to grad school or not to grad school

It is probably a symptom of the onset of dementia.  I mean, grad school?  Expensiveness?  Schoolness?  Constant deadlines for writing things no one will pay me for that I have no say in?  Have I repressed the fact that at the end of my BA degree I was so burnt out that I was fantasizing about becoming a peanut farmer in South America?

But the thought comes.  And goes.  And comes.  And then comes back again.  I mean, wouldn’t it be sweet to be something like the leading academic geek on something like gender representations in sci fi or anarchism in fiction?  Wouldn’t it be the coolest thing ever to get a call from Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy to be one of the consulting geeks on their oh-so-delicious podcast?  Yes.  Oh my god yes.

You spend an hour talking to your friend who goes to conferences to present on the Mormon implications in Twilight, and you think, yeah, I could spend my life getting paid to talk about this sort of thing.  Maybe not the Mormon implications in Twilight, but you know, my version of that.  Post-apocalyptic fiction and the modern Zeitgeist.  Female representations in science fiction and fantasy.  Etc.

There are many parts of academia that I really love, and the reason I burnt out at the end of college was my insistence on taking too many credits while simultaneously trying to write a thesis.  I was all “oh shit it’s going to end so I better take ALL the classes.”  It was a bad idea.  Oh well.

So, recently, I found myself contemplating it rather seriously.  Grad school!  I love reading and writing, so actually, as long as I am not over-committing myself, school is something that I really enjoy.  The thought of getting to sit in a room with up to 30 other people who are also deeply committed to reading and writing, with big sexy brains…oi!  I don’t have a lot of writers in my life at the moment, or even people who I can discuss books with, at least not in person, and I miss it.  And did you know that Kansus U has a whole center for studying science fiction?  And that the University of California Riverside has a fucking amazing science fiction library, among other amazing things (like having Nalo Hopkinson on staff)?  Or that there used to be a Science Fiction Studies MA program at a university in Liverpool?

Temptation abounds.

But then I think about the realities. 1. I would have to move to Kansas.  Umm, what?  I don’t even want to move back to America, let alone Kansas.  Sheesh.  California might be better, but I’ve never even been there, so.  2.  I would have to convince the Beard to want to move to Kansas.  Ha.  3.  It would cost a fuck ton of money.  I don’t have or want to become indebted for a fuck ton of money.  Been there, done that.  Never again, unless a large piece of beautiful land is involved, and probably not even then.  4. As far as jobs go, it might get me a job teaching (which I have often hated in the past) something I love (that part could be good).  It could be good for networking, but really, let’s be honest.  I already have a job I love, doing exactly what I want to be doing.  Grad school isn’t going to help that.  Fuck, I’d have to quit said awesome job to even be able to go.  So not only would I be financially screwed forever, I probably wouldn’t even have a bigger better job to show for it afterwards.

Never mind, random grad school dreams.  And for the geeky grad school itch that reason can’t scratch, there’s always Mythgard.

Has grad school played a role in your life?  Was going awesome?  Was not going awesome?  Do you occasionally suffer from grad school fantasies yourself?

0 Comments on “to grad school or not to grad school

  1. CALIFORNIA! please.
    m’s thinking of going to school in the fall because the classes would be free, so you could be school buddies!

  2. I’m always thinking about it. But I tried a semester of it and was like, wait, right, deadlines… and even though I was writing about subjects that I am endlessly interested in and would write about all the time just for the sake of writing about them, the deadlines were just not fitting into my lifestyle. At all.

    I’ll put in a second plug for Mythgard though. Woo!

  3. Even at age 60, I still have dreams of grad school in interior design. There is a program in commuting distance, so moving isn’t a problem. It does mean that I would be spending a huge chunk of my savings on a degree that would really do nothing for me. Who hires a fledgling 63 year old interior designer? Too little, too late, I’m afraid.

  4. I have a B.A. in psychology. The most obvious careers in psychology (therapist, principal investigator of research studies) require grad school. But after surviving undergrad at one of America’s most stressful schools, I was burned out on school. I did think I might go to grad school later when I developed a more focused research interest, or I might get a job with tuition benefits and just take one course at a time and enjoy learning about stuff.

    After 3 years of assorted jobs, I got on board with a big longitudinal research study. I’ve been working there since–almost 15 years–and I’ve been promoted repeatedly, gained a reputation for excellence in data cleaning and data management, and been a co-author of several papers and book chapters, without having to go to grad school. I like it. Especially as a parent, I much prefer having a day job to having classes with homework. (It *would* be nice to have a schedule that lets me loose in the world during business hours on a regular basis, though–it’s hard to get things done with banks, etc., that are open only during my work day.) I do have tuition benefits, but the one time I took a class happened to be the spring that our landlord suddenly sold our house and gave us 30 days to vacate, so that was extremely stressful and distracting, so it kind of freaked me out about the idea of trying to take a class while working full-time, and the paperwork for the benefits was daunting…. Anyway, what with books and Internet, I feel I’m able to work plenty of learning into my life, so I’m not feeling any yearning to go back to school.

