelve hours a day. What’s more, my particular program is in flux, and is really disorganized. I have dealt with depression in the past, and grad school is TOTALLY not helping the situation–I feel myself slipping down the black hole of despair. I got some ADD meds from my doctor, which help a little (but keep me up all night when I take them).

    The ONLY decent thing about my program is the camaraderie with other students–there’s sort of a “We’re All In This Together” mindset, and students are willing to help each other and keep each other afloat.

    Anyway, thanks for listening. 🙂

  113. Rebecca Avatar

    I hated graduate school too. I was driving back and forth to campus on a crazy highway an hour there and an hour back and due to face time when I didn’t even have classes, until I told my second supervisor, forget it, I’m staying home to work on my dissertation. I say second advisor as my first advisor/supervisor literally ended up in a mental hospital (no, I don’t think I put him there), my second supervisor “fired me” via the chair, didn’t even have the decency to have a conversation with me (she’s now a dean of grad studies elsewhere–I shudder at the thought), and my third (interestingly, from another department) was a professional with high standards AND compassion and without her I would NOT have completed my PhD. And I felt I had to do so. It wasn’t just about me. It would have been one year of my mother and mother-in-law doing childcare a few days a week, and my former husband working for a number of years as we struggled financially while I got to go to school –I felt responsible to finish THE DAMN DEGREE. The graduate school experience was brutual, it was deadly. All my hair fell out. I went on anti-depressents. Yup. Pretty fucked up. However, this is where my story differs. I did finish. And I got lucky and got a job only 6 months after I graduated in my home town. I love what I do. I can’t believe I get paid to do this job. Yes, there’s lots of stupid committe work and ridiculous departmental politics, but I like teaching, I like working with students, I like writing. I can’t believe I get a sabbatical. I am very fotunate. In a world full of hellish garbage, of people dying in coal mines and children who are soldiers, I am fucking lucky and I appreciate my good fortune every day. Yes I went through pathetic shit to get here. Maybe that makes me pathetic. But as a single mom I am bloody happy to have this income and I job where I have some flexibility and even get to think sometimes–and be critical of things out loud.

  114. […] “Straight Talk About Grad School” by Robert Nagle […]

  115. astronymous Avatar

    I won’t sit here and whine/cry/belabour the point about how grad school is an unfun thing to do, because that’s kind of obvious by now, and moreover it’s been done, but suffice it to say it’s been very helpful to read a few of these anecdotes.

    I’m one of 6 new grads in my (fairly small) department and after asking around, nobody seems to be having as hard a time as I am. Everybody has better grades. Everybody’s been doing better/more successful research. And nobody so far has had to come in every single day to work, including weekends, as I have. If I have a problem that is any other than simply not being cut out for this environment, then that problem insofar as I can see it is that a) I came from a different background and lack a fairly crucial component, b) my time management skills aren’t the best (though they’re no worse than anybody else’s here, I just have more to learn is all), and c) I’ve been making some bad decisions in course choice.

    But with respect to c), it’s all retrospect and at the time of actively choosing, it’s a gamble on my part. Should I take course X or course Y? I only find out months later that I really should’ve picked Y instead of X. Bit late for that. Should I drop course Z and audit it because it’ll make my life hell if I stay in and try to scramble for a 70% which I may not even get? Only figured out much, much later that I should have. That totally wasn’t apparent at the drop date, or even during the exam. Not that I’m looking for someone to blame, but at this point, I don’t see whose fault it could be. It’s just the way the cookie crumbled. This makes me feel dejected and useless and even more like a failure than I already am.

    Anyway. Don’t worry about being the stupidest poster here, Special Guest, because that’s me. I too feel like I’m the stupidest person in the entire school, and the only reason I was accepted is I fooled everybody, and someday soon they’re gonna track me down and find me out and vote me off like Survivor. I can’t go back home after that. I think I’d rather die.

  116. […] reader comments for this advice column  were hilarious (and unusually perceptive about graduate school).  A few […]

  117. […] See also: my very long rambling thoughts about the benefits of going to graduate school. […]

  118. Sarah A Avatar
    Sarah A

    To astronymous:

    Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for your post. You have no idea how much it helped me to realize that someone feels exactly the same way I do. I just finished my first year of grad school and it was HELL. But what made it worse was that it seemed like I was the only one in my program that was struggling. Everyone else could complete assignments quickly, get good grades, understand the material easily, and excel in their assistantships. I was pulling a minimum of two all-nighters every week, getting mediocre grades, and missing deadlines in my assistantship. I felt like I couldn’t turn to my cohort because I didn’t want to seem stupid, and having no one to confide in made it so much more difficult.

    I understand where you’re coming from by thinking you’re stupid and a failure; I feel that way everyday. Last year at this time I felt like I was capable of accomplishing anything so long as I tried hard enough. But now I feel like I am incapable of accomplishing even simple tasks. I want to quit but I can’t because I feel like I would hate myself the rest of my life. My program is only two years long, so I just have to hang in there another year. When I started grad school I really wanted to learn and conduct research; now I just want to get my degree and get out. I really identify with your last few statements. I often feel like I’m just an imposter and I don’t really belong here. I worry that I was accepted for only one reason: when I applied to grad school I was 19. Sometimes I feel like the grad school saw that and immediately accepted me without really looking at my application. The problem is, that’s the only thing that’s really special about me. I didn’t have higher GRE scores, I’m not a particularly good writer, and my research ideas weren’t especially clever. I’m just a young grad student. It’s only because I was homeschooled, not because I am smart. At first, people seemed to expect big things from me, but now I feel like I’m just an email away from being kicked out of the grad school. I feel like the other students look at me and wonder how I got accepted, while the faculty look at me and wish they hadn’t accepted me.

    It makes me feel so much better that there are so many people that feel the way I do. I thought there was something wrong with me. I wasn’t sure how I was going to be able to go back and do it for another year. But honestly, just knowing that I’m not the only one gives me a little more strength to keep pushing on. I do not regret going to grad school, but I do regret is going at 19. I think taking time off between undergrad and grad school is really important (regardless of one’s age). I took a year off between undergrad and grad, but it was not enough. I’m currently planning to take an indefinite amount of time off between my M.A. program and a PhD program. I’m not even sure I’ll go into a PhD program, but that’s a decision I can save for later.

  119. Dandelion Avatar

    I feel inspired to add my own experiences. Thank you so much for these posts.

    I applied to grad schools for a few reasons that were mentioned as positives, plus a few that weren’t: 1) to get away from the east coast intelligently, without going into debt or ending up with the wrong crowd (I have a brother who took off and ended up homeless and on drugs), 2) I had been working at a coffee shop for years and was sick of it, life felt tiring, I wanted something new 3) I had always felt like it was OK to be slightly eccentric at school– freedom of expression, right?– nobody minded tattoos or torn pants as long as I had creativity, intellect, and good work ethic, 4) I missed being near intelligent people, 5) I wrote poetry and short stories endlessly and had the hope that if I get a few more degrees, maybe eventually I can publish without paying for it myself, 6) of course, I love my field, which falls into an in-between Humanities and Sciences category, depending on which area you pursue. Linguistics. Yes, I love it.

