Author Topic: Vanity Degree Run Amok  (Read 25026 times)

maizefolk

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5484
Vanity Degree Run Amok
« on: January 21, 2017, 02:09:47 PM »
I define a vanity degree as one that increases neither your potential salary or the odds that you will get any job at all. Nothing wrong with pursuing a degree that won’t pay off financially, but does emotionally or intellectually, provided one can afford to do so.

That said, let me tell you about this couple I’ve known for about a decade. They met in college, graduated the same year (4 years for her, 5 for him). Both applied to PhD programs in their respective fields. She got in lots of places with fellowships and/or research assistantships. He didn’t get in anywhere. The next year, again no luck. Third year, and he got an offer for admission, just no assistantship. He wanted to study a particularly unemployable subniche of an already remarkably low demand branch of the humanities where there weren't even many jobs for TAs. So, he accepted, she paid his tuition out of her assistantship. In the end his committee wouldn’t sign off on his thesis … details on why are unclear. Eventually she had to move out of state for her postdoc, and he followed, planning to continue to work on his thesis remotely. Around this point they have two children.

I ran into her at a conference last week and money is clearly tight. Skipping meals (reimbursable but you have to float the cost until the reimbursement check arrives). Holes in clothes that she was really self-conscious of and mentioned not being able to afford to replace. Postdocs in my field don’t make great money, but certainly above poverty level. It turned out that the reason things were so tight was that they are paying to put both kids in daycare three days a week. This is seen as a necessity, despite the husband being at home all day, because he needs peace and quiet to work on his thesis and, because she’s working all day, she cannot do her “fair share” of the daytime childcare. They’re cutting their family finances to the bone -- maybe past that. it sounded like expenses were beginning to accumulate on credit cards -- so he can keep trying to get his own PhD. A degree that he’s currently in his 8th year of and 3rd year ABD. A degree that wouldn’t help them at all financially, except removing reason he insists they need pay for daycare anymore. 

This is all none of my business. But I hate to see people I care about sinking like this and I needed to rant to someone. An anonymous internet forum seemed like the least damaging option.

Miss Piggy

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1376
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #1 on: January 21, 2017, 03:48:59 PM »
What a shame.

Out of curiosity, has the husband ever held a job, or is he simply an eternal student? Third year ABD, and no income? Wow...if that's the case, wife is pretty much just an enabler at this point.

maizefolk

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5484
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #2 on: January 21, 2017, 04:37:31 PM »
As far as I know, he's made it to his early 30s without ever having a job or bringing in income of any sort. I knew both of them in school, but have only seen her since. No idea what that dynamic must have evolved into at this point.

maizefolk

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5484
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #3 on: January 21, 2017, 06:18:40 PM »
His degree program was a non-STEM field (a type of art/music) at a big state university.

I should clarify that when I say the reason why is unclear, I mean it is unclear to me, someone who only knows about this part of the story from oblique references. I'm assuming the husband and his advisor/committee did have some sort of a more explicit discussion about why he wasn't getting a degree when he'd expected to. But yes, I agree it's odd.

accolay

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 980
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #4 on: January 21, 2017, 06:28:17 PM »
Sounds unfortunate, and they'll (she'll?) put up or not. Lots of people live in similar tight money situations due to whatever even though they don't have to.

AZDude

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1297
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #5 on: January 22, 2017, 12:43:50 PM »
Guy is a PoS. Hopefully she leaves him soon. Two kids in daycare is no joke. Even at 3 days a week, its probably well over a thousand dollars a month.

Early 30s and never having a job or income of any sort is pathetic. MMM graduated, got a job, saved enough to retire all before this guy was able to finish his degree.

Goldielocks

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 6946
  • Location: BC
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #6 on: January 22, 2017, 09:06:49 PM »
I have a friend who is mid 40's now, and this sounds somewhat similar.

What you need to understand is that her husband has an anxiety disorder, that only grew with each passing year, and working on a task, like the poster's thesis example, helped to keep him functional. But getting kids ready for school or child are and then caring after school ( but no other tasks like dinner) was his limit.  And yes, with three kids she hired a nanny for 5 years.

ETA. My friend's DH has a computer science degree and sys admin licenses before he was down sized. He has personality quirks which included only wanted to work with UNIX despite only two employers in his whole city, and refusing to be diverted from A narrow specialty focus.  Much like OP's story.

Therefore I think this scenario has zero relationship to the general field his undergrad degree was in ( vanity) because even STEM has vanity specialties.

.eg.    Take my uncle's major in Astro physics.  And graduating around 1968 to only 7 jobs in his field in the whole country.  Vanity indeed.
« Last Edit: January 22, 2017, 10:18:16 PM by Goldielocks »

Fitzy

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 32
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #7 on: January 23, 2017, 12:19:57 AM »
maizeman, the husband might be an undiagnosed autistic, perhaps a high-functioning aspie.

Debonair

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 73
  • Age: 30
  • Location: Taiwan
    • DebonairDylan
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #8 on: January 23, 2017, 05:33:19 AM »
I keep thinking about going back to school for a graduate degree or PHD in statistics and this is the type of thing I worry about.

On a more related note, it sounds like he is useing her to fund perpetual student hood.

I'm a red panda

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 8202
  • Location: United States
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #9 on: January 23, 2017, 08:02:59 AM »
I keep thinking about going back to school for a graduate degree or PHD in statistics and this is the type of thing I worry about.

On a more related note, it sounds like he is useing her to fund perpetual student hood.

Can you find a company that will pay for it?  Mine would love for me to get a degree in statistics (or measurement).


I'm a red panda

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 8202
  • Location: United States
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #10 on: January 23, 2017, 10:30:23 AM »
I know of a number of PhD medicinal/ natural products chemists stuck in adjunct hell.
A few gave up and are now teaching high school. One went and got a PharmD and is making more than any of the well employed PhD's she graduated with...

