Can I have teaching cake and eat it too?
April 4, 2009 4:30 AM   Subscribe

Planning on a master's in teaching, but professors keep pushing me in the direction of a PhD. I'd like to get a doctorate one day, I'm just not so sure it's a good idea right now. Am I missing something?

Almost done with my Political Science/History undergrad. I've always loved history, but I enjoy presenting it much more than writing papers and doing research. I also feel scared about stories of adjuncts living in virtual initial idea was actually to go into teaching, save up money, and then return to grad school later on. Am I way off base with this idea?
posted by StrikeTheViol to Education (34 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
You are not off base at all! Your plan sounds sensible. Take your profs' advice as a compliment--they think you are bright and would enjoy seeing you in their field. They are not being entirely responsible in encouraging anyone to get a PhD right now. You are smart to tread carefully.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:48 AM on April 4, 2009

Well, it depends on what age group you want to teach. I have encountered the same push you have from professors, especially since I make good grades and work hard, but I have learned that (in my case) it is more about them trying to groom me to work with them. It's a compliment, but it's not what I want. I think few professors can understand why one would want to teach high school students, rather than university students. If you're wanting to teach at a university level, then yes, you'll need the doctorate to do any significant work and/or teaching. If it's just secondary or primary you're after, you really only need a master's or certification.

When I express that I am interested in teaching secondary students, and therefore unlikely to need a doctorate, the response I get most often seems to be less about my furthering my own education and more about why I don't want to teach "real students" who "care about learning" at university. Since I don't buy into that mantra teenagers don't care about learning, it doesn't really work with me.

Anyway, that's just my experience and my understanding of the situation. Don't go after a PhD unless you want to get one for yourself or unless you want to teach at an institution or level at which you need it.
posted by metalheart at 4:53 AM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

For a start, you should probably think of it as a compliment. I have far more students in any given year who want to keep doing what they're doing and don't see their own limitations than strike me as having the potential to actually go on. Most professors will tell you similar stories and we are much more accustomed to working up a "Well, Joe, maybe if you're going to apply, you should have a backup plan" hints/speeches. If more than one professor is *encouraging* this, then you presumably have some rare gifts.

FWIW, I wouldn't say that grad students live in squalor. They tend to live better than undergrads, if not as well as people with regular jobs. But if remuneration is an enduring concern for you, you most likely won't make a lot more money long-term as a professor than you would as a public school teacher.
posted by el_lupino at 4:55 AM on April 4, 2009

Your professors are pushing you to the ph.d because without it you cannot teach at the college level. You should be flattered; they must think quite highly of your work to push you towards the ph.d. I'm in history and I discourage most of my students who show an interest in graduate school unless they wow me with their work and work ethic. Furthermore, if they must think you have a good shot at getting a "full ride"-- full funding or very close to it.

HOWEVER, if you feel you are not ready for a ph.d, you are incredibly wise to consider MA programs. I teach in a department with one, and we see it as a time when bright students like yourself can figure out whether they want to go into teaching or go for the ph.d. So you are in my opinion approaching the choice in an unusually mature manner. In fact, I cannot recommend highly enough taking the course you've described.

The only people who belong in a phd program are deluded individuals (here I'm referring to myself) who could not imagine any other life than one as a professor. The danger of a ph.d program is that once you're there, it is very hard to leave for another career path. Sure some people do it, but without any institutional support.

An MA is two years of your life, whereas a phd is at the bare minimum five, usually more. You could apply for both and after two years of a phd program leave with the MA. I advise you not to do that.

I should mention the downside of an MA: it costs money, whereas a top-flight phd program does not, and apparently you are perceived to have the ability to get into one of those programs.

But, and this is the big BUT-- that aptitude alone is not a reason to go for the ph.d at this point in your life.

Look for funded MA's-- there are a few out there, and think of it as an investment that could pay as for itself, insofar as starting salary in teaching in a primary or secondary school will be higher from the start.

A final, and highly recommend option, is to teach for a year or two and then see how you feel about more schooling. You may decide that a ph.d or MA in Education makes more sense, if you remain passionate about teaching.

Anyway, I could ramble on about this subject all day. I teache MA students, and I love students like you who think for themselves. Feel free to me-mail me and we can talk further if you'd like.
posted by vincele at 4:58 AM on April 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

As others have said, it's a big compliment. But I think your plan sounds great - get the MA and then work for a few years to see how you feel. (Both about teaching and about your general life plan...a lot can change in the few years after undergrad.)

