Thursday, March 26, 2009

Masters degree

Jane (of See Jane Compute) and ScienceWoman have both posted stories about pursuing masters degrees that kind of make my hair stand on end. Especially Jane's. I don't have a terrible advisor story, but I thought I'd post about my masters anyway.

My masters experience was just weird. I thought about getting a masters for a long time. After I got two bachelors, I started working for the university. Eventually I moved out of the $7/hour job and into one with benefits, including fee remission. I couldn't decide between nutrition or information science, and for a long time it didn't matter since I was busy planning a wedding.

The week after I got back from my honeymoon, I was at lunch with a group. Our best man announced, "my class starts tonight. I don't want to take it alone. Who will go with me?" I wasn't doing anything that night, so I signed up. It was kind of boring, but kind of fun. I learned about flowcharting the operations of a hamburger stand. It was relevant to my work. The next semester, I took another class with my friend. I couldn't get any more credit after that if I didn't apply to the information science program, so I did. I convinced my boss and a colleague to write me letters of recommendation. I kept taking a class at a time in addition to working full time. It was fun. I learned really interesting things, like how to plan a library building and that it is a warning sign someone is embezzling if they refuse to ever take time off from work. I learned how to program in Perl. I learned about the history of magazines in the US and speculated about how, B&, and would work out.

Eventually, I joined some kind of leadership group for my program and started making friends. I found out that other people had researched different programs and chosen mine. It had never occurred to me to think critically about grad school, it was just there. Oh, and did I mention that my program didn't require the GRE? That helped.

If you want gossip, I will let you know that I became friends with my husband's ex-girlfriend. THE ex-girlfriend. The one who practically ruined his life. I became friends with her before I knew who she was. I remember the day I figured it out. "Huh, that's the same name as the ex. And she's from the same place. And has other similar features. What a funny coincidence. Honey, what's the ex's last name?" I was shocked that she didn't have horns, she was really nice. He was all, "um yeah, that's why I loved her so much."

Because I was just taking a class or two at a time and wasn't on a Quest for Employability, I didn't really interact with my advisor. I took a class from him my last semester and it was great. I went to a party he was at and after I turned in my final paper, he took me (and others) out for a beer. But otherwise, I can't say we really interacted. I was much closer to another professor. My program also didn't require a thesis or research, just classes. I took what I wanted, when I wanted (or more accurately, when classes were offered in the evening and weekends.)

In the end I graduated about two years earlier than I'd hoped. We decided to move across the country for a Great Opportunity and so I stayed in town six months in order to go to school full time so I could get the degree. It was not optimal, especially since I was also working full time since I needed the salary and benefits. The very last month of school, I quit my job. It was GREAT. I would never work full time while I was in school again - the opportunity to think deeply, research more, collaborate with classmates, and just experience school was something I missed. But I couldn't have gotten my degree if I hadn't done it the way I did, so I don't regret my experience either.

I told a friend about this recently. She'd like a masters but isn't sure in what. I told her to just try it! Everyone she knows has a Big Plan for grad school and she doesn't. I'm the poster child for not having a plan doesn't mean you won't have a great experience.


Garth said...

My masters required the GRE, a thesis and comprehensive exams. Where did I go wrong! After all that I do not even work in my masters field. I switched from math teacher to computer geek. Ever try to find a course that teaches how to program a DSL router? Or a course on how fix a computer a kid has managed to install a bios password on? I should have stuck with math.

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