My husband loves his non-academia job (would not have been possible to get without a PhD), he does important research, and I'm glad he got the PhD, but he barely makes more than I do with a masters in education (I'm not a teacher). The much maligned not a real doctorate PharmD would have given him a much higher salary.

But a PharmD would probably have cost him money, and he got paid (though minimally) to do the PhD.
« Last Edit: January 23, 2017, 06:03:01 PM by iowajes »

Gondolin

  • Pencil Stache
  • ****
  • Posts: 575
  • Location: Northern VA
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #11 on: January 23, 2017, 03:29:17 PM »
Quote
I keep thinking about going back to school for a graduate degree or PHD in statistics and this is the type of thing I worry about.

This is very in demand degree so I imagine you would be fine. Also, you actually have way more power going back to school as an adult than you would going in as a 22 year old. 22 year olds have to be indentured servants for X years until their adviser and committee deign to free them. As an adult it's much easier to approach the advisor and committee as adult partners rather than master/apprentice.


As for the OP - People on the internet are WAY too quick to diagnose mental illnesses based on 2 paragraphs of second hand information. That said, I've known several "eternal students" who have been grad students for 8+ years and none of them where what you would call 'well-adjusted'. They may have been borderline or fully undiagnosed but, it's hard to say. None of them were assholes. Jerks who plan on loafing off their wives for decades usually aren't all that interested in using all their free time to study esoteric subfields.

Goldielocks

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 6946
  • Location: BC
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #12 on: January 23, 2017, 05:36:56 PM »
What you need to understand is that her husband has an anxiety disorder, that only grew with each passing year, and working on a task, like the poster's thesis example, helped to keep him functional. But getting kids ready for school or child are and then caring after school ( but no other tasks like dinner) was his limit.  And yes, with three kids she hired a nanny for 5 years.
How are you able to diagnose an anxiety disorder off of the very little amount of information that is there? Yes, the person the OP is describing might have one, but there's not enough information to make any sort of diagnoses.

Quote
Therefore I think this scenario has zero relationship to the general field his undergrad degree was in ( vanity) because even STEM has vanity specialties.

.eg.    Take my uncle's major in Astro physics.  And graduating around 1968 to only 7 jobs in his field in the whole country.  Vanity indeed.
I'm not sure what the OP described would have happened if the person was in a STEM field. We have more of an issue with perpetual post-docs for people that want to get into academia, but I can't think of any STEM discipline that doesn't have transferable industry skills. In the case if you uncle, I would be curious to know what his dissertation was in since Astrophysics implies a heavy math and physics background that is very transferable to the aerospace industry.

When it comes to STEM, it really depends on what you major is for if you go on to work on what your dissertation is in, even if you manage to stay in academia. Case and point, there are a grand total of zero jobs that are tightly related to what my dissertation is in due to the geographical area that it is about. However, the overall block of skills I'm developing means I'm being positioned for several different departments in academia and I've already started having employers reaching out to me inquiring as to when I'll be graduating. Humanities, on the other hand, is much more difficult since a lot of the skills just aren't as transferable. Typically when you hear of someone getting stuck in adjunct-hell (or worse) that has a PhD, they aren't from a STEM background.
I was referring to my friend having an anxiety disorder not OPs scenario. By example I am suggesting that there may be a mental challenge of some sort at work here, that OP knows nothing about and would change his (her?) opinion.

maizefolk

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5484
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #13 on: January 23, 2017, 05:37:22 PM »
I keep thinking about going back to school for a graduate degree or PHD in statistics and this is the type of thing I worry about.

I think a masters or PhD in stats definitely would not qualify as a vanity degree. Lots of demand in both the public and private sectors, particularly if you make sure you're developing your R coding skills while doing your research. (It'd probably be happy to get an advanced degree in statistics without getting a fair bit of experience writing code, but even if you could find a way to do it, please don't.)

I agree with goldielocks and iowajes that it is certainly possible to get vanity degrees in STEM fields too. The one I see up close and personally the most often are some students getting PhDs in evolution/ecology that get really poor projects from their advisors (ones that take a lot of work to generate each datapoint). It takes a long time for them to generate any data at all, and even when they have it, the dataset is so small they don't get to learn any particularly sophisticated analysis techniques. At the end of their PhD they're familiar with a couple of obscure wet lab techniques, maybe know how to do a chi-square test or ANOVA, and have a lot of experience TAing because their advisors probably weren't particularly well funded. I don't care at all for advisors who puts students on projects like that.

Goldielocks

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 6946
  • Location: BC
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #14 on: January 23, 2017, 05:45:32 PM »
What you need to understand is that her husband has an anxiety disorder, that only grew with each passing year, and working on a task, like the poster's thesis example, helped to keep him functional. But getting kids ready for school or child are and then caring after school ( but no other tasks like dinner) was his limit.  And yes, with three kids she hired a nanny for 5 years.
How are you able to diagnose an anxiety disorder off of the very little amount of information that is there? Yes, the person the OP is describing might have one, but there's not enough information to make any sort of diagnoses.

Quote
Therefore I think this scenario has zero relationship to the general field his undergrad degree was in ( vanity) because even STEM has vanity specialties.

.eg.    Take my uncle's major in Astro physics.  And graduating around 1968 to only 7 jobs in his field in the whole country.  Vanity indeed.
I'm not sure what the OP described would have happened if the person was in a STEM field. We have more of an issue with perpetual post-docs for people that want to get into academia, but I can't think of any STEM discipline that doesn't have transferable industry skills. In the case if you uncle, I would be curious to know what his dissertation was in since Astrophysics implies a heavy math and physics background that is very transferable to the aerospace industry.

