And now for something completely different…
January 16, 2012 5:26 PM Subscribe
I did very well in my undergrad discipline, but want to pursue something entirely different. How best to make the move?
posted by anonymous to education (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I graduated from a large public university last spring with a dual degree in economics and international relations. During my undergrad career, I studied abroad in a fascinating nonwestern country and learned its fascinating nonwestern language. I did very well (wrote an honors thesis, graduated summa cum laude, was named outstanding senior in my college), but I never worked very hard or felt challenged. School has always been easy, and I simply floated through another four years, buoyed by the sea of anonymous students at my big state school. Thanks to a generous scholarship, I graduated free of debt.
Studying economics left me deeply skeptical of the foundations of economic theory, human rationality and knowledge, and the value of abstract mathematical modeling. Attending college left me deeply skeptical of the incentives of universities and the efficacy of higher education. I may be biased, but I am extremely reluctant to take out debt to finance further education unless there is unambiguous future value.
Unfortunately, I need to learn more somehow. My lack of technical skills makes me feel immature and embarrased. My econ program was not mathematically rigorous and though I took a great econometrics course, my math education stopped at linear algebra. Math never came easy, but I suspect this was because I was never very disciplined about it. Similarly, I've recently picked up basic Python and Django programming, but feel limited by my quantitative weakness. When I speak with friends studying math and science, who have now moved on to masters and Phd programs, my degree feels a little bit like a fraud. Even worse, I feel like I couldn't hack the subjects they studied and settled for something easy.
I'm currently a Fulbright scholar in that fascinating nonwestern country, working on a political science project. It's interesting enough, but there seem to be diminishing returns to further specialization. As much as I enjoy it, I'm not sure I see myself studying this fascinating nonwestern country for the rest of my career.
In the last semester of my senior year, I took a great class that introduced me to a whole slew of wonderful ideas: cultural evolution, evolutionary game theory, complex systems, emergence. I am absolutely fascinated by evolution, especially as it applies to economics, philosophy, and the social sciences. But it seems too late to change my focus now.
As a good economist, I know not to be misled by the sunk cost fallacy. I shouldn't consider the time I've invested in past education when making decisions about the future. But I also know to consider path dependence: my future decisions are limited by the choices I've made in the past.
Studying computer science seems like an ideal sort-of-lateral move: a high-value subject where the quantitative stuff is focused on real problems. I feel flow when I'm programming in a way I don't anywhere else, and accomplishment when I build something that brings an idea of mine to life (even if my code sucks). Right now it's really hard—and I like that. It also seems applicable to many other disciplines, and evolutionary algorithms and computation seem cool. But I'm not sure how to make the move.
What else should I consider studying? Is further education even worth it, and is it possible to pay for it? (This seems to be the default setting for all my peers, but I can't shake the skepticism about cost outweighing benefits, and many of them are already >$100k in debt). How can I jump from one discipline to another in a higher education system shaped like a funnel? Will I even be a competitive applicant to quantitative disciplines? How can I fill in my deep deficiencies without another undergrad degree?
I have been very, very lucky, and I hope this question doesn't come off as haughty or entitled. Frankly, I don't think I've really deserved any of the accolades I've won, even though I've accomplished a lot on paper. Now I feel stuck, stupid, and unsure about what to do next. Your advice and insight will be appreciated. Anonymous because all young people are deeply paranoid about the future. Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org