Also, consider burnout. I worked for 3 years in between my MA and PhD. Without this break, I wouldn't have been able to finish the PhD. Going straight from a BA to PhD would have been way too much school for me at one time.
posted by meerkatty at 5:20 AM on April 4, 2009

Oh, just to clarify, it's not an MA in History, it's this:
posted by StrikeTheViol at 5:23 AM on April 4, 2009

I agree that it is a compliment. I teach high school and I LOVE it. However, I wish I had gone on to complete my EdD (10 years ago) when my professors were bugging me to do it. I would have more options. I could go back to school and most of it would not cost me a dime....but I have now grown accustom to making more than a student. Also, I am afraid I couldn't get as sweet of a job as I have now. Especially, with school districts cutting back.

If I would have known then what I know now... I would have continued my education, got my EdD and still taught high school.
posted by nimsey lou at 5:48 AM on April 4, 2009

I expect that the profs have also seen plenty of students who have said, "I'll get the Ph.D. later" and then never did. For most people, such "someday" plans never happen ("someday" never gets any closer like "September 2009" does), and going back to school once you're working is hard. So if it's important to the profs that you get a Ph.D., it's also going to be important to them to see you start now, as they are seeing "someday" as "it probably won't happen."
posted by winston at 6:19 AM on April 4, 2009

I earned my M.S. before the PhD. This was in science, no less (virtually impossible to really move up without the doctorate and pretty damn rare for people to go for the master's first these days). I'm grateful that I did. I came to my doctorate with far more real world experience than the vast majority of my peers, and completely able to handle the work efficiently and successfully. While many people spend months making all of the typical mistakes in a lab, I already did that and was paid well to boot. I was also ready to communicate with my mentors on a higher level than most other first years.

The idea of saving up money before going back to living on a stipend (which isn't living in squalor, but yeah, it hurts) is a good one. It definitely helped defray moving costs, allowed me to acquire nice things like a Shun chef's knife, giant tv, etc. But, I'm not going to lie: once you get used to making real world money, going back to living on a stipend is particularly painful. Going back to shitty health insurance also hurts. You have to really be aware of the need to budget yourself, down to every last dollar. YMMV
posted by sickinthehead at 6:34 AM on April 4, 2009

I'm a NY certified teacher in social studies and elementary ed, so feel free to email me any questions you have.

Once you're done with your undergrad, you have to take teaching methodology courses and student teach. Typically takes a year to finish those requirements. None of those courses can be applied to a master's in history. (It's HARD to have a job while you're doing your student teaching because most programs have you teaching all day and going to class at night.) Once all that is complete and you apply to the state for your Initial Provisional certificate, you will have five years to complete two years of teaching and get a master's degree in order to apply for your Permanent Professional certificate. If you don't meet those requirements, you'll lose your certification and you can't teach any more unless you complete a teaching certification program again.

When you begin teaching, depending on which district you're employed by, you'll be eligible for salary differentials when you complete additional university credits (as an example, here's a salary schedule for NYC teachers). Since you plan on going to grad school anyway, it's a nice way to get paid for going. Also check into the Teachers of Tomorrow program, which is a loan forgiveness program for teachers who teach in "high needs schools". Federal Direct loans from the Dept. of Ed. can be forgiven after 5 years of teaching, as well.

Keep this in mind: finding a job as a social studies teacher is difficult in a good economy. Social studies jobs are always few and far between. And right now, a lot of districts have put a freeze on hiring and have even eliminated teaching positions in NY. Many people who have lost their jobs in other sectors of the economy are going back to school to become teachers, according to an article in the Christian Science Monitor a few weeks ago. It's not a field that's as easy to break into as it was in the past.

Being a first and second year teacher is extremely difficult and the workload is insane. Going to grad school in those first couple of years would be hard. I work in my classroom from 6-6, I do two hours of work every night at home, and I spend most of my Sundays working. Even with all that, my principal constantly says I'm not doing enough and makes me feel like I'm going to get fired if I don't do more. I'm teaching elementary school, so YMMV.

If I were in your position, I'd work on the master's and get a little job to help make ends meet, then consider teaching once finished.
posted by HotPatatta at 6:45 AM on April 4, 2009

REAL WORLD experience is a very important part of any education.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:50 AM on April 4, 2009

I just checked out the program you linked to. You should go for it, esp. since the teaching certification is built right in. Sounds like a good deal.
posted by HotPatatta at 6:51 AM on April 4, 2009

Many master's degrees are pointless—a couple of years of life and tens of thousands of dollars of debt, and the student comes out with something that doesn't make them much more marketable than someone with a bachelor's degree in the same subject. It doesn't sound like that's the case here for you, but it probably flavors your professors' attitude towards master's degrees.

