So, about that thing.

If you were paying attention in December, you’ll remember that I alluded to some mysterious “thing” that I was tip-toeing around doing.

First things first: I didn’t do it.

“It” was applying to grad school. But not just any grad program, I was going to apply to the Masters of Science in the Social Science of the Internet at the Oxford Internet Institute. Yes, that Oxford. I really fell in love with the place after visiting a couple years ago, and I’ve been casually perusing their graduate degree options ever since.

It also doesn’t help that while I have a good job that I enjoy 90% of the time, I used to have an amazing job that I enjoyed 93% of the time (before I was unceremoniously punted from the organization in a round of layoffs). It makes the few less-than-good days at the current job sting that much more. Yes I’m still bitter. I’m trying to let go.

My pattern of disillusionment with the rat race usually winds a course of 1) think back to the heady days of university when life was full of possibility and I could be anything I wanted 2) start investigating grad school 3) take a few steps toward applying before realizing that I am not actually as committed to school as I thought, and it’s really just me working through an escape plan. (See: LSAT test-taking days of 2006.)

I heard a great quote once by the current CEO of Yahoo! that goes something like “Don’t be afraid of risk and change, just make sure you’re running toward something rather than away from something else.

The MSc at OII still sounds like an amazing program that actually follows the work I did for my undergrad communications degree quite well, and absolutely scratches every curious academic itch I’ve ever had. But right now applying is more about running away than running toward.

I could still get a graduate degree some day. But right now it doesn’t line up with any of the goals I’ve got for my life. Every time I go back to the application, I feel a bit of pause – what will this do to financial plans? family plans? and what on earth would I do after I finish? I certainly do not want a life in academia or policy – so where does this take me?

Right now it takes me back to a reality check. Life, as it is, is good. And full of opportunities. I just need to remind myself to run toward them because they’re great all on their own, and not because I’m running away from something else.

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5 thoughts on “So, about that thing.

  1. Nicole

    I’ve seen a lot of people go into grad school for the wrong reasons… your question of “where will it get me” is, in my opinion, the most important one. Grad school isn’t what it used to be. For the most part, what it gets you is a few more letters beside your name and the same job (but a lot less money) as you would have had if you’d spent those few years gaining work experience rather than putting yourself through enough stress to take a few years off of your life. Whenever anyone asks me about grad school, I make sure to remind them of how difficult it is. If you like your job 90% of the time, consider yourself very, very lucky. Although there are some parts of grad school that I absolutely love, I promise you that there will be more than 10% of it that you don’t enjoy. Sure, there are great academic rewards like learning new stuff every day, keeping your brain challenged and meeting really great, like-minded people. But, there’s a whole lifestyle shift. You can’t turn your brain off after 8 hours (it’s a 24/7 job with no weekends, no stats and no holidays because the work is never done), you’re constantly answering to the powers that be and figuring out how to play the game, and you’re dirt poor. This might be fine if you were sure to come out on top, but you’re not. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret my decision to go back, but as someone whose spent almost 6 years between a M.Sc and Ph.D, I’ve learned to take the good with the bad, and I’ve realized, perhaps the hard way, that it’s not nearly as glamorous as it seems from the outside. My advice is that if you want to continue to travel, keep your finances strong and have children any time soon, think long and hard about school because all of those things are much more difficult when you’re a grad student.

  2. Derek K. Miller

    Many of us romanticize our undergraduate days, forgetting how little money we had, how much time we spent studying (if we did at all well), and how depressing/sad/frustrating/infuriating it was much of the time.

    From what I’ve heard, grad school is like that, with extra pressures and demands — and you REALLY have to like your field of study and your thesis topic to go through with it. I’ve known several people who have gone into a Master’s or Ph.D. program and then bailed out because it wasn’t really their passion, and because in that circumstance, grad school sucks more than “real life.”

    I had several opportunities to pursue graduate studies, and I’m glad I didn’t take them, because there was never a particular specialty I wanted to focus on. And if I’d spent 4 or 6 or 8 years on that, and THEN gotten cancer at age 37 as I did, I might be a bit pissed off about what I could have been doing in the meantime! 🙂 As it is, I regret nothing.
    .-= Derek K. Miller´s last blog ..Olympic mascot Quatchi visits the Downtown East Side =-.

  3. Beth

    I really like this idea of “make sure you are running toward something, not away from something.” As someone who spent 7 years (and ungodly amount of money) getting my two graduate degrees, I can attest to the fact that it’s freaking hard to work that hard and be that poor for that long (and I won’t be done paying off my student loans until I’m 38!) Despite all this complaining, I don’t actually regret doing grad school – I was passionate about my field and I’ve got a job I love because of my qualifications, but I agree with you (and the other commenters) that you really, really have to go to grad school for the right reasons.
    .-= Beth´s last blog ..Net Worth Positive! =-.

  4. gillian

    I wouldn’t be too bitter about losing that job you loved, since you got a new job right away. Some of us (like me, but also many current workmates of mine) went for months without a job, and suffered financially and emotionally for it. You may have lost a good job for something lesser, but you didn’t lose your house or your mind. Just sayin’.

    Like Beth, I’m still paying off student loans, though for two bachelors. My parents have asked if I’ve considered going back for grad school, but in my short experiences of trying to do IT courses at BCIT I’ve realized that I have difficulty now working hard without getting paid for that hard work. I do, in some ways, fantasize about my old days at UBC (as Derek suggests) but if I were to go back it wouldn’t be as good, since I’m not the slut I once was and have much more expensive tastes in clothes, haircuts, and food. It’s a shame, really.
    .-= gillian´s last blog ..Friday Cat Blogging: My soul mate =-.

  5. Raul

    Jen,

    I echo what everyone said about going into graduate school for all the right reasons. Truth be told, I got into my PhD because I thought it was going to open the doors of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). I thought I’d be one of those amazing international environmental diplomats.

    And then reality hit me. I realized that unless I was a queer woman from Somalia with a PhD in environment, I probably would not be able to join the UN (the quota system works to diminish gender/race/sexuality imbalances). And since I share none of those characteristics, I didn’t join the UN. They have just about the right number of male Mexican citizens with PhDs working for them. Damn! Alas…

    I definitely think you have what it takes to do the MSc you were thinking of doing. I also think that if it’s a one-year course, you should totally do it. I am not the one who is going to pay your mortgage, of course, so I’m totally guilty of encouraging you to go for it. But as someone who holds 2 Masters (1 MBA, MEng) and one PhD (all from foreign universities in at least two countries), I can tell you I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.

    I owe my first, second and third born already, but my experience in graduate school made me stronger, even if it was just by virtue of subjecting me on a regular basis to the punches of rough criticism.

    Whichever decision you make, you know you always will have a friend in me. That, will never change whether you go to graduate school or not.
    .-= Raul´s last blog ..Two slices of pizza and a pop =-.

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