When it comes to STEM, it really depends on what you major is for if you go on to work on what your dissertation is in, even if you manage to stay in academia. Case and point, there are a grand total of zero jobs that are tightly related to what my dissertation is in due to the geographical area that it is about. However, the overall block of skills I'm developing means I'm being positioned for several different departments in academia and I've already started having employers reaching out to me inquiring as to when I'll be graduating. Humanities, on the other hand, is much more difficult since a lot of the skills just aren't as transferable. Typically when you hear of someone getting stuck in adjunct-hell (or worse) that has a PhD, they aren't from a STEM background.

I disagree about your point on Stem vs non stem. Achievement is what you do with the skills you gain. Any humanities pHD will give extensive writing , debate, thinking, research,  organization, communication skills , all of which are valuable in many fields if you choose to expand your horizons. You are an example of this, my uncle went on to oil and gas drilling in Asia.    The problem is the person, IMO.

Anyone can be one fixated on only working in a niche area to the exclusion of life reality about work available. Stem, humanities, etc.

Oh, and engineers with PHD on their CVs here don't get hired until they remove the PHD. Why?  Too specialized for what most employers need them for and they don't want to pay  top shelf for someone only willing to work on 20 % of the job.

Cowardly Toaster

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 474
    • My MMM Forum Journal
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #15 on: January 23, 2017, 05:54:27 PM »
Guy is a PoS. Hopefully she leaves him soon. Two kids in daycare is no joke. Even at 3 days a week, its probably well over a thousand dollars a month.

Early 30s and never having a job or income of any sort is pathetic. MMM graduated, got a job, saved enough to retire all before this guy was able to finish his degree.

I think we should have a little blessing of some sort whenever MMM Himself is invoked. "MMM (may he stache forever!)" or something like that.

pbkmaine

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 8459
  • Age: 64
  • Location: The Villages, Florida
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #16 on: January 23, 2017, 05:59:44 PM »
Guy is a PoS. Hopefully she leaves him soon. Two kids in daycare is no joke. Even at 3 days a week, its probably well over a thousand dollars a month.

Early 30s and never having a job or income of any sort is pathetic. MMM graduated, got a job, saved enough to retire all before this guy was able to finish his degree.

I think we should have a little blessing of some sort whenever MMM Himself is invoked. "MMM (may he stache forever!)" or something like that.

LOL

Goldielocks

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 6946
  • Location: BC
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #17 on: January 24, 2017, 10:54:08 PM »
I disagree about your point

Oh, and engineers with PHD on their CVs here don't get hired until they remove the PHD. Why?  Too specialized for what most employers need them for and they don't want to pay  top shelf for someone only willing to work on 20 % of the job.
That's largely a myth. The unemployment rates for PhD's in SEH tends to be well below national averages.

A lot of this tends to be fairly moot though because, according to the 2013 Census, only 1.68% of Americans (about 2.5 million) over the age of 25 have a PhD, including a PhD in the humanities. In short, it's a small enough group of people the only place where there is a lot of marketplace completion is in academia. This where your point about it being about the person is quite on point, those willing to look beyond the academy tend to find employment.

I will leave this article here....   

http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/mahmood-iqbal/phd-in-canada_b_1916146.html
"In Canada, PhDs unemployment rate is even worse: 50 per cent more than Masters (6 per cent as compared to 4 per cent)."...a government report shows that a good number of PhDs are driving taxies in Canada.##...
Private sector in Canada hires only 4 per cent PhDs compared to the 42 per cent hired in the United States.   etc..


maizefolk

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5484
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #18 on: January 24, 2017, 11:06:31 PM »
Huh, I never would have guessed things would be so different in Canada. Interesting link.

While we're posting depressing stats about PhDs though.

Quote
In America only 57% of doctoral students will have a PhD ten years after their first date of enrollment. In the humanities, where most students pay for their own PhDs, the figure is 49%. Worse still, whereas in other subject areas students tend to jump ship in the early years, in the humanities they cling like limpets before eventually falling off.

http://www.economist.com/node/17723223

Goldielocks

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 6946
  • Location: BC
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #19 on: January 24, 2017, 11:10:16 PM »
Huh, I never would have guessed things would be so different in Canada. Interesting link.

While we're posting depressing stats about PhDs though.

Quote
In America only 57% of doctoral students will have a PhD ten years after their first date of enrollment. In the humanities, where most students pay for their own PhDs, the figure is 49%. Worse still, whereas in other subject areas students tend to jump ship in the early years, in the humanities they cling like limpets before eventually falling off.

http://www.economist.com/node/17723223

"Cling like limpets..."    I love it, must be written by a humanities PhD...!

I'm a red panda

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 8202
  • Location: United States
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #20 on: January 25, 2017, 08:29:03 AM »
Most universities only allow 10 years to complete a PhD.  So I'd assume that if someone doesn't have a PhD after 10 years of entering the program, they aren't going to be getting one; at least from that program.

I spent a summer scanning grievance files to electronic systems at a graduate school for a major university- 90% of the grievances were people justifying why they needed more than 10 years and begging to be granted an exception. (The rest were really juicy gossip of things going really wrong...)

soccerluvof4

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 6581
  • Location: Artic Midwest
  • Retired at 50
    • My Journal
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #21 on: January 25, 2017, 10:13:53 AM »
To the OP's original post I have a friend who makes 80k a year and gets a lot of perks where he works which pretty much includes all his entertainment. Just knowing what i do and what he has shared it works out to be about 130k but he gets no Healthcare, he has filed bankruptcy and he still lives paycheck to paycheck just barely. For years his wife who has no issues didn't work ( wasn't even looking) and she finally got a minimum wage job at a daycare despite her many many talents.  He is paying 2100$ a month in rent, 1800$ a month for ACA, somehow keep buying new cars and always trending sports wear, i could go on and on. We are good friends and this made it hard for me for awhile because of the way I live and my kids seeing his kids I was constantly reprogramming them. Anyhow I have come up with the following conclusions. Despite there constant complaining of money and them sharing things with me hinting she should get a job with healthcare (which she easily could) that 1) there happy. 2) the complain for attention and to try and get things 3) there codependent on each other since they both were left by their previous spouses and 4) they act like they care but they just don't.

In most cases like your friends I would think that relationship is doomed and its just a matter of time BUT maybe deep down inside its ok and they like it that way despite there little bitchin or lack of. I have learned to accept my friends for who they are and they have who I am. That's the important things and if they effect something like as with my kids I set them straight.

hucktard

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 80
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #22 on: January 25, 2017, 03:40:25 PM »
Most of our friends have stayed in school for years getting PhD's. One friend who is in his late 30's was getting his PhD, dropped out of his program to go back to school to get a master's in education to be a school teacher. Now there is nothing wrong with becoming a school teacher, but to drop out of your already super long PhD program and go back to school to begin a low paying teaching career in your 40's? The thing is they both have rich parents. Most of our friends do, and we don't, and we are better off financially than most of them. Having rich parents seems to completely screw up financial decision making. My wife and I have to take care of ourselves financially, we have no rich relatives to fall back on. This has forced us to make decisions that have gotten us into a stable financial situation, like working full time instead of going back to school for graduate degrees with poor ROI's.

maizefolk

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5484
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #23 on: January 25, 2017, 03:48:44 PM »
While we're posting depressing stats about PhDs though.

Quote
In America only 57% of doctoral students will have a PhD ten years after their first date of enrollment. In the humanities, where most students pay for their own PhDs, the figure is 49%. Worse still, whereas in other subject areas students tend to jump ship in the early years, in the humanities they cling like limpets before eventually falling off.

http://www.economist.com/node/17723223

That bit about the "date of first enrollment" bothers me though. Do they mean when you enrolled in college for the first time or when you enrolled in the PhD program itself? The 2015 SED actually breaks it down into three categories (years since bachelors, years since entering graduate school, years since entering doctoral program) in Table 32. Median years to doctorate, by sex, citizenship status, ethnicity, race, and broad field of study: 2015 which I suspect trips people up since years since entering doctoral program is towards the bottom, but the median time to complete across all fields since entering the doctoral program is only 5.7 years. In contrast since entering graduate school was 7.3 and since bachelors was 8.7. The 5.7 years figure matches up with some anecdotal data I've gotten over the years that the PhD only takes 3 to 5 years post-Masters.

I think the 10 years after enrollment is just an artifact of the way they do these kinds of studies. Get a list of all (or a sample) of incoming PhD students from different departments at different universities, and follow every year for 10 years (when basically everyone who is going to graduate should have done so) with a questionnaire that includes "Do you have a PhD?"

If you'd like to see more of the raw data, I'm pretty sure the economist article's stats were sourced from the PhD completion project: http://www.phdcompletion.org/quantitative/book1_quant.asp (see Table 1 in particular for completion rates by field from year 3 to year 10).

Most of the folks I knew in my field who graduated did so in between 5 and 6.5 years, which is consistent with the average time to completion you're seeing in the NSF report. Because the dropouts never get degrees, the amount of time they spend in grad school doesn't show up in the averages for completion time at NSF. My observation agrees with the quote from the economist that most folks in the sciences who are going to drop out do so in the first 2-3 years of the program (with spikes in the second semester of the first year, and right before/after taking their qualifying exam*). The only person I know in a humanities PhD program is the guy described in the first post, so I cannot draw any statistical conclusions from N=1.

*Also called "prelims" or "A exams" or probably other things depending on where you are.

In most cases like your friends I would think that relationship is doomed and its just a matter of time BUT maybe deep down inside its ok and they like it that way despite there little bitchin or lack of. I have learned to accept my friends for who they are and they have who I am. That's the important things and if they effect something like as with my kids I set them straight.

Yeah, this is the mindset (none of my business, accept them for who they are) I should really aspire to, and I think I'm coming around to it in the last couple of days. When I first learned the stuff in the original post, it really shocked me because back when I knew both of them, they seemed like the folks who had their shit much more together than the rest of us. So mental shock of the difference between my assumptions and reality, combined with how not okay I know I would be with being in either of those situations (eight+ years into a PhD without any prospects, or married to someone eight plus years into a PhD without any prospects) threw me for a loop for a while.

Carless

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 163
  • Location: Kingston, Ontario, Canada
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #24 on: January 25, 2017, 04:12:28 PM »
Quote
...That said, I've known several "eternal students" who have been grad students for 8+ years and none of them where what you would call 'well-adjusted'. They may have been borderline or fully undiagnosed but, it's hard to say. ...

No, it's the other way around.  Even if you're perfectly fine when you start, after 4 years in a doctoral program you're a neurotic mess.  (source- now over 4 years in).  The trick is to get out before Stockholm syndrome sets in and you want to become a prof yourself ;)

rachael talcott

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 291
  • Age: 46
  • Location: TN
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #25 on: January 25, 2017, 04:58:19 PM »
Quote
Third year, and he got an offer for admission, just no assistantship.

I think that this is the point where things went wrong.  If he's not a strong enough student to get an assistantship, he should not have gone to grad school.  Departments make these offers to get money, not because they think that the student in question will have something to offer the field one day. 


capital

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 451
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #26 on: January 26, 2017, 10:23:27 AM »
I keep thinking about going back to school for a graduate degree or PHD in statistics and this is the type of thing I worry about.

