So yeah. School.

You may have been wondering why I haven’t been posting much about school. Perhaps you thought “Boy, he must be having such a great time that he hasn’t posted”! Welp.

(Let’s put a cut here. If you’re in my class it’s up to you to decide whether or not to read on.)

Things haven’t been going so hot. I am left to wonder if I didn’t think this through so well; specifically, I’m reevaluating whether or not those letters after my name are worth the trouble of getting them.

The first problem is the content. In six weeks I have learned nothing new. Accounting and statistics are high-school level. Organizational Behavior is interesting but textbook-bound. IT for Managers and Business-Government Relations are free of any substantial content at all. Future courses’ outlines don’t suggest any improvement anytime soon.

And that makes sense, really: it’s a 12-month “Master’s” program with no specific prerequisites. Can you imagine a 12-month MSc or MA that didn’t require undergraduate work in the field? So every course is ab initio, and since they’re all either six or 12 lectures (one per week) they can’t get far away from that point. I’d rather just read a good book.

The assignments suffer similarly. They can’t be substantiatively difficult because the content is so light, so the difficulty is all artificial: deadlines all at once, everything is teamwork (including 20-page papers on vague subjects), most are “paper plus presentation”. It’s as though the point of the courses is to force us to learn to schedule team meetings and not much more. They’re not challenging; they’re just awkward and inconvenient.

But the main problem is fit. I was so concerned about changing how things were that I didn’t think enough about where I wanted to be. I’m a geek at heart. I don’t really know where this whole business thing came from; I think I was so tied up in finding “success” that I started using someone else’s definition of it. Because where’s an MBA going to get me that I couldn’t get to on my own? Management consulting, senior management in large companies, that sort of thing. Doesn’t really sound like me.

Because the school offers testing, I’ve been thinking a lot about my Myers-Briggs type lately. Surprise surprise, I’m an ENTP. Not that this commits me to anything, but still — a couple of choice quotes:

ENTPs learn least well and may be demotivated when bonding with a team or group, or identifying with a school, organisation or company is valued over independent thinking.

ENTP: Entrepeneurs, lawyers, psychologists, photographers, consultants, sales represenatives, actors, engineers, scientists, inventors, marketers, computer programmers, comedians, computer analysts, credit investigators, journalists, psychiatrists, public relations, designers, writers, artists, musicians, politicians. Very freedom-oriented, they need a career which allows them to act independent and express their creativity and insight.

Not so much creativity in the program. It’s a bit better on insight, but for a program which is case-based, in which the professors act as facilitators for class discussion, it’s not so much.

So the whole point is about the letters. And the letters are a necessity for some fields, but I don’t think those are the fields I’m after. I like hands-on. I like small companies. I like directly making a difference. I get interested in consulting during the recruiting pitches, but then I come home and the only attraction is the prestige, and more and more I don’t think I care about the prestige.

There’s a weird thing in there with my father. (Hi, Dad! Keep reading, it’s OK!) Dad’s a very successful small businessman and recently was elected to Belleville city council and I’m really proud of all he’s done, but there’s some influence there — all in my own head! — that sometimes I have to work hard to resist. It means I have a respect for entrepreneurship and commerce that’s hard to shake, and that even though I am a geek and engineery-type through and through I was trying to turn myself into a bit of a suit. And I don’t think I’m a suit.

So that leaves me wondering what the heck to do about school. I’m seriously considering withdrawing after this block to cut my losses early, and look for a really good, challenging job back on the technical side — maybe with an eye towards certifications later, CISSP maybe — that keeps me interested, pays ok, and maintains a good work-life balance. There’s a little voice in my head that tells me that when I start something I have to finish it, but I don’t really know what it’d be proving, and I don’t think I’d see much of a return on that investment, especially when I calculate in the opportunity cost of lost wages.

I’ve got lots of people to talk to about it — the school offers free career counseling and a psychologist, plus the program director is very approachable, and I think the folks who wrote my letters of recommendation will have some input too. And there were some red flags on the way in that I completely ignored, friends telling me that they didn’t see the fit. I think they were right, and I think I’ll track them down too.

We’ll see what happens. I’m certainly learning a lot about myself, and things between Candice and I are better than ever, and I’m discovering new friendships in the strangest places. Before, nothing felt right and I blamed work; now, everything feels right except “work”. Well, damn.

9 responses to “So yeah. School.”

  1. It’s much better to figure these things out now than to get through the entire program and realize it wasn’t right for you.

    But it’s obviously been a good experience in *some* way since it’s gotten you to sit down and think about things.

    Whichever way you choose to go, I am sure it will work out well.

  2. I was lucky when I went to university, because my profs gave me enough rope to hang myself. If I had stayed on the straight and narrow and simply fulfilled expectations, I would likely have received more or less the same grades (possibly somewhat higher, in some cases), but I would not have learned as much of value.

    From your description of the course, it doesn’t sound like there’s much room for you to do the same. It might be worth the effort, however, to approach one or two of the more interesting profs and say to them exactly what you’ve said here.

