Are you thinking about applying to a PhD program? Are you already a doctoral student? PhD is a huge investment of time and money. So make sure you spend 15 minutes of your time reading this blog devoted to PhD program success and survival tips. I'm confident that these tips can save up to 10 years of your life, up to $1,000,000 of your money, and, most importantly, your physical and emotional health.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Disgusting Professors

I consider myself to be an intellectual. I read heavily since the age of 6. I'm fluent in three languages. Based on my standardized test scores, I can say that I have above average intelligence. I've always liked studying and have been a great student.

Nevertheless, I've always had a certain level of disgust towards professors. I think the disgust is on the physiological level. I don't like how most of them look and act. I don't like their haircuts. I don't like their body built. I don't like the kind of clothing they wear. I don't like their nerdy humor.

Sometimes I think that physiologically I'm just not one of them. I'm 6.0 and well-built. I don't wear glasses - I have a perfect eyesight despite years of reading. No one ever picked on me at school - I look like a person who can fight back. At conferences I always feel like I don't belong there, although I'm an outgoing person. I prefer to hang out at bars with local people rather than participate in those boring conference events. Sometimes I think me being physically different from most academics produces a bit of mutual antipathy between me and male professors.

There was a professor in our department who resigned a few years before I joined the program (he got a better offer from a better school). This guy is not the nerdy type either. He is tall, athletic, and very handsome. To make things even worse, he is rich and well-known outside of the academic community. When he came to our school to give a talk, I just couldn't help noticing how much he bothered our professors. I had heard them saying things like "he is not a real researcher" (although he has a publication record comparable to that of many top professors in our department), "he is a clown" (he has a great sense of humor), "he is only interested in money" (his books sold very well), etc. At the same time, these professors would never say anything bad about a nerdy, top 10 professor - they would be all over him or her, making compliments, and joking around.

Well, I guess in order to be a part of academia, you have to be one of them both mentally and physically.

Thank you, Walmart!

Business school professors like to talk crap about Walmart. But Walmart helped me and numerous other slaves of academia to survive over all these years. When shopping at Walmart late at night, I ran into so many PhD students, postdocs, or even assistant professors from our school. Many of them acted like they didn't see me, LOL :)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Minimum Wage Work = Success ?

From the Chronicle of Higher Education Forum:

Well, I don't know if it counts as a success or not, but I did manage to land some academic piecework for the coming year. My job hunt as an ABD only managed to accumulate (if I was fortunate) a collection of rejection letters, but mostly silence. Wal-mart was looking to be the serious contender.

Three days after I defend, the department chair offers me a lecturer slot (2/2) at graduate assistant wages per course. Plus, these are frackin huge sections -- more students than many SLACs.

Did the math: worked out to be slave wages, but I jumped at the job. Like I had any reasonable alternative -- and it is a teaching job at a research university.

Even so, that wouldn't pay the bills. I ran into a friend who was teaching a DL graduate course for a federal agency, and got a contact. It turned out that they needed some guest help, and my mix of experience and new PhD was just the ticket. So now I have an on-line job as well (and not at a for-profit school).

As I said up front, I don't know if this counts as success -- it's probably more accurate to describe it as a way station. Hopefully I'll be able to chisel out enough time to get something from my dissertation published, and that plus PhD in hand may slightly up my chances. Not that I'm expecting the market to get any better next time around, but any ray of light at this point is a good thing.

Conversation with my Advisors

I had a conversation with two of my advisers today. They kept telling me that the best thing to do in my situation is not to look for any job. Instead, I should live off my parents and work on papers with them. They said I should not look for ANY jobs until I have at least one paper published with 2 others in the pipeline. They told me that getting a job will distract me from my research.

The only thing they forgot to tell me was how to live on zero money. But they don't see this as a problem.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

PhDs in Philosophy Make Zero Money

I've noticed that someone came to my blog by googling something like "how much do PhDs in philosophy make". Dude, there are virtually no jobs in this field. I think this degree is even less valuable than a PhD in English (and a PhD in English is often not worth the paper it is printed on). At least, I can see some ways of making money outside of academia with an English degree. But I just don't see why would anyone hire a philosopher. So here's the answer: PhDs in philosophy make close to zero US dollars per year. So you should pursue the degree only if your love for philosophy is so great that you are willing to live in poverty your whole life.

But here's a tip for you that may be a somewhat better compromise between your interests and the sad reality where people cannot live without money. Think about majoring in Management/Business Ethics. I think this area is becoming hotter and hotter. But hear me loud and clear: this may be a better, but by no means a good idea. I doubt the employment prospects for those with a PhD in Management are very bright, although they are definitely better than those with doctoral degrees in humanities. Moreover, it may be easier to get a non-academic job with this degree. But make sure you go into a business school for your degree, and not to a Psychology/Sociology department.

