Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Thinking About Graduate School?

Note: Sorry if this sounds preachy... it's not meant to be!

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.


  1. These are really good thoughts. I think it's also important to ask yourself whether that grad degree actually IS prestigious in your field. I have friends who went through all that work thinking they would "stand out" and in their fields, it really didn't impress much. I'm sure you have learned tons through your work though, so kudos to you! I am inspired by those who do, because I sure wasn't smart enough or dedicated enough to do it! Ha ha.

  2. Great post. I spent 9.5 years in college - 4 at the undergraduate level and 5.5 at the graduate level. Now I have 3 years of a postdoc under my belt and I literally can not find a job. It's disheartening to not have much to show for my hard work, especially since many of my friends now have legit careers, are buying homes, investing, etc.

  3. Very good post outside of running. I have toyed with the thought of keeping up with myself (Kenley Jones, lol) but I am already myself. I know, that doesn't make sense. But I was advanced from driving to being Safety Director by just being interested and applying myself to practical learning. This isn't what I want to do forever, but I am now in presence of a mentor pursuing Import and export of certain products. With my experience, Practical and self motivation has gotten me thus far. I am not where I totally want to be by a long shot, but this post sure has made me think. Thanks for sharing. Take care.

  4. You have no idea how timely a post this is for me. I'm right in the middle of that process and I think my reasons for doing so are somewhere between "I know I'm smart enough to get a PhD...now I should prove it!" and "Hopefully, this will allow me to more than just data entry and literature searches" (which apparently, is the only thing you can do with a MA in Psych... who knew?) I'm pretty much giving up the next 3-5 years of my life here...I hope I know what I am doing.

  5. We went through this this past year in our house. I have two kids who are considering grad school. One knows *exactly* why he's going, the other wasn't quite sure why other than she thought it would be fun to do. I think we've set her straight....

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