Should I get another bachelors degree?
June 13, 2010 7:25 AM   Subscribe

I have a bachelors degree in philosophy. I wasn't a great student. My career path seems to be boring and unpredictable. I want a job where I can use my brain and be a part of pushing the world into a techno-utopia. Do I need a new bachelors degree? How will the admissions process go for me? How can I prove to myself that I can do my degree well?

I entered university with a 1220 (650m/570v) on my (old style) SATs and a 3.15 GPA from high school. I graduated from James Madison University in 2005. With a philosophy major and a 2.74 GPA. At the time I didn't care about school, nor did I put any effort into it. I just showed up to classes for the most part. I loved classes, I found them easy and interesting, but I didn't study for tests and wrote all my papers at the last minute. I did horribly badly in a few courses and was constantly debating with myself whether school was important or not.

For the past 5 years (wow) I've been traveling around, teaching in South Korea and traveling some more. My job is alright but has 0 intellectual challenge and I feel like I'm getting dumber by the day. I've worked on multiple projects for the past 5 years too. I did hapkido for more than 1 year 5 days per week 1-1.5 hours per day. I did pickup (yes Mystery, Neil Strauss stuff) and I got really good at getting girls. I worked on the internet, making up to $200/day though this has been semi inconsistent. Now I'm learning Japanese and have been studying about 2 hours everyday for 3 months. So I list all that as hopefully proof that I have changed since my university days and can do it now. Can't I? I think so.

So now I'm looking at the future ahead and I know I don't want to be teaching. I'm only 50% confident about making money on the internet for the future. I've always been fascinated by science and technology. Did I mention I'm a computer nerd and taught myself to program in high school? I want to be part of the future and ideally something big. I love sci-fi. So 2 major things I'm interested in are alternative energy sources and biotechnology. I'm also fascinated by all the other sciences especially evolution, astronomy, chemistry, physics etc.

So now that the back story has been revealed, on to my questions:

1. Do I need another bachelors degree?
2. How are admissions people going to treat me? Is there anything I can do about this?
3. How can I test my interests in certain fields to both
a. Find out if it's right for me.
b. Prove to myself I can do it.
posted by anonymous to Education (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
1. Yes. A philosophy degree has almost nothing to do with the sciences.

2. They're going to treat you as a 2.74GPA student who has been teaching for the last 5 years in South Korea. Your personal story about teaching yourself how to pick up girls, inconsistently making money on the internet and learning some japanese is interesting, but really isn't a big academic sell.

3) You should register for first year sciences at a university and take courses like a first year would. It will introduce you to the subject, show you have an aptitude for it and will provide you with some understanding of how much you've really changed over the last 5 years with respect to your dedication to success in academia.
posted by Hiker at 7:59 AM on June 13, 2010

I want to be part of the future and ideally something big. I love sci-fi. So 2 major things I'm interested in are alternative energy sources and biotechnology. I'm also fascinated by all the other sciences especially evolution, astronomy, chemistry, physics etc.

Sci-fi probably has as much to do with philosophy as do the hard sciences. Also, evolution isn't a science. But anyway, I'd suggest looking into cognitive science, which involves philosophy. The cog-sci lab at my college was all about playing with robots. However, with such an abysmal GPA, I'm not sure what your options would be for pursuing study in this. Grad school is almost definitely out, for one thing.

(For what it's worth, a friend of mine went back to school after doing middling in undergrad for anthropology. He applied as a second-degree student in the sciences, decided first that chemistry, then engineering, weren't for him, and is now considering becoming a dentist. He's done well, but I think his story is instructive about how you should be sure what your goals really are if you're doing college a second time around. Turns out, he just wanted a steady job with a good income, no matter how cool he thought being "a scientist" would be.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:14 AM on June 13, 2010

Given your GPA it seems that your options are either to do a whole new Bachelor's degree and get better grades or treat your interest in science as more of a hobby than an academic pursuit.

I don't think it's a good idea to go back to school to get a second bachelor's degree, unless someone else will be footing the bill (tuition, books, room & board, food, etc.) for you. Otherwise all you have at the end is four more years of education and a lot of debt, plus the years of graduate school to look forward to.

I'm fascinated by artificial intelligence and the so-called singularity but never had any intention of studying this academically. I keep up with it by reading various blogs. Now, by no stretch could I call myself a researcher in artificial intelligence or the singularity, but the internet at least allows me to stay current with these ideas (admittedly, filtered through the researchers themselves). But it has been a freed education, of sorts, which I have received while working elsewhere and paying my bills.

Now, I happen to like what I do for work, and it keeps me engaged, so my interest in other ideas is mere gravy.

What you need to figure out is what paths are possible for you now. It sounds like you intuit that an academic career doing science of some kind isn't really in the cards for you. But what is? Your question focuses almost entirely on the path you would like to go down but which you know you can't because of your poor academic record.
posted by dfriedman at 8:32 AM on June 13, 2010

If your job is 'alright' and you have the opportunity to study martial arts, pick up girls, read lots of scifi, etc...well, then I say you are doing pretty good. You have this idea of what your work should be. From my limited experience 'where ever you go, there you are' is very true. You can get your dream job and 1 month later feel exactly like you feel now. There are so many unhappy people with 'dream jobs' that just want to ditch it all and go to Korea and teach english. Once you have your basic needs met, plus enough to frivolously enjoy yourself on occasion...then feeling fulfilled can come from anywhere. It doesn't have to be your job.

