Sunday, September 26, 2010
The Masters Degree - Higher Education, Lower Benefits?
I have a terrible habit of eavesdropping. Really, I do it more than I wish to admit. On Friday afternoon, I stood in the lineup of Stauffer Library's checkout desk, attempting to hold on to my stack of books without having them topple over, when my ears perked up at the conversation that began in front of me between two tall, well-dressed male students. Upon closer inspection, I concluded that they looked slightly older than me and were, most likely, graduate or professional students of some sort. By listening closely, I immediately figured out which faculties they belonged to. Their conversation went something like this:
Tall Boy 1: It's great to see you, I haven't seen you since high school!
Tall Boy 2: It definitely has been awhile! What are you up to?
Tall Boy 1: I'm just finishing up law school here at Queen's. I'm in my third and last year.
*awkward silence between both parties*
Tall Boy 2: Law school? Oh. Congratulations.
Tall Boy 1: What about you, what are you doing?
Tall Boy 2: I'm starting my Master's degree. In History.
Tall Boy 1 (enthusiastically): That's awesome, congratulations!
*even longer awkward silence*
Tall Boy 2 (sarcastically): Congratulations to you too. You have way better job prospects than I do. Thanks. Have a great life.
*Masters walked off in a huff with Lawyer staring after him in bewilderment*
I have to admit, I giggled a little as Masters walked away. His reaction to Lawyer's potential job prospects resembled such elementary-level childish jealousy that it amused me for more than a few minutes. Lawyer turned around, gave me a puzzled smile and shrugged, wondering what exactly happened to make Masters so angry. I shrugged back in amusement, commenting on my own bewilderment.
As I walked home, however, I paused to wonder whether Masters' insecurities had some merit. Childish as his reaction was, I realized that they did. Higher education is incredibly enriching, an avenue to heighten one's knowledge in whatever area they choose. Further, devoting time and effort researching and studying the subjects we love as a career would be a dream come true for those who are incredibly passionate about their fields of study. However, in a world driven by Western consumerist culture, we have to ask ourselves the inevitable question: Is a Masters degree (in the Social Sciences) going to pay off in the end? Pay being the key word.
I think those with Masters degrees in the Arts and Social Sciences have a harder time planning out which job opportunities to pursue compared to those in fields such as Science or Engineering. Graduate degrees in the Social Sciences offer very vague job prospects, as opposed to the more clear-cut fields one can enter with a Masters degree in, say, Education, Environmental Science or Mechanical Engineering. Those with professional degrees (like Mr. Lawyer above) have even greater job prospects waiting for them. Without my plan to attend law school after my year here at Queens, what could I possibly do with my Masters degree in Politics, apart from a career in academia? Clear-cut job prospects don't immediately come to mind. I remember my former LSAT instructor, fresh out of his PhD, complaining about his troubles with the job market and the lack of job opportunity.
Entering the world of graduate study is a fantastic experience. Believe me, I would not trade my experience here at Queen's for anything. But does it pay off in the end? Is a Masters (in the Social Sciences) degree really worth it? Will our job prospects ever become clear-cut? Is pursuing a Masters degree (in the Social Sciences) merely a way to put off deciding what we really want to do with our lives? Do Masters degrees really set us apart from the rest? Such questions worry me.
I don't necessarily have answers to these questions. But I hope those with doubts regarding the use of their graduate degrees find answers soon. As Joel Gray in Cabaret so wisely put it, money makes the world go around, my friends. Will social science graduate degrees pay off? I suppose time will tell.
"The truth is rarely pure and never simple."
- Oscar Wilde