The Best Way to Quit a PhD Program: Taking a Leave of Absence

The best way to quit a PhD program is to take a one-year leave of absence. During the year, you can try to put your life back on non-academic track. If, after one year, you want to come back - you are legally entitled to do so. Quite a few PhD students in our program took a leave of absence and came back to finish their degrees.

There are a few things you need to know in relation to taking a leave of absence:

  • When you request one, don't burn the bridges by saying that you are sick of the program. Cite personal issues instead: health, the need to take care of your family member, financial situation, etc.
  • Make sure you know the rules associated with leave of absence. For example, you need to find out whether you will lose one year of funding if you decide to do so
  • Don't come back into the program because you haven't succeeded in finding a decent non-academic job. If you think that hiding out from real life for a few more years will solve the problem of figuring out your place in life, you are up for some serious problems in the future. You should only return when you are hundred percent sure you want to continue your academic career

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Power of Long-Term

Below are a few things I've learned as a result of my PhD studies. I call them "the power of long-term":

  • You don't complete your dissertation by pulling a few all nighters. Only incremental work will get it done. Not years of hard work (it will kill you), but years of a couple (a few) hours a day
  • You don't ruin your health overnight. It takes months of do a significant damage to your health. And it doesn't have to be months of heavy drinking or drug abuse. Just months of, let's say, bad sleeping habits.
  • You don't get your health back overnight. It takes months of work to get it back. Again, I'm not talking about months of hard work, just months of doing little things right.
  • You don't land a job by sending out a few resumes. It takes months of consistent search to find a job.
I think my undergraduate habits (the ones that made me so successful in my undergraduate program) played against me in my graduate program. By my senior year as an undergrad, I became so good in taking exams (yes, taking exams, not being an expert in my field) that all it took me was one day of studies to go over several textbook chapters and get an A on a multiple choice exam. I attended classes only to figure out what's going to be on an exam and not to learn the material.

But a PhD program is a marathon. Sprinters always lose in a PhD program. You shouldn't try to spring with anything in a PhD program (e.g. comprehensive exams, dissertation). Those things are done incrementally. Again, not by working intensively, but by working consistently.

Searching for a Job Outside of Academia

Searching for a job outside of academia when you have a PhD can create a dissonance inside your head because of the following contradictions:

  • The emotional part of your brain (left side?) tells you that your education, intelligence, and persistence qualifies you for a high-level high-paying job
  • At the same time, the rational part of your brain tells you that your skills and experience qualify you only for an entry-level job

When to Quit your Doctoral Program II

Here's one thing you need to understand in relation PhD experience. Having ups and downs during your PhD program (and especially during your dissertation stage) is absolutely normal. However, if one or more of the following is true, then you probably need to quit:

  1. You suffer from depression (inability to concentrate, insomnia, feeling sad all the time, having no energy when you wake up in the morning, constant feeling of fear and anxiety, etc) for more than a few month
  2. You did thorough research on the amount of time, money, and energy it will take to get a PhD and you think that, given the employment prospects, it's simply not worth it
  3. You don't think you want to be a professor. Again, every researcher, no matter how successful he or she is, has some periods when he or she feels like quitting. However, if your attitude towards the profession doesn't change for more than a few months, then you should consider quitting.
  4. You feel your work has an irreversible negative impact on your health. Trust me, losing your health to be a professor is not worth it. This career is not that lucrative and important to justify the sacrifice.

When deciding on whether to quit your PhD program, here are a few things I think you need to avoid:

  1. Don't listen to your friends and family. Don't continue your PhD program simply because you feel obligated to them to get the degree. Despite having your best interest in mind, these people often have no clue what academia is really like. They are as naive as you were when you started your PhD program. They think that a PhD is a ticket to wealth and status, BUT IT'S NOT! I often meet quite intelligent people from outside of academia who think that a person with a PhD can land any high paying job he or she wants.
  2. Don't be stubborn. I think most people who come into a PhD program are of the type who don't give up easily. They are used to finish everything they started despite all kinds of hardship. The thing is that you stubbornness may lead you to the same state of despair years and thousands dollars later. I would applaud a person who year after year keeps trying to become a millionaire, discover a drug against AIDS, or pursues some other big dream. But I would think that a person who is doing the same thing to get a hard, low-paying job of an English teacher is simply crazy.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Corruption in Academia

I applied for two academic jobs for which I was clearly qualified. In both cases they were looking for a person with exactly my research/teaching interests. A few words on my qualifications:

  • I've managed to publish 12 papers during my PhD program
  • I have exceptionally high teaching evaluations
  • I have experience developing new courses
  • My adviser is a top 10 professor in my field
School one is a decent school. Well, they didn't even invite me for an interview. The school hired a PhD student of a professor who was a buddy of the school's department chair.

