Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Thinking About Graduate School?
About five years ago at this time, I was applying for graduate school. As an undergraduate, I had not considered subjecting myself to any more schooling, but somehow, I changed my mind. Luckily, the whole process was fairly straight-forward, and in March 2007, I was admitted into one of the strangest races ever.
Are you thinking about going to graduate school?
Here's my advice: don't.
Okay, let me qualify that -- by "don't," I really mean, "Don't do it unless you really, truly believe it's the right decision."
"The Ukrainian" and I have this conversation once in a while. As you may have gathered from my (recently updated!) About page, the both of us have logged in many, many hours of school for our ages. You know my story, and "The Ukrainian" is up for his second master's degree (on top of his engineering license and project management certification). We both have our reasons for collecting degrees like baseball cards, but in the end, we agree that the whole thing is generally unnecessary.
If you are considering graduate school, really, really ask yourself why. There might be a few, superficial, "why"s, such as:
- I want to stand out from all the bachelor degree recipients
Version A: I don't have a job and need to increase my chances of hire
Version B: I want to advance in my job
- I want people to respect me
Fair enough, but what are your other reasons? You know, stuff like:
- I'm not comfortable having an identity outside of being a student
- All my friends are doing it, so in order to "keep up with the Jonses," I must also
- I'll make more money so I can continue to "keep up with the Joneses"... iPhone 4S, here we come!
- I genuinely wish to pursue a deep understanding of a certain topic
- I want to see if I can
So my main reason for attending grad school falls into the last of the second category. Through the many chances I had to quit, I reminded myself, "Well, I haven't failed yet, so let's continue." Famous last words.
My negativity toward graduate school journey came up a few times on this blog. In short, my pursuit of "because I can" led to lost money, experiences, and relationships with my friends and family. Not to say that I was left completely barren in these areas, but they did suffer, and it's nothing to take lightly. I think these struggles are part of the deal, and whether you left better or worse for it is something you need to consider before taking the plunge.
Instead of subjecting yourself to the classroom, consider other options. I did some of these things but probably not enough (hence, the schooling):
- If you're working, consider on-the-job training. Yes, you'll have to show some initiative to get it in some form, but that's a part of personal growth.
- If you can, find a mentor in the field you wish to enter. I've had some that I met from networking events. Check online for those; there are professional groups in practically every field that meet for this purpose.
- Do NOT ever come into something (training, networking, mentoring) with the "this will get me a job" attitude. When people see this, it's extremely offputting. Ask questions and all, but don't make your urge for employment/advancement obvious beyond just showing your interest in future possible opportunities and self-development.
- Read, take online courses, look into certification (a goal of mine), or maybe take extension courses. Learn without the commitment of grad school.
- Volunteer. This is kind of like job experience, and you could meet a lot of fun and resourceful people.
Thankfully, graduate school is not permanent (hopefully!), and theoretically, you can back out if needed. MANY of my classmates did this. It's not for everyone, but know that "giving it a shot" is an option. You never know what you're going to gain.
Just some food for thought.