One Decisions I’m Glad I Didn’t Make

A couple of weeks ago Michael R. through facebook posted a link to the Chronicle of Higher Education called “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go.”  After reading it was kind of thankful that I didn’t go.

Back in 2003 was I seriously considering returning to the US and getting my PhD. I had bought a GRE preparation book and I was religiously studying the math section for an hour to 90 minutes each day. I wasn’t worried about the verbal section. I had taken an online diagnostic test, I was perfect on the verbal section but so bad on the math that they had to create a new category for me called ignoramus. 

I was a bit surprised by that because I had taken the GRE back in 1992 in order to get into the University of Texas.  At that time I had held my own in the math section. Of course, if you don’t use it you lose it and I certainly hadn’t done any serious math since the math I had done to pass the GRE in 1992.

Of course, one thing about the whole GRE that still kind of irks me is that the 1993 test was no longer considered valid when I considered returning to graduate school in 2003. I’m not entirely sure why. One would think that over time one gets more knowledgeable, wiser and better able to handle the rigors of higher education; especially if one has already jumped through that particular hoop once. Obviously the powers-that-be don’t see it that way. The one thing I have learned from my years in Asia is that people who wield power love to make other people jump through their hoops.

Undaunted by the needless and irrational hoop jumping, I researched specific graduate school programs, and I even went so far as to contact Paul Matsuda directly at the University of New Hampshire to inquire about what my chances would be for getting funding. After an exchange of five or six emails, he said he thought my chances would be pretty good since I had experience in teaching in both ESL and EFL setting as well as experience within the specialization I was intending on concentrating on, that is, Second Language Writing for science and engineering.

Obviously being able to get my PhD at the University of New Hampshire would have been ideal in many ways. I grew up in the area so it was close to my family and very familiar to me. In addition I had spent a year and a half doing substitute teaching in many of the local school districts so I had knowledge of the local schools and probably contacts at many of them as well which would be helpful as the kids reached school age. I even looked into what it would take for me to update my teaching credentials as a possible fall back plan should the whole PhD thing founder for some unknown reason.

I was serious committed to the idea, but the major draw back and probably the main reasons why I decided not to do it was the cost of housing in the area. Although I was fairly confident that I would get some kind of funding to do my PhD, it would not be enough to support a family of four at that time in that place especially in a housing market which was on fire. Queue up Don Ho: “Ah those tiny bubbles…”  After racking up a significant amount of debt the first time I did graduate school, I could not justify doing it again.

Another contributing factor, but not the main factor, was the fact that America had really changed since I had left in 1997, and in many ways it had not changed for the better.  I just couldn’t see going back, raising children and working in such a negative atmosphere. Although living on the other side of the world sheltered me from the worst of it, I still couldn’t completely avoid it. We live in a globalized, information saturated and media obsessed world, so unless you crawl under a rock somewhere in Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard or dig your self a hole at 34.7°N 85.7°E on the Tibetan plateau (link / archive) the chances are pretty good that you cannot escape the influence of the rest of the world. 

Although I would like to blame 9-11 for this change, I know that it’s not the cause. It was merely an intensifier. I don’t think there was a single cause. In fact many American are probably unaware of the changes at all, because they have happened slowly over a long period of time. Even though there is no single cause, there are however lots of identifiable contributing factors. Some factors, like the establishment of the military industrial complex, go back as far as World War Two. Some other obvious contributing factors were Vietnam, Watergate, and disgrace of the Nixon administration. Thus, many of the factors that are influencing the economic, political, social and cultural aspects of American society today go back to the second half of the 20th Century.

One Response to “One Decisions I’m Glad I Didn’t Make”

  1. Maura Says:

    Thanks for the link to this article. Good reading. Brian and I are really enjoying the MA at the moment, and have been considering the PhD. Unless an amazing, and unexpected, source of funding appears though.. it’s highly unlikely. Especially since the MA open the door for the kinds of jobs I want in Asia and allows us to keep finding positions at least in the same area if not same employer.

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