I've always loved history, but I enjoy presenting it much more than writing papers and doing research.

Do not do a PhD.
posted by grouse at 7:15 AM on April 4, 2009

I'm wondering if the market isn't going to drive many Universities to hire more Instructors (in addition to TAs/adjuncts) than tenure-track profs. I, too, disregarded the advice of my mentor, though I had wanted/planned to get my doctorate "at some point." In the end, however, I ended up getting a "permanent" Instructorship--this way I get to teach college level without all the publish-perish and related crap. It's win-win except for the pay, which is fairly dismal. My 9-month contract, in FL, is for $35K--a bit less that if I was starting out with an MA, teaching Public School. What's worse, the raises aren't really noticeable (I have to imagine after 5 years at Public School I'd have gotten more than $2K in raises)--though, with summer teaching and other stuff, I can make about $45K, which is fine and dandy for a 5 or 6 hour, 2 or 3 day work-week. Plus, "I get older but the girls stay the same age." ;o)
posted by whatgorilla at 7:20 AM on April 4, 2009

You could always pull a savage burn on a doctoral program by sticking around for a couple years and netting an "exit master's." Not all programs do this, but (at least in the sciences) quite a few will either award a Master's degree after two or three years of (funded) study, at which point you could quit the program. Of course, this would require essentially lying to your colleagues and advisers for the better part of your degree, but people do it occasionally.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 7:35 AM on April 4, 2009

I think I was unclear to some. It's an MAT, not a history MA.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:48 AM on April 4, 2009

I went through this exact same thing when I was thinking about graduate schools. Initially, I was considering MAT programs; my professors were pushing, hard, for me to apply to PhD programs. They said some insulting things about "school teachers" during these conversations. For me, this was my first experience with the divide between academics and those who make different life choices--something I've unfortunately seen a lot more of since choosing to get my MFA in creative writing.

Take what they're saying as a compliment, sure (they like your work and think you're bright enough to continue in academia), but I would be aware that this might not be the only time you'll encounter the attitude that academia is the only acceptable path.

You might consider seeking out a two-year funded master's, perhaps in the manner that solipsophistocracy describes, as the teaching experience you'll get there, and the degree, will enable you to teach in private schools. Though initially these schools sometimes pay less, these jobs have very high job satisfaction, especially when compared to public school teachers. Of course, you'd be able to get these positions with an MAT too--but if you ever decided to turn around and get a PhD, you'd likely have to start nearly from scratch.

Also, for what it's worth re: TA/adjunct pay. Where I live (North Florida), TAs get paid around $10,000 for a 2/2 load (two classes in the fall, two in the spring). Adjuncts at the nearby community college get the same pay for a 4/4 load. This has hardly been a livable wage while I've been in graduate school (I qualified for food stamps), and most of my peers survive off credit cards and student loans. It certainly wouldn't find teaching twice for the same wage acceptable--you could easily work full time at a grocery store and earn as much! And teaching is a much more demanding job than ringing groceries. So I think that your concerns about wages and job availability are very, very valid.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:57 AM on April 4, 2009

My husband is in the exact same boat as you right now. He just decided on a masters degree in History/Education rather than a PhD in Political Science with the included certification.

We are in Stamford, CT and have talked to several professors and teachers in the area while considering his options. First off, it may be hard to get a position as a History teacher in high school but if your professors think you should take a PhD track then believe in their confidence in your potential. There will always be positions for History/Social Studies teachers in public schools. There is just a lot of competition. If you really shine though, you will find a job. You are also in an area surrounded by a ton of school districts to choose from.

It is EXTREMELY hard to get a job in the colleges/universities in this area right now and I can only assume it is the same elsewhere in the country. Not to mention how impossible it is to get on a tenure track with benefits available to you. Things may change in the several years it will take to finish a PhD, but if they do not, you have just spent a large chunk of your life working towards a goal that may be near impossible. My husband came to the conclusion that he can always work on a PhD part time while he works in a high school if he decides college is really where he wants to be.

I've always loved history, but I enjoy presenting it much more than writing papers and doing research.

I have to agree that you should start teaching sooner rather than putting it off. A PhD is almost ALL research and writing and will take many years to finish.

