Reader story: Survivor of the PhD scam
Yes, I have a useless PhD in history from a western land grant university in the US, about a third rated school. It took me six years to do – but I achieved the PhD debacle. Since getting my degree in 2010, I have not been able to find any academic job, nor any stable job whatsoever. I have had to work low level, low paying retail jobs, part-time crap jobs, for only 10$ per hour! Yes, I was working with younger, high school diploma dudes – myself being the only idiot with a PhD! You just have to swallow your pride in the end. And this will be the general theme of my letter to you.
I was going to cut and paste a long letter that I had wrote some years ago on the blog, ‘100 reasons not to go to Graduate School.’ But after being out of the Doctoral-PhD-Amerikan Graduate School Cult – for over five years now, I think I have a better perspective on things.
During my last year of doctoral studies, the same year I had to do the oral defense of my dissertation, and receiving ‘the paper,’ I was not getting any hits on jobs. Again, I was in the Humanities, and History is one of the worst offenders. It was also 2010 and the overall US economy was going into free fall. I had a straight 4.0 average, but I was coming out of a third-rate university in the American west. As you know, pedigree counts for everything. Any Harvard dude with a PhD in history is at least guaranteed some job offers – regardless of his qualifications. I was not so lucky.
After defending my dissertation, and then later, receiving the toilet scroll diploma, I was now a PhD – but with no future job prospects at all. I was super angry. I always had past struggles with anger-anxiety issues – but now they came back with a vengeance – and I was living inside of an inferno, well within a mental maelstrom of rage and fury. Thank goodness that I was living alone at the time.
I was also close to a really cool college bar in my area, so I would just spend every night at the local bar drinking alone, and during the day, I would use the university library, since I still had my university library account after graduating. I was also lucky in that I didn’t owe any money. I had a teaching assistant scholarship during my entire doctoral career. Actually, my teaching assistant crap job was the longest job that I have ever had in my life, six years – inclusive of my time in the US military!
A partying extravaganza at Burning Man later in the year softened my hard fury and outrage of having been betrayed by my own history department. After the Burning Man Festival, I decided to drive to California, put my stuff in storage in San Diego, just travel to Latin America for a year, and I would look for work over there. I decided to stay in Mexico City and Puebla as a base, and I didn’t really look hard for work. I did party a lot and just did my own things for a year. This helped too, and it was fun, but I also experienced an armed robbery in Tijuana, and living in Mexico, exposed me to some real nasty sights. But it was a good trip. The anger and betrayal was still eating inside of me however.
I returned to the States a year later, and decided to relocate to a small town in southern Colorado. I thought that the small town in the west would be a better way out. I accepted the fact that I had no usable skills whatsoever after getting a PhD degree, so I had to swallow my pride again. I decided to start a new career – welding.
After getting my PhD in 2010, I actually took two welding courses because I had a feeling that my supposed historian career was never going to happen. I took a summer sculpture class at my crap university, and then took a welding for gunsmiths course at an NRA school in this small Colorado town – where I was to relocate after living in Mexico for over a year.
That academic year, I started my welding course, and man, was it a shock. I was in a junior college class with mostly younger guys, from rural Colorado, just out of high school. Even though I looked and felt young, I was the old man there, and it made me feel weird. Also, the younger guys looked at me like some freak – a PhD in history bum getting a welding certificate at a local junior college? Even the welding instructor looked at me funny. Was I really a doctor, well, a useless doctor?
I later got on with the welding instructor, and we even went shooting together out in the mountains. In order to get a discount on the welding classes, I decided to teach a course there as a part timer. It was pathetic International Relations Course of only six students. My pay as an adjunk bum was 1000$ for four months of work! The guy working the burger board at Carl’s Jr. was getting more money than me!
After doing some welding courses, I tried to get into some type of welder helper position in the region. No one would hire me. I only had one interview. Again, the PhD thing made me look like a weirdo. I realized that many Americans, and rightfully so, don’t respect people who spend six years getting a completely useless degree. Also, employers can see that us PhD deviants are quite different from the common herd. We don’t take sales promotions and employee loyalty scams seriously. We are just too jaded and intellectual for that stuff – few owners are going to take a chance on a doctor historian who really knows how capitalism works.
I soon fell into the bad job, part-time, no pay world. I started writing freelance articles for the local rag paper. I only got 35$ per article. The editor had me doing sports stories, but I had to take orders from the full-time reporter: a twenty-something fat kid just out of a bachelors degree from a third rate college in Texas. When I asked for a full-time reporter position, the business manager of the paper blew me off. She gave the full-time reporter job to a foreign student on one of those foreign visa scams. For the next few years, I had to go begging for work. The only reason that I did not end up homeless was due to family money. My father died soon and he left me some money in his will. Since getting my PhD, tragedy kept befalling me.
