Tuesday, February 03, 2004


I was going to have a Tuesday Reader Mail Day, but then I got all fired up reading a post on grad student dropouts rates over at Dan Drezner's blog, Dan Drezner. I hate to be predictable, but I have to swing at this pitch.

Dan quotes an article in the Chicago Tribune which reported that the dropout rate for graduate students is 50%, compared to 42% of undergrads and 10% for law and medicine. The article quotes some woman who is writing her dissertation on how this dropout rate can be blamed on poor academic advising. (Hon, good luck ever finding a job. Nobody likes a Narc.)

Other good numbers: Of the remaining 50%, only 25% graduate. The other 25% just hang around like ghosts on a wreck. And of the 25% who graduate, only a fraction ever find tenure track jobs.

Dan rightly points out that there is no market for new PhDs, so putting together policies to retain students is silly. Here's another radical idea, why let in all those students in the first place? Why take their money and exploit their cheap labor, if nobody ever expects for them to get a job. It's wrong, deceitful, immoral, reprehensible, and level eight in Dante's inferno goes to university presidents who allow this practice to continue.

But then Dan writes, "I'm afraid that I'm (mostly) old school on this one. Hand-holding sounds great -- except that part of the job of being an academic is being enough of a self-disciplined self-starter that one can focus on research instead of distractions like... er.... blogs."

First of all, those who drop out are not necessarily bad students. In fact, some of the smartest students I've known have dropped out. Those who make it to the end are not necessarily the smartest, but have the most endurance for pain and a blind optimism about the job market.

Secondly, HAND HOLDING??!!! He said HAND HOLDING??!!! Good God, I would have appreciated it if my advisor and Steve's advisor hadn't actively sabotaged us. (I hesitate to talk about grad school. I really don't like to stir up the old resentments, but I have to make my case.)

[damn fine writing deleted for obvious reasons...]

Steve's situation was worse. He had a micro-manager who proofed the punctuation in his footnotes. After Steve turned in the final draft of his dissertation, and the other members of his committee approved it, his main advisor decided that it should be reorganized. The guy had been reading drafts for two years and suddenly he wanted a major shift in the basic outline. One year later, Steve finally graduated.

We weren't looking for hand holding, just some decent behavior. One of things that Steve finds most refreshing about working in the private sector is that the managers are so supportive. Asking for more support by academic advisors is not going to lead to a new crop of wimpy Ph.D. It might just get them through with the graduate school ordeal quicker, so that they begin their new lives as temp workers with slightly smaller student loan bills.

UPDATE: Chris Lawrence has more.

Watch This

Time to out myself. I'm a major league Buffy/Angel nerd. And Maureen Ryan at Eric Zorn tells me that tomorrow's episode is going to be a doozy.

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