Also an option to consider is that you can work at a community college with only a masters. This can be a very rewarding job as you will find a high percentage of students, (especially older students,) that are very dedicated to learning.
posted by trishthedish at 7:59 AM on April 4, 2009

"I certainly wouldn't find teaching twice as much for the same wage acceptable," rather.

Really have to learn not to comment on Ask before I have coffee . . .
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:19 AM on April 4, 2009

Someone recently posted this great link on AskMe. Go read it, it talks about all the students who go into Humanities PhDs on the encouragement of their professors, who get out and find that the promised jobs are just not there.

Anyway, I well remember the pressure you're getting. I can't really blame profs for wanting to "recruit" their brightest students into academia. Also, remember that the profs at your school are the success stories - they have tenure at a good university. Add that to the natural idealism of most academics (they really have to be optimists to have gone into academia) and the fact that few have spent any real time out of academia, and, well...take it as a compliment, but do your own thing.

One other thing you might want to do is get some advice on the best way to arm yourself for a social studies job search, since it is such a difficult field to break into. There might be a better way to go than the MAT. Anyway, it couldn't hurt to get some insider advice before you take out loans on a degree.
posted by lunasol at 8:54 AM on April 4, 2009

Your professors think that you're a smart person who would be a good teacher. And if they didn't think that teaching college was the best kind of teaching, they wouldn't be teaching college. Hence their encouraging you to get a Ph.D.

But if you want to teach high school, the MAT is the right answer for you right now. Best of luck.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:41 AM on April 4, 2009

Do the MAT, and also consider community college teaching (you'll need a subject-area MA/MS, but you'll be better prepared for classroom management than most people coming out of a strictly academic program).

I left my first graduate program with an MA, but I had also managed to swing a teaching assistantship (normally reserved for PhD-track). I went directly into teaching community college freshman composition and LOVED it: some fresh high-school graduates, some returning students near retirement age, some students from the local university saving money by taking core classes at the community college. It was wonderful and exhausting and I'd have kept doing it if I hadn't really needed medical insurance (ah, adjunctery). I ended up doing a PhD in a different field, finishing it 13 years after I finished my MA.
posted by catlet at 10:04 AM on April 4, 2009

Have you heard the joke where two female professors are talking and the older one says, "When I started here, this whole department was men-only." Then, the younger one asks, "Was it adjunct-only, too?"

It's a funny joke if you are tenured but most people don't get it. I work on the administrative side of a school of education and I think there are legitimate reasons to get a PhD or an EdD in teaching, but I do not think there are very many classroom teachers who need one. If you were planning on getting into administration, school psychology, school counseling, or education policy, getting a doctorate would be a good idea. But for classroom instruction I can't think of a reason to move all the way to a terminal degree.

You may get pressure to move to a doctorate for other reasons but always ask for the university to make clear how and how much it will fund doctoral work. Almost all of the doctoral students I have met have had to pay for their own education unless the programs are being funded by a school or school district.
posted by parmanparman at 12:04 PM on April 4, 2009

I agree with all the rest that you should accept your professors' advice to take a PhD simply as a statement on your abilities (they think you could do it) rather than as objective advice on what is best for you.

If you want to teach at the secondary or primary level, then you only need an education degree. Research is a calling; if you don't have it, you will hate doing a PhD. And PhD research is not the kind of work one can just grin and bear (at least in humanities/social science, because it is so solitary); love of research is the only thing that really can get one through the tougher parts with your mental health intact. I'm still on the fence myself, 2/3 of the way through my own thesis research and writing.

That said, if you have a desire to take a masters in history/political science (a masters, for instance, can be very good for somone in secondary education), one way to get better funding is to apply to combination Masters/PhD programs (as many PhD programs in the US are) and then to drop out after the masters part. This is a way to get some graduate education without being bankrupt. The work required is often the same and primarily course-based with some short original research papers. It made me sick to think that there were masters students in my graduate courses paying $25,000 a year to do exactly the same work as I was with a full tuition scholarship and a living stipend of $18,000/year. I thought they deserved the chance for funding as much as we did, even if they didn't want to or weren't sure whether they wanted to go on to a PhD.
posted by jb at 12:24 PM on April 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'd like to get a doctorate one day, I'm just not so sure it's a good idea right now.... I've always loved history, but I enjoy presenting it much more than writing papers and doing research.

I'd be curious why you want to get the doctorate someday if you don't like research. Grouse is right — you won't enjoy getting one unless the research is something you love.

