Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Top 5 reasons why Graduate Studies are (actually) encouraged

In my last post, I was discussing why a bachelor-degree drop-out may have a better chance at earning more money than a graduate with doctorate. Now, I share my top 5 reasons on why, irrespective of the grim picture for the graduates, is graduate studies encouraged:

1. To compete with other countries

Countries are constantly competing with one another. China, a once developing third world country is now aspiring to excel US in economic and military might. It would have never been possible without the strides in science and technology. Even in India, which was once dependent on farm produce is increasingly dependent on IT services for its GDP. The significance of science and technology and consequently graduate education could not have been well said than Mr. Bill Gates himself. So, in short, higher studies fuel economy and country's might, without which the status and prominence of the country itself would be lost. This one of the reasons, why every country is trying to promote education, particularly higher education. And a very noble one. However, what is there for an individual? While some may argue that while the country grows individual grows it cannot be the case for everyone. As when the country grows, increase in inflation would offset the increase in income. Second, corruption and nepotism grows, making it difficult for people without money or influence.

2. To generate cheap labor for research

Don't get me wrong, but research is costly. Getting qualified individuals for the job is much more. The funding usually provided for research in the universities are highly insufficient to hire contract or consulting scientists. So, most of the Universities and laboratories tries to get things done by exploiting young graduates who have energy and are ready to work without any benefits, in the hope of landing a good position someday. From my experience, I cannot blame the scientists. They are very helpful. Sometime, might go out of their way to get you a position. However, they can only do so much when  the funding cuts limits the number of academic and research recruitment (think about superdocs and junior scientists). But what is disturbing is that none would ever say that by pursuing PhD you are going to put your economic future at risk! I definitely don't know if those scientists hope things would get better, or colluding with their political bosses, or forced not to sensitize the next graduate or outright selfish... In any case, the final sufferer is the graduate. 

3. To exploit workforce

Mr. Bill Gates, Warren Buffet were trying to promote STEM education. However, it seems his own company is not inclined to even give a chance to STEM graduates (postdocs) other than from Ivy league universities. Personally, when I doing my undergraduate degree in engineering Microsoft wouldn't even set their foot on our university irrespective of the fact that Tata, Cognizant and a whole lot holds our university in good esteem. Trying to prove myself, was one of my motivations to pursue higher studies. Anyway, that is a different story. However, their constant promotion is only likely increase the workforce supply, which would naturally lead to the exploitation of workforce. For example, many IT companies in India force their employees to work over 16 hrs without weekends and holidays. I was once penalized, as not being time inflexible, for completing my work before 18h00. The employees have no say because, they are easily replaceable with someone with a need. In the case of recession, some companies laid off their employees but they had no reason to, most of their projects are long-term and most of them saw hike in their profits, generated by these lay-offs. They could do so due to the huge supply of workforce...

In my perspective, Mr. Gates, is either trying to generate cheap labor for his industry or is completely misinformed of the reality.

4. To attain social status

This is a very common reason for parents motivating their children to become graduates and is more common when they are from socially/economically backward community. I believe, this is their subconscious drive to prove that they are equal. While education does bring some social status, the ultimate status is determined only by one's paycheck... Even if the person is a noble laureate, he gets his insurance coverage only based on his premium and net worth, not on his contribution...!

5. To attain economic status

Many believe that higher education would lead to better income. There is some truth in that but also a lot of lies. As have indicated in my previous post, an undergraduate is likely to derive more benefits. This could be justified by the plethora of job opportunities available to them and low debt accumulated during those undergraduate studies. Further, since they start early, they are likely to accumulate more over the years. However, the situation would change immediately once you venture beyond your undergraduate degree. With Masters, the opportunity reduces, reduces further with PhD and proceeds towards zeros as the number of years in one's postdoc increases. Take my case for example, I left a nice job to do graduate studies in robotics. Yes, it is a very good subject with lot of civilian and military applications. The consequence, I'm now desperately hunting for a job after a PhD in remote sensing and 2 years of experience as a postdoc as my funding would run out in another 6 months. 


Now comes the interesting question, irrespective of the risks involved, how and why is that many of the articles continue to sing paeans encouraging graduate education? First, these studies project amazing life-time earnings based on past earners, who now have comfortable in jobs and have a decade or more years to retire. Those studies didn't take into account the present job market and its evolution over time to predict its future state. They conveniently left out the truth about the risks involved and were also "unethical" in failing to highlight the limits of their analyzes. Regarding why they do this, it may probably be to reduce competition. For example, if every one knows the truth about graduate education, they would try to emulate people in power i.e., businessmen and politicians, which would increasingly make the market competitive. Since, it is impossible to derive economic benefits from a perfectly competitive market, the best alternative for those in power is to make the people believe in a system of long-duration education. This would reduce the competition immediately and would also shift the unemployment crisis to a later date. 

This analysis is based on an average perspective. Ivy leaguers and "close-enough"s get preferential treatments, so they may not agree with this. And obviously certain subjects would be better preferred than other. These aspects are not discussed in this study.

Do you have any personal experience that buttress or counter the arguments in this post?
I would more than happy to hear from people with different views...!

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