This story is not really a new one to us graduate students, but I was surprised to find it at the top of the New York Times most emailed list: End the University as We Know It.
Columbia Prof Mark Taylor just comes right out and says it:
"GRADUATE education is the Detroit of higher learning. Most graduate programs in American universities produce a product for which there is no market (candidates for teaching positions that do not exist) and develop skills for which there is diminishing demand (research in subfields within subfields and publication in journals read by no one other than a few like-minded colleagues), all at a rapidly rising cost (sometimes well over $100,000 in student loans)."
Here from my fox hole at final-year PhD student ground zero, I can tell you Mark is not suffering from tenureship delusion. He's right on the money. The demise of graduate school spans disciplines, countries (at least in North America) and affects both core university departments and satellite institutes alike. This painful reality is worth a hard look if you're considering getting into graduate school:
"The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs. It is simply cheaper to provide graduate students with modest stipends and adjuncts with as little as $5,000 a course — with no benefits — than it is to hire full-time professors.
In other words, young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings."Kudos to Taylor for having the kahones to speak the truth in this rather public forum. I remember several years back an Ottawa journalist, Tom Spears ran a similar story on the plight of the graduate student/biomedical researcher after hanging around our research institute for a couple of days: "Hunting For Miracles at Minum Wage":
"A PhD student will work more than 60 hours a week in the lab, in return for a salary near $19,500, and sometimes payment of tuition. The salary portion is worth about $6.25 an hour -- less than minimum wage, for someone who might hold a key to heart disease, or cancer, or diabetes."
Needless to say, the Directorship of our institute tried to run him out of town. A flurry of follow-up discussion took place here on the Bayblab. See:
"Mr. T. Pities the Fool Who Does Graduate Studies"
"Are Graduate Students Exploited?", and
"More on the OHRI Salary Scandal"
I guess Spears can have the last laugh now with the knowledge he scooped the NYT.
Anyhow back to the original article. Taylor doesn't stop at just nailing down the problems. He proposes some reasonable ways to fix graduate programs. For example:
"Abolish permanent departments, even for undergraduate education, and create problem-focused programs."
"Transform the traditional dissertation. In the arts and humanities, where looming cutbacks will be most devastating, there is no longer a market for books modeled on the medieval dissertation, with more footnotes than text."
Good ideas but I don't think any of his proposals would address the most serious problem, which is the supply-demand/slavery issue.
At any rate, it's clear that research training is broken. We need to fix it. Any other ideas?