    I remember one prof in particular who ended up giving me as a term paper topic: Ernst Mach and the Dadaist Movement – parallels between science and art. I researched and wrote my heart out for that, only to receive a ‘B’ – the only B I got that year. I was incensed, especially after finding out that she had done a significant amount of post-grad work on exactly that topic.

    Effectively, the woman – bless her heart – had decided to measure me against the toughest metric she had: her own expertise. She did so to put me in my place, to let me know that, while I was a top-flight undergrad, I should be prepared to be measured using a different metric. And by that metric, I was found to be adequate, but not stellar.

    My essays and my research improved significantly from that point on, if only to spite the prof who had trapped me so easily. 8^)

    Long story longer: If you *can* get something more out of it, whether through selfish means or by motivating your profs to push you, then great. If not, get the letters and, to the extent that it’s possible to do so, use the time to educate yourself further.

    I haven’t said it before, but it bears mentioning now: You’re probably right about your self-analysis, but honestly I would rather see you in an executive position than just about any other colleague I’ve worked with in my life. Not immediately, perhaps, but few people actually comprehend things quite so completely as you. Some things only come with experience, but you have most of the rest.

    So be a little mercenary – get the degree. You’ll find that there are greater sacrifices in life than a year spent coping with mediocrity, and you might well find the opportunity to test yourself, though perhaps not in the way you originally envisioned.

  3. Whether or not the MBA program actually gets you anything useful, those three letters after your name /may/ actually be worth it down the road.

    I went back to school because I was tired of being told that, despite however lovely my resume and work experience was, I didn’t have letters after my name, and they only hired those who did.

    I guess I see the potential for something similar happening to you, here, and would rather it never did.

    [Devil’s Advocate]Then again, maybe life’s too short to spend a whole year doing something you don’t like.[/Devil’s Advocate]

  4. gcrumb: Lots to say. I’ll email later today.

    kalimonster: There certainly are those jobs where they only hire those who have those letters. Management consulting, for instance. And it’s definitely easier to get into senior management in large (GE, IBM)-size firms that way. But those aren’t jobs I want. I can’t quite put my finger on why I think I did. I had this generic idea of success and prestige in my head instead of thinking about what I wanted to do. I don’t want meetings and reports. I’m an engineer at heart, and for that sort of things the letters are probably irrelevant. And they’ve three very expensive letters, both financially and in mental health.

  5. Lots of what I’d say here has probably been said, so I hope a dip into my own experience is helpful to you: I went to grad school, and found it a less than stellar experience, possibly for some of the same reasons you outline here (not what I really wanted to do with my life, questionable “fit”, etc.). I’d say that, in retrospect, I have two major regrets about the experience:

    First, I regret that I went; I shouldn’t have done it; half my reason for going was a reflexive “well, I need to do the next thing now that I’m done my bachelor’s degree”, and the other half was the (wrong) idea I had about wanting to be a career academic (does that map into your vague, and possibly incorrect ideas about success, prestige, management?…). I ended up burning several bridges with important colleagues and supervisors by doing something I couldn’t actually “get behind”, and that’s really unfortunate.

    That’s probably not terribly helpful to you, but I wanted to lay it out there as context.

    Second regret: having gone, and having figured out that academics wasn’t what I wanted to do forever, and that it wasn’t a good fit, etc. etc., I regret *even more deeply* that I didn’t just finish the sucker. I think I could and should have just put my head down, gotten the darned thesis project done, gotten the letters after my name and moved on with my life. Instead, I essentially have nothing to show for the experience, and I think that made it even more of a waste.

    Ultimately, you’re the only one who can measure the mental cost of this — but make sure you’re not just making a short-term decision: it’s only a year! If you can survive, if you can grit your teeth and just get through it, I wonder if you might find you do get something of value out of the experience in the long run– colleagues? networking? –and I can’t imagine that having the letters after your name is ever going to *hurt* you.

  6. Kalimonster, I’m astounded! Has that really happened to you? Can you share more?

    Rich, I keep typing out things here but nothing really sounds right. Good luck and let me know if you guys want to get together for that dinner/drink anytime soon :)

  7. Pam:

    The last time it happened, I had applied for a Sr. Web Admin position with a company in Vancouver. I got through the first round of applications, and had been called back to arrange an interview, then was called back a few hours later to be told (very contritely) that they were only interviewing university graduates and that apparently my resume had slipped through the initial weeding process. She said it had slipped through because of the impressive portfolio and/or experience, but maybe she was just trying to soften the blow at that point. I was mostly just sitting there with the world’s largest, ‘you have GOTTA be kidding me’ thoughtbubble over my head.

    Maybe I could have raised a stink. At that point, I was just sick and tired of being told I needed a degree to get a job und zo off to school I went.

  8. That’s amazing. As someone who has “only” a college diploma and experience, this concerns me greatly. I’ve spoken to my boss about going back to school and she says I’d be a fool, but I don’t know.