PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

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guitarplayer
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PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by guitarplayer »

My cousin has a PhD in chemistry. Sometimes when we chat she would bring up how all the humanities PhD students used to hang and chat around, and go places while she was stuck in a lab.

What could be gained from doing a PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences from the 'web of goals' perspective? Looking for the 'benefit' contributions of the cost/benefit analysis. For the record, PhDs in Europe live on 1000-1400 EUR/month for 3-4 years.

ertyu
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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences

Post by ertyu »

To start with, I don't think there are any universal "benefits from a web of goals perspective" because each person's web of goals is different and so the same activity might have a different point for different people.

That said.

1. The lifestyle is comfortable money-wise. You can live well on that amount of money, especially with an ERE background.
1a. A humanities PhD would make for an excellent coast-FIRE activity - if you are no longer worried about the bulk of accumulation, money is literally no issue.

2. If you are doing a PhD in any subject, one would assume you have an inherent intellectual interest in the subject. Studying in depth something you find interesting and valuable is fulfilling in and of itself.

3. You get to encounter other people at a mostly similar stage in life who are interested in studying interesting problems in detail. Through them, you can meet other similar people. Even if you don't necessarily aim to network with them for career purposes, you can discuss ideas with those people at a fairly sophisticated level. This is fun and enjoyable.

4. People think you're interesting and your mom is proud.

5. A lot of your work will be done in academic buildings and environments - libraries, coffee shops, offices with lots of shelves, etc., which look nice. As opposed to lab sciences, as a humanities students your research is mobile and you can do it anywhere. Literally no one cares where you are located while you're writing your thesis as long as you have a completed thesis in the end.

6. Some could argue that the thesis-writing project is valuable in itself: one needs to develop organizational skills, discipline, perseverance, and so forth. The training of being able to plan and complete a long, multi-stage project matters.

7. For humanities and social sciences, lots of the research opportunities might have travel involved. Your research might take you in the field, to cool and interesting places.

8. This one might be a bit self-serving, but a humanities and social sciences specialization results in a much broader worldview than a strictly scientific specialization. I would trust a chemist to be able to do chemistry. I would trust a sociology or history or comparative literature person to be able to think critically, empathetically and insightfully about the human condition, and to be able to see the world from perspectives other than their own. This isn't to say that a chemist would be unable to do this - but if they are, it would be because they worked on it on their own, separate from their studies. Going deep into the humanities, if you're doing it right, requires you to encounter the world from different perspectives and question your own. At least to me, studying the humanities is studying "the water" -- from that saying about fishes who swim in water all the time but never notice it.

9. If 1000-1400 euro is little money for you, this might serve as additional motivation to develop frugality and diy skills.

10. As a grad student in the humanities, you usually have a lot of unstructured time. This means you can run errands when others are at their office jobs, which saves you time and nerves. You can hang out in half-empty coffee shops during the day and enjoy. You also get to do the bulk of your work according to your own circadian rhythm (classes you are in and classes you TA for are scheduled, but other than that your time is your own).

10 is a good number to stop at, I think. You can see that these benefits are benefits-as-seen-by-ertyu: necessarily informed by my own value system. They might not all apply to you, and other people will for sure see other benefits.

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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by nomadscientist »

"What could be gained from doing a PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences from the 'web of goals' perspective? Looking for the 'benefit' contributions of the cost/benefit analysis. For the record, PhDs in Europe live on 1000-1400 EUR/month for 3-4 years."

Pre- or post-retirement?

It's very tough to save significant amounts of money on this positions. The career track is harsh. The employment environment is generally terrible. Not just in the sense that it offers few of the private sector rewards for comparably hard work, but that the necessities of succeeding within it are likely to destroy the interest that brought you to the subject in the first place.

If you're already FI, and you're interested in the subject enough to make it a big part of your life, it's a great source of social and professional interactions with fellow enthusiasts that would be hard to find anywhere else. The +1200 EUR is then just play money and/or free buffer on your savings, very nice to have.

Basically it's a hobby job and should not be seen as anything else. That can be an amazing opportunity or serious risk, depending on your situation.

guitarplayer
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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by guitarplayer »

Looking at your username, I would guess that you possibly went through the process, which would be great from the insight point of view.
nomadscientist wrote:
Sun Mar 14, 2021 6:54 am
[...] The career track is harsh. The employment environment is generally terrible. Not just in the sense that it offers few of the private sector rewards for comparably hard work, but that the necessities of succeeding within it are likely to destroy the interest that brought you to the subject in the first place. [...]

