Sunday, November 4, 2007

World's Smallest Violin

James Taranto linked to this item from the October 25, 2007 Buffalo News under the category of "World's smallest violin." If you don't know what that refers to, the full phrase is, "That the world's smallest violin playing hearts and flowers for you." Jackalope Pursuivant (who, like yours truly and the author of the whine, has a history degree), has a very funny line by line analysis of what this guy did wrong:
I have held four good jobs in the field of history since I graduated. I've been offered interviews for others. For love, I left a decent, promotable, $40,000 a year job in DC. Alternately, I could even now have a great time splitting my time between two national parks in the Northwest. Or, I could be an Army historian in Illinois. Or an NPS fee program manager in northern Arizona. All good historical jobs.

I love a historian's work enough that I'm doubling down my bet. I sent off my grad school application Tuesday. If all goes well, I'll start in December.

What's the difference between him and me? I knew all along that nobody would pay me six figures to be a historian without a PhD, a couple decades of experience, and a few well-placed friends or incriminating photos of museum board members. I bet accordingly.
I actually am very sympathetic to this guy's student debt situation. It is amazing how rapidly the money accumulates--but I do agree with Jackalope Pursuivant: this guy didn't think about the rationality of going to a very expensive private school to get a degree that, under the best of conditions, isn't going to lead to a high paying job.

There is, I think, a good argument for universities doing a bit more to discourage degrees in fields where aren't many jobs. History degree? I enjoyed getting one, but I didn't go into debt to get one. There are degrees out there that do lead to high-paying jobs--and surprise, surprise, they pay well not because of some deep dark conspiracy against liberal arts, but because computer science, electrical engineering, and civil engineering are all fields where you are producing something that the masses want or need.

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