(If the goal to be able to teach college, you might look into teaching at a community college or a less research-oriented private college. Many will hire teachers without doctorates, and some, from what I hear, are pretty good places to work.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:43 PM on April 4, 2009

(If the goal is to be able to teach college. Good lord.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:53 PM on April 4, 2009

I have a M.A.Ed, and I think it's wise to put off obtaining a Ph.D. if you are not that excited about the idea right now. I agree with parmanparman, if presenting History (and presumably, interacting with students) is what you love, a Ph.D. might be overkill that puts you in line for higher adminstrative position in Education, but without the classroom experience that would better equip you best for those positions. Just keep on the lookout for a school district that would help you with tuition and/or other forms of professional development once you start teaching.
posted by hellogoodbye at 1:25 PM on April 4, 2009

Let me second lunasol's link above (the linked article is Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don't Go), and there's also a follow-up article Just Don't Go, Part 2.

None the less, there is an argument to be made for getting a PhD in history (or an EdD in Education) so long as your career path is high-school teaching. In public schools, there's a rigid salary chart that's based solely on education and years of experience; see this link for New York salaries (probably out of date). An MA/MAT starts at $51 thousand, while a PhD/EdD starts at $57. Private schools apply a similar scale (although you can do a bit of negotiating as well). If you consider this difference in income over the life of your career, it makes sense to spend a few extra years to get a PhD.

As mentioned above, there's nothing wrong with spending a few years teaching before returning to grad school for a PhD. You might discover that teaching's not for you, and it would be nice to discover that early in the game before sinking too much time and effort into a career you now no longer want.

If/when you do decide to get your PhD in history, stay away from Harvard/Columbia/Yale. Those are for future academics (and future taxicab drivers), and would be a waste of your time and money. Instead, find the friendliest and most supportive department you can, and find someone in that department who seems really cool and is doing interesting work and whose graduate students seem happy. Oh, and the first question you should always ask to the department is, "How long do your grad students take to finish?"

My grad school roommate spent twelve years in a PhD program. Twelve years! After a few adjunct positions at various colleges, she's now facing unemployment next year. Don't let that be you. Anything over six years is ridiculous, and you should really try to do it in four or five. You don't need a prestigious degree or a lengthy dissertation that can be made into a book. All you need is a few years to study a particular area of history or political science that you really enjoy, and hopefully will make you into a better teacher. Look at small, not-so-prestigious schools that have some happy researchers working in your favorite area of history.

Good luck.
posted by math at 2:49 PM on April 4, 2009

An old professor of mine, Phil Agre, wrote a practical essay on undergrads considering grad school that is well worth reading.
posted by HotPatatta at 3:25 PM on April 4, 2009

If/when you do decide to get your PhD in history, stay away from Harvard/Columbia/Yale. Those are for future academics (and future taxicab drivers), and would be a waste of your time and money. Instead, find the friendliest and most supportive department you can, and find someone in that department who seems really cool and is doing interesting work and whose graduate students seem happy. Oh, and the first question you should always ask to the department is, "How long do your grad students take to finish?"

I strongly disagree with this advice. If you do a PhD in History, apply to the best departments for your specialty, and where you can get funding. If this happens to be Harvard, Columbia or Yale, and you are accepted, then go there - the funding will be good. And it is funding that has the most impact on how much trouble graduate students have finishing - in the Ivy League the average for history is 6-7 years (including the masters), and that's because of good funding. It's over 10 at my poorly funded undergraduate university.

If it happens than an Ivy League or well-known/well-funded university does not have a strong department in what you want to study, you definitely should not go there just for the name (but you should still only go where you can get good funding). But there is no reason to avoid them even if you do not wish to move into an academic career. There is no academia/taxi-cab option on your diploma.

It's also a big assumption on the part of the other commentator - or perhaps a bad experience - that these departments are not friendly. Departmental culture is based on the personalities of those in them - there are friendly prestigious departments, and there are unfriendly prestigious departments. And history departments can themselves be so large and diverse that the culture is sub-department specific - you may have a really friendly and close-knit medieval studies community, while the modern European historians live like pandas.
posted by jb at 6:40 PM on April 4, 2009

By "good funding", I mean full funding - no tuition and a good living stipend/salary. This level of funding is recent for prestigious American universities (they didn't offer it in the 1990s), but now is getting common enough that it makes sense to only go where it is offered if you plan to do a long degree like a PhD.