[...] it's a great source of social and professional interactions with fellow enthusiasts that would be hard to find anywhere else. [...]
Would this imply that many candidates pursue it for the fun of it and so remain enthusiasts i.e. the interest is still there? I would hate to find myself surrounded by frustrated people who got themselves into a pickle. I would love to find myself surrounded by enthusiastic people who do it to fulfill other goals from the web of goals than 'financial'.
nomadscientist wrote:
Sun Mar 14, 2021 6:54 am
[...] That can be an amazing opportunity [...]
Amazing opportunity how? Anything else than ertyu's 2., 3. (although see my question above), 5. (would argue also access to gyms, swimming pools etc), 6., 7. (if desired), 8. and 9. more than welcome.

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Alphaville
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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by Alphaville »

it's a nightmare :lol:

i agree with @ertyu on the value of the humanities, but a phd goes precisely back into the overspecialization and pointlessness that is killing the humanities today.

the students your cousin was seeing were probably just commiserating about having to grade a million papers.

why a phd, of all things? couldn't think of a more soul-destroying option? :lol:

seriously though, why a phd?

Gilberto de Piento
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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by Gilberto de Piento »

In my limited US experience a masters is competitive for most of the available jobs (unless you want to be a professor). I think an argument could be made that a PhD is not worth the extra time and money from an economic perspective.

guitarplayer
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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by guitarplayer »

@ Gilberto de Piento, so the aim of this thread is to look at it from outside of a mainstream economic perspective.

@ Alphaville 'a phd goes precisely back into the overspecialization and pointlessness that is killing the humanities today.' in what way? Sounds like you went through it, could you recall also any upsides?

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Alphaville
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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by Alphaville »

yup. i saw the light and dropped out. why didn't i see it sooner? i was too entertained delaying maturity i guess...

anyway, modern phd programs have the laughable tacit objective of trying to turn the humanities into sciences and making them somehow "objective." which is ridiculous.

nevertheless, yes, they are all about "theories" which, unlike the sciences, do not emerge from the observation of an object, but from sheer bullshit and intellectual fashions. the sokal affair wasn't mere trolling: it was a demonstration.

and the professionalization of the field has led to a publish or perish situation that causes people to write utter falsehoods and imbecilities with zero original thought simply to up their numbers.

it's a huge fraud. and many people in the field are frauds.

now please note... i'm not saying that the humanities are a fraud. those are two very different things.

i can see one developing an interest in the humanities. they're the most interesting thing. but the leap from having an interest to doing a phd is... is like saying that because you love watching fireworks you're going to tie yourself to a stick of dynamite and light the fuse :lol:

--

the image of academia and the social reality of academia are two very different things

Image

from the picture above: i highly recommend reading jorge cham: http://jorgecham.com/
http://jorgecham.com/science_magazine.pdf
Last edited by Alphaville on Sun Mar 14, 2021 8:56 am, edited 1 time in total.

mathiverse
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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by mathiverse »

I think a benefit of a PhD over a masters is the longer time period where you're paid to do research. If you get an advisor who gives you autonomy and doesn't force you to work on their research agenda, then it might be the easiest way to get access to university resources for your own personal research interests for several years.

I don't know how it works where guitarplayer is (Europe, I think?) or how it works for humanities, but my understanding is that for PhDs in science in the United States you tend to have to take classes for 1 - 2 years and finish up with a qualifying exam, then afterward you can focus on your research. If you only go for the masters you don't get those research-only years.

Is publish or perish relevant if all you want is the time to research and explore your interests? If you drop out after two or three years because you decide you don't care anymore for the degree, well you still got the value you expected from it since you weren't doing it for the credential or the career. If you don't publish enough to have a shot at a professorship, no problem. That wasn't the goal.

Although for the humanities and some sciences, maybe you would be well served by studying the works on your own and then getting involved in seminars/research by reaching out to the professor at a local uni for permission. A lot of humanities courses don't require "university infrastructure," but merely time to think about readings and discussions with colleagues. You don't get the salary in this situation, but you don't need it if this is a post-ERE plan. You get more intellectual freedom, access to professors and students, and the free time to focus on your interests without the overhead of a PhD (class requirements, TA requirements, requirements of an advisor, admittance requirements). I'm fairly certain this set up is possible because of an experience I had working with a professor from my undergrad on research when I wasn't enrolled any longer in the uni.

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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by Alphaville »

mathiverse wrote:
Sun Mar 14, 2021 8:53 am
I think a benefit of a PhD over a masters is the longer time period where you're paid to do research.
:lol: :lol: :lol:

i'm sorry, no. the sciences might have some money, but in the humanities it's a different story.*

sure, there are some very rare people at a very high level in very exclusive universities who get grants and scholarships to "do research," but those are a handful out of thousands and thousands of people who get paid to teach low level classes the tenured folk won't deign touch.

as a ta you get tuition remission and a ratty stipend. "salaries" though... :lol: :lol: :lol:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graduate_ ... ionization

humanities people pay for their research with debt

* edited, to add: science and technology tend to produce business income: patents, weapons, medicines, crop improvements etc. hence a lot of funding goes into it. the arts and humanities are where businesses and the public spend their money but only marginally and only when they're profitable.
Last edited by Alphaville on Sun Mar 14, 2021 10:40 am, edited 1 time in total.

guitarplayer
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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by guitarplayer »

@Alphaville, thanks for your input. Could I read 'delaying maturity' as room for being playful and toy with ideas?

I read widely about the downsides of pursuing a PhD in general and in humanities / social sciences in particular. In this thread I would like to talk about potential upsides of it. I appreciate that this topic might be somewhat emotionally loaded in your experience of it.

@mathiverse I will respond separately because I want to quote.

guitarplayer
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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by guitarplayer »

mathiverse wrote:
Sun Mar 14, 2021 8:53 am
I think a benefit of a PhD over a masters is the longer time period where you're paid to do research. If you get an advisor who gives you autonomy and doesn't force you to work on their research agenda, then it might be the easiest way to get access to university resources for your own personal research interests for several years.
Yes this is something I had in mind. I think even at masters level this can be possible, given a liberal advisor. I turned one of my MA's into a published paper. I met my supervisor perhaps 4 times, half of these we talked about some irrelevant stuff / general theoretical research topics. It was good fun.
mathiverse wrote:
Sun Mar 14, 2021 8:53 am
If you drop out after two or three years because you decide you don't care anymore for the degree, well you still got the value you expected from it since you weren't doing it for the credential or the career. If you don't publish enough to have a shot at a professorship, no problem. That wasn't the goal.
Yes this dropping out would not necessarily be a problem. But maybe @Alphaville you could advise if the fact of you dropping out was a relative burden just before you did so? How tightly coupled was the business of your supervisor to you performing? I probably would not mind being a TA etc.
mathiverse wrote:
Sun Mar 14, 2021 8:53 am
Although for the humanities and some sciences, maybe you would be well served by studying the works on your own and then getting involved in seminars/research by reaching out to the professor at a local uni for permission. A lot of humanities courses don't require "university infrastructure," but merely time to think about readings and discussions with colleagues. You don't get the salary in this situation, but you don't need it if this is a post-ERE plan. You get more intellectual freedom, access to professors and students, and the free time to focus on your interests without the overhead of a PhD (class requirements, TA requirements, requirements of an advisor, admittance requirements). I'm fairly certain this set up is possible because of an experience I had working with a professor from my undergrad on research when I wasn't enrolled any longer in the uni.
Yes this is an alternative I pondered. Less overhead, and also probably easier to get involved because not asking for money.

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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by Sclass »

I have a science PhD and that’s bad enough. Not only was it useless in industry, it actually incited prejudice. For example for about a year I had a manager who didn’t even know I had a grad degree...he found out and said, “what, b-b-but you’re so practical. You know how to make real stuff work.” It was a Dan Ackroyd ghost busters moment. “You don’t know what it’s like out there! They expect real results!”

https://youtu.be/RjzC1Dgh17A

It really depends on what you want to do. I’d love to do some historical or archeological research like you see on PBS. Had I been born richer I’d love to be a museum curator. But being on the outside and trying to sell your higher learning paperwork is a trick. Depends on what is in fashion and what you have.

The degree is nice in casual company. It’s better to say I’m a Dr. Sclass the ancient civilizations scholar than SClass the mechanic. I must say saying “I’m a Diesel engine tech” gets rid of people quick at country club parties.

When people asked me why I was spending so much time working on a grad degree i had this line “it’s a mental odyssey”. That was cool till I had to survive outside of the university.

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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by Alphaville »

guitarplayer wrote:
Sun Mar 14, 2021 10:32 am
@Alphaville, thanks for your input. Could I read 'delaying maturity' as room for being playful and toy with ideas?
or delay getting a real job, yeah. no regrets on that front, ha ha ha ha! that is definitely an "upside" for me. i retired as early as it gets. ofc ymmv.
guitarplayer wrote:
Sun Mar 14, 2021 10:32 am
I read widely about the downsides of pursuing a PhD in general and in humanities / social sciences in particular. In this thread I would like to talk about potential upsides of it. I appreciate that this topic might be somewhat emotionally loaded in your experience of it.
no, i laugh a lot, because it's what i do in the face of life's absurdities, but im not responding emotionally. i just have extensive experience with graduate studies in the humanities--call it "wheaton levels"--that is hard to put into a simple sentence.

i noticed also @jacob laughed a lot in his latest posted interview, especially when describing grim scenarios. i happen to write my laughs.

so, anyway, there is a lot of naivety in the general public with regards to what goes on in academia.i fear you're looking at this with a huge blind spot, almost as some sort of mythological thing, "the phd."

e.g. you're dividing this into some sort of "downside" and "upside". as a humanities-trained person, i'd urge you not to try to conjure up some sort of simplistic arithmetic out of this, because it doesn't exist, or reflect a lived experience. things come in wholes.

instead, before beginning to assign scores, i'd encourage you to ask your self: what is it that you're really trying to achieve? what does the phd represent to you?

you have ambitions and desires, which are central to your life, so i'm suggesting that you explore what these are, instead of projecting them into the mirage of a distant degree.

there is always a gap between reality and representation, so by looking at your representation of it, you find out what it is you're looking for.

i'd be glad to offer ideas on how to achieve these goals, and if you end up pursuing a phd you do it with your eyes open rather than from the offers of a self-interested institution.

institutions have their own logic which isn't yours.

eta: and to be able to negotiate you need to understand both yours and theirs.
Last edited by Alphaville on Sun Mar 14, 2021 11:19 am, edited 1 time in total.

Qazwer
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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by Qazwer »

It matters what the market values in Social Science. There are still fields in Economics that can raise a bunch of money and can increase job prospects to do some data analysis or design experiments to get people to spend more money. The PhD has value to the Market.

Now if you want to study Cuneiform. It is back to the 19th century where scholars better be independently wealthy.

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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by chenda »

I have been thinking covid may result in a massive shake up in higher education, especially in the humanities. Why do you need to attend a lecture hall for a professor to give the same lecture year in, year out ?

Do it once, stick it on you tube, job done. Small group discussion irl might be useful, but it can be done on Skype. How can universities justify £100000++ per annum when it can all be online for free or ultra low cost ?

I want to learn about something, I should be able to find dozens of lectures from Oxbridge or Ivy League from the experts in the field. These universities have ample endowment money from centuries of benefactors to keep sufficient numbers of the payroll to enable free higher education for anyone who wants it.

guitarplayer
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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by guitarplayer »

Ha, I get a general impression that according to most, doing research within the PhD framework does not add a lot of value over and above doing research outside of this framework.

I think that possible upsides could be (should have started with it)
* networking, especially if the university is pretty local and the population of students and workers is possibly from the same area. In this sense I think this could be the upside of teaching in general. Not only networking as in getting a future job, but learning about people who have a woodmill in the area, or someone else with various resources
* an example: I helped one guy once who had a small permaculture banana farm, he would give workshops at the local uni. He was not involved in a PhD, but he was involved in local politics.
* Also local unis could possibly have a more didactic component rather than producing groundbreaking research which I am not necessarily up to.
* access to various facilities
* in certain settings, for example being a stats TA in a social science department, it might not take that much time to carry out regular tasks if someone is fluent in maths. There is the 'patience factor' but I would be perfectly able to deal with it.

Qazwer
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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by Qazwer »

If you can help a junior faculty member with their publications, you do not need to do a PhD. Just cut some deal for access and networking. Cutting a deal is cheaper in time. A bunch of schools also will let you audit grad school classes for free especially if you already have a relationship with the department.

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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by ertyu »

Alphaville wrote:
Sun Mar 14, 2021 7:54 am

seriously though, why a phd?
that's where the teaching assistantships are. you generally have to pay for a ma but may get funded + get offered a TA-ship in a PhD. That's how I got my MA. I was in a PhD program which I never managed to complete, but I got awarded a MA for completing 2 yrs of PhD level coursework while I had full funding and the opportunity to make enough for rent, food and beer while TA-ing. Another benefit for me was that I got my MA just for coursework/passing comprehensive exams. I'm reasonably smart but also kinda ADD, I strongly suspect that if I were in a MA program and had to write a MA thesis to gradute, I wouldn't have been able to complete it for the same reasons I wasn't able to complete my PhD: large project, needs to be chunked up (executive function), needs to be worked on regularly and on schedule, requires good time management.

Now, the above applies to the US not the EU, but you get my drift. There are 2 ways to get a free MA: have an employer pay for it, and sign up for a PhD that you quit halfway through.
Last edited by ertyu on Sun Mar 14, 2021 12:27 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: PhD in Humanities / Social Sciences (please throw in upsides of doing it from ERE point of view)

Post by Alphaville »

@guitarplayer

you can just take humanities courses for recreation. e.g. in my fiction workshops there'd always be an old man reminiscing about his war experiences or whatever. then we'd be like "that's not fiction." rinse, repeat.

saw also in another thread your idea about writing some social history of ere or something... a lot of people who write nonfiction books are journalists. in fact journalists make more successful writers than english department graduates. some journalism courses could teach you good writing and research skills--more effectively than, say, a phd in anthropology.

i don't know what your background is, but you could supplement your professional training with studies to make your life more interesting. philosophy courses, history courses, psychology courses... who says you have to stop?

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