    However: 1) I now spend my life in the library or trying to catch up on sleep– might as well be in my old city or another planet for that matter. I love this town– wish I could actually get to know it. 2) I got what I wanted times ten. Trouble in my family decided to happen just as the first term was starting– this has been the most difficult year of my life on all levels. It’s all new, everything, and it isn’t fun anymore. And I found out my old coffee shop closed down in the meantime, though, so I guess going back is not an option (hah). 3) Nobody said a word, ever, about dress code, and yet…I now own slacks, button down shirts…and the tattoos stay covered. Something about professionalism. 4) I miss being near artists. 5) I don’t have quite as much time to write poetry…can’t publish if you don’t write. 6) Well, the love is still there–I do love my field, and my department– what makes it all worth it is going to amazing classes and working with these very beautiful people, but the cost is greater than I knew it would be.

    I’ve always hated the educational system, since middle school. But I’ve always loved school, as in, learning, teachers, reading, writing, thinking, being still, being respected for my mind. It’s always been a war in me. Grad school is more of that.

  120. Woushi Avatar

    Hey, I just read your piece on grad school and although I did not read the entire page to the bottom, comments and all, I have to say I have not heard a better rendition of grad school and its bullshit in a long time. I can relate with everything you said about grad school and it feels great to know that more people feel this way. Grad school does indeed suck big time and I would rather get a 2nd bachelors degree any day. In fact I almost did that and would have if I did not take some time off to just bullshit around for a while and not think about grad school. My whole problem is that on top of everything else that sucks about grad school, I chose to go to grad school in the UK where they hate Americans, especially our writing style and I spent two years being verbally abused by my professors and ultimately failing the whole dame degree anyways because I could not write a “British Dissertation” or at least that is what they said the reason was. I even know another grad student in the UK who had to hire a lawyer to get a pass. But seriously, my field has become outdated while I have been in it and my professors laid off after 30 years and with tenure because of budget cuts. Forget getting a job in Medieval Studies, that will never happen…leaving me saying “what the hell am I doing this for?” I am poor, living on financial aid, haven’t had a relationship in like… forever, and now I am not sure when I am ever going to actually be successful after all this work. I am going keep at it but I am not sure why, I guess I love it and that probably makes me a sadistic but oh well… what the hell else would I be doing anyway?

  121. liz Avatar

    I strongly disagree with the Kantian about what you get at the grad level studying philosophical subjects. On certain issues the most “gifted” people in a field can be at total disagreement. This makes the “original contribution” in any field, with permission granted from your committee, such a paradox. I think the biggest challenge for me was realizing that the people I worked with (at the best school for my particular field) were NOT gifted, or geniuses, or even interested in intellectual growth, which I think can best be developed through collaboration and dialogue with others. You have more intellectual people all around you outside academia, and no one’s opinion on Kant is automatically superior to another’s, unless you judge it by whose opinion is similar that you happen to think is “gifted”. Blech.

  122. John Avatar

    Sadly, it doesn’t help at all to know there are so many people in the same situation. I wake up every morning with a feeling of unbearable dread that I have to live another day like this. My PhD advisor is absolutely wonderful, but my interest in science/engineering has completely vanished after seven years of college with a couple to go. Even finishing isn’t a way out. There’s just nothing there for me and it’ll take another semester or two to switch focus and opt for a master’s degree. Fantasizing about dropping everything and disappearing à la Into the Wild is the only thing that gets me through the day anymore. What a weak thing to fantasize about, huh?

    That wasn’t cathartic like I hoped it would be.

  123. […] also: my musings about why graduate sucks (chock full of comments by unhappy grad […]

  124. Elena Avatar

    John, you are most definitely not alone in your feelings. I completed Master’s degree a year ago, and somehow I was convinced that a Ph.D. in my field was my only option. I wake up with the same feelings of dread each morning, made worse by the suffocating isolation of doctoral study. My body aches all the time from stress, I have unpredictable crying spells, and I always feel like I’m on the verge of dropping out.

    I also fantasize about dropping everything and leaving not only my university but city or state. A change of scenery, new people, a fulfilling job…..all out of reach but so desperately needed. The worse thing I’m experiencing is the pervasive elitism of academia, something that I was lucky enough to avoid in my Master’s program. It is very pronounced in my current program, and no one has a connection to real-world problems or issues.

    Most likely I will find a way out, but in this economy, I may not be fortunate enough to find full-time work. I think that’s what landed me in this position in the first place.

    Thank you for this blog. This is not the first time that I have come here for solace. To John and everyone else, just remember that “this too shall pass.” It might seem unbearable at times, but whether you decide to leave the ivory tower or are strong enough to finish your program, there will eventually be a light at the end of the tunnel.

  125. I'm so tired I forgot my name. Avatar
    I’m so tired I forgot my name.

    I found this article by googling “I hate my master’s degree.” It is nearly 1 a.m. and here I am working on essays while my husband and dogs are sleeping blissfully. I am into my first month of the master’s program (an online program that meets up a few times). It has been awful. The worst part is that I have scholarships so I can’t drop out. Everyone would be disappointed in me including myself. But I am hating every minute and feel like I have walked into prison for two years. I wanted to get my master’s so I could really learn new things and focus on a career I am deeply passionate about. I thought my professors would be inspiring and encourage me to accomplish great things. The reality is that you are just a number. You are one of hundreds of faceless nobodies and the professors only cares about getting tenure and publishing their own books. The master’s track is really a way for the university to make a ton of extra money without actually using the man power to teach you anything. Guess what, you have to teach yourself!!! Well, I could have gone to a library for two years to do that. They require you to give up your life for years so you can slave in front of a computer and write essay after essay after essay for a TA that has never met you but will grade your paper. What a waste of time. And the amount of work that they ask us to do is impossible. Do they not consider that we have jobs or a family? Absolutly, not. That school owns you. You can forget all of the things you love to do and all of the things that make you human. The only reason to even consider getting a master’s is to move up the pay roll but even then you still have to work your ass off for your employer. They don’t care that you are working like a dog to get your master’s. What your employer cares about is what are you doing for them? If you come to work with blood shot eyes and half awake because you spent all night working on a paper noone but a TA will read do you think your employer cares? Nope. You just look like a bad employee. Save your self the pain and agony and don’t waste your time or money on this crap.

  126. Slave to the System Avatar
    Slave to the System

    I’m about half-way through my MA program now and I must admit that I is hasn’t been a very pleasurable experience. Within the first 5 months I figured out that a career in academia was not for me and this realization was a very hard one to actually digest because I had a whole different identity in mind with my original plan to pursue a PhD. I wrestled with myself internally, back and forth, trying to force myself to continue the PhD pursuit, all the while trying to TA, meet deadlines and finish coursework. Eventually, I had to seek professional counselling because I could sense that something *very wrong* was going on inside of me, a feeling I have never once had in my experience before. The counselling really helped ALOT and so I would urge anyone struggling through this stuff to seek this kind of support out. It got me through a very intense period of confusion and anger but most importantly, I gained my ‘old self back’, if that makes any sense. I realized that deep down, ‘me’ really didn’t involve pursuing the PhD and I became ever -so -joyful that I had somehow come to this liberating conclusion sooner rather than later.

