Am I crazy to quit my job?
June 10, 2011 3:23 PM   Subscribe

Am I crazy to quit a government job in this economy to go to grad school full time?

Now, before you instantly reply YES(!!), let me explain just a little bit. I'm an engineer for the government in a regulatory role I guess you could say. Before taking this job 4 months ago, I had been applying for grad school but nothing was looking promising. So, as an escape from my former employer (yes, wrong move) I took this job which moved me 1300 miles away from friends, family, and now ex-girlfriend. The job looks perfect on paper for a young 20 something. Travel around for two years in training and then get a basically guaranteed permanent placement.

There's two problems, though. 1) I realized I don't want to move around so much and have to establish a new social circle every 6 months. And, more importantly 2) I can't see myself doing this job for very long. If I was around friends, family and my network, I could get by, but I don't want to move around the country by myself for two to three years, only to end up most likely far from home away from family doing this job that I can merely tolerate because it's low stress.

Now, the grad school situation. Along with admission to the program I am offered full tuition coverage and a $24,000 stipend. It is at a midwestern school, so I would be back closer to home and people more like me. The school is fairly well known for my program (not necessarily national top tier or anything) but more importantly I would like to live in the geographical area where employers recruiting there would most likely come from. I would just be getting a master's and would be targeting this study for a job that will more closely match my interests. Unfortunately, I'm not entirely positive this is what I want to do. I know a lot of what I don't want to do by my various jobs, but my gut instinct was that I enjoyed this work in undergrad.

Now, I've been out of undergrad for two years, and have basically no debt, but also no savings. I've been putting all of my extra money into paying off loans. I would have to probably adjust my lifestyle, but I don't spend a lot on luxuries. My biggest vice is by far eating out. I don't pay for cable or even have a smart phone. Just internet and necessary utilities. There are so many pros and cons, that I need to sit down and map them out. I made an impulsive decision taking this job and don't want to make another one to 'escape' a position many would be glad to be in. To be honest, I would also be looking forward to some of the social aspects of being back on campus. Even though I realize it won't be like undergrad, I'm used to working a full time job. I was also never one to say, "I hate school and am glad to be done." I missed school when I graduated undergrad...
posted by Amistad to Education (16 answers total)
Shoot, I forgot to add the grad degree would not benefit the current agency at all. I won't get into detail about that but staying at the job and studying part time to get it paid for is not an option.
posted by Amistad at 3:25 PM on June 10, 2011

I left a job I didn't really like to go back to grad school, and it worked out great for me. You're obviously fully funded. It's just a Master's, so you won't be committing yourself to something that you interfere with your non-career-related life plans over the next 5-7 years. If you want to switch to a new/better job, it's probably better to sit out the recession for a couple of years doing something that really interests you.

There don't seem to be any downsides for you, assuming you can live on $24k without stressing about it.
posted by deanc at 3:29 PM on June 10, 2011

You say you're not entirely positive if the master's program is what you want to do. What're your reasons for saying that?
posted by Mercaptan at 3:32 PM on June 10, 2011

Mercaptan, I'm gun shy because I haven't been happy in my first couple jobs after college and wonder if it's a personal problem I need to sort out. The jobs look great on paper, my coworkers are great, the pay is comfortable in this economy, but I feel unsettled. In hindsight, one of the reasons I left my first job out of college was for a job with greater 'prestige' and to 'make something of myself' away from home. Really, that's not what I want. I've basically had a fundamental shift to realizing the balance I want in my life.
posted by Amistad at 3:43 PM on June 10, 2011

Okay, so you want you stay in the job market so that you can sort out that problem. So what's that balance you want?
posted by Mercaptan at 3:49 PM on June 10, 2011

I went to grad school in a midwestern university, tuition paid and stipend in exchange for a GRA position. If you scout out roommates, you can probably get by pretty cheaply; I was able to fund a Roth IRA during that time. I now work in for the uni, in a software development role. You sound much more prepared than I was, truth be told.

