Graduate School and Alternative Career Paths

I find it amazing that academia abandons tens of thousands of people every year and that some fields have almost no contexts for other types of career paths. I wish I had pursued an alternative career path as much as twenty years ago. In addition, if I had never pursued graduate school at all, I could have started working as a Customer Service Representative for the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, an Order Support Agent for a call centre, or a Rural & Suburban Mail Carrier for Canada Post in my twenties and been approaching early retirement by now. I also wish I had continued composing music to a much greater extent after my twenties. I’m 56, have a Ph.D., and have accomplished a great deal, but I have never had any kind of continuing full-time job that pays a living wage.

Alternative-academic and non-academic career paths—and ways to collaborate both with other scholars and with those outside academia—should be discussed and enabled. Those considerations should begin during the time-frame when doctoral candidates have traditionally worked on remarkably narrow concerns in their doctoral seminars, research and teaching assistantships, exams, and dissertations. Fewer people should complete doctorates and attempt to become professors. Post-secondary education usefully establishes and consolidates one’s interests, as well as the ability for critical thinking. However, pursuing it beyond a bachelor’s or master’s degree is unnecessary. I wish I had realized that a long time ago.

Combined Master’s-PhD

Graduate school should only exist as fully-funded PhD programs in which students complete their courses, exams, and teaching and/or research assistantships in the first two years and their modest-scope dissertations in the third and fourth years. Each graduate student should then be required to complete a two-year professional development master’s degree, in consultation with a career centre and including a paid internship. That work could be done in teaching (at any level), business, public writing, lab work, communications, government services, website development, library & information science, or some other area. Everyone would need to do that master’s degree before actually being awarded his or her PhD!