    But dispite the counselling and the newly found solace in my desire to leave the system for good, I still have to deal with trying to make it through to successful completion. This is a constant struggle for me right now and like the other posters on this site have said, I’ve never been more miserable in my whole life. I’ve never cried so much in my life. In fact, I can honestly say that

    >>grad school is a most insiduous act of mental fuck-play that I’ve ever experienced

    However, I can truly say that I have a love-hate relationship with graduate school. I say this because the occational white-hot burning stress (and the more dull achy constant stress) that I’ve experienced as graduate student has somehow created fundamental positive change in my life. Graduate school was so stressful to the point that cigarettes literally didn’t ‘work’ for me anymore; I’ve quit for almost 2 years now and I was a pack a day smoker for 15 years. Similarly, the suffering that I went through as a graduate student has allowed me to transcend the petty in my life in that graduate school has pointed–using a huge green (it’s my fav colour) arrow– towards what is * REALLY* important in my life and it surely isn’t publishing, teaching, writing, pursuing a PhD, attending conferences or anything else related to the system. I’m aiming for a simplier, healthier, happier life, thank-you-very-much, and I have graduate school to thank for this personal revelation. Some would argue that I’m applying a very ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ mentality to graduate school, and okay sure, maybe I’m putting a little icing on the cake, but I can honestly say that in my experience at least, anything outside of this crazy system is going to truly be a heck of alot healthier, simplier and happier *for me*. So for those others who enjoy it, love it, excel at it, that’s great, I’m happy that you’ve found your passion but it simply isn’t mine. So give me my piece paper, I’m so ready to be out of here!

  127. WG Avatar

    The pain expressed in the comments posted here over the last three years is very real. It makes clear the terrible price that individuals pay when they are caught in the graduate school trap. There is a price paid by society, too, because hundreds of thousands of capable young adults are robbed of years of productivity and professional development by graduate programs.

    But change seems to be in the air. Suddenly, open and honest criticism of graduate school is appearing in popular culture and all over the Internet. What has for so long been accepted as a public and personal good with either intrinsic or practical value–a graduate education–is no longer so obviously good–and quite possibly bad.

    One of the places (like this one) where that discussion is taking place is the new blog:
    100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School

  128. […] it does have a long article called “Straight Talk about Graduate School,” a piece that anybody considering graduate school should […]

  129. Michael LaRocca Avatar

    Is going to grad school like being in a cult? Not exactly. In grad school, you buy your own Kool-Aid.

  130. Michael LaRocca Avatar

    The idea that you need a gatekeeper to tell you if you’re properly interpreting another person’s words deeply offends me as an author, an editor, and just a thinking human being. It always has. Writing is telepathy. I have some thoughts, I write them down, you read those words in another time and place, and you know what I was thinking. If that doesn’t happen, the fault lies with the author.

    I’ve seen my university students in China argue passionately about whether or not Hero should have given Claudio that second chance and married him after all, That’s what writing means, but apparently some professors would tell you otherwise because Shakespeare didn’t do any graduate work.

    If I don’t get Kant, that’s Kant’s fault, and I am allowed to say that, before writing my doctoral thesis and getting the paper or the parchment or the scroll or whatever we’re calling it these days. Yeah, that thing I don’t have now. I haven’t been to the Unseen University at Ankh-Morpork. But we don’t write in runes on this world. We write to communicate, and anyone who says otherwise is just talking out of his butt.

  131. Z Avatar

    Great post and links. I enjoyed graduate school but there were reasons for this, such as being in a nice place geographically and culturally, and being funded. That doesn’t make any of this less true, and a lot of what people here talk about, I went through when I was already a professor. The BIG reason, though, that I enjoyed graduate school was that I hadn’t internalized the ethic of suffering, and to the extent that it was presented to me I rejected it, on grounds that to suffer would cause impairment and I couldn’t afford to be impaired, I was in a demanding program and needed all my strength, so couldn’t engage in any gratuitous self torture and so on. I was a lucky thing then. But what’s so good about this series of posts is that it shows that the problems people have in academia, and that we all tend to think are personal / individual, aren’t … they’re what the system creates.

  132. Mary Kitt-Neel Avatar

    I’m glad I got my masters 20+ years ago. I don’t think it was quite as cultish and inbred then, but I was very young and naive and it’s entirely possible I just didn’t notice. Once I got out, I got a job that paid very well (as an engineer), but the workplace was actually where I started experiencing the closed-in feeling of it dominating every aspect of my life. I’ve been self-employed for several years now, and even without the good salary, I’m more fulfilled career-wise than I’ve ever been. I think it’s not just grad school that can turn into a deafening echo chamber, but the work world as well, particularly when you work (as I did) in very insular work environments like defense contracting.

  133. LPM Avatar

    Nothing about graduate school prepares you for real life or an actual career. I know this because I came from real life and a real career before starting down this road at the ripe age of 40. Thankfully I have almost completed my MS degree in environmental engineering and I can’t wait to be done with it. This is my last semester and I got it done in 1.5 years because I hate it so much I just want out. I had planned on going for a PhD after the Masters, but have concluded that graduate school is awful and, in my case, the benefits of that PhD will not outweigh the costs. I have really, really, really hated this experience. It’s not about learning. It’s about ass kissing and game playing. It’s about profs with something to prove and advisors who think graduate school should be like a vision quest rather than a learning experience.

  134. Melissa Avatar

    As a third-year PhD student in a social science field…I love this ENTIRE post, especially the last bit about feeling like I am eternally waiting for life to start. I hate feeling like that and for that reason, I’m leaving.

  135. Michael Avatar

    I posted here a year+ ago about how I was leaving grad school, and all I can say is- BEST DECISION OF MY LIFE. And I was a funded PhD student- unless you are absolutely obsessed with your field, DON’T DO IT!!! Good luck to everyone here.

  136. Whatever Avatar

    One thing that really sucks about graduate school is the politics one has to play in order to stay in the good graces of everyone in the program. I still have to deal with people who are overly sensitive, yet they get away with being as insensitive to others. You know the kind: The people who are blunt, yell, and so on, yet they get huffy over a slight change in your facial expression or a slight raise in the tone of your voice.I have to make sincere apologize for my screw-ups, yet these people get away with being a-holes because “that’s just the way they are.”

    I guess it’s no different in industry. Whatever.

    Good luck, everyone.

  137. Kev Jang Avatar
    Kev Jang

    Unless you are a funded PhD or MA student, I think that generally graduate school would take the life or spirit out of you with the need to balance work off-campus, getting enough to pay off fees, and also, the need to produce viable research and even teaching on-campus too. As much as it is “the life of the mind”, I think that getting into one grad program without a sense of the financial burden it takes and foolishly thinking that without funding, one can wing it, is somewhat setting oneself up for depression.