School two is a crappy teaching place. I have better qualifications than most of their existing faculty members. They did invite me for an interview. Immediately, it was clear that they were just wasting my time. The department chair kept saying things like "well, this is going to be a good practice for you in your job search". Guess who they hired? A son of one the school's administrators. Interestingly, one of his sons is already working for the department. Now they hired his second son.

So if you think that academics are not like the evil corporate types, your are being naive. Corruption in academia is even more rampant than in the corporate world. When I see discussions on ethics on our field's mailing list, I just want to tell those hypocrites to shut the fuck up.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Chains of Habit

I have a friend who graduated from our PhD program almost a year ago. He is still unemployed. He travels from thousand miles away to see his advisers every few months since he is still working on some papers with them. Yesterday, he was telling us he needs to go to another state for personal reasons. And then he said: "Oh, I need to tell my adviser that I won't be available for a while". One of my friends said: "Dude, you graduated a year ago. They are not paying you any money. And you still feel like you need permission from your adviser to be gone for a month". That's some crazy shit indeed.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Grad School as an Escape from Reality

This blog already talked about some of the wrong reasons for getting a PhD. It occurred to me today that there is another dangerous rationale for deciding to pursue graduate education. I think that many people decide to attend grad school because they want to escape the reality.

Here's a case in point for you. One of my friends was a double major in his undergraduate program. He got a bachelors degree in political science and biology. After getting his bachelors degree, he decided to go into a law school to get a JD. After he got his JD, he worked as a lawyer for a couple of months and then decided that being a lawyer "is not his cup of tea". So he went into a business school to get his MBA. After getting his MBA, he went into a PhD program in business. It took him almost seven years to get a PhD. After he got his PhD, he couldn't find employment in academia and, being 40 years of age, started looking for other jobs. During all those years his parents had been proud of him. They had been very pleased with their son's passion for knowledge and education and proud of his academic success. Now that I think about him it occurs to me that placing him into a drug rehabilitation facility instead of supporting him could had been a much wiser choice. This guy was addicted to education. He was using education as a means to escape the reality.

Discovering your strength and weaknesses, finding your passion, setting your life and career goals and taking the responsibility for those decisions is often an exhausting and nerve-wrecking experience. Some people decide to postpone the time when those choices have to be made by going into a grad school. Graduate schools serve as a safe psychological harbor for those who are not brave enough to face those choices at the present moment. Society looks down on those who remain unemployed for prolonged periods of time, change jobs often, and fail regularly at their endeavors. At the same time, the society looks at those who decide to continue their education in grad school with approval. Thus, graduate schools often serve as a drug that lets one escape the real life for a few years. I think this addiction has, at least, caused an irreversible damage to his life.

But the truth is that while graduate schools will let you escape the real life for a few years, it may not solve your problem of figuring our who you are and what you are good for. Professors won't help you with this, since they are the people who opted out of real life. Once the drug effect wears out, you will be faced with the same kind of problem, yet you will be older and beating around the bush to find answers to those questions may be even harder psychologically. By the time you graduate, at least some of your friends may be done with the period of soul searching and pursuing their dreams. And you will be among the group who is still struggling with those questions.

Finding your own path in life instead of going into graduate school may be a much better route. You cannot become successful simply by getting a Masters or a PhD. Who do you think will look as a more attractive employee - someone who got his or her masters degree in marketing or someone who has sold millions of dollars worth of cars? Just like drugs, graduate education may give you a mere illusion that your are growing and finding yourself in life. In many cases, the drug effect will wear out and you will see that you are still standing where you left years ago.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Professor of Desperation

If you want to pursue a doctoral degree in humanities, there's a big chance that you will end up in a situation similar to Larissa Tracy's. Make sure you read this article before applying to a PhD program in humanities.

Professor of Desperation

Bad pay, zero job security, no benefits, endless commutes. Is this any way to treat PhDs responsible for teaching a generation of college students?

By Eric L. Wee

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Business Education

Business education has a fundamental problem which, in combination with the ever increasing tuition, is likely to lead to its demise. The problem is that many classes in business schools are taught by people who have never set their foot into a real business. How can those people possibly teach aspiring managers how to manage organizations? Would you ever take driving lessons from someone who has never driven a car? I think most people would agree that managing organization is a far more complex task than driving a car.

Warren Bennis and James O'Toole do a great job articulating this problem in the article titled "How Business Schools Lost Their Way"

Monday, June 1, 2009

Time in Academia

Time flows differently in academia. Years and months go by without getting anyhere. This is probably due to the fact tenured professors are not in a hurry and they set pace for academia as a whole. They gonna get their paycheck today, a year, ten years from now. Even if nuclear war breaks out, they will still get their paycheck.