Are you crazy to do it? No. In this economy, unemployment falls with education. With your engineering background, you'll still be employable. It might not be the most profitable move, when you balance forgone income and raises versus the bump in pay. But it comes with intangibles that you want, and expands your range of options more than another two years of government service.
posted by pwnguin at 3:53 PM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think you need to be reasonable about how much you're supposed to be enjoying an entry-level, career-starting job. Having said that, a full boat and 24K/pa stipend isn't something I would turn down. If you do it, though, make sure you're not just bouncing from one thing to another like some kind of ADD squirrel. Get serious about it. Get control of your budget today, save up your last few pay checks, and run your post-grad studies on a very strict budget. In other words, be a grown-up about this choice and make it work for you long term, not just short term.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:54 PM on June 10, 2011

Here's another point: eventually, you will probably need to get a M.S. to advance in your career, especially if you stay with the government. The education you get at a full-time fully-funded research-based program is MUCH better than the sort of education you get in a part-time "Master's for working professionals" program. Take this opportunity while you still can. And you'll enjoy living near your friends.

Prestige and making something of yourself will still be when you need them.
posted by deanc at 4:13 PM on June 10, 2011

Congratulations on being so diligent and paying off your debts. This gives you a lot of freedom.

Two things to consider:
1) Guaranteed permanent placement isn't what it used to be. Programs are going to be slashed in the next few years, and regulatory jobs may be toast if 2012 leads to a "NO MOAR REGULATIONS" administration. You're probably in the best position to judge if your current position could be gone in the wrong political winds.

2) Grad school may give you more flexibility to go abroad if that is your interest. If the US economy does tank, you might be able to move elsewhere depending on the specialty.
posted by benzenedream at 4:27 PM on June 10, 2011

A Master's in engineering is usually a good investment in your career. You are gun-shy because you fear you would be sacrificing career for happiness and we are conditioned not to do that. I don't think you actually would be sacrificing anything, and I think this conditioning is so strong that something which improves your well-being actually makes you hesitate, as if it's not okay to do something only because it will make you happy.

It is important to recognize that achieving happiness in one's personal life matters; building social support networks takes time and work; planting roots to make a place "home" takes time and work. I think you have realized these things are missing in your life due to the nature of your career, and you recognize that this grad school opportunity can help you rebuild these. Give yourself permission to make this count in the decision spreadsheet in your head.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:29 PM on June 10, 2011 [3 favorites]

Doing a grad degree now while you're still young is very much a sane choice, especially when your employment situation is not what you want.
posted by waterandrock at 6:39 PM on June 10, 2011

Youth is the time to get educated, and given your relative lack of obligations, I think grad school would be good choice.

But could you do an impersonal favor? Before you quit your job, refer somebody to fill it. Your employer and the future employee will both be indebted to you and your boss won't think you are leaving them in a lurch.
posted by Renoroc at 7:49 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

If that graduate degree is in anything other than a hard science or engineering, then yes, it's a dumb idea.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:30 PM on June 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was assuming it was engineering related. Though even a hard science grad degree on the other hand might not be such a good idea.

In terms of "anything other than," where I live, any degree with a work experience component are not what I would consider dumb.
posted by waterandrock at 4:34 AM on June 11, 2011

Thanks everyone for the responses. I'm surprised at the resounding support for the idea, actually. To answer some of the questions:

Mercaptan, I want a balance between career success and a social life. Up until this point in my life, I've gotten most of my satisfaction from school/career success and made myself a little lonely because of it.

For a few of the other responses, this would be an M.S. in civil engineering. I am very much trying to target a job by going to school, not end up in academia. To be honest, though, I'm hoping the networking and social/dating aspects are good though too. I know everybody says grad school is a lot of work, but I'm hoping to have a balance. Some of the guys I know from undergrad that went on said it really opened their eyes up to the field more. I don't know, everybody's different.
posted by Amistad at 7:44 AM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just graduated grad school. I'm also back to my old career before I went to grad school, for what it's worth.

It sounds you are looking for the social aspects of grad school as one of the pros. Let me caution you on that aspect.

I went into looking for the same sort of social experience my brother and others (who went to law, b-school). The grad program I went to is in a fun, large state school with 50+ bars etc. My grad program is by far the top social program in the country for its discipline.

Most people focused on school, rather than socializing (I countered it by living with other grad school students). Everyone worried about work (even if everything was pass/fail).

Outside of the professional schools (i.e. health sciences, bschool, law, where students typically don't have extra jobs) you'll see most people balancing their academic and work (which pays for the academic commitments) more than their social commitments (i.e. work hard, work hard, play sporadically). If you DO go to grad school, I recommend reaching out to other schools and living with other programs' students , and not shunning the party scene (which might have undergrads in it).

While I didn't find the same experience as my brother (with alot of lifelong friends), I did find my gf/future wife. (At an undergrad bar, while she attended one of those 'professional' schools). So, maybe, it was worth it.
posted by sandmanwv at 9:04 AM on June 11, 2011

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