Friday, September 17, 2010

Motivation To Go To Grad School.

I was not motivated to go to graduate school for the money (despite this earlier post) or because of the state of the job market.  I wanted to go because I love physics and knew that in order to "be a physicist" studying the types of physics I was interested in I would need to get a PhD.

However, this plot made by PhD Comics gathered from from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics suggests that the state of the job market may be a major factor determining whether people decide to enter grad school or not.  As is noted, fluctuations in grad school enrollment in science and engineering and fluctuations in unemployment are strongly correlated.  When unemployment goes up, more people start going to grad school.



  1. Cervantes,

    Yes. :)

    Actually, how much bearing the job market has on people entering the graduate school I'm not sure. However I know many grad students who are remaining in grad school without graduating hoping the job market will improve.

  2. Some informal statistics from the graduate admissions committee in my department have shown that the percent of applicants coming from jobs (as opposed to those coming directly from undergrad) was at a roughly 5 year high last year. I think a lot of people who decided on grad school do so because of poor future prospects or to gain an edge for rare but coveted opportunities, not because they themselves got fired.

  3. It would also be interesting to look at how much of those bumps occur in programs designed for M.Eng. (1 year), M.S. (2-3 year), and PhD (5-6 years). I bet the majority of the variation occurs in the 1 year degrees.

  4. Nick, that is interesting. Does the admissions commette care in anyway if someone was applying to grad school as an undergraduate versus someone who has been outside of academics for a couple years and is coming therefore from a "real job". Ie... does not going to grad school straight off hurt you or help you when applying to grad school?

    I agree with the 1 year degree comment. That would be interesting.

  5. Joe,
    There are only two ways in which coming from a job would matter that come to mind. The first is if your GRE scores are more than a couple years old. We really want to know what you know now as opposed to what you used to know. The second is if you picked up any potentially useful skills. For example, if you were a working as a machinist or if a programmer those are definitely bonuses. I'm sure we could dream up further examples, but generally it's not a big deal one way or the other.

  6. Is it not better than standing in unemployed line?

  7. Anonymous,

    For me, grad school is more pleasurable than standing in the unemployment line.

  8. Personally, I think you'd have to have a very warped sense of economics to believe that a PhD would somehow serve you better economically. The opportunity costs are enormous!!

    But yes, I'm grateful to bringing home a paltry poverty-level income when there are plenty who are not bringing home any money at all!


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