Thinking About Grad School? Part 2
Help for figuring out if graduate school would help you better pursue God’s calling on your life
Marriage is a live issue for men and women everywhere who consider grad school. If you’re in a relationship, should you delay marriage until you’ve completed an advanced degree (as Chris assumes in Part 1)? If you are married, should you not go to grad school? If you hope to meet someone and get married, will grad school serve as a roadblock?
Chris thinks that by going to grad school, he can (or perhaps should?) delay marriage, and keep dating Jessica for a couple more years. But one-on-one dating for an indefinite period of time, even among Christians, often leads to sexual involvement.“In a nationally representative study of young adults, just under 80 percent of unmarried, church- going, conservative Protestants who are currently dating someone are having sex of some sort.” Mark Regnerus, “The Case for Early Marriage,” Christianity Today, July 31, 2009. Marriage is an institution God envisioned not only to provide for enjoyable, guilt-free sex, but to mold us into His image by forcing us to address the selfishness and pride that invariably come to the fore in an intimate, lifelong bond.
With regard to finances, two people sharing housing, food and utilities tend to have lower per capita costs than those who live alone. So even if you’re both graduate students living on stipends from your research or teaching assistantships, the reality is that if you can pay the bills as a single person, you can pay them as a couple, too. Chris’ idea that grad school somehow requires singleness is simply misguided. Graduate school is demanding, and the work hours (especially with research deadlines in Ph.D. programs) can be unpredictable, but marriage can give a student a sense of stability and discipline that can actually accelerate graduation. That doesn’t mean doing grad school as a single doesn’t have its benefits — you can work odd hours without impacting anyone else. But Chris’ thoughts about marriage more likely reflect a fear of commitment, permanence and responsibility.
And Jenny shouldn’t avoid grad school just to keep herself available for marriage; if she meets someone in grad school, she can get married while earning her degree. Sometimes students (girls and guys) on their way to earning a Ph.D. choose to get out with a master’s degree and enter the work force so they can earn more money and begin saving for a family.
I mentioned earlier the danger of relying solely on a subjective sense of passion for further education (or a romanticized idea of grad school). It’s definitely worth getting advice from wise, older people you trust, particularly folks who have gone to graduate school and/or have some awareness of the ins and outs of your discipline (Proverbs 15:22).
But when you get advice from your professors (and I am speaking as one), take it with a grain of salt. We tend to have a pro-grad school bias. Let’s face it: We all went to grad school, and we opted to stay in the academic world. We’re now in the business of training young minds, so of course we want our students to reach their intellectual potential. Some colleges and universities are particularly keen on getting their students into graduate programs as it raises the school’s prestige in various rankings.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get advice from faculty; you should. But give them permission to be totally honest and to burst your bubble if necessary. William Pannapacker, a professor of English at Hope College, wrote an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go.” He got so much flak that he later published a sequel. You may not agree with everything he says, but he’s spot on when he writes that professors too frequently recommend graduate school to their undergraduate students. We subtly (and perhaps inadvertently) dissuade them from truly counting the cost, from considering the hard realities that graduate school often entails. We also tend to inflate their accomplishments and academic potential, perhaps because in doing so we also elevate ourselves.9 We hate telling students that they’re anything less than excellent. So please give us the space to be real.
Finally, don’t pursue grad school if you’re just trying to delay growing up and going out into the adult world. Grad school is an adult world. It’s a professional experience not to be taken lightly. Chris is a smart guy, and it’s true that an MBA could really open doors for him, but unless he fixes his attitude, the experience won’t be remotely what it could or should be.
Graduate school can be a wonderful way to deepen your academic knowledge in a particular discipline. It might be what’s required to achieve a professional objective (e.g., to become a professor, doctor, lawyer or pharmacist) or to open new doors for advancement in a research, academic or administrative setting. But it does come with a price tag in terms of time and money, so count all the costs.
Right after college, I spent three years working for IBM. After that I chose a Ph.D. program, and I’m really glad I did. While getting a great education, I was able to benefit from outstanding research and teaching opportunities — experiences which really helped me discern where God was leading. Graduate school made it possible for me to now do things I love doing, to play to my strengths and to love God with all my mind in the workforce. Whatever you choose, may God bless you as you seek to serve Him through your profession.
Copyright 2011 Alex Chediak. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Alex Chediak (Ph.D., U.C. Berkeley) is a professor of engineering and physics at California Baptist University. He is the author of Thriving at College , Preparing Your Teens for College and Beating the College Debt Trap . Alex, his wife, Marni, and their three children reside in Riverside, Calif.