Typically, I tell people not to go to grad school. That’s the advice I give, generally. And I do rather stridently. But when I do, I make it actual advice, by which I mean, it comes from a place of respect and a sincere desire to help. I don’t pretend to offer advice when I’m actually offering contempt and mockery. And I also recognize that the vast majority of PhDs are in fact in far better shape than the national average. They have an absurdly low unemployment rate of 2.5% and weekly earnings twice the national average. As with any statistics, there’s plenty of individual variance within there. But the data are unambiguous: the vast majority of PhDs end up fine. Many or most of them won’t end up as TT professors, and for many of them, that’ll be a disappointment. But in a country with such vast poverty, unemployment, and general economic hopelessness, PhDs are doing fine. My general advice stands: don’t go, unless you are merciless in your self-criticism, if you are mercenary in how you pursue particular fields and research interests, and if the program has a very high placement rate. My own program (not department), for instance, has a 100% TT hiring rate in the history of the program, a time-to-degree of 5.4 years, and better than 90% graduation rate for people who finish their preliminary exams. (Could I easily be one of the people left without a job, though? You betcha.)
To assert that you are offering employment advice for PhDs, without considering data like this, is either deeply misguided or deeply dishonest.
There are smart and stupid ways to pursue graduate school. I laid out my version of the smart way here. But I certainly understand that I could end up on the outside looking in. And you know what? I’ll figure that out. As someone who has endured actual human hardship, I guess I just don’t see that kind of rejection as the pit of despair that Schuman does. My natural response to her talking about the spiritual death of not getting a TT job is to say, first, I think she needs to readjust her definition of suffering. And, second, what a terribly narrow, sad definition of the world, or of success.