All this time, my anger never abated. Time does heal the pain. But when I ever thought about my time getting my PhD, receiving my PhD, and the betrayal of my department that refused to give me the truth about the terrible awaiting job market – and what most stirred me up – the fact that I would never work in academia for the rest of my life – I reverted to the hostility. I wasn’t until four years after getting my PhD that the resentment subsided.
The final answer, which I discovered, is that all former doctoral victims and PhD recipients of the Amerikan graduate school cult, must detox and deprogram their minds from that terrible Amerikan pyramid scheme scam. First, one has to accept that one fell for the scam.
I was scammed, and most PhD recipients get scammed. We were scammed into believing that so many years of doctoral studies and then receiving a PhD would make good prospects. Quite the contrary really – getting a PhD will destroy one’s employment future. I was scammed and that is that.
Next, comes the real hard part. The deprogramming and detox is intense. We were also part of a bizarre cult of cowardly and institutionalized professors, parasitical administrators and bewildered students. Some of the worst sufferers were our fellow graduate students.
While we performed our doctoral scam, we changed our vocabulary to use academic speak, and our writing changed too. We had to self-censor ourselves, become politically correct and watch our backs: sexual harassment codes, non-oppression work environments, etc. Paranoia ruled the hallways, and yet our work never ended. We also had to work terribly long hours, often leaving the library late at night, or spending whole nights inside the graduate office-dungeon.
Unlike other crap jobs, the work never ended. Teaching assignments finished at the end of semesters – but not our reading lists, sitting in three hour, boring course seminars, then studying for exams, the Exams, the Prospectus, chapter drafts of our dissertation, and then the Defense.
Now graduate students are even expected to attend conferences, present papers – and even publish in obscure journals that nobody reads. Finally, we had to endure departmental petty politics, peculiar adviser attitudes, the terrible competition for scarce departmental funds between other weird grad students with whom we had to share small offices, and watching in horror the ABD zombies that taught part-time adjunk classes, never getting their PhDs, or those ABD doctoral phantoms that still hung around the library – but could never finish their dissertations – all on ‘the long term program.’ The common meanness and pettiness between graduate students was super nasty. We were definitely in a cult environment.
The worst part about this graduate schools cult was that it warped our minds. The worst vice of all was the pride and arrogance of the graduate student. We believe that we are special, yet weird. We know the truth – and we especially know how to do research and write – at least we think so. This vice is hard to kill, but when I was working crap jobs again, like I had before getting the PhD – I had to let the pride go for my mental sanity. The other vice that we pick up, usually from the tenured professor gang – is cowardice. We learn to bow our heads to any administrator whim or to whatever our adviser wants and needs. We project our anger while grading the pathetic undergrads’ work.
The other vices were envy and jealousy – and especially against those who did find the coveted academic job after the PhD, or those that got lots of good scholarship money to travel to their ‘doctoral research destination.’The bastards who won the Fulbrights were especially hated.
As this cult and scam mutilates the mind, it also takes a terrible toll on our bodies. Due to grad assistant low pay and the never ending work hours, we are on campus a lot, like all day and all night, We become scroungers and scavengers for any and all free food deals. We know every free pizza get together on campus – even if it is on the sports complex side of campus. Besides the grad student socials, if it is an undergrad club, we attend them anyway for the free bagels, burgers and junk food. We’ll even try sneaking into the undergrad dormitory cafeterias in order to wolf down some OK pizza.
Many of us, and especially in some departments, like history, get into a binge drinking manias. My alcohol intake reached heavy proportions. We were even known as the history drunks. At one time, we even had a tequila bottle in the smelly, small refrigerator in the grad student office-dungeon. I gained weight and often had crazy bowel-toilet movements – all due to this eating when and whatever available – and whiskey, gin, tequila and beer deluge. Luckily, during my doctoral studies, I still did regular yoga workouts and in the end, began to attend the university gym.
Yes, it took me four full years to fully detox and deprogram myself from that wicked scam. Whether I get any future academic job, or whatever good job – I don’t really care. I am now cool following the Dhamma and digging on tranquility. I accept the horrible fact of getting hooked into the graduate school swindle. Sometimes one loses in life. I also learned the truth about the US military through my four years in that bad institution. Life is like this, we lose a lot, and once a while – we triumph. I learned to act a man and deal with it. But there is one thing I will not allow. If some person asks about doing graduate school or a PhD, I will dissuade him or her completely and will tell the truth like I am doing in this letter. Once one knows the Truth, then one cannot compromise with Evil.