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We're going back to school, but for what??
April 7, 2011 9:14 AM   Subscribe

Please help two hardworking yet poor 30 year olds get careers and move out of this tiny one-bedroom apartment.

I'm a female PhD student in quantitative social science who is completely burned out. I'm supposed to be writing a dissertation but can't even LOOK at a relevant publication without feeling vaguely seasick. Right now I'm teaching a class for pennies, have completed an MA en route to the Phd, and I just want out.

My relevant skills are: quantitative/qualitative data analysis, presentation of data, research, analytical thinking, teaching.

But I don't have to use those, I'd happily cultivate another skill set if it'd be in high demand (health or tech I guess) and pay around 50K. My boyfriend and I have the usual 30 yo anxieties, baby, house, car, retirement, we've got none of it. And yet, it seems within reach if we make some good choices now.

Unfortunately, blood makes me faint.

I've looked at the Radiography Tech program in my area and it has a waiting list until 2014.

I've got no experience in IT. But, there are online classes available toward a SysAdmin Associate's Degree, but can I really get an entry-level SysAdmin job? All the job posts I see want tons of experience or at least a BS in Computer Science.

My boyfriend just got a BA in ethnic studies, not sure what the marketable skills are there, but he wants to "skill up" with me.

Please help the two of us Arizonans find some direction!
posted by powerbumpkin to Work & Money (20 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
You sound like you could get a better than $50k job in healthcare right now re: quantitative data analysis/presentation of data. I have no idea what the market is like in Arizona, but do you know anyone locally at a hospital/medical group/insurance company who would do an informational interview?

Memail me if you want to talk.
posted by teragram at 9:28 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am in the Civil engineering field and have friends in other technical fields. Something I hear again and again is the lack of skilled trades labor, stuff like machinist, wielding and so on. I am not talking construction stuff (although skilled trades are in demand even now their also) but the high tech side of it. This country still makes an amazing amount of stuff but it is highly automated and demands a very high skill set. It would mean more education, but of an entirely different sort. High math skills are required as is ability to continue a life long education in technical matters. If you are interest i would talk to the engineering faculty at your school about what tech skills are in demand around there. Phoenix has a lot of manufacturers around there due to climate, proximaty to california and favorable (for the corporations) labor and tax laws.

The pay can be quite good in these fields but you will be the first to be laid off until you develop a very in demand skill set.

Good luck.
posted by bartonlong at 9:28 AM on April 7, 2011


Have you considered going into market research or something? Many bigger ad firms also have smaller departments if there aren't any dedicated firms near you. You seem like the kind of person whose skills would be in demand. Another field that comes to mind is HR/recruiting. There is a lot of data analysis that goes into sourcing leads.
posted by shownomercy at 9:34 AM on April 7, 2011


Most major consulting firms are building healthcare business units right now, and your skills align with basic consultant abilities. If you get into one of the big names - McKinsey, for instance, which has a new McKinsey Healthcare Institute - you can live most anywhere you want, and you'd easily make low six figures as an Associate Consultant.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:44 AM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Sorry, that should be "McKinsey Hospital Institute"
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:45 AM on April 7, 2011


FWIW, if you are ABD with the dissertation, your seasickness is not unusual. If all you have to do is write the diss, I would highly recommend doing it, not mutually exclusive of your other wishes. The suggestions for getting into market research, etc. will be helped (I assume?) by having a phd.

to deal with the seasickness, i'd say to keep in mind, your diss doesn't have to be good; it just has to be done.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 10:02 AM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm a (near) PhD in a quantitative social science. If I were you, I'd consider these options:

- Going to a PhD program with a better standard of living - better stipend, cheaper place to live, whatever. Finishing the PhD is out of the question for you?

- Try for a government job. There are a number of government jobs that would allow you to use your quant skills and get paid at the GS-13 level with an MA.

No ideas for your man.
posted by k8t at 10:31 AM on April 7, 2011


There are a number of government jobs that would allow you to use your quant skills and get paid at the GS-13 level with an MA.

