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Given my interests, which fields should I consider in continuing my education?
March 8, 2012 9:04 PM   Subscribe

What sort of career and field best suits my personality, interests, and long-term desires? Be my free aptitude test. Yes, it's one of those questions! I'm sorry!

I'm female, in my mid-twenties, and looking to return to university for a master's degree of some sort, but I'm not sure which path I should aim to take. Long story short, all the things I'm most "naturally talented" in don't pay well or consistently, are annoying to do for a living, or are evolving/dying in a slow, somewhat awkwardly embarrassing fashion. None of that is ideal, and it's even less ideal in a recession. So, I'm looking at other options that are more financially stable but still offer some flexibility. I do intend to talk to university counselors as I come nearer to acting on all this, but I'd like some casual advice now to help me get started! Assume I'm stupid when you give me advice because I do in fact feel quite clueless!

Background: My (Australian, though I'm a Yank and back in America) bachelor's degree from 2009 is in the social sciences. I'm not sure where that puts me in terms of a starting point, and I'm guessing it might vary from one university to another, so, for now, I'm more interested in just figuring out what best fits my interests and long-term goals/dreams. If nothing else, this will help me know what kind of questions I should ask a counselor later on. I will probably be in Washington state for all of this, if that's helpful to know.

Details:

- Strengths:
  • By far, my writing and editing skills. For reals, y'all, and not just because my mom said.
  • I'm a geek with lots of computer skills. Web design is what I currently do--graphics, front-end design (HTML, CSS). I don't go into programming, however. That just makes me want to throw something, like punches.
  • I'm told I'm a good teacher and listener. I enjoy helping people who have a problem that needs solving.
  • For some quirky reason, I'm good at organizing boatloads of data and making it usable for others.
  • I feel like I have a lot of general knowledge. It doesn't do me much good, but it's there!
- Weak points:
  • Math, though I'm sure I could get my act together if needed.
  • I'm not sure I like it about myself, but I'll be honest and say I don't handle very strict working environments that well. I don't "act out" or anything, but I feel stifled and unhappy in them and know I don't meet my full potential. By default, I am probably better in slightly casual places, at the very least. I'm just not a dress suit, briefcase-in-my-smartphone every day kind of person.
  • I think I'm a bit of a socially awkward penguin!
- I've tried to put the following in order of my interest level, while excluding all the creative interests that lead to the life of a starving artist:
  • Sociology: most kinds.
  • Psychology: most kinds. I think I'd make a good psychologist. (Downside is I'd need even more education for this.)
  • Education: secondary or tertiary.
  • Health sciences: matters of education/awareness, nutrition, genetics, biotech.
  • New media theory/psychology/law. One of my undergrad degree majors more or less covers this.
  • Copyright law: think EFF.
- Things I'm not interested in:
  • Anything involving lots of driving. I hate driving. I doubt any of the above would require a lot, but I'm just throwing this out there. I hate it that much.
  • Marketing/advertising. In the event that souls exist, I'd like not to have sold mine.
  • Working with young children or the the very elderly on a frequent basis--infrequent is okay. (Hmm, does this make me a bad person? Hope not...)
  • Journalism--been there, done that, no thanks.
  • Technical writing / copywriting. It's creative writing I love, unfortunately.
- Potential Issue:
  • As passionate as I am about reading up on some of my interests, I'm worried that some of the fields they would put me in would not allow for much international flexibility. I'm not sure I want to stay in the U.S. forever, but regardless, I would like to do some work abroad on a work visa. (Or I could on a marriage visa in Australia or New Zealand, as my husband has citizenship in both.) I'm not sure being in a line of work that is very concerned with U.S. customs and laws will be that conducive to working abroad, much less migrating more permanently to some places.
That's me and where I am right now. I'm looking for any advice concerning fields to research or even cautionary tales. Oh, and I've already looked over similar questions and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latter of which really gave credence to my assumption that editing was well and truly dying.

Lay it on me--oh, and thank you!
posted by iamfantastikate to Work & Money (9 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's request. -- restless_nomad

 
Based on all of your strengths, I am going to suggest information architecture. IAs help to organize data to make it usable, and it really helps to have a keen interest in listening to people (for example, to interview the people who are going to use that data so you can make sure you understand how they need it organized or how they will access it). Plus you're geeky and it sounds like you're a sponge which means you'll easily pick up the subject matter of whatever information you are dealing with.
posted by joan_holloway at 9:15 PM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, web design itself isn't really a bad field to be in if you're better than "college kid with photoshop" level, but if you want to move up and you're good at organization and problem solving, you could consider project management.

Yes, it's sort of middle-managery, but it's the sort of thing where you can use your existing skill sets to better advantage while picking and choosing where you work. Many businesses need project management to some degree or other, so you have a bit of flexibility in terms of industry.
posted by tau_ceti at 9:16 PM on March 8, 2012


When I was going back to school, I encountered a TON of people who were coming out of doctoral and post-doctoral degrees and feeling COMPLETELY underskilled to do most jobs that were hiring. I decided then and there that if I was going to put more time and money into school, then i was going to have a job coming out of it, dammit. so i basically did a trade.

it sounds like you have a lot of skills and are generally competent, so i am wondering why it is you feel like you need to get a graduate degree right away.

have you considered doing production coordinating or project management work? something that comes to mind is organizing the production schedules at a magazine company (yeah yeah, print is dying, it's just what came to mind from my personal history). But every field has its own project managers - basically the organized, people-understanding superheros that corral every project into existence. this could be you!
posted by andreapandrea at 9:18 PM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


What sort of career and field best suits my personality, interests, and long-term desires? Be my free aptitude test. Yes, it's one of those questions! I'm sorry!

YES! I love these

I'm female, in my mid-twenties, and looking to return to university for a master's degree of some sort, but I'm not sure which path I should aim to take.

What made you want to ditch web design? With this level of uncertainty, and the risks that accompany getting a master's degree, it seems a bit questionable.

- Strengths:
By far, my writing and editing skills. For reals, y'all, and not just because my mom said.
I'm a geek with lots of computer skills. Web design is what I currently do--graphics, front-end design (HTML, CSS). I don't go into programming, however. That just makes me want to throw something, like punches.


You can really build on that, right now. Like solid-career-wise. You can build on it to the degree that it will purchase you time to do other stuff that's not as load-bearing. It's what I've done instead of getting a master's degree.

I'm told I'm a good teacher and listener. I enjoy helping people who have a problem that needs solving.

Thought about part-time instructorship @ a local junior college? Highly recommended to see how you fit in a teaching environment. For me, the environment was the killer that I didn't anticipate. I knew I taught well but I'm glad I learned what the rest of it is like, and it was a fantastic experience that I got by just putting my name out there when the head of the Art department was listening.

For some quirky reason, I'm good at organizing boatloads of data and making it usable for others.
I feel like I have a lot of general knowledge. It doesn't do me much good, but it's there!


Well, if you can mix in some communication skills (calls to action, etc.) this is actually a big springboard of an angle to work with entrepreneurial web design. They have content but they all want to make it worthwhile and worry that it's not working for them. Just in my experience (freelance web designer of 7 years)

- Weak points:
Math, though I'm sure I could get my act together if needed.


My advice: Ignore; play to your strengths, recall that nobody asked Picasso how his math skills were, and nobody cared whether Einstein could paint

I'm not sure I like it about myself, but I'll be honest and say I don't handle very strict working environments that well.

How are your business / entrepreneurial skills? Any interest in flying solo or running a creative business, for example?

I don't "act out" or anything, