21 February 2009

Financial Aid

Continuing with the theme of financial matters for postgraduates, I'd like to discuss the financial and social pressures of becoming a graduate student. Specifically, I am repeatedly surprised by how many of my friends' parents undervalue (in my opinion) their children's advanced education relative to traditional employment.

I come from a very education-driven family; my parents both have advanced degrees and see those credentials as important means for success. Growing up, I always assumed that I would continue my education beyond a Bachelor's degree, even before I understood what graduate school entailed. Doubtless, that perspective---advanced education as the norm, not the exception---has shaped my view of what's acceptable after finishing college.

Contrary to my experience, many of my friends' parents do not seem to understand the value of advanced degrees. I've had several conversations within the past few months from friends whose parents are pushing them to "get a real job" rather than to go to graduate school. Notably, I had one friend whose (research-heavy) Master's degree work was moving slowly and had run past the graduation deadline for that year. Instead of understanding that research is finicky and might take a few more months, this friend's parents laid on tremendous pressure to finish the Master's degree and start earning money. In the end, the friend finished the Master's a few months after the deadline and got a "real job," but the stress of being pushed by parents like that seemed to make the process really unpleasant. Similarly, I had a conversation with another friend whose parents had vocally expressed their disapproval about applying to a PhD program instead of to jobs. Apparently, this friend's parents did not understand that they would not have to pay for graduate school in science. I'm not sure it would matter if they knew: Graduate stipends are piddling compared to remuneration from jobs in industry.

Even ignoring my biases, I see these views as short-sighted. Sure, your child might spend a few more years in school, but when they come out, they have more knowledge and can start on a higher pay scale than B.S. people. Additionally, they'll have credentials as part of their reputation, and they may have an easier time earning respect because of that. I become frustrated when I see my friends doing something I consider "right" (pursuing higher education) being told by their parents that it is wrong. Short of lecturing to these adults, however, I'm not sure what to do.

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