A few months back, I read (with a somewhat horrified face) and commented on Penelope Trunk’s Brazen Careerist post “Don’t try to dodge the recession with grad school.” It’s a silly post, really, full of lovely little bits of wisdom like “Law school is a factory for depressives” or “Going to grad school is like going into the military.” I usually enjoy Penelope’s stuff, if for nothing else than her honest, self-effacing style. This post was different.
My comments were less than supportive. Her gist was that graduate degrees require overinvestment of both money and time. Money, being tight in a recession, is pretty important. Time, according to her, can best be spent at other jobs, even those outside one’s experience or comfort level. We are reminded of people who try something different and in doing “figure out what they always wanted to do but didn’t know they wanted to do but can now do with their whole heart.” She recounts working on a French chicken farm and the non-traditional learning that she did while working in the coop. It helped her along her path.
I stand now at the end of two years of graduate school at a prestigious school and an even more prestigious program. I’m dozens of thousands of dollars in the hole. I couldn’t be happier.
When I completed a year-long resident fellowship after finishing my undergraduate work, I knew that my skillsets were incomplete. I needed to know how to do interesting things. I needed to meet interesting people. Something told me that graduate school would guide me. And it did – I’ve made some outstanding connections, professional and nonprofessional, that will serve me very well in the future. I’ve made friends. I coordinate fundraising and social media for a local humanitarian organization (as it turns out, I have a passion for international development). I can write grants and I know the social web pretty well. I have a job waiting for me in San Jose, CA where I’ll be working to eradicate malaria.
Did I spend two years well? Sure! Could I have done so more cheaply and still found my passion(s)? Certainly! Now I refer back to Penelope’s post and think even less of it. Graduate school shouldn’t be for everybody, but to come out and lambaste it (with plenty of support – check the comments) is shortsighted. I don’t know a single person who’s dodged the recession by furthering their education and networking, and I doubt that I ever will.