On a more related note, it sounds like he is useing her to fund perpetual student hood.
There's a joke in the tech industry— 'a data scientist is a statistician who lives in San Francisco.'

And, well—

Hoosier Daddy

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 101
  • Location: Indianapolis
  • Indiana Hoosiers: 5 Banners and counting
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #27 on: January 30, 2017, 01:01:41 PM »
I keep thinking about going back to school for a graduate degree or PHD in statistics and this is the type of thing I worry about.

On a more related note, it sounds like he is useing her to fund perpetual student hood.
There's a joke in the tech industry— 'a data scientist is a statistician who lives in San Francisco.'

And, well—

Where is this visualization from? That's impressive!


Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk

fuzzy math

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1239
  • Age: 39
  • Location: At the lake
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #28 on: January 30, 2017, 02:49:43 PM »
Divorce. It's legal, murder is not.

maizefolk

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5484
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #29 on: January 30, 2017, 06:36:11 PM »
Quote
Third year, and he got an offer for admission, just no assistantship.

I think that this is the point where things went wrong.  If he's not a strong enough student to get an assistantship, he should not have gone to grad school.  Departments make these offers to get money, not because they think that the student in question will have something to offer the field one day. 



I think this is excellent and broadly applicable advice.

BlueHouse

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3565
  • Location: WDC
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #30 on: January 31, 2017, 12:22:55 PM »
Not so much a vanity degree as it is someone who is unwilling to move on from the state of perpetual student.  If there's little difference in earning potential between with the PhD and without, there's nothing to stop him from getting a job (any job) except his own reluctance and his wife's willingness to accept the situation.  If there is not a generally lazy attitude about the guy, I would suggest some form of therapy -- except that could also lead to years of do-nothing-ness.  It's a shame and I commend the wife for trying to make it work.  Only she can answer when it's time to move on.

maizefolk

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5484
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #31 on: October 21, 2017, 09:07:42 AM »
I've been trying really hard to maintain an attitude of "not my circus, not my monkeys" but had a chance to catch up with my friend again this week, and it can be so hard.

New updates:

1) She scored a couple of interviews for faculty positions (good for her!), and one unofficial offer. The Unofficial offer was months ago, and getting an official offer letter together as been put on hold because she's negotiating hard for a spousal position for the humanities husband. The department really wants her and has offered to cover up to half the cost of hiring the husband if a relevant department would be willing to hire him, but so far, one department (what his PhD would actually be in if he finally graduates) interviewed him and said thanks but no-thanks. Her advocates at the university are trying to shoehorn him into some other related department, so far without success.

2) The culture of pay your own way and get reimbursed (sometimes several months later) that is so common in academia also applies to how she'd get reimbursed for relocation costs. So even if she gets the offer and makes the move, with no savings and what sounds like now maxed out credit cards, she's not sure how she'd actually pay to move to the new state where the offer is.

Summary: they've got a chance to at least double their household income (quadruple if she manages to get him a faculty position too) and achieve long term job security. If the husband wasn't working on a PhD, the university could certainly find some kind of spousal accommodation (we find non-instructional positions for spouses of hires all the time at my university), but because he's getting a PhD in a field for which there is so little demand (even in academia!), there is a real risk of neither of them get them ending up with getting jobs from this university. And there is a narrow window in your postdoc when you're most appealing to faculty searches. It's quite unfair, but after about 4-5 years search committees start assuming that if no one else has decided to hire you by now, there's probably a good reason for it even if they don't see it. So the longer these negotiations drag on, the harder it will be to get another offer from another university in the future.

Summary of the summary: Vanity degrees mess up people's lives. ... and I'm worried about my friend.

MrsPete

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 3513
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #32 on: October 21, 2017, 11:46:13 AM »
Summary of the summary: Vanity degrees mess up people's lives. ... and I'm worried about my friend.
It's not the degree that's messing up their lives; rather, it's their bad choices.  If he'd moved through this "vanity degree" quickly and productively, the story'd have a different end.  If they'd postponed children until after they were both finished with their education, the story'd have a different end.  If she'd put her foot down and said, "Enough", the story'd have a different end. 

calimom

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1184
  • Location: Northern California
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #33 on: October 21, 2017, 11:58:26 AM »
Summary of the summary: Vanity degrees mess up people's lives. ... and I'm worried about my friend.
It's not the degree that's messing up their lives; rather, it's their bad choices.  If he'd moved through this "vanity degree" quickly and productively, the story'd have a different end.  If they'd postponed children until after they were both finished with their education, the story'd have a different end.  If she'd put her foot down and said, "Enough", the story'd have a different end.

Agree with this completely. The wife in this scenario made a number of questionable choices. Seriously, having children before you're actually able to fully support them is almost never a good idea. And if she's offered a job in academia, she probably better  accept even if she doesn't make it conditional on hiring her spouse. Even though that is done all the time, if the college doesn't have a position, they don't have a position. She would be best advised to focus on what's going to work instead of what's not going to work. While their education and interests are commendable, their lack of basic life skills is problematic.

Off the Wheel

  • Bristles
  • ***
  • Posts: 269
  • Age: 36
  • Location: PNW
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #34 on: October 21, 2017, 11:59:51 AM »
I try really hard not to judge other people for their life decisions, especially when it comes to love, but I do question priorities in choosing a life partner. I didn't date (or seriously date ;)) aspiring actors in my early 20s because financial stability was important to me, as well as a certain lifestyle, and I needed my partner to pull their weight. I wouldn't be able to stay with someone who so clearly didn't care about our joint financial success and goals.

As an aside, to those talking about statistics, my husband went back to school last year for a statistics/machine learning Masters program. He left a lucrative STEM field and a $120K salary because of limited career growth, some further limitations around flexibility (our mid-term goal is remote work) and some serious field-specific down sides (liability, lots of travel, etc). He took a year off work, spent $30K on the masters, and I floated the mortgage, so it was a big point of discussion for us - but I also make a healthy salary, and we don't have kids (yet) so the timing was right. He had two job offers before he graduated, and is already onto his second job. He took a $40K paycut, but he'll be back into the six figures (and beyond) within a year - and the field is growing so quickly, he has recruiters and companies after him all the time.

For us, that second masters really worked. No experience to argue for or against a PHD, though everyone I know who is PHD-level specialized has had long stints without work, or had to go far afield to get the one open position in their field.

TomTX

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4462
  • Location: Texas
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #35 on: October 21, 2017, 12:29:23 PM »
I know of a number of PhD medicinal/ natural products chemists stuck in adjunct hell.
A few gave up and are now teaching high school. One went and got a PharmD and is making more than any of the well employed PhD's she graduated with...

My husband loves his non-academia job (would not have been possible to get without a PhD), he does important research, and I'm glad he got the PhD, but he barely makes more than I do with a masters in education (I'm not a teacher). The much maligned not a real doctorate PharmD would have given him a much higher salary.

But a PharmD would probably have cost him money, and he got paid (though minimally) to do the PhD.

I should have looked seriously into a PharmD, but got effectively no guidance and ended up going into a hard-science PhD program at a flagship state university because I did really well as an undergrad at a different flagship state university. Why did I choose that one? The top-name professor had done some really cool (but obscure) research.  I even got into his research group.

While the classes at the PhD program were fine, and I enjoyed doing the TA thing for a few undergrad lab sections - the research/thesis side of things was an absolute disaster, which they successfully hid during the interviews. Disorganized, "keep the grad students as slaves" mentality. Everything being run by the post-docs. I met with my notional professor ONCE in an onboarding meeting. Go see your postdoc. Notionally a 5 year program, once onsite, we found those who got out were taking 8 or more years. They also screwed us on pay with a bait-and-switch.  Within 18 months, 80% of the incoming group in my specialty area had bailed.

I was well aware of how bad it was because I had done undergraduate research (as the only undergrad in a research group otherwise composed of grad students and a postdoc under a professor ) for all 4 years of undergrad. I bailed just after 12 months when I found a job in the private sector.

TomTX

  • Magnum Stache
  • ******
  • Posts: 4462
  • Location: Texas
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #36 on: October 21, 2017, 12:36:32 PM »
For us, that second masters really worked. No experience to argue for or against a PHD, though everyone I know who is PHD-level specialized has had long stints without work, or had to go far afield to get the one open position in their field.

Unless you really want to be in Academia, the ROI and opportunities from having a Master's seem to far outweigh the PhD. Private sector (and non-Academia public sector) often seems to see a Master's as a positive attribute and unless they really want one (rare) a PhD is seen as a negative.

For my current job, a competing candidate with a PhD was eliminated.  Seen as too specialized/not as practical.

Noodle

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1294
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #37 on: October 21, 2017, 03:05:48 PM »
Summary of the summary: Vanity degrees mess up people's lives. ... and I'm worried about my friend.
It's not the degree that's messing up their lives; rather, it's their bad choices.  If he'd moved through this "vanity degree" quickly and productively, the story'd have a different end.  If they'd postponed children until after they were both finished with their education, the story'd have a different end.  If she'd put her foot down and said, "Enough", the story'd have a different end.

Agree with this completely. The wife in this scenario made a number of questionable choices. Seriously, having children before you're actually able to fully support them is almost never a good idea. And if she's offered a job in academia, she probably better  accept even if she doesn't make it conditional on hiring her spouse. Even though that is done all the time, if the college doesn't have a position, they don't have a position. She would be best advised to focus on what's going to work instead of what's not going to work. While their education and interests are commendable, their lack of basic life skills is problematic.

Yeah, this was my takeaway from the story. The degree issue is one of the lesser problems in this family--the greater one is that this couple doesn't seem to be realistic about money or planning at all. Multiple applications before getting an admission with no assistantship? That should have been the stopping point right there. Several kids with neither parent working full-time? Insisting on a faculty trailing spouse position for someone with (part of) a very specialized degree? Come on. They picked academia as the venue for their foolishness, but if they had steered around that hazard, it would just have likely been buying multiple expensive vehicles with an insecure job, or overextending for a ridiculous mortgage, or many of the other stories that get told here.

me1

  • Stubble
  • **
  • Posts: 115
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #38 on: October 21, 2017, 04:23:43 PM »
This breaks my heart. Academia is like a cult. I am and know many recovering hopeful academics. Within that belief system, this whole story is not as crazy as it is to anyone outside the cult. That's the crazy part!
 
Thankfully, my (maybe?) vanity degree actually ended up being very niche, but very much in demand, and well paying. But it was pure dumb luck that it turned out to be so. I had no idea the niche industry I work in now even existed when I started.


maizefolk

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5484
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #39 on: October 21, 2017, 05:25:15 PM »
Summary of the summary: Vanity degrees mess up people's lives. ... and I'm worried about my friend.
It's not the degree that's messing up their lives; rather, it's their bad choices.  If he'd moved through this "vanity degree" quickly and productively, the story'd have a different end.  If they'd postponed children until after they were both finished with their education, the story'd have a different end.  If she'd put her foot down and said, "Enough", the story'd have a different end.

Agree with this completely. The wife in this scenario made a number of questionable choices. Seriously, having children before you're actually able to fully support them is almost never a good idea. And if she's offered a job in academia, she probably better  accept even if she doesn't make it conditional on hiring her spouse. Even though that is done all the time, if the college doesn't have a position, they don't have a position. She would be best advised to focus on what's going to work instead of what's not going to work. While their education and interests are commendable, their lack of basic life skills is problematic.

