Mid-life Career Path

Today’s blog is more a jumble of thoughts than anything. I know this blog is supposed to be about writing, and for 2021, it’s shaping up to be exclusively not that. On the bright side, today’s blog isn’t going to cover how I’m feeling. I will say that, if nothing else, I feel like I’m pointing in the right direction.

A couple of days ago, I posted a Twitter poll that asked:

Should I get a masters degree?

  • -Yes (32.7%)
  • -With what time, Dave? (24.5%)
  • -But why tho? (32.7%)
  • -No. (10.2%)

As the past two blogs have whined about how over-worked and overwhelmed I am, you might be wondering what the hell I’m on about. After all, I clearly have too much going on. Yeah, that is, without a doubt, true, but the question, “do I go back to school?” is a part of that problem. The idea is far from a new one for me, but the real consideration started about a month and a half ago.

Sometime in early  December, my workload suddenly became too much to cope with, and I realized that I might not be able to keep on. Naturally, when these things happen, you start looking for an out. I found several promising jobs, nearly 100% of which required an MS with some years of practical applied experience. It turns out, all I have is the experience. Without the education, I don’t qualify for jobs I’d be the most suited to. As you do, I filed that away and tried to focus on the here and now.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. I offered an opportunity to review a set of proposed job class specifications for the Research Analyst series. The core of the revision focused on the ‘minimum qualifications.’ Typically, you see these as a bachelor’s degree in (some discipline or related) and some years of experience according to the job class level and experience necessary to succeed in the position. In this revised set of qualifications, the State of Alaska effectively jettisoned ALL experience and education requirements in favor of some incredibly squishy ‘behavioral competencies.’ As much as I think it’s a profoundly unhinged concept, I still spent an entire evening developing competencies that align with reality. Today I learned that my recommendations were largely adopted, though without any requirement for the applicant to actually demonstrate how those behavioral characteristics are shown through work history and education. So, partial win, at best, I suppose.

I know some people will think this sounds great because it opens up opportunities. Speaking from experience, it does not. It’s one HUGE bait and switch that devalues higher education. Just imagine getting in on the ground floor as a Research Analyst I and working your up to running a research and analysis group as a Research Analyst IV. Then, you lose your job because of budget cuts… Guess what? You’re now not qualified at the level and pay-grade you are accustomed to, and you WILL BE starting over as a junior analyst. I know because I’m in that position now. My position, before today, allowed candidates to substitute graduate work with job experience. Now it doesn’t even require experience.

Setting aside the devaluing of education and the fact that my group lives and dies by grants that rely on those higher education qualifications, it’s got me realizing if I’m laid-off because of budget cuts, I’m not qualified for the job that I’m the most suited to do. What’s more, I am easily the least educated among my coworkers. Most of the people I work with are PhD, or have some form of master’s degree. It makes me feel awkward and pretty uncomfortable when we’re submitting grant proposals, and I suspect folks reviewing those documents absolutely notice that the lead data analyst doesn’t even have his MS. I used to feel like it was something of an accomplishment that I managed what I have without going through grad school. Now I realize it has been a pretty big liability all along.

Anyhow, that’s where I’m at—trying to find an online program that doesn’t suck balls and costs less than an arm, a leg, and the first-born child. I don’t know if I’ll end up following through in the end. After all, it’s fabulously expensive, and I’ve got kids now looking to their college careers.


Image by Nikolay Georgiev from Pixabay

8 thoughts on “Mid-life Career Path

  1. Nico Smit says:

    Sup Dave
    I’ve already done this research for you as I was looking myself. Being a USA citizen these will be your best bet:
    https://omscs.gatech.edu/
    https://www.mga.edu/computing/graduate-programs/index.php

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  2. I understand where you’re coming from. When I earned my AS in HR, I looked for jobs, but the thing is as an HR Generalist, I was almost certain to take a pay cut. Now that’s not too big a deal if you can wait for the raises that (hopefully) come, if you can afford to wait, that is. I’ve been at my job for 20 years, am capped out (no more raises) and probably when I graduated five years ago, I could have gotten something and been well past the pay cut stage of taking on a new job. But it sucks that I would have had to take a pay cut to find a job for a degree I have when I’m working job where the only requirements are a HS diploma and a typing speed. Employers don’t want to pay for education, and that’s now student loans don’t get paid off. There is always something to be said for education, and if you have the headspace to take a class or two every semester, I think you should. But don’t take on more than you can chew or you’re just wasting your tuition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m still researching it all now and found one really good program that I’d like to get into. But I totally get your situation. Until recently, that was a huge problem with the State of Alaska. So many people got 15, 20 years in and that’s it no more growth in opportunity or wages. I’m not topped out myself, but I’m rapidly approaching a point where it’ll take several years to get a raise. My fear right now is taking a pay cut of 50% if funding evaporates. I just can’t start over again. It’d be great if employers focused on helping their employees get an education and further their career.

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  3. As a paraeducator, BA in English, I’m constantly being offered chances to get a Masters in Education. Thing is, I’m over 60 and hope to retire within the next 5 or 6 years. There’s no way I would make back what it would cost me to get an advanced degree.

    So my question is, aside from the practicality of working full time while also pursuing a degree, do you have the literal time to make back what it will cost in tuition?

    I seem to recall you’re working in computers, which change rapidly. Could you possibly get a 1- or 2-year certificate in a specific technology, through a community college. And, will your employer offer support (financial or experiential) for you to update your credentials?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. […] morning, I got a fantastic set of questions in response to my previous post about a mid-life career path. It boiled down to the […]

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