Reason 49 at 100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School is particularly good:
When you build a house, paint a painting, bake a cake, or clean a room, you can step back and see what you have accomplished. Whether you work alone or in a team, being able to contemplate the finished product of your labors is a satisfying experience, a reward for your work. When that labor is further rewarded by a paycheck, it is all the more satisfying. Many modern occupations come with few tangible rewards but at least provide an income. Graduate school offers little in the way of either.
Instead of being able to see the work of your hands or the product of your ideas, you can reflect upon the thousands of hours that you spent reading in preparation for your exams, and how quickly the impractical things that you learned in the process slipped from your mind the moment that you completed them.
How much did you read for prelims? I tried to average a book a day and have no idea how much of it stuck. I am certain of one thing though: I read lots and lots of things that I never used during that test or afterwards only because someone said it might be necessary. I make no claims to know everything. That’s why I have notes.
So why exactly did I do all that reading again? To show off my library? Not in the age of e-books, you don’t. Graduate school in history still works on the coverage model (otherwise it wouldn’t have prelims). Maybe it shouldn’t.
Of course, graduate school does produce a dissertation, but what’s the first thing you have to do get your work published? Translate it into language that somebody outside of your committee might actually read. The dissertation itself is fleeting, and often embarrassing compared to the final product of your research.
If I could be 23 again, I’m not convinced I’d do it all over because I have no confidence that I would achieve the same result. Besides, since I went to Wisconsin I wouldn’t even have a teaching assistants union to help me out anymore.