*sigh* Yeah.

I'm compelled to add that a postdoc is a full time position (edit: oh that point abut full time work was in Noodle's post, not yours sorry for the mixup), and I think she's probably making enough to support a family of four if she had a genuine stay-at-home spouse instead of their crazy system where she's continuing to pay for daycare so he can theoretically continue to work on his thesis during the days. But I could spin hypotheticals any day, it still won't change their actual situation.

I don't know what happened, they were some of the most pragmatic people I knew back in grad school and lived much more frugally than me (since I was only supporting one person on my stipend and wasn't having to pay anyone's tuition).

I tried as hard as I could to get across the strong suggestion that it is much better to take the job, get some breathing room. If things are going well she'll always have the option of looking for new positions in 3-4 years and either negotiating for the spousal accommodation then or getting one as part of a retention package.

maizefolk

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5484
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #40 on: October 21, 2017, 05:31:24 PM »
For us, that second masters really worked. No experience to argue for or against a PHD, though everyone I know who is PHD-level specialized has had long stints without work, or had to go far afield to get the one open position in their field.

Unless you really want to be in Academia, the ROI and opportunities from having a Master's seem to far outweigh the PhD. Private sector (and non-Academia public sector) often seems to see a Master's as a positive attribute and unless they really want one (rare) a PhD is seen as a negative.

For my current job, a competing candidate with a PhD was eliminated.  Seen as too specialized/not as practical.

I'd say that in the more science side of STEM (biomedical, chemistry, biology) there tend to be a lot more private sector positions where they are specifically looking for PhDs. On the tech/math side (my own observations on this side are mostly of people who come up through Computer Science, Engineering & Stats), a masters is definitely the way to go unless you're looking for a job back in academia.

I agree with you that in a position where either a Masters or PhD is suitable, the PhD is rarely if ever going to provide you an advantage and will often put you at a disadvantage.

maizefolk

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5484
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #41 on: October 21, 2017, 05:43:14 PM »
This breaks my heart. Academia is like a cult. I am and know many recovering hopeful academics. Within that belief system, this whole story is not as crazy as it is to anyone outside the cult. That's the crazy part!
 
Thankfully, my (maybe?) vanity degree actually ended up being very niche, but very much in demand, and well paying. But it was pure dumb luck that it turned out to be so. I had no idea the niche industry I work in now even existed when I started.

I'm a (maybe slowly starting to recover) academic myself. It really does a number on your sense of life goals and priorities, doesn't it? Congrats on both your recovery and on finding an in-demand well paying niche!

scottish

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1987
  • Location: Ottawa
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #42 on: October 21, 2017, 06:01:00 PM »
For us, that second masters really worked. No experience to argue for or against a PHD, though everyone I know who is PHD-level specialized has had long stints without work, or had to go far afield to get the one open position in their field.

Unless you really want to be in Academia, the ROI and opportunities from having a Master's seem to far outweigh the PhD. Private sector (and non-Academia public sector) often seems to see a Master's as a positive attribute and unless they really want one (rare) a PhD is seen as a negative.

For my current job, a competing candidate with a PhD was eliminated.  Seen as too specialized/not as practical.

I'd say that in the more science side of STEM (biomedical, chemistry, biology) there tend to be a lot more private sector positions where they are specifically looking for PhDs. On the tech/math side (my own observations on this side are mostly of people who come up through Computer Science, Engineering & Stats), a masters is definitely the way to go unless you're looking for a job back in academia.

I agree with you that in a position where either a Masters or PhD is suitable, the PhD is rarely if ever going to provide you an advantage and will often put you at a disadvantage.

Your completely right that a PhD in a STEM field doesn't do anything to increase your marketability, unless you want to work in academia.

I do industry-university collaborations as part of my job.    I've found that 19 out of 20 engineering professors aren't actually very good at engineering.    They don't like to work on practical problems because they don't have enough novelty.   And because they don't work on practical problems, they don't actually know how to solve practical problems.     The remaining 1 out of 20 is a joy to find though.   They have a combination of practical experience with a good understanding of the state of the art in their field.

I have a Master's degree, and I've always wondered if I should have pursued a career in academia.    This job has been a huge eye opener for me, and I'm really glad that I did not.   The best part of my job is coming up with good solutions to practical problems, and it would have been difficult to do this in a university setting.

AnnaGrowsAMustache

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1941
  • Location: Noo Zilind
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #43 on: October 21, 2017, 06:15:08 PM »
I don't think many people are going to agree with me here. My attitude is that this ain't a frickin Disney special. You can't do whatever self indulgent bollocks that you like in this world. And, frankly, the minute you have kids your main job is looking after them. If what you're doing is not an investment in your family's future, then you need to do something else. If that means not getting a PhD in some obscure field, NO ONE CARES.

Cpa Cat

  • Handlebar Stache
  • *****
  • Posts: 1698
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #44 on: October 21, 2017, 07:09:38 PM »
We've got a guy here who had trouble getting into a PhD program and wasn't offered any assistantships. Lo and behold, he's a failure of a PhD candidate - which is exactly what all those programs predicted when they rejected him.

Even with a 50% subsidy for his salary, the university that wants to employ her can't find a department that will take him after meeting him.

While I'm sure there's a healthy dose of vanity here - I'm guessing it's hard to accept that you can't hack a PhD when your wife has successfully completed hers and is in high demand. Also, her response to the current offer suggests that she's spending more time and energy managing her husband precious ego than she is her career.

But there's more. He's also a failure socially and academically. We know this because of academia's constant rejection of him and his endless failure to thrive when he is given limited opportunity.