    I just finished my PhD in a humanities subject, and especially when the economy is dismal to begin with, it became a question of whether I did the “right” or “wrong” thing. But I think one poster said that there is a difference between doing a load of shit jobs, and doing grad school and letting it mould you in character, outlook and skills. I would not say that there are no skills to be learnt in the process of grad school, and how one packages or presents it to the world outside is another question. The world outside of academia has grown to become increasingly disregarding towards academia and academics by thinking that people in academia are in it because they cannot survive in the real world and that these people in academia are just “spinning cobwebs”, but to be fair, there are a lot of people outside in the real world who are also paper-pushers with a load of bureaucratic nonsense around them like cobwebs too. It ultimately depends on perspective. I gave up trying to persuade others why it is good to do grad school, and just told myself that I believe I made the right choice because during the time I was in my program and finished it on time, I actually learnt enough in terms of understanding myself. I would not go through a series of ‘shit’ jobs and not know myself, as opposed to learning that I can be capable of so much in grad school: such as 1)finishing an original piece of scholarship on time, and which could potentially contribute to further research, 2) believing that my research is indeed relevant even if in a tangential way, 3) presenting myself better as a speaker during conferences and speaking sessions, 4) getting scholarships and grants which I never knew I was capable of getting, 5) and uprooting myself from family, friends and even losing some friends because of this choice to finish on time and be focused. As for social life, do I feel like I have any while in it? Maybe not as much as I would like it to be. But would it have been any different while outside of academia? Not really, because I was already in the midst of going through certain patches in which I realize friends I used to have no longer clicked with me, and that we share totally different goals in life. You cannot blame academia for a lack of social life, because social life occurs at certain phases and during some other phases, you cannot have it so as to be able to focus on achieving other goals.

  138. Diana Avatar

    I’m just finishing up my Masters in Medieval Studies, and let me tell you it was the worst year of my life. I was planning on getting my PhD, but I backed out of that real quick. It was not the learning experience that has sent me packing, but the politics of it all, most especially with the students. I cannot go anywhere in the building without being the subject of an inquisition about what I’m reading, what classes I’m taking, what am I working on, etc, etc. Being a rather shy, introverted person, this is really annoying. I mean, it’s gotten to the point of rudeness, of having people eavesdrop on your private conversations and then the next day realizing that everyone knows about it. I’m not going to spend the rest of my life kissing these people’s asses just so that I can get ahead.
    I’ll be getting my MLIS next September, and looking forward to actually getting a job in the real world.

  139. MJ Avatar

    Just wondering how many other people came to this website based on google-ing: “grad school makes me feel stupid” ????

    I see very few science (in the strict sense) people and I feel it might confirm my feeling that all the science people I’m around are completely awful. Either way, this website has been the source of great comfort to me in the brief 10 minutes I’ve been looking at it. I finished my masters where I blamed all the problems on my advisor. Now, I’m a first semester PhD student and everything feels like it’s the fault of my own stupidity.

    THANK YOU ALL for posting here! I haven’t considered dropping out yet but reading this has really made me feel that I am not insane/alone.

  140. […] Straight Talk About Graduate School at is quite an insightful and lengthy examination of the topic with many comments. I’m gonna cherry-pick. […]

  141. beats Avatar

    I’m finishing up my Masters in International Relations in the next couple of weeks. I was going to go on to the PhD program but I decided to stop with a Masters and since making that decision I have felt so happy. Such a burden was lifted off of my shoulders. My professors lack empathy to such a degree that I think they could bite the toes off of kittens if the provost asked them to. In my field, at least at my school, everyone enters already having a Masters from another school. Then we have to take the same mundane classes over again like we never had the first grad degree. I fail to see the value of this. I also fail to see the value of a whole semester dedicated to discussing the theoretical underpinnings of international organization without mentioning one actual organization. Holy crap! Can we please bring the discussion back to reality?? I’ve never felt so dumb in my life.

  142. TheazBues Avatar

    I googled “I hate grad school” and ended up here. I am so miserable in my program, I think about quitting every second of almost every day. I was SO excited to go back to grad school and is has been SO disappointing. A complete waste of money and time. I constantly question why I am paying thousands of dollars to learn nothing. SO frustrating. Ugh. I took a risk, and failed, I guess. That is all there is to it.

  143. CDF Avatar

    Same as the others: “Googled” grad school sucks out of boredom and free time. Kudos to those who could actually finish a program. I’m on my 2nd Master’s program, due to the 1st one being denied over some BS exit exam (info-sci). I lacked “depth” in my essay answers…WTF? 2 years wasted “learning” theories and assorted BS, only to be told I don’t comprehend their profession…although I’ve been in it for over 10 years! @_o

    The only reason I’m pursuing a 2nd one is stubborness and determination. I refuse to belive that ALL grad schools are like the 1st one I attended…SMH!

  144. Rex C Avatar
    Rex C

    I wish I found this article when I started grad school. I went to study fine art thinking that I would get an education in history and theory. In an studio art context, I did the indepenedent work and was enriched by it. But dealing with “instructors” and “critics” was a nightmare. They wouldn’t let on what was supposed to happen, and they created much contention among other students. They were to be frank, pretty cruel. Not that they had me or anyone else crying. The opposite, I became very angry and aggressive about the whole process. I knew the whole thing was a head fuck. I almost dropped out. But didn’t. Very happy for that and despite it being unfortunately the worst two years of my life, having that degree that says Mastes of Fine Art is worth it.

  145. Anonymous Avatar

    “The whole experience is so isolating and demoralizng – its like being a battered housewife.”

    Ouch! What in the world are we doing to our brightest and best and most outstanding, most motivated graduate students that they compare the experience of academia to domestic abuse? Has it come down to this: that we have trained our top university graduates to hate learning and fear for their futures, to regard higher education as a game to be played that they are better off not playing?

    Should I or anyone else despair that the men and women with Ph.D’s who run these places can be counted on to behave like grownups and professionals instead of perpetuating what appears to be a system of promotion based on unmitigated madness?

  146. Ruby Avatar

    I’m so glad I found this site. I googled “grad school sucks” tonight because I finally went to take my orals exam for my Ph.D. today and got totally trashed by my committee. I worked my ass off generating about 200 pages of documents, only to be told that my proposal needs to be completely reworked. My adviser, of course, did not warn me or bother to let me know that anything was wrong with my proposal. It was like a five professor gang bang today. I’ve been crying my eyes out for the past 3 hours. What a bunch of bullshit. All that work for nothing.

  147. joe Avatar

    wow thank you all so much for writing. I feel the same way but about undergraduate. Only reason I went was free tuition. I’d rather be dead than do graduate school.

