But, why though? – some thoughts about grad school.

This 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 following:

  1. Setting aside the practicality of work and a degree, do you have the literal time to make back the tuition cost?
  2. Could you consider a more-rapidly paced certificate program, perhaps through a community college?
  3. Will your employer support this (financially or experientially)?

The plan was to respond directly, but the response got long enough that it felt weird to bake it into a reply, so instead, I’m dropping it here. And yes, it’s LONG.

To start, I’ll tackle question #1.

At this point, I won’t ever make money back from that sort of thing. I have 15-25 years before retirement, so I ‘could’ make my money back. However, I’m currently the head of a data management unit, more or less at the top of the pay-scale (if not longevity scale). My responsibilities cover a fairly complex topic (subsistence economies) having a state-wide reach. There is no opportunity here to move up. In theory, there could be, but it’s an avenue that doesn’t match up with my strengths or interest, and again, the pay differential isn’t really that big.

I could remain with my current set of qualifications and skills and do what I’ve been doing: Figuring it out as I go. I woldn’t have any additional financial investment and potentially hit the same finish line. From that perspective, it sounds like I should just not, right? That’s why it’s such a good question.

Practically speaking, I don’t possess the qualifications for the nature of my job even today. My group lives and dies through grants and other non-state government funding. This year, in part because of the pandemic, was an absolute blood-bath. We couldn’t conduct surveys in remote villages, therefore had to push work back and much of our staff had their hours cut, some to 0. It gets more complicated, though. I’ve observed a pretty significant headwind in obtaining this funding. I have no insight whatsoever into why, except to say that the number of funding sources are dwindling. Clearly, we are somehow not competitive enough. With this in mind, I started looking around to see what else might be out there. If we can’t fund ourselves, then I’ll be obliged to do something else. When it comes to being a lead data scientist, pretty much anywhere, the resume needs to include a master’s degree. It turns out, even with 15 years of experience doing this work, I’m not qualified in the eyes of a lot of organizations.

So, that’s a long way of saying: I think expanding my knowledge and capabilities will give me tools to help our team bolster our proposals for funding through analytics or advanced statistical topics. It also gets around to: A lot of the difficulty I had this winter, so far, could be addressed through an increase in staff and project work, and I’d rather stick with this position and the work we do. It’s important.

Question 2 follows question 1. A master’s of data science has a typical price tag of somewhere north of 35,000 for a two-year program. There are less expensive programs that are absolutely world-class, you’ve got to get in first. I could probably obtain a certificate for half of that or maybe even less. So why not that? The short response is that I work in research, and it’s something of an expectation that you’d have an MS, at least and ideally a Ph.D. This expectation also appears in the jobs I was looking at. A certificate is an excellent qualification to get a job, but it’s generally not worth much, if anything, when applied to a grant application or funding proposal. In part, these qualifications tend to focus on specific technologies. Technologies aren’t super relevant for proposals; knowledge of approaches weighs a lot more in that context.

The second part of the question has to do with community college programs – the short answer is that where I live, the university system has recently been gutted to the point that the governor has to remove ALL education requirements from state job postings. The University of Alaska Fairbanks still has a good program for what I’m interested in, but it’s not delivered remotely and isn’t practical for a working person.

The last question revolves around support from my employer. There is no program to help pay. However, the experiential portion is relevant. The programs I’m looking at connect directly to the work I do daily. Two of the programs require a 6-credit professional practice course. I’m near certain that I could pick one of the upcoming projects I’m already slated to work on and use that. I could basically knocks-out a whole semester that way. So, yes, I do get some indirect support.

So there it is: Some of my reasoning for why.


Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

What I’m up to, a follow-up

Two blog posts within a week! I can’t believe I managed it. No idea if I’ll continue, but here we are for at least today. After last week where I mentioned that I had taken a short break from writing to look at some other projects, I’ve decided what I really need to do is share a bit more detail. The short story is that I’m flying around Alaska in Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020 and talking about places, then posting that on YouTube. The new flight simulator isn’t just cool because every aspect is amazingly gorgeous, but because the entire world (anywhere you can think of) has been included to at the very least, a modest level of accuracy. So, I can fly you from some obscure landing strip to another and not only is it possible, but it looks reasonably representative of what you might find. I plan to visit every possible corner of Alaska in my YouTube channel and talk about as much as I can. At some point I’ll revisit writing, but right now isn’t the right time for me. With that, I’ll leave you with a trailer for my channel…

What’s GOING ON?!

Hi everyone. I haven’t blogged in about a gazillion years. It looks like my last post was just prior to everything closing as the pandemic began to grip the country. That post was meant to be a part of an outreach campaign to launch The Dark Queen of Darkness and do a book-signing. Hexe is a book that is near and dear to my heart and I wanted to see it in as many hands as possible. However, 2020 has been an epic shit-show, and that launch was botched across the board, and much of it was outside of my control.

I have been writing, a bit, but I’ve decided to take a bit of a break. In part, because I don’t see an avenue for a no-name author to be heard or even find a platform. Perhaps, in the next year or two that’ll change, and I’ll get back to it. But it goes beyond that. Creativity is one of those things that can be easily over-taxed to the point where you just haven’t got it in you to continue. That’s where I am right now.

After the botched launch of The Dark Queen, life really started to become challenging. Not bad, we’re fortunate, and I both recognize and appreciate that. However, every week seems to bring something new that just adds to the stress of it all. In my day-job, I have found myself at the epicenter of contingency planning. Not because “I’m the only guy who can do it” or anything like that at all, but because I sit at a peculiar nexus of field work, data-processing, and technology. Which is to say, if we have to reinvent how we do business, I need to be involved. Plus, I’m not super awful at meeting facilitation or coordination, and have absolutely no fear of stepping on toes, so I jump in with both feet. That’s a long way of saying that my day-job is exhausting and trying to develop light and humorous work, as much as we need that right now, is a bit beyond my capacity.

That’s only part of the story though. This year, my family has been subject to a bunch of challenges. The current one being isolation because we don’t know if my wife had a weird 24-hour bug or the damn coronavirus. We’re waiting on a test. Other things this year: My wife’s car had to have it’s engine replaced, we had carpenter ants in the wall, somehow we got lice, I lost a lot of my writing in a computer hardware failure, my back went out to the point I might not be able to take a long walk for over a year (if I’m lucky), the cat died, I ran over a dog (he survived), and a bunch of little things besides.

There have been good things too. My eldest son was elected captain of his FTC team and is absolutely working his ass off to be a good captain and see his team win state this year. I did publish a book, and (for now), both my wife and I are still employed.

This is far better than most folks, but it leaves me almost incapable of being a good, productive writer. Instead, I’ve found myself an easier avenue of escape, and one that might dominate my time for a considerable amount of time – I purchased the most recent edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator. When it comes to games and this kind of thing, I enjoy that in spurts and without talking about it exhaustively. This time, however, I’m doing something different. Because of what that Flight simulator is and is capable of, I’m doing a tour of Alaska. You might ask WHY THE HELL ARE YOU DOING THAT?!! WRITE YOUR DAMN BOOK!!!! My response is – fair point, but we’re all struggling right now. A once-in-a-lifetime trip to Alaska for a lot of people is more remote than ever. Not only that, I’m struggling to connect with folks through my writing —the best methods to connect with readers are just not workable at the moment. That’s why I’m spending time with the flight simulator. This is not just for me, but anyone who wants to know more about Alaska. I’m also learning about my own home with this project. This is a pretty long way to explain that I’m taking a short break from writing to focus on other projects. While it might not really make sense to anyone else, this is the one thing that’s helping me to remain positive and focused. If you’re interested in what I’m up to on YouTube, check out this link. Otherwise, I’ll try to do a better job of blogging in the coming weeks and months.