Coevolving Innovations

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Grad school: good or bad for your career?

I saw a snippet on lawyers in the Globe and Mail “Social Studies” section, and tracked down the original blog posting by Penelope Trunk on “Six Myths about Today’s Workplace”. Since I’ve been coaching high school students on careers recently, as well as completing my Ph.D. (as I near 50 years in age), I was entertained by Myth #5:

#5. Going to grad school open doors.

Grad school generally makes you less employable, not more. For example, people who get a graduate degree in the humanities would have had a better chance of surviving the Titanic than getting a tenured teaching job.

When I was in the Ph.D. program the first time (1982-1984), this was true. M.B.A.’s were making higher salaries than Ph.D.s. On the other hand, there’s a big lifestyle difference between high-stress consulting jobs, and teaching at a university. (Business does had an advantage with less bureaucracy than a university, but not all businesses are equal).

And unless you are going to a top business school at the beginning of your career, you should not stop working to get the degree. Go to night school because you will not make up for the loss of income with the extra credential.

This is a really interesting statement, because I did my M.B.A. straight after my undergraduate degree. This was well before the M.B.A. became a popular degree. If I applied today, I wouldn’t be admitted without 2 to 5 years of working business experience. The downside of getting hired before M.B.A.s became really popular is that my starting salary (in Canada) was low, compared to the U.S. statistics.

Furthermore, the population decline in developed countries (i.e. retirement of post-war baby boomers) means that the workforce is shrinking. I’ve been saying that I expect my sons to get better jobs with bachelor’s degrees than my generation did with master’s degrees, because there’s more demand than supply in entry-level positions, now. The opportunity cost of graduate school is lower.

Law school is one of the only graduate degrees that makes you more employable. Unfortunately it makes you more employable in a profession where people are more unhappy. Law school rewards perfectionism, and perfectionism is a risk factor for depression. Lawyers have little control over their work and hours, because they are at the beck and call of clients, and many are constantly working with clients who have problems lawyers cannot solve. These two traits in a job — lack of control over workload and compromised ability to reach stated goals — are the two biggest causes for burnout in jobs.

Now, we’re talking about job content, rather than just degrees. I actually did write the LSAT (circa 1979), but before applying to law schools, decided that it didn’t feel right to me. I believe in good work, but not perfection, and I’m hardly a social crusader. Business worked out much better for me, as a career.

I mostly agree with these 6 myths. They’re at least provocations for discussion on how the world has changed. The career assumptions coming from the baby boom generation probably aren’t valid for the new Generation Y workforce.

1 Comment

  • Wow. what a great set of rules to live by. I’m going to aply this to my work and education from now on. Also, I’ll pass along the info to my children. The suggestions fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but they really are brilliant. Thanks for the info.


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