Only with experience. Otherwise you're looking at GS-9 (professional) or GS-11 (research) in the Group Coverage Qualification Standards for Professional and Scientific Positions, which is the one that applies for the Mathematical Statistics Series, 1529 (and also the Statistics Series, 1530, the Mathematics series and some related ones.)
posted by Jahaza at 10:46 AM on April 7, 2011


I'll echo the recommendation to finish the dissertation; it'll help you get a job, and outside of academics, there are some organizations that will pay you more for having the PhD.

Management consulting might be a great option, and the aforementioned McKinsey has a total boner for doctorates.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:47 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


On preview: NotMyselfRightNow nailed it. That's a great field to look into, and probably wouldn't require additional schooling.

I am not you, but if I were you and I were sure that I wanted to leave academia I would consider skipping any additional school and trying to get a job right away. You already have tons of education and are currently poor; getting more education and becoming poorer is a tough plan to follow, and a better plan would be getting paid and getting more experience. Since you've been in school for so long, 2 years of experience in a job look better on a resume than 2 more years of school/training.

I'm guessing here, but it seems that you want more education so you will be 'qualified' and have less uncertainty in the job market. I have news for you - the job search is always uncertain, and you already listed some really strong qualifications (I wish I'd entered the job market with skills in "quantitative/qualitative data analysis, presentation of data, research, analytical thinking, teaching"). You can use those skills to go for market research jobs, or government stats jobs, or aiding in all kinds of research. Frankly, I suggest spending an hour or two a day looking into job posting and spreading a wide net. You don't currently know what you want to do, so take the first thing that comes along that pays a living wage and try your hand at it. It might be great (I took the first random job I got and it turned out to be a great industry), and worst-case you earn some money and have some experience for the next thing you do. I know you think that more credentials = more money, but plenty of people with Masters earn 30k starting out and some people with BAs earn 50k starting out. There are no guarantees, so sometimes you just have to get out there and get the best job you can.

Like I said, I'm not you and I don't know if you really want to escape academia. I also don't know if you really want to be job searching - your emphasis on finding more coursework makes me thing you're avoiding it. But taking feelings out of the equation, I think just applying for jobs is the best next step because it avoids paying for more school and gets you money + experience. You just have to decide if it's your best next step.

I'll let others weigh in on whether you should just finish the PhD and then get a job. But either way, I don't think more school is a good strategy. Use your current skills to get a job.
posted by Tehhund at 10:49 AM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I, too, would advise finishing your Ph.D., if you can. Maybe you can discipline yourself to write WHILE working after taking a semester away to get fresh perspective.

"My relevant skills are: quantitative/qualitative data analysis, presentation of data, research, analytical thinking, teaching."

Yeah, don't go looking at associate degree programs and positions. You're looking for things like Six Sigma black belt at a hospital system. Data analysis with a major manufacturing firm. Sounds like you're too firmly entrenched in the ivory tower to see how attractive your skillset makes you to many corporate employers who deal with increasing quantities of data. You probably need to get out there and start networking to at least get an idea what there is -- maybe a local young professionals' organization or a Jaycees or something, to meet people in the corporate world and find out what they do?

You may have to come in on a slightly lower rung than you want to and then advance (Six Sigma black belt training is expensive, for example, and most places promote someone in-house since they're going to pay for the training), but it's an attractive skillset.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:50 AM on April 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Sounds like you're too firmly entrenched in the ivory tower to see how attractive your skillset makes you to many corporate employers who deal with increasing quantities of data.

Exactly.

powerbumpkin, let's be very clear about something: your advisor, your faculty, your peers, and probably your institution are doing everything they possibly can to make you believe that ABDs/PhDs have no skills outside academia. It's a huge fucking shell game, a con, and unfortunately, most students believe it. At this point in the process, you have HIGHLY marketable skills, HIGHLY desired capabilities, DEMONSTRATED experience and abilities, and a huge number of employers would kill for someone like you on staff.

