You have to be crazy to get a PhD these days. So argues Dan Drezner at Foreign Policy. We’ve tangled amicably with Drezner in the past over the higher ed bubble, but in his latest piece he says something we wholeheartedly agree with. After pointing out the many disadvantages of getting a doctorate—the poor job market, the high attrition rate—he says:
Long-term trends do not bode well for the modern university. You might think that the hiring drought in the academy is just a temporary lull. And that might be true. But go read Nathan Harden’s essay on the future of the university in The American Interest. It’s likely an exaggeration, but there is certainly some truth in his Schumpeterian assertion that “the Internet is a great destroyer of any traditional business that relies on the sale of information.” The great hope for universities to bolster sagging graduate programs is to encourage more foreign students—but now even the Chinese influx of
cash cowsfull-tuition-paying students has slowed down. So academia, that bastion of stability, might suddenly find itself on shakier ground at exactly the moment you [a prospective PhD] arrive on the scene…. And to paraphrase The Princess Bride, anyone who tells you that it will get easier for Ph.D.s in the future is selling you something.
Drezner says that there are really only two reasons why you might get a PhD. One, you’re crazy; or two, you’re crazy about the subject you will be studying. But even the latter is becoming a kind of luxury for those lucky few who can afford to spend several years on a degree without any guarantee of future employment. All others should heed Drezner’s advice before surrendering the money, years, blood, and tears it takes to earn the right to be called “Doctor.”Read the whole thing.