Graduate School: Don’t Go Unprepared


Friday, July 17, 2020

We’re often told that holding a graduate degree in the humanities–or a bachelor’s degree, for that matter–is both a surefire path to radical indoctrination and a way to perennial unemployment. 

This is often true; academia is increasingly permeated with postmodernism and critical theories, and every year job prospects grow increasingly grim for graduating PhDs. 

For those who are academically minded–especially for those who are conservative–such news is often disheartening. Parents, friends, family, and even academic advisors usually suggest intelligent and curious students to find alternative career paths, ones that do not entail spending tens (and sometimes hundreds) of thousands of dollars on a degree that will produce a less than lucrative career. 

However, for some, the idea of learning and pursuing knowledge is worth such a high risk. But if you fit this criterion, you shouldn’t begin your graduate school career unprepared.  

Here are three things you should know before starting a graduate degree in the humanities:



  • Prepare yourself financially. 



I’ll begin with what is perhaps the most difficult pill to swallow: Don’t go to graduate school for a degree in the humanities if you must take out student loans. Period.

Unfortunately, job prospects for those with a Master of Arts are not as lucrative as those with a Master of Science. Given this, it’s necessary to seriously consider not pursuing a graduate degree in the humanities. Your future career may simply not pay you enough to justify any type of student loans. 

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to pay for your degree outside of borrowing money. Depending on your discipline and the funding available at your school of choice, many teaching assistantships and fellowships are obtainable, which typically cover tuition and even some living expenses. 



  • Educate yourself and be realistic about the job market.



Most people who go into a humanities graduate program have one career in mind: a tenured research professor. Though this is a worthy goal, it is unfortunately unrealistic; most tenure track jobs, if there are any available, go to Ivy League educated PhDs. 

Given this, it’s necessary to adjust expectations. If you can’t (and probably won’t) be a tenured educator, perhaps you can be a researcher at a private or government think tank, a public historian, a secondary school educator, or even a journalist.

There is a common–yet mistaken–reaction of despair when people are confronted with this news, but there’s no need for such intense pessimism. In all likelihood, you will find a job, though it will probably not be your ideal job. 

Most simply put, be realistic about your career prospects. Maybe you can’t be a professor, but you can be an educator; maybe you can’t be a professional scholar, but you can be a professional researcher; maybe you can’t have tenure, but you can have a secure job and a fulfilling career.



  • Prepare yourself intellectually.



Regardless of your intellectual presuppositions–but especially if you’re a conservative–you will inevitably come across ideas with which you disagree, yet this doesn’t mean you should ignore them or decide to not go to school because of them.

In fact, I argue that you should do the opposite: read Michel Foucault, Theodor Adorno, Jacques Derrida, or Martin Heidegger; figure out what they said, and do your best to understand their philosophical arguments and their real-life implications. 

Doing so will not just give you an advantage in your classes; it will help you better understand your intellectual opponents–who they are, what they think, and how they operate. 

Similarly, read broadly: if you study history, read literature and philosophy; if you study literature, read history and philosophy; if you study philosophy, read history and literature. This practice will broaden your understanding of your discipline; it is also conducive to creativity. 

So, if you’re an academically minded student with an interest in the humanities, should you go to graduate school? Is it worth the risk?

The answer is yes, but only if you anticipate and contemplate future challenges, readjust your career expectations, and prepare yourself intellectually.

The humanities degree was originally designed to make one a better citizen. And, despite the frequent occurrence of bad theory and dangerous ideas, it still succeeds at that goal; you won’t regret the things you learn.

If you love what you learn and believe that sacrificing the time and potential career earnings is worth continuing that education, then you should go to graduate school—just proceed with caution.

Ben Haines is a graduate student at Louisiana State University, where he studies European Intellectual History. When he isn’t studying, Ben can usually be found reading or writing on politics and postmodernism. He can be found on Twitter @bphaines.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.

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About Benjamin Haines

Ben Haines is a graduate student at Louisiana State University, where he studies European Intellectual History. When he isn’t studying, Ben can usually be found reading or writing on politics and postmodernism. He can be found on Twitter @bphaines.

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