10 Responses to Eliot Berkman’s (Psych) excellent skeptical tweets on the PhD ponzi scheme

  1. A duck says:

    Good God, next they’ll be asking where the grant money comes from and why it always seems to steer in the same direction!

  2. just different says:

    A question I haven’t seen asked yet in these conversations: Instead of broadly discouraging people from going to grad school, why isn’t the system doing a better job of selecting the right people to pursue a PhD in the first place?

    If “right people” means those who go on to make significant and interesting contributions to their disciplines, why aren’t we looking for ways to predict that instead of repeatedly using performance on tests and coursework as the screening mechanism? This alone explains why a lot of the wrong people go to grad school–they figure that they’re good at school, so why not sign up for more school?

  3. Dumpster Fire says:

    A lot of the same tired arguments.

    “Each rung up the ladder has fewer openings than the one below it.”
    I’m still looking for the private company that has more CEOs than cubicle dwellers.

    “This structure makes academia competitive and unfair. There are not enough jobs for all the deserving people, so the selection process among the qualified is, er, stochastic.”
    Again, no different than the complaints I hear from people working outside of academia.

    “And the pay is pretty shitty considering how bleak that cave is. For what it takes to get to the bottom of it, you could make a whole lot more money.” but then there’s this “we are ridiculously privileged. Job security. Freedom from almost any accountability.”
    That’s known in the real world as a “trade off”


    • duckduckgo says:

      Sure, there are more cubicle dwellers than CEOs. But the corporate world has many lifetime middle managers for those who are good but not CEO material. What is the equivalent in academia?

  4. comment on berkman says:

    Berkman criticism of academia suffers from a common problem: he hasn’t considered the alternatives. How many jobs are deeply personally rewarding? How many jobs are viewed as admirable by the general public? Answer: not many. Academia is not a bad nor broken career and is a reasonable choice for many talented people. The best reason for leaving academia is to make more money, but the extent by which one values that varies from person-to-person.

  5. Birdy says:

    I’ve never heard an economist speak favorably of economic rent, and that is a mistake.** Academics are collecting a rent on their cultural capital and that seems to engender an especially virulent resentment among people who have none. Sadly, the impact of that resentment seems to land disproportionately on smaller schools and community colleges. The flagship public schools are sacred cows with robust donor bases.

    It’s good that there is a renewed interest in income inequality, but it would be more precise to study rent inequality. The people most resentful of academia are not poor — their anger comes from shrinking rents.

    **I am defining economic rent as producer surplus in resource markets. None of the modern textbooks I have seen include a definition and I claim Wikipedia is incorrect on this topic: “In the moral economy of the economics tradition broadly, economic rent is opposed to producer surplus, or normal profit, both of which are theorized to involve productive human action.” That definition is not useful except insofar as it, “In the moral economy of the economics tradition broadly”, is convenient for union-busting.

  6. Dog says:

    All of this mostly argues for new kinds of graduate programs and not so much the continuation of legacy. Its unclear if Academia can do this, but this is one potential promise of the Knight Campus,
    new programs for new kinds of graduate students.

    • just different says:

      How? It’s still going to be necessary to train some people to do academic research, which is what the PhD is designed to do. There’s certainly room for other kinds of training, but the PhD oversupply problem isn’t caused by a lack of other kinds of graduate programs. It’s caused by too many people thinking they should get a PhD.

      • Anonymous says:

        I didn’t say anything about PHD production. I said graduate programs and new kinds of graduate students.

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