Stop talking about jobs that are held by high school graduates, and start talking about jobs that are appropriate for your skill and experience level, and that bring you a ton of money and other rewards.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 11:03 AM on April 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


He should learn a trade skill. That might seem like a left turn, but there is a huge shortage of tradesman in this country. Qualified electricians, plumbers, HVAC workers can be hard to find.

I am an electrician, own a small company. I am telling you, even now with unemployment so high in the construction industry, it is hard to find qualified guys.

If he is a good student, he can complete some course in a few months. There are tons of scholarships and opportunities to study trade skills. In six years, he can have a master's license.

A master electrician, or a master plumber, can often write their own way. Start a company, get into solar power, work at a big hotel or stadium. Once he is a master electrician license, he will NEVER be out of work, and never earn less than $30 per hour.

Everyone wants a desk job - if he is willing to learn to work with tools, he can make plenty of money and have a real career as an electrician. And, frankly, do something helpful for country. The electrical infrastructure of this country is falling apart - because all the smart young men are getting meaningless business degrees, and not picking up any trade skills. We have enough businessmen, this country needs more electricians.
posted by Flood at 12:12 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Here's my advice.

a) Stay in the PhD program for now.

b) Study for the CFA level 1 exam. Many of your skills help in this case.

Continuing in (a) will be a hedge in case things go south quickly.

Doing (b) will build on your skillset and expose you to a new area, i.e., finance. (b) will also greatly enhance your financial knowledge and help you manage money better in the long-term. Lastly, (b) is not very expensive and helps improve your employability.
posted by jchaw at 12:14 PM on April 7, 2011


You're so close! But I've known of Epic Systems to hire high-achieving students who dropped out of an academic field and TRAIN THEM in the IT or business techniques needed. They also take high-GPA liberal arts grads. I do not work for them, but they are located near me in Wisconsin:

http://www.epic.com/
posted by ElisaOS at 12:44 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, I returned to IT school in my 30's. I enjoy it and have seen people from similar backgrounds to yours do well in it. But ask yourself, do you really want to spend the next 2 years in tech school? The material can be really dry and time-consuming, but making cool stuff is cool.
posted by ElisaOS at 12:45 PM on April 7, 2011


He should learn a trade skill. That might seem like a left turn, but there is a huge shortage of tradesman in this country. Qualified electricians, plumbers, HVAC workers can be hard to find.

FWIW, my husband just gave up a ten year career as a master electrician because the job was exhausting and monotonous, and management was disrespectful at best. Also, being the best paid employee in his company, he was making around 45k with absolutely no posibility of improvement.

He has since gone back to school for electrical engineering in the hopes of finding a more rewarding job (and hopefully with more room for advancement)

I think the best alternative for your boyfriend is to get a Master's, rather than going to trade school. If he thinks an MA would not improve his hiring potential vastly (I would agree), then he could look for a Master's program that relates to his career but is more on the technical side. Something like statistics would be general enough to qualify him for a good stable government job .
posted by Tarumba at 1:29 PM on April 7, 2011


A master electrician, or a master plumber, can often write their own way. Start a company, get into solar power, work at a big hotel or stadium. Once he is a master electrician license, he will NEVER be out of work, and never earn less than $30 per hour.

Flood, I don't know if we were doing something wrong, but this was definitely not my husband's reality, as a 28 year old Master Electrician!
posted by Tarumba at 1:33 PM on April 7, 2011


Quantitative Social Science? There is always room for someone with your skills in digital media market research and analysis, for real. All of these media - traditional and new - companies are drowning in data and looking for people who can handle analyzing all the info coming in about what users are doing online and how to interpret their behavior.
posted by sestaaak at 3:52 PM on April 7, 2011


Tarumba - sorry to hear about your husband's experience. That has not been mine. I am active in my local home builder association, and I don't think I have ever heard of a master craftsman leaving his trade. But clearly, nothing is perfect.

To the OP, my point was: you should look into areas with known skilled labor shortages. Tradesmen is definitely an area with a shortage of skilled workers. Nursing is another area. There are areas of the economy with a shortage of workers. Research those areas and focus on that. There are career paths there.
posted by Flood at 6:37 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


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