    My dad earned a master’s in computer science in his early 50s at night school while working full-time. I think it was feasible because he no longer had kids at home. He loved it and was (still is) very excited about what he’d learned. I can imagine that someday I might want to go back to school, but it won’t be soon.

  5. Ah yes, finally a blogger asks a question I have an answer to. As an undergraduate studying crop science (yes there is such a thing) I fell in love with plant biochemistry and physiology. I applied at the same school I got my BS at, and did a wonderful MS, out of which I got 4 published papers (in science it is publish or perish). I confidently applied for Ph D programs, and picked what was in retrospect the wrong program for me. A full professor (no urgent need for success of students or publications of student studies for advancement) with a broad sweeping program, out of which I could not develop a project. I ploughed ahead, not one to give up. At the end of 3 yrs, as a degree requirement, I completed an outside proposal, meaning I developed a proposal that was unrelated to my dissertation topic, and defended it with my committee. I spent 6 months on what was a hoop to jump through. One of my committee members said to me ‘wasn’t that fun?’ No, I thought, and quit the next day.

    So what am I trying to say? My experience was tainted by a few things – lack of confidence on my part ( I was a midwestern farm girl who was very intimidated by the other students who all seemed to have so much bravado), and the fact that jobs in my field were not there (molecular biology was the hot thing, not plant biochemistry). As well, My advisor was convinced that there was no other calling than to be a professor, somehting that had never appealed to me. I had very little guidance, and I felt, hope for a good professional future.

    When I look back and think about it, my 20s was a time when I wanted to run, to bike, to be active. I spent it at a lab bench or desk. Yes I regret that. I don’t regret the experience of learning so much, but the cost was so great in loss of other experiences. My several hour long bike ride on Sunday was my favorite part of my week. So where did I end up? I was really burned out when I left my PhD. So tired of being told I should really know this or that, etc. I took different jobs, all of which I was successful at, but corporate America didn’t appeal to me. At one point I thought about going back and doing a MS, but I visited a class, and couldn’t face the thought of doing that again. Now I am nearly 50, and am married to a man who is successful. I don’t work, other at a horse barn to pay my horses board off, and in the garden, where I grow veg to sell. Interestingly, I do have a hankering to learn more, to maybe get a PhD in something impractical, like history. But I am going to have to do something online. I know I can’t sit thru classes anymore. I barely made it thru a birding lecture last week.

    Would I recommend it? To you? Every person’s experience is so different. I really don’t recommend anyone try the path I took, degree followed by degree followed by the last decade your knees with be pain free spent sedentary. That’s as much as I can say with certainty.

  6. Trish: Really interesting story. Sucks to having landed in the wrong program for you. One of so many possible grad school pitfalls. My own decision for the moment is not to go as I can in no way justify going “just for fun” which is what it would ultimately amount to I think. Just too expensive a bit of fun. And I agree about doing online…I think that would be the easiest for me these days too.

    ‘Becca: That’s the thing isn’t it? There is so much potential success out there without grad school. Which is another thing that figures into my decision to probably never go. There is nothing I want to do that I can’t do without going, but just by doing it (writing things, publishing, etc).

    Fishie: Yeah, the style of it wouldn’t work well for me at the moment either. Huzzah Mythgard!

    Finn: Ooo, that is a tempting point. What is he going to study?

  7. I think you are making the right decision. Enjoy your life for now, spend time with baby pickles. maybe online programs will end up being superfantastic in 10 yrs, and there will still be time to do it.

  8. Just before I got pregnant I was really dissatisfied with my career and life in general. I started to seriously look into going back to uni to study chemistry, something I’ve always loved and did at college. After college I did intend to go on to do a degree in chemistry but ended up “falling into” nursing. Plus I was always put off because I didn’t wanna end up working in a lab all day long. But suddenly the idea haunted me again and I just wanted to do it just because it’s something I’m so into. Chemistry is just beautiful… honestly, like the periodic table is just a work of art in my opinion. It just clicks in my head and makes the world seem that much more magical and mysterious. I love it. But in the end I decided against it… Too much money, too much time and in the end I still didn’t wanna work in a lab or teach. So I stuck with nursing and soon after was pregnant anyway. *shrug* I just pursue it as a hobby now (the study part anyway) and love to watch documentaries about it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to inspire Nookie with a passion for science.