Unfortunately, there's probably something wrong with him mentally at this point. Depression? Anxiety? Who can say, but both seem typical of career students who ultimately fail to achieve anything.

At this exact moment, they would be better off if he quit and they filed their taxes separately so he could do income-based repayment on what I assume are monstrous student loans. Then he could focus on his mental health while being a SAHP. Don't assume she doesn't know it. I'm sure she's thought about it. They've probably even fought about it. I'm guessing she tiptoes around this issue on a daily basis to avoid a total derailment of their marriage.

It's sad. But it always is when a friend stays in an unhealthy relationship.

Debonair

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 73
  • Age: 30
  • Location: Taiwan
    • DebonairDylan
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #45 on: October 21, 2017, 07:20:24 PM »
I keep thinking about going back to school for a graduate degree or PHD in statistics and this is the type of thing I worry about.

On a more related note, it sounds like he is useing her to fund perpetual student hood.

Can you find a company that will pay for it?  Mine would love for me to get a degree in statistics (or measurement).

My current one will not, But I will apply this year and then make my choices after I see the offers.

SwordGuy

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 7824
  • Location: Fayetteville, NC
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #46 on: October 21, 2017, 07:23:18 PM »
I'm  considering getting a "vanity degree" after I FIRE just because I would enjoy working on it immensely.   But I would never take out loans to do it.  I would pay cash or not do it.

It might help me make more money after I FIRE doing what I'm already planning to do, but it's extremely unlikely to pay for itself as a pure financial transaction.

Debonair

  • 5 O'Clock Shadow
  • *
  • Posts: 73
  • Age: 30
  • Location: Taiwan
    • DebonairDylan
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #47 on: October 21, 2017, 07:23:47 PM »
I keep thinking about going back to school for a graduate degree or PHD in statistics and this is the type of thing I worry about.

I think a masters or PhD in stats definitely would not qualify as a vanity degree. Lots of demand in both the public and private sectors, particularly if you make sure you're developing your R coding skills while doing your research. (It'd probably be happy to get an advanced degree in statistics without getting a fair bit of experience writing code, but even if you could find a way to do it, please don't.)

I agree with goldielocks and iowajes that it is certainly possible to get vanity degrees in STEM fields too. The one I see up close and personally the most often are some students getting PhDs in evolution/ecology that get really poor projects from their advisors (ones that take a lot of work to generate each datapoint). It takes a long time for them to generate any data at all, and even when they have it, the dataset is so small they don't get to learn any particularly sophisticated analysis techniques. At the end of their PhD they're familiar with a couple of obscure wet lab techniques, maybe know how to do a chi-square test or ANOVA, and have a lot of experience TAing because their advisors probably weren't particularly well funded. I don't care at all for advisors who puts students on projects like that.

Thank you, I actually forgot I posted in this thread and forgot it. I will be applying this year and will make my decision after I hear back from schools.

maizefolk

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 5484
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #48 on: October 21, 2017, 07:43:04 PM »
Good luck, Debonair! Did you decide to go after a masters or a PhD or is that decision also waiting on what offers you get back from your applications?

@CPA Cat, I suspect you're right, and that I'm not properly weighing what it would take to just sit down and saying "I know you've been working on trying to get credentials in this area you are passionate about for years, but we need to think about the kids and it's pretty clear this school is willing to offer me a good paying job but they just don't want you" in even a regular relationship, let alone one with close to a decade of accumulated baggage centered around the disparities in what they've each been able to accomplish post-college and the amount of cross-subsidy his dreams have gotten from her relative success up to this point.

Goldielocks

  • Walrus Stache
  • *******
  • Posts: 6946
  • Location: BC
Re: Vanity Degree Run Amok
« Reply #49 on: October 21, 2017, 09:53:03 PM »
We've got a guy here who had trouble getting into a PhD program and wasn't offered any assistantships. Lo and behold, he's a failure of a PhD candidate - which is exactly what all those programs predicted when they rejected him.

Even with a 50% subsidy for his salary, the university that wants to employ her can't find a department that will take him after meeting him.

While I'm sure there's a healthy dose of vanity here - I'm guessing it's hard to accept that you can't hack a PhD when your wife has successfully completed hers and is in high demand. Also, her response to the current offer suggests that she's spending more time and energy managing her husband precious ego than she is her career.

But there's more. He's also a failure socially and academically. We know this because of academia's constant rejection of him and his endless failure to thrive when he is given limited opportunity.

Unfortunately, there's probably something wrong with him mentally at this point. Depression? Anxiety? Who can say, but both seem typical of career students who ultimately fail to achieve anything.

At this exact moment, they would be better off if he quit and they filed their taxes separately so he could do income-based repayment on what I assume are monstrous student loans. Then he could focus on his mental health while being a SAHP. Don't assume she doesn't know it. I'm sure she's thought about it. They've probably even fought about it. I'm guessing she tiptoes around this issue on a daily basis to avoid a total derailment of their marriage.

It's sad. But it always is when a friend stays in an unhealthy relationship.

I was with you until the end.   I have a friend in a similar situation.  Her husband refuses to work in his field (IT) on anything but Unix environments, yet their city has extremely few employers needing that skillset and all three have rejected him.  I think some people have a specific idea of who they are, and everything else is beneath them.

 Yes, he has anxiety and likely OCD signs.   This also makes him unsuited (truly!) for full time child care and she hired a nanny / housekeeper then preschool for quite a few years and he does not work.  But, her income is solid and they are modest in expenses so they do fine.

For years, I was puzzled why she stayed, until I looked without bias at why.  The couple relationship between them is very strong and sustains her emotionally.   This is worth more than saving the money she spend on domestic help. Based on this, I challenge the idea that OP's friends must have a poor personal relationship.