But that's all a moot point, since it's clear that you don't wish to do a PhD. But should you decide at some future date to look into research based degrees (MA or PhD), you should follow the scholars and the funding - and forget about name/prestige (for or against). Go where there are good people, and they give you a good scholarship, and then you will be ahead academically and financially.
posted by jb at 6:46 PM on April 4, 2009

jb's two previous posts are worth careful study. I agree completely with his point that funding is paramount. You should definitely not go into debt for a PhD, and should instead only go to a university that offers a (relatively) generous stipend.

But here's the thing about the upper-echelon schools such as Havard, Columbia, etc. These schools are really focused on producing academics, and a grad student with the ultimate goal of being a high-school teacher might not get the same level of attention or support as a grad student who's planning a life in academia. But ultimately it's your decision, and as jb points out, department cultures vary widely (and wildly) from school to school and even within a given program. All you need is a few good people working in your area of interest who will support you in your career path.
posted by math at 4:52 PM on April 5, 2009

These schools are really focused on producing academics, and a grad student with the ultimate goal of being a high-school teacher might not get the same level of attention or support as a grad student who's planning a life in academia.

I'd also point out that applicants to PhD programs (and most especially applicants to elite, prestigious institutions) who are honest about their intentions to become high school teachers after graduation are very, very unlikely to secure a funded spot. It doesn't matter how brilliant the student is. There may be many terrific departments where one can find funding with this ultimate goal in mind, but the doctoral programs at universities like Harvard and Columbia are not in the business of (intentionally) educating future secondary school teachers. And I say that without even a hint of value judgment. They want to spend their money on scholars who can continue to bring prestige to their program/field. Therefore, I suspect that your initial advice is correct: If the OP wants to pursue a PhD in order to teach high school after all of the considerations above, don't bank on getting in on that sweet ivy league funding.
posted by theantikitty at 7:28 PM on April 6, 2009

Although the OP made it clear that his ambitions lie elsewhere, I just want to reiterate that Jb, math and theantikitty are absolutely right. It would be absurd to stay away from an Ivy League school, or any school, because of preconceptions about the environment.

I cringe when I hear my MA students tell others "don't apply to school X because they are snobs."

It cannot be emphasized enough that one should consider only the schools that give you full tuition and a comfortable stipend so you don't have to work or take out a loan. Those programs most likely overlap with the leaders in your field. If you don't get the funding, think of that as a sign that you will not do well on the job market.

Here is a list of what to think about when choosing a phd program, in order of importance. I come from a History background, by the way. (why, yes I am procrastinating today)

1) Consider only schools that offer you full funding.
2) Don't go straight from undergrad. You need a break even if you think you don't.
3) Of the schools that offer you full funding, choose the one with the advisor whose style and personality meshes with your own the best. Ask yourself: do you want a close relationship, or are you ok with a distant, rarely-there kind of advisor? This, next to funding, is the most important factor and biggest source of grad student unhappiness.
4) Look at the other students in the program. Are they the types who would hide books from each other in the library? What do they say about your niche in the department and your advisor? 5) What is the department's and your niche's success on the job market? This will be important to you, but knowing now its success doesn't necessarily portend your success in 5-8 or more years down the line.
6) Where do you want to be: semi-isolated to get your work done faster, or located in a bustling city?
7) Get finished as soon as possible. Some advisors will tell you otherwise, but I strongly disagree with this advice.
8) See 1

And sadly it is true: you will not get the same amount of institutional support if you reveal your intentions lie outside the academy, or even hint at doubts about becoming a professor.

As I believe theantikitty said, if you reveal such intentions you're not going to get accepted to a prestigious program in the first place. Humanities phd programs are in the business of churning out professors, and absolutely nothing else. I think it's ludicrous, given the state of the job market and the fact that people's interests and ambitions naturally evolve over time, but there it is.
It is one of the few reasons to consider an MA instead of a PhD.

Finally I would add that while you're putting your application together, you should talk to grad students in the programs you'd like to be in, make polite contact with your ideal advisor on some pretext (other threads deal with how to do this) and consult your present or past professors for feedback about which writing sample to submit and about your statement of purpose-- not to mention advice about everything else.

If you follow the advice your professors give you, you will probably do very well. Scared to death as I was, and doubting I had any business being at a prestigious school, I got into my number one choice and many more schools I had only dreamed of.

Sorry for the length. I thought it was important to put my two cents out there and to reiterate the good advice of jb, math and theantikitty.
posted by vincele at 9:22 AM on April 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

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