I remember reading a blog of an MBA graduate who got his degree from a top school. In one of his blog entries he grieves about sacrificing two years of his life to get an MBA. Even though he did get a great job shortly after graduation, he thinks that those two years had a significant price tag in terms of him loosing valuable experience and promotional opportunities. Even though he had a valuable degree in hands and good employment prospects, he felt like he needed to catch up with his peers on the career ladder.

There was another interesting thought in his blog. He suggested that an MBA graduate should not spend more than a month or two after graduation seeking a position. He says that you should take the best offer you can within the first 1-2 months. Otherwise, you may delay your career to the point where you, again, won't be able to catch up with peers.

I wonder what this guy would say about someone who spent 5-6 years getting a degree and then another 6 years trying to find an average payin job... This is probably something beyond his analytical abilities.

Research as a Cult

I remember reading a book by Boris Bazhanov, Stalin's long-time secretary, where he explains what lead to his disillusionment with the Bolsheviks and his eventual decision to defect to the West. Bazhanov comes across as a man with limited intellectual horizons yet very strong common sense. He explains that the turning point in his life was his disillusionment with Marxism. He writes that he found much of Marx theories to be erroneous on logical grounds. But the major evidence supporting fallacy of Marxism was found in his empirical observations. He saw that Marxism wasn't practiced by the communists in their daily lives. It wasn't practiced because it didn't have any practical value, according to Bazhanov. All communist leaders preferred to use the old and true approaches of capitalists and dictators to get things done. The only value of Marxism, he concludes, was to serve as some sort of cult used to justify their power and exert power on others. One had to be knowledgeable in Marxism not to become a better leader, but to become a member of the "club". And, of course, communist leaders would twist and contradict Marx's theory if their personal agenda required to do so.

Sometimes I think that the same can be said about the role of research in academia. Oftentimes, it is obvious that even research published in top journals is pretty useless. It doesn't have any practical value. Yet research is something that has to be practiced to be a member of the professorial club.

Research can be used to built a somewhat artificial position of power, just like being knowledgeable in the Bible puts someone in a position of power. But just like a preacher may not necessarily be a better person compared to an average atheist, a professor with a dozen articles of management may not be worth squat as a manager.

Research can also be used to exert power on others. Review process can be twisted to keep someone out of the club and deprive those people of living in academia. Reviewing standards are often inconsistent and ambiguous - they are often a function of the personality, mood, and personal agenda of editors and reviewers.

Will Higher Education Be the Next Bubble to Burst?

This article does a good job of articulating the feeling that I've had for the last few years. I've been thinking that education is a service with a price tag way above the value it delivers to its clients. The only thing that keeps the education industry afloat is the fact that the need of education is engraved within the minds of the public. The decision to "go to school" is often based on no pragmatic economic justification.

Yes, we all have heard the "college graduates make $1 million more over their lifetime than high school graduates". But this statistics has been questioned numerous times. The major argument is that those who go to college are generally more responsible and capable individuals who are likely to succeed without a degree as well. In other words, this justification may be similar to "successful people wear Rolexes". Having been exposed to all facets of higher education, I cannot help but think that education is not completely useless yet the value it delivers to students is vastly overrated. Higher education will have to initiate "perestroika" or it will collapse just like the Soviet Union.

Will Higher Education Be the Next Bubble to Burst?

The public has become all too aware of the term "bubble" to describe an asset that is irrationally and artificially overvalued and cannot be sustained. The dot-com bubble burst by 2000. More recently the overextended housing market collapsed, helping to trigger a credit meltdown. The stock market has declined more than 30 percent in the past year, as companies once considered flagship investments have withered in value.

Is it possible that higher education might be the next bubble to burst? Some early warnings suggest that it could be.

With tuitions, fees, and room and board at dozens of colleges now reaching $50,000 a year, the ability to sustain private higher education for all but the very well-heeled is questionable. According to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, over the past 25 years, average college tuition and fees have risen by 440 percent — more than four times the rate of inflation and almost twice the rate of medical care. Patrick M. Callan, the center's president, has warned that low-income students will find college unaffordable.

Meanwhile, the middle class, which has paid for higher education in the past mainly by taking out loans, may now be precluded from doing so as the private student-loan market has all but dried up. In addition, endowment cushions that allowed colleges to engage in steep tuition discounting are gone. Declines in housing valuations are making it difficult for families to rely on home-equity loans for college financing. Even when the equity is there, parents are reluctant to further leverage themselves into a future where job security is uncertain.

Consumers who have questioned whether it is worth spending $1,000 a square foot for a home are now asking whether it is worth spending $1,000 a week to send their kids to college. There is a growing sense among the public that higher education might be overpriced and under-delivering.