  148. ANALYZE THIS! Avatar

    ok so I was up late last night reading through EVERY response, I googled “grad school burn out”. I am a 41 yr old single woman who decided to pursue MA in Counseling…OHHH the irony of it all. I was a well adjusted, well rounded, joyful woman before entering grad school…now I am a basket case. All my time is taking up by living, breathing, vomiting theories & psychological analysis. I am no longer among the living. I have worked in the field for 7 years before returning to school. The program has nothing to do with reality, and most of the students rolled in right from undergrad. GO OUT AND WORK BEFORE YOU DECIDE TO GO TO GRAD SCHOOL> and if you are a prof. you need to put your books away and keep atleast one foot in the field you are teaching outside of academia! Ok so my apartment is embarressingly messy and has been since feb. when the downward spiral began, I have no energy, am depressed, no real social contacts or time to relax, pause, integrate the experience.I had my doubts about coming here, I am a no nonsense city woman who noticed the campus lacked diversity of culture as well as age and I initially turned down the invite to enroll after applying. I have no idea why I am here, I have lost all desire to counsel-my life has been one big anal-ysis since coming here. It is no place for a grown woman and the 50 grand could have gone to much better use. Work experience does matter, and the sooner you get it, the better off you will be..the piece of paper in the year 2011 means nothing unless you want to be a prof. and stay in academia until you die. PS your spirit will be broken way before that happens. As for counseling, in the NY area salaries cap out around 55,000 without a MA. The MA allows you to pursue licensure which is still atleast another 2 years with supervision and even then the mental health system is a wreck. Again the irony of learning to be a counselor in an environment that has nothing to do with balance, integration or wellness! I am determined to somehow fit in exercise, cooking healthy and beating this friggen energy drain and loss of my personality & social contacts. I have to finish out this semester and then roll right into my last which will be even more overwhelming. I will be taking 4 full time classes, 300 hour internship, writing final “integration” paper LOL, taking the licensing exam and all of this in 4 months. I dont even have time to see a counselor if I wanted to. Please God, get me through this, I will complete this. I will return to my prior self…I do feel like I have lost my personality, I have become BORING and DULL. Academia sucked the life out of me. In this economy we need to live simple…it truly is the simple things that make life fulfilling. Grad school is a huge distraction from life, think LOng and Hard before you invest, Life is about loving others right where they are. Love yourself right where you are, Grad school is not the answer. If you are a creative and hard worker you will fare much better to fore go the 50 g’s and live a balanced life. My 2 cents. Thank you everyone for venting, and for this venting outlet. Its so bizarre that even in a counseling program NO ONE is connecting….thank you all for sticking it out and sharing your experiences, I thought I was just hitting middle age now I know its much bigger..Now I can also decide to say MY LIFE AND WELL BEING MATTERS MORE THAN ANY FRIGGEN MEANINGLESS ESSAY OR OUTDATED THEORY…I will get back my life and start to do all the things I desperately need to do..exercise, sleep, eat healthy, VENT and LIVE LIFE OUTSIDE THE BOOKS> its friggen 4th of July and I have 2 papers to write that are do tomorrow. MY Place is a wreck..CHAOS>.cant have anyone over syndrome. Why am I so determined to complete this when my life has become so unbalanced? I have two weeks between semesters to get my act is a runaway train, once you get a little tweaked out emotionally, mentally or physically you have like a one day window to get back on track or you will spend the rest of the time and energy trying to jump trains. Please let this banana process makes sense when it is completed. Please let me get through these last two semesters with some peace SOMEWHERE. Dont even get me started on where I will be going afterwards…I just want to leave this podunk town and smell the roses. To all the younger MA students..PLEASE remember to live and laugh & mix with your peers during your 20s & 30,s I am so glad I means so much more in the long run..Best wishes to all in your pursuits…I have become so serious I HATE IT>

  149. Cripes Avatar

    I’m working on my thesis, but just thinking about it results in my seething in anger. I have developed such a strong association between my topic and the experience I’ve had with people in my program that it’s difficult for me to stay focused. These people have used me, insulted my intelligence, talked down to me, and generally just treated me as if I’m a incompetent boob while leeching off me and taking all the credit. No one else in the program knows how much certain people have sucked off me like bloated festering ticks, and I can’t say anything because said ticks are the “cool” people. If it weren’t for me, they wouldn’t be as far as they are, yet I’m treated like garbage and everyone wonders why I’m a nervous wreck.

    I’m sticking with it, though, as much as I hate my colleagues and hate the program in general. Seriously, to Tartarus with them.

  150. Stefan Avatar

    Hi everyone,

    These comments are all really interesting–I’m thinking about entering an MA program and it’s giving me a lot of food for thought, to say the least.

    I just wanted to interject that several posters here are describing themselves as suicidal or feeling very hopeless–I hope anyone who is reading this right now who has those feelings calls 1-800-GRADHLP immediately. It’s a toll-free hotline you can call if you are having hopeless or suicidal thoughts or an emotional crisis and need to talk to someone, and it’s completely oriented towards graduate students (so they’ll totally get it). Grad life can be very isolating, but there’s no reason to feel so alone. Please call! There are a whole bunch of other hotlines and online resources here:

    I also suggest that you contact the psychological services department at your school. Most universities provide free counseling and therapy services for students. I know it is tough to take time out of your insanely hectic schedule, but it’s incredibly important to take care of your mental health.

  151. Mike Avatar

    Someone mentioned that grad school is for “followers”, not creative thinkers. That is so right! Nepotism, stress, double standards, narcisism… I also recognze myself in many of the social problems people describe. I feel like an alien at a department where everyone suffers either from a severe form of narcissistic personality disorder or autism (or both) and are ridiculously narrow-minded. How on earth can such highly educated folks be so total idiots in every respect?! I guess I’ll never fit in and I’ve come to accept that fact. I have broad interests, I like interdisciplinary stuff and exotic travel, socializing, among many other things. I just don’t have this autistic monomania which seems to be necessary in academia. And I would never kiss anybody’s ass, so I guess I’m pretty much done; I’ll start to plan an alternative career elsewhere. Survived grad school though! I’m now doing a postdoc and lost my interest in my discipline during this time. It is tragic, but validating, to hear that many lose their interest in their field already in grad school…

  152. Christine Avatar

    Hi all,
    I am currently working on my thesis and will be graduating with a master’s degree in Kinesiology at the end of this year. Grad school has been extremely disappointing and I feel ripped off. Going into my program, I expected to gain a better understanding of the scientific process and the intricacies of human physiology. Sadly, neither expectation was fulfilled…even to the smallest degree. To succinctly sum up my experience…my classes were generally a waste of time and consisted of regurgitated information I received from my undergrad, only repackaged with fancier wrapping paper. I was made to write countless research papers, which in no way added to my understanding of the field. I was also asked to teach several labs and was given no guidance on how to do so. Basically. I was handed the course materials and told to limit my contact with the supervising professor, who was completely uninterested in my success as an instructor. Overall, a very disappointing and pointless experience to be honest. The worst part of all is that I recently received an academic position at a top tier University and I feel COMPLETELY under prepared for the job. My graduate degree was the main reason I was hired and sadly I really have no idea how to flourish in an academic environment. My knowledge base is shaky at best and I find myself relying mainly on the knowledge I gained through my undergrad education. My colleagues expect that I have a strong grasp on all areas pertaining to my area of study, and that is simply not the case. To sum things up, my post grad degree has not prepared me for my current employment situation and I am so very disappointed as a result. Not to mention the massive amount of debt I now have to pay off because I thought grad school would prepare me for a profitable career. Not so…..

  153. MSW Graduate Avatar
    MSW Graduate


    I’ve deeply enjoyed reading your thoughts and feelings; thank you for sharing them!

    ANALYZE THIS: I am sorry to hear that you’re having such a difficult time! I completed an MSW (Masters Degree in Social Work) about seven years ago and had a much different experience. Have you considered transferring to a “real-world” focused program with highly specific requirements, like an MSW? Personally, I was making 64K as an LCSW in the NYC area, after only five years.

    My dilemma, or question, is: I am bored. I had a good time in my 20s/30s, but I need emotionally easier, intellectually fulfilling work…in my 40s/50s. I thought a PhD in Psychology, Sociology or Social Work was the answer, but after multiple books and dozens of websites like this–I am 90% sure that road would be long, arduous and financially (and psychologically) terrible. The gamble is too great.

