Dan Drezner passes on a Chicago Tribune report that a lot of people are dropping out of Ph.D. programs because they feel like they don’t “belong.” Dan isn’t particularly sympathetic, noting,

Hand-holding sounds great — except that part of the job of being an academic is being enough of a self-desciplined self-starter that one can focus on research instead of distractions like… er…. blogs.

Plus, if the retention rate improves, it’s not like there’s a booming academic job market out there eager to hire — as Bart Simpson recently pointed out. (links omitted)

Agreed. Indeed, this sounds like the precise opposite of a crisis to me: If one doesn’t fit into the academic culture in the comparatively collegial graduate school environment, one is almost certainly not going to be happy as a professional academic. This is a winnowing process that should be hailed, not cause for alarm.

Update (1909): A little explanation for a point above, sparked by some comments at Dan’s post:

Grad school is, comparatively speaking, fun. There are lots of other bright, motivated students your own age to hang out with and life is fairly structured–all you have to do is get your reading done, turn papers in on time, and whatever your TA’ship requires. The dissertation writing process is the first time that you’re essentially on your own and where a lack of discipline becomes a problem. Not surprisingly, that’s where the lion’s share drop out–they’re insufficiently self-motivated to write the thing. And, if you can’t do that, you’ll never publish as an academic.

(I finished my dissertation reasonably quickly and still didn’t publish a lot. Much of my self-motivation vanished after a few years of chasing jobs and teaching four and five courses a semester, mainly outside my expertise.)

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.