The Big Picture

We've explored many of the specifics in this guide so far, but if we zoom out for a moment, what do we see? Are higher degrees really all that they're cracked up to be? Do they set students up for professional success, or simply saddle students with long term debt obligations? In this section we'll take a look at all of the data, as well as what it means in general to be a graduate student.


  1. The Master's as the New Bachelor's
    Ever seen a master's degree listed as a requirement for a job as an academic tutor? In this fascinating NY Times article, writer Laura Pappano explores the many faces of degree inflation; that is, what happens as more candidates head to college and the bachelor's degree can no longer serve as a key differentiator in a competitive job market.
  2. Thesis Hatement
    To those who would ask whether or not a higher degree in the Humanities is worth it, former literature PhD student, Rebecca Schuman, answers a decided "no." Her essay details the realities of what life was like for her as a Humanities graduate student, from long, low-paid hours to a thesis that broke her. The following article, Don't Be Afraid of Going to Graduate School in the Humanities, provides a nice contrast both to Schuman's article and the wealth of similar articles available online -- though that wealth should also tell you something about the state of the market.
  3. More Humanities PhDs
    As a nice addendum to the above resources, this article explores current trends in Humanities graduate enrollments, which continue to rise despite less than stellar job prospects within academia.
  4. Graduate Enrollment and Degrees: 2002 to 2012
    If you've ever sought a bird's eye view of the current state of the graduate studies market, this excellent and extensive report put out by the Council of Graduate Schools will provide just that. Data on and trends in enrollment rates over the course of a decade are provided. Tracked trends include the annual number of applications and first-time enrollments, and the number of degrees and certificates awarded, broken down into different types of schools, demographics, and more.
  5. If postdoctoral life is about playing by the rules, what are the rules?
    In this Guardian article, postdoctoral fellow Daniel Nehring notes the struggles many PhD students and postdocs encounter as they struggle to determine just what they need to do to grow their careers. He explores the many core yet unwritten rules of the academic experience, and emphasizes the need for better mentorship throughout the disciplines.
  6. The Repurposed PhD: Finding Life After Academia -- And Not Feeling Bad About It
    In this much discussed NY Times article, writer Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow explores the difficulties of the academic job market. Unlike other explorations, however, she also examines how many PhD graduates are successfully repackaging their skills for a career outside of academia and how certain programs are creating new, innovative, entrepreneurial-focused programs to help them do so. This Atlantic article, What Can You Do With a Humanities Degree, Anyway?, offers more concrete suggestions, and is a good companion to the NY Times piece.
  7. The Awesomest 7 Year Postdoc or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure Track Faculty Life
    With all of the doom and gloom about higher academics (continued below), this article by tenure-track professor, Radhika Nagpal, is a breath of fresh air. Nagpal imparts the details of a conversation she had early on in her position with a more seasoned colleague, who reframed the tenure-track experience as a great time to do research, enjoy the ride and let go. For anyone currently on or about to begin the tenure-track who is suffering from anxiety, this article offers a healthy dose of inspiration and calm.
  8. We Must Prepare PhD Students for the Complicated Art of Teaching
    As anyone who has completed an undergraduate degree knows, expert thought and research skills do not necessarily mean a PhD student will be an excellent teacher. Many graduate students are just as frustrated with the situation, often given little training, simply dumped into the classroom and expected to thrive. In this reflective piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the author explores the problem from multiple angles and makes suggestions for improvement.
  9. The PhD Now Comes With Food Stamps
    Sitting back patiently while your private sector friends joke about how you'll be working at a fast food chain post-graduation is a common experience for most PhD students. But with more and more universities relying on adjunct faculty, those "jokes" have become an all-too common reality. In this Chronicle of Higher Education article, writer Stacey Patton takes a hard look at the real life stories of struggling PhDs. This opinion piece on the Death of an Adjunct, which went viral back in 2013, is also essential reading for those concerned with the welfare of post-degree workers, while this article posted on Academic Impressions suggests concrete proposals for addressing the problems.