    I’m thinking I should attempt a second masters degree (an intensive research degree) such as applied statistics, biostatistics, or clinical research. What do you all think? Am I missing possible paths that I’m unaware of?

    Thanks in advance for your assistance!

    MSW Graduate

  154. Relieved Avatar

    Grad school is so over rated. It is the biggest regret of my life. Here is my review of my learning experience on the Advertising MA at Buckinghamshire New University in the UK. (It is also published on

    A Very Insubstantial Package
    Too little content. Schedule far too meandering & aimless. Whole program very vague. Some good content too thinly spread. Good lecture series at start & good outside lecturers who you only see briefly. Very little actually taught on this ‘taught’ MA. Less than 12 hrs p/week in uni for 75% of year. Many ‘lectures’ – just conversations around a table where students supposedly learn from each other. Depends too much on what students have to say & the ‘learning outcome’ is often just common sense. Workshops in Presenting, Improv & Comedy: useful, but not even full week each. New York trip not included in fee. Agency workshops: good, but only 4 weeks of entire program -students do group tasks – a strategy for a campaign the agency gives them – great but no instruction given – a bit like The Apprentice, but that show doesn’t think it’s an academic course. Work experience (WE): not organized by uni, not what you’d expect for £6000+. Other unis do do this. Opaque schedule makes WE tricky to organize & ‘DIY’ attitude of uni really makes you wonder what you are paying for. ‘Self directed learning’ is an overused excuse for empty space on schedule – academic speak for ‘Thanks for the money. Goodbye.’ Course director admits course does not increase earning potential or add any edge in career hunting. Program is supposedly about Account Planning / Strategy. As a participant you will learn about Planning/Strategy mostly by yourself online (Account Planning Group), by talking to real planners yourself, by doing WE & from a brief module on the subject given by an excellent outside lecturer who seems baffled to discover how little students in an MA program supposedly about Planning/Strategy, actually know about the subject. My advice: keep your money. Google Account Planning/Strategy, do a workshop in how to get into advertising, get WE in agencies & join Toastmasters for presentation skills. You’ll save lots of time, lots of money & lots of frustration.

  155. ER Avatar

    This made me feel better because I am at the point of dropping grad school for all the reasons mentioned above.

  156. JB Avatar

    I quit a $37,400 a year federal job, 10 years ago, just 2.5 months after starting it, because the boss was the perfect example of a personality shaped by the bad aspects of graduate academia. I did not want to suffer anymore under him or become like him by association. I went back to my business, and in spite of being gone 2.5 months, had $1,500 worth of business to start on, the first week, from people who were glad to see me back.

    Among other things, my PhD boss had not thought saying hello in the morning was a good use of his time. Since leaving, I have learned there has been much turnover in his office. I could see in this boss all the earmarks of having ‘been trained up’ under the thumb of someone in academia. He was not from ‘the field’. People were problems to be managed. He had the control, and you were at his mercy. If someone might have the power or influence to advance his career, you could see the kiss-up change in attitude form right before your very eyes. If approached by someone of equal or lesser rank, who had more knowledge than him, you could see the defenses go up, and a challenge for dominance form on his face. It was obvious he was from the world, of which a friend once told me, who had worked on and obtained a masters degree at age 37 after having been in the real work world many years. This friend reported and complained frequently on his experiences dealing with people who were childish, petulant, constantly battling over ‘turf’, and had little idea of what a hard day’s work, or even work, actually was.

    Personally, I’d be very glad to see institutes and other new models of learning replace the university, as soon as possible. It’s obvious the regular schools have just about priced themselves out of business, anyway, and more and more in society, it’s what you can do that matters, along with how you relate to people. I look back just at a bachelors degree, but the time and money wasted taking all the general ed classes, sure could have been better spent actually learning valuable things. Most of those I took in high school, anyway.

  157. JB Avatar

    When trying to decide a major in college, I went to the bookstore and looked at the texts required for different degree fields of interest. Looking at the mineralogy book for the class required in a geology degree, one thing stood out. This was the extreme degree of minutia contained in the book. Mineralogy is an interesting field. Learning all about the minerals, how to identify them, their uses, and how to find them, would have been fascinating. But I looked at that book, and the petrology course book, too, and saw how PhD eaters/breathers/sleepers-of-the-subject had permeated it with what can be called nothing but irrelevant, hard-to-learn minutia, and decided it wasn’t for me. I majored in another subject.

  158. JB Avatar

    Is the post-grad university world by design? Is it all accidental what is wrong with it, or have some sinister forces contributed a major part deliberately, to produce automatons who execute corporate commands without question or conscience? Is this where the people come from who carry out programs to produce, market, and even force products such as recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, GMO crops, or who work on vaccines to cause infertility, or the people who help cover up the routine releases, accidents, and the truths about nuclear power plants, or who oversee while pension or mutual funds are robbed? The medical doctor world has its means of breaking down, brainwashing, and controlling new MD’s. The military has boot camps designed to screen out the non-obeyers and mold and conform. If there has been deliberacy, what kind of I.Q. level would that have taken, setting it up?

  159. JB Avatar

    Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

    The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

    Obviously from my attitude, I wasn’t producing the fruit of the Spirit or loving my PhD boss, but these two Bible verse seem fitting for the discussion.

  160. JB Avatar

    What would college and the post-grad world be like if it was based on Christ-ian love?

  161. ER Avatar

    I am in my third semester of grad school and feel completely discouraged. I have to take 4 classes a semester, which means four term papers each semester, the research for which has to be done apart from all the tons of readings I am assigned every single week. I am never able to read everything. Most of what I read does not even interest me. There is not one single professor who is genuinely interested in the field that I want to write my dissertation in. The last sentence has bad grammar to, but I am too sick of typing on my laptop endless papers to go back and correct it. I feel stupid in my seminars, I rarely have a point to make. Whatever I might say is relative. There is someone out here who has written a 400-page book on exactly the opposite opinion, which the professor will recommend me to read. That person probably teaches in some obscure college in Arkansas and is as miserable as I am. I can’t wait for the seminars (2h 45 min long each) to be over so that I can go and eat, which is the only joy I have in life right now. I have gained 10 pounds since the beginning of the semester. I have an incomplete from last semester, which I should be working on along with everything else that I am expected to do for my classes. I wake up in the morning and spend a few hours just thinking how much I do not want to read that day. During the winer break, I will have to write my master thesis. I will probably have another incomplete to work on. Then there will be four more classes in the spring. I have no friends in grad school. I rarely see my other friends because I am so busy. I don’t like most graduate students because they are pretentious and they all think I am dumb. Sometimes I think my school made a mistake by accepting me to their PhD program. Couldn’t they see I was stupid? Why do they have to rub my face in my own vomit to prove to me how worthless I am? Where will this all take me? To the middle of nowhere Missouri? I envy those rich kids whose parents pay for everything they do their entire life and they don’t have to do anything. I want to be one of them, even though in my papers I write against them. Grad school is full of hypocrites like me.