  9. You could still study in Germany. It might not be a Master in Science Fiction Studies, but you could still focus on gender representations and science fiction with an English/American Studies or Literature/Cultural Studies program. And it wouldn’t cost as much as in the US, you wouldn’t have to move and could still do your current job.
    Just sayin’ 😉

  10. you could always get your degree in Germany, you do live literally on campus…

  11. I’m working full time and pursuing an MS in nutrition. The program is part time, so we don’t have time for the intense discussion and debate that I was looking forward to. We meet on weekends and by the time class is over, everyone just wants to go home. I don’t know if the in-depth discussion is possible without a lot of relaxed face-to-face time–can you do that online without it seeming like you’re constantly writing papers?

    I could have written a thesis, but chose the clinic track instead. I would love to write a thesis, but I need to develop a client base and some marketing skills so I can make some money with this degree when I’m done (undergrad was anthropology and I’ve been doing admin work for the last 30 years). A thesis would give me the intense brain stretching that I crave, but it would be too self-indulgent.

    Everyone in the program loves it, but every semester a few more of us disappear or take fewer classes because working, family obligations, and going to school is incredibly difficult. My classmates will be forever bonded by the shared struggle. My brother got a master’s while working and he said to me once, “Unless you’re going through it, you don’t get it.” My brother is very wise.

    My job pays a small amount–not even a semester’s worth of classes–and I’m obligated to work for them for two years. We’re going through more of our savings than I’d like, so the pressure’s on to make some money with this degree. I refuse to take loans to pay for this and because my husband and I make OK money, I don’t qualify for any scholarships or grants. It doesn’t mean we want to go broke paying for it.

    That said, I’ve come to realize that helping people gives me a real high. I’ve always been interested in nutrition, but didn’t realize that I’d be good at motivating and coaching people to live healthier lives. It’ll be interesting to work in a field where I feel like I’m contributing to the greater good.

  12. This doesn’t have to be an all or nothing decision. I took the majority of my non graduate level classes part time at night, and by working and with help from my boyfriend and parents didn’t accumulate any debt. Could you take 1 class a semester? If you wanted to audit, instead of getting credits it might be even cheaper.

  13. Probably a most useful perspective from which to evaluate the potential for longterm happiness versus short-term debt/work/stress is that of an extraterrestrial observer who can sit back in whatever passes for a comfy recliner in their world and watch the unfolding ecological demise of Earth. Bees and other pollinators will be all gone shortly and most food will vanish within a decade. Savor enjoy cherish each moment of air, sunshine, rain and happiness. Let no negative burden intrude on these last years of bliss before the final horrors ensue.

  14. I think it all has to do with what your end game is. I went to grad school because I needed it to advance my career. Like, really needed it. So I chose a year-long program so that I could get right back into the work force, and it has paid off handsomely. Have I paid it off yet? Fuck no. Will I ever? Yes. Am I paying it off more quickly because of the job I have because of the grad degree I have? Yes. So my return on investments is clear and tangible.

    If you just wish to be part of academia again, there are definitely other ways to go about it. If you want to research and publish something, being part of the “system” might actually help you, as you’ll have access to networks that will let you know whether or not someone else is already doing/has already done what you want to do.

    And what exactly do you want to do when Pickles is five or six? Do you want to be traveling around, getting paid to talk about x, y, z? Do you want to be sitting at home writing? Going into the city twice a week writing?

    You’ll figure it out. 🙂

  15. with the internet and you tube and classes online and books galore….you could study any subject you want….without school and without much expense…from the comfort of your own home. You can be a master at anything your little heart desires, just w/o some title or piece of expensive paper saying that yes, you studied and passed. Learn, grow, love, learn more–for your own enjoyment!

  16. I occasionally have dreams of doing a BA in English, to get some more connections within the writing community and possibly making the writing gig more full time, or Environmental sciences on the basis that it would give me a bit more clout when I try and explain to people why the way we live in the rich world is not a good idea. I could do it on a Open University course from the UK.
    At the moment I’ve got my work cut out just doing my carpentry apprenticeship, which frankly would be a degree or at least a diploma if I did it in the UK.

  17. Just so you know, KU is in Lawrence, KS, which is a seriously cool and LIBERAL and open-minded pocket of the benighted place that much of my native state has become. Truly and cross my heart. And Lawrence is < 1 hr from Kansas City. A bona fide city with a lively arts scene. Also very pretty. Many people commute from KC to Lawrence. Just sayin'.

  18. Sure you can, but stay in Germany and either do it there or online with distance learning.
    I work full time as a lawyer (normal full time, not lawyer full time 🙂 I do a BA in History and English on the side part time. Two more semesters and then I will dig down deep into my favourite nerdy subject.
    This is possible because we live in Europe where education is a benefit to the states, not a burden for the individual. Well, at least outside the UK. Go for it!

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