I feel like I really need to decide between pursuing two career paths that each have their own advantages. I feel like I could be happy or unhappy in either one. I've been putting off the decision essentially for 5+ years now, and it's finally coming to a head. I need advice, coin flips, anecdotes, flowcharts, whatever you've got. Hope me break this down, mefi.
posted by !Jim to work & money (13 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I've always had difficulty deciding "what I want to do with my life" (really, what I want to do with the next part of my life, I suppose). I graduated this past May with a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering. I really enjoyed certain parts of this degree program. Orbital mechanics is an astonishingly beautiful field, and there's something deeply satisfying about understanding (some of) the crazy math that goes into fluid mechanics.
On the other hand, I've always really enjoyed programming and computers. I've been programming probably since I was 13 or 14 years old. I've enjoyed nearly every facet of it I've explored, and I've worked as a web application developer for over 3 years now, and done lower-level web development for quite a bit longer.
During my undergraduate years, I was able to work at my web development job while attending school, so I never really had to choose between software development and engineering. Because of this, going to graduate school essentially represented the path of least resistance for me.
The problem I'm facing now is that this "plan" basically consists of burying my head in the sand. Over the past summer, I experienced a new kind of life working full time at my web development job. I made a good amount of money, which I was able to put toward paying off some previous mistakes, and building a life for myself. In the evening, when I wanted to, I would sometimes go home and learn some things about computational fluid dynamics, but if I didn't want to, I could also get together with friends, or pursue other hobbies.
So now I'm in graduate school, and I'm hating it. I do enjoy the moments I'm in class much of the time, but I'm basically working 20 hours a week at my job, and 35 hours+ doing homework, in class, and in my professor's lab (I get to work at 8am and leave school at 7pm, so I'm not exaggerating.) The times I'm not working, I feel like I should be.
The main reason I went back to graduate school was that I didn't really like my job prospects as an engineer with a bachelor's degree. From what I've seen of most aerospace engineering jobs, they consist of doing large amounts of paperwork, and very very small, if any, amounts of engineering. My thought was to go back to graduate school to get a masters, and then hopefully I could find work doing computational fluid dynamics (a mix of programming and engineering) afterward, but the idea of living like this for the next 3-4 years doesn't make me very happy. Not only that, but I don't even know if that job will exist when I do graduate, or that I will like it. It's so much time to spend doing something that I'm not even sure will lead somewhere I want to go, and at the end of it, I'm even more specialized than I already am. I am also not funded right now (although that can change), so I'm looking at cutting back on my expenses so I can pay out of pocket, or taking out more student loans. Tuition isn't insane, but after 3 or 4 years, it would be above $20,000. That being said, I would expect to make $60,000-$70,000/year coming out of school.
The other alternative would of course be to go the programming route. The problem there is that I feel like it would be slamming the door on engineering. I've never been very good at retention, and I figure with just a little bit of time out of school, I'd basically forget my entire degree. Then, if at some point I decided to get back into it, it would be basically impossible. Following this career path has other advantages, though. Everyone needs programmers these days, so I could live anywhere, and I've always wanted to live in as many places as possible during my life. As a programmer, I have more opportunities to start a business or work at a small company or startup. I could even freelance, which I've done in the past, which would provide me a great deal of flexibility.
When I first started writing this question, I was sure I wanted to pursue the master's degree. Now, at the end of the question, I'm convinced that that's based on false assumptions about where it will lead, and that I should make the choice for the here and now, which is to quit grad school tomorrow and start my full time job as web developer the day after. I will likely feel differently in a few minutes.
What the hell do I do? I would be happy with nearly any advice here, whether it's seeing some kind of person, or just telling me how it sounds to you, or telling me how I might break this down into its parts, or whatever.