  162. jseliger Avatar

    Here’s another in the genre: Open Letter to My Students: No, You Cannot be a Professor:

    In a way it is the greatest compliment a student can give. I ask them what they want to do with their history degree. They get all passionate and earnest and vulnerable as they answer, “I want your job. I am going to be a college professor!” Then they turn their smiling faces towards me, expectantly awaiting my validation and encouragement of their dreams. And I swallow hard, and I tell them….

    No, my esteemed student, you are not going to be a history professor. It isn’t going to happen. The sooner you accept this the better.

  163. crwa Avatar

    Wow, I needed this.

    I few days ago I was dismissed from my master’s program in experimental psych. Grad school felt like being in a deep dark hole with only a speck of light, I just had to keep climbing towards. Now I am in the deep dark hole with no light and 50k of loan debt and still no degree.

    By the end of my first semester, I was already unmotivated and unfocused. I hated this program so much already but if I could get started on a great thesis topic, I would be much more interested. I just had to get my shit together, try harder, convince myself to be engaged. Instead I was shuffled from professor to professor, none of whom were willing to work with me on any projects. One of them even told me that another professor recommended that she not work with me. They all recommended that I drop out, find another program I was better suited for. You are so young and already so far ahead, they told me. Go find a clinical program they said, and sent me on my way. I was treated like the plague of the dept. I felt worthless and the more professors treated me like an inconvenience in their day, the more desperate I got. I went to the program coordinator, who also told me to drop out. But I wouldn’t give up, I couldn’t let people think that I wasn’t smart enough or committed enough. I found another professor to work with, and it almost seemed like things were turning around. And then she ignored my weekly emails and phone calls for 4 months. And when she finally got in touch with me, asked me to come in for a meeting with her and the program coordinator, she called my writing “careless and incoherent”, “perplexing how you even came up with this” “You aren’t even trying” “you just waste chance after chance” and that she “didn’t have the time to hold my hand and teach me to write”. “We can’t just give you a degree because you want one” “I told you a year ago this program wasn’t a good fit for you” “You are wasting your time and ours while you just run into a brick wall over and over again.”

    And just like that, I was removed from the program. I cried, I drank, I refused to eat and couldnt sleep, spent a night throwing up, then I ate too much ice cream and microwave tacquitos, tried running and gave up, took sleeping pills, refused to get out of bed, cried more, then found this site. Part of me is somewhat relieved. but I can’t stop thinking about how disappointed my parents are going to be with me and how much I can’t even bear to do this to them. I feel like an embarrassment to them, and hell I’m embarrassed of myself. I feel stupid and incompetent and so beat down that I don’t know how to get back up. I hated every minute of this program, and yet I’m completely devasted to be out. This program stole everything from me, my self esteem, my joy, my love of psychology and learning in general, time, money, the will to live. I am crushed and I have no idea how to come back from this. so yeah, grad school sucks.

  164. Bob Avatar

    Hi, everyone. I am what you might call a winner at this or close to it..I finally got my dissertation accepted after many years. My adviser is great. My school is first rate. However, even for me grad school sucks as while my adviser is great, the administrators have relentlessly tried to make my life miserable, ie haze me. Most recently, one of them is trying to block my graduation even though my dissertation was accepted over timing of payment of library fines. It’s all very kafkaesque and when I try to ask questions about how the graduation process is supposed to work, I get abuse. Just today the administrator I was asking about this hung up on my, saying I was raising my voice when I was merely asking how the process works which is apparently top secret info that a student must never know… so she was refusing to tell me.

    Anyway, I have a piece of advice for people who are struggling with grad school as described here. If you don’t want to just get a job, try a master’s program in business, law, public policy or some professional subject where there is a large class of students. I got one of these degrees. it was awesome. There is no question you will graduate as long as you pass your courses which almost everyone does There is none of this, you need to know the secret code stuff… You play volleyball and drink beer on Fridays. Business school also pays the most when you graduate. The reason it’s different is there are a large number of students and they are all in the same boat. There is strenght in numbers. While you will work hard, you will be rewarded with a degree .

    Good luck out there. Hang tough and don’t let them get you down. There’s life out there…some of the smartest, most successful people never finish school. Think of Bill Gates, Larry Page and Sergei Brin, Mark Zuckerberg etc. My heart goes out to the person who wrote the post before mine. You rock! You will survive! Don’t let them get you down.

  165. Psych programs are a lie Avatar
    Psych programs are a lie

    No culture is more perverse than that of a grad program in psychology. crwa, terribly sorry about the situation you are finding yourself in. I hope you can get through this initial shock and despair fast enough and regroup and think about next steps. I’m sorry.
    I was told by my program director, a certified psychopath, that I am hanging by a thread. Although I have three A’s and a B- this past semester. All because I had complained there was no paper in the printer room and that for the sky-hugh tuition I’m paying there should be paper at all times. I kid you not. My first year he and a prof called me in for a talk because I was late for several classes. They said then I should rethink if this program was for me. Basically, their goal is to keep living in fear. Keep in mind, we are trained to be psychotherapists, but the atmosphere is that of do not speak up, do not have an opinion, do not threaten the little egos of little people in power, do not disagree, do pretend that you like everyone and everything, do kiss ass, do make superficial, meaningless interactions your priority, do not count on making deep, meaningful, genuine connections with people. Basically, go against every tenant of psychology that professes a healthy, authentic interaction with the world. This is beyond bizarre and beyond hypocritical.
    I am just going forward one day at a time. I hate absolutely everything about my program: from the faculty to the classmates, a bunch of rich kids, always feeling self-congratulatory and entitled, but who have never worked a day in their lives.
    Do not go to Ferkauf.

  166. C East Avatar
    C East

    Graduate school (and many college) programs don’t care about the students at all. They will take your money, and watch you struggle. If you fail one class, they kick you out and never let you back in. This should be a sobering consideration for anyone who wants to attend graduate school. If you get kicked out, you lose all your money and won’t get your degree – and won’t get re-admitted no matter what. You are FAR better off just keeping your bachelor’s degree, or trying a vocational program of some sort.

  167. Psych programs are a lie Avatar
    Psych programs are a lie

    crwa, dear, please tell us how you are. In your post you sounded so sad and let down. What are you doing with yourself now? What are you thinking? What are you feeling? How are you handling this crap?

  168. stevenpyre Avatar

    I got a bachelors and don’t want this piece of crap. Lets start a class action. People who want their money back for their “degree” email me.

  169. Kafkas_Groundhog Avatar

    I found this by searching “grad school sucks ass” while grading undergraduate annotated bibliographies that don’t rise to the level of second-grade reading comprehension, much less fourth-grade writing. If I owned a gun, I would eat it. I’m spending every spare minute pumping my former real-world colleagues for a real-world job. At this point, I could care less about finishing the Ph.D. I just want to write something other than a syllabus or a sockpuppet teaching “philosophy.”