If you like scifi and feel your job doesn't provide enough intellectual challenge...then why not write scifi?
posted by ian1977 at 8:33 AM on June 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Suggest perusing the Chronicle of Philanthropy's job section. You sound perfect for a private, operating foundation.
posted by Pamelayne at 8:53 AM on June 13, 2010

I think you would benefit from taking a few introductory science courses at a community college, which will be relatively inexpensive. I agree with dfriedman that it will probably be a waste of your time and money to get another entire bachelor's degree (at least at this point). If you find out that science is what you want to do, look into post-bacs that students who decide to go to med school without the appropriate undergrad background do. If you find out that technology is the way to go, you can formalize some of your computer science/it experience as a non-degree seeking student.

For most jobs, any bachelors degree will do as long as you can prove that you have the skills necessary to succeed. Applying for tech jobs with a philosohpy degree is not impossible, you just have to work a little harder than someone with, say, a computer science degree, to prove that you can succeed.

Good luck!
posted by MidsizeBlowfish at 9:02 AM on June 13, 2010

I want to be part of the future and ideally something big. I love sci-fi. So 2 major things I'm interested in are alternative energy sources and biotechnology. I'm also fascinated by all the other sciences especially evolution, astronomy, chemistry, physics etc.

The first thing you have to do is to figure out what you want to exactly. That isn't clear from your post, if you can't articulate to others what *exactly* you want to do, then you're not sufficiently clear. From what you say + your philosophy background, you might want to think about going into science journalism, lobbying, policy research, etc as you don't sound like you'd be interested in doing pure science research.
That would require an MA in a relevant area, I don't know how hard Masters admissions are in the US, but I imagine that your unimpressive SAT and especially university GPA would be obstacles.

1. Do I need another bachelors degree?
2. How are admissions people going to treat me? Is there anything I can do about this?
3. How can I test my interests in certain fields to both
a. Find out if it's right for me.
b. Prove to myself I can do it.

1) Not necessarily if you want to do "soft" work like lobbying or think tank work - but please note that competition for this work is not easier just because they don't necessarily require science degrees. I will be frank and say that you are unlikely to find such a role or get into a graduate program that leads you there with your current record But there are ways you can improve your chances (see later points)
If you want to do actual scientific research, then yes, you will need a new bachelor's degree in a science. You will need to do some ground work to even get admitted to a university with an adequate research programme (do not attend a university where you can't get a lot of undergrad research experience)

2) They will not want to admit you because your record makes you look like a flake, sorry. There is however, most certainly something you can do about this. Once you have actually decided what you want to do, you need to accept that your social life must now take a very distant place indeed to your new all-consuming passion. The only thing that might be able to overcome your previous record as a flake is to demonstrate in the most direct way that you have changed.

If, for instance you decided that you want to do policy work in alt. energy, then start now. Write a detailed 100 page brief comparing battery technologies and trends, Analyse the likely sites for off-shore wind in South Korea and determine the over-capacity required to ensure supply at all times (include in your analysis changes to the grid and financial incentives that drive them as well the cost of nat. gas standby turbines.) (surprise: even policy work in alt. energy requires technical literacy). Or whatever, you'll have to figure this out for yourself.

The proof will be in the pudding, if admissions people for MAs or employers ask you whether you're capable of producing good work you will have it there to show them. Then you will know that you have changed and so will they. You should also be sounding out people in the field for their advice.

Incidentally, while there is nothing wrong with banging girls you pick up in bars, bragging about it is distasteful - especially as a bizarre nonsequitur. Everyone who reads that will think of you the way I am doing now: poorly. Please make a habit of not mentioning this, especially to potential employers and admissions people.

If you have actually attained a measurable ability in Japanese at whatever time you apply for a job/masters slot then mention that. It would, in my mind, indicate that you have - as you say - changed. Don't tell them just that you're studying it, that doesn't prove a thing.

3) See above.

a) figure out what exactly you want to do
b) figure out what you need to do to get there in terms of qualifications
c) figure out what you need to do to get those quals in the first place
ad infinitum until you get to the step where you know that to do tomorrow morning.
x) Begin executing your plan

(btw if you decide you want to do actual scientific research, there's a lot you can learn on your own find a resource like this one for your chosen field and get started, MIT OpenCourseware is also good)
posted by atrazine at 9:41 AM on June 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Philosophy graduate and techno-utopian here.

As soon as I graduated with my B.A., I started a post-bacc pre-med program.

It was a good decision for me.
posted by edguardo at 10:19 AM on June 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe you just need to find a way to spin your experiences to future employers. The majority of people do not go and live in S. Korea for five years. It's difficult to live for a long time in another country with a totally different culture and language. You could maybe play that up as you improving your communication skills and cultural sensitivity. Perhaps you really have learned a lot of things, but you just need to broaden them and look at it from another angle.
posted by joeyjoejoejr at 10:38 AM on June 13, 2010

[...] I got really good at getting girls.

If you can reliably teach this skill, you need never worry about money again in your life. Then you can spend most of your time pursuing your other interests. [If you can boil it down to a mail message, by all means send me a memail.]
posted by Crabby Appleton at 7:00 PM on June 13, 2010

I doubt you need another Bachelors

Look into Educational Technology.
posted by jander03 at 9:43 AM on October 26, 2010

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