  170. mondaygirl Avatar

    It’s 8 years since I entered grad school. I was so incredibly naive. I totally wish I hadn’t started. I wish I would’ve been content to be a stay-at-home mom of 3. I wish I had believed that I was valuable without an advanced degree. (I would’ve told anyone else that, so why not believe it for myself)? I currently have 24 days to complete my dissertation project and have it to editing. Just a few problems in the way; 1) I haven’t received the data set I am supposed to be analyzing 2) the statistics tutor recommended a method I was never taught and isn’t in any of my texts 3) the tutor’s schedule is now booked 2 weeks out 4) I was hopeless in statistics the first go around-that’s why my first dissertation project used qualitative data.( I had to drop that dissertation project because I couldn’t get respondents.) At the beginning of grad school, one of my cohort said “I’m not leaving until they kick me out”. This has been my mantra and is now my continual fear. During the last 8 years I have gone through my mother’s battle with breast cancer 3 times, my father’s near death by bleeding ulcer-which resulted in him moving in with us; my father-in law’s slip on the ice and hip and shoulder replacements; my mother being crushed in a vehicle accident (she recovered enough to be independent) and 2 of my own personal surgeries-one of which left me taking notes for physiology and statistics with my left hand (I’m a right-y) and the diagnosis of 2 of my children with ADHD. I have enough mother and daughter guilt to sink the Titanic. I can’t even think about what type of wife I’ve been.I totally agree that grad school is mostly about persistence and the ability to take mental and emotional flogging. I don’t mind the abuse so much as I mind that I’m paying such a high price for it. Grad school was/is awful, but I’m still praying I finish.

  171. Relieved Avatar

    Here is a link to an interesting article and comments from the Times Higher Education supplement in the UK. I think it says a lot about the state of many so called Masters courses in the UK. Enjoy !

  172. Alex Avatar

    I wouldn’t have survived grad school so far without some of my close friends and the Internet. Thanks to posts like this that I stumble upon from time to time, I realize I’m not alone in my thinking and that if I don’t finish this damn PhD, it will be OK.

  173. Hannah Avatar

    Wow, I am SO GLAD I stumbled upon this page… rather than googleing grad school sucks, I googled “how to survive the last month” because I am so close to the end of the MA I should NEVER have started. I am currently living in fear of my thesis defense ( two weeks away) and trying to finish the thesis that my advisor has been completely useless to help me with. Luckily, my husband is incredible and helping me through the last stretch. The good news is that they pretty much pass every defense, they’ll just give you varying degrees of revisions. Reading all of these posts has been so unbelievably refreshing. The worst part of grad school for me has been the obnoxious ass-kissing and jockeying for position that I could never bring myself to get involved in, and thus have never been a “favorite” in my department. It is true that the whole thing is an exercise in very arcane forms of socialization that I find nauseating. I am constantly warning my younger sister not to go. The fact that so many others have been through this experience makes me feel better, and has helped me to understand that there is a sort of recovery process that occurs afterwards 🙂 If you are in too deep to quit, you will pull through!! But if you just started, there is no shame in dropping out.

  174. finishing an MSW Avatar
    finishing an MSW

    Like the others on this site, I too find it refreshing to read the frustration and disappointing experiences some of you have experienced in grad school. I am one course away from finishing my Master of Social Work (MSW), and like some adult students in this thread, I agree that the undergrads who have come directly into grad school add a different dimension to my ‘learning’. The whole academic structure in university is tailored towards 20-something students (i.e. despite how mature you are, you are treated by some professors as idiots). In other words, they don’t care about your differing opinions and lived experiences. Some feel that because they have PhD’s, your opinion is less than. I’m struggling trying to complete this one course called ‘Evidence Based Practice Research’. It’s absolutely useless in the ‘real world’ of social work – unless of course you are going for you PhD. As others have pointed out, grad school is just a money-making scheme designed to pump out as many grads to compete for tenure positions. I can’t wait to finish this one course, get my letters and start practicing as a clinical social worker. Thanks everyone for all your insights, it has helped realize that I wasn’t alone in thinking that I too have lost out in my social life (i.e. family, friends, opportunities), and now I’m in debt at age 44. Good luck everyone and don’t give up on your goals. Once we’re all done, hopefully we can laugh about it. Counseling has helped me get through this – and some self medication (wink).

    P.S. This is my 2nd career coming from a comfortable career in marketing 7 years ago.

  175. Mon Avatar

    Good thing I’ve clicked on the link and see a majority of depressing and fraught comments about grad school. I intentionally searched for forums to read how some people have fared in the academe. Just want to share that I have a plan of getting into an MA program and probably quit early on because I don’t feel it will put me in a “distinct” place career-wise. Just wanting to take advanced courses, master THAT language and maybe, quit? All of your comments have helped me realize my perspective (for now).

  176. John Avatar

    If a prof. trashed your writing it’s probably because your writing sucked. I’m at the tail end of my M.A., and I’ve seen a few students shown the door. One was told to switch to a M.S. because none of the profs. would work with him on a thesis. All of these people were very good people. I enjoyed them. However, the guy they made switch to M.S. really didn’t need to write a thesis. His writing skills are inferior, his argumentation simplistic. The people who were removed from the course didn’t need to be in the course.

    I am no stranger to hating grad school at times. All of you say you aren’t less valuable because you don’t (or might not) finish your degree. Turn about is fair play. Graduate programs aren’t less valuable because they didn’t meet your expectations or you waited too long with too many other things in your life or you just had enough and left.

    Also, it shouldn’t be news that English/Lit/Creative Writing degrees are useless. U-S-E-L-E-S-S. I also enjoyed the various gripes about the politics in grad programs. Politics are everywhere. Like all things, there is a balance to be struck between subversive and brown-noser. Finally, I have no doubt that some of you encountered some truly awful professors. But, not nearly as many as claim so on here. I’ve no doubt that most are telling only parts of the story (as is human nature) in order to allow room for a grieving stage which allows you to maintain your own self-identity as smart, compassionate, reasonable, professional, etc.

    Just my musings. Take them as you will.

  177. mondaygirl Avatar

    Update: I finally did manage to finish the dissertation and complete the PsyD. While my mom is thrilled that my educational pedigree is established, I have found that having another diploma hasn’t alleviated any feelings of inferiority or stupidity. Or maybe I just need to get away from my three teenagers for awhile.

    I think the greatest lesson I have learned during it all is that vanity may have gotten me into grad school, but humility got me out of it. Best of luck to all who are continuing in their respective programs.

  178. Michael Salas Avatar

    I felt that my graduate program was about learning some about my craft, but mostly determining whether or not this is what I want to do for a career. I also learned how to professionally discuss my skills with my peers. Graduate school was also a time for confidence.

  179. Harrison Welshimer Avatar

    I completely agree with the majority of opinions expressed here. I got my undergrad in saxophone performance and then started a master’s degree, also in performance. However, I left after a year because I saw everything I wanted to do was flashing by me. I realized I don’t need another piece of paper. What I needed was to jump out into this crazy exciting world and just get busy. So that’s what I’ve done. I completely agree with Penelope Trunk when she says grad school is an antiquated idea in today’s ever changing economy. All you need to succeed is a true desire to learn and creativity to add value to society. My simple formula is this: If I provide something of value to a target market, I will succeed because people will always pay for value.

  180. Raj Avatar

    It’s a business that trades our hard-earned money in exchange for NOTHING. 4 years spent at Grad school in my country is the most wastest time I have ever spent on earth. Though I could also add 3 more years spent in high-school along with it.

  181. […] “Straight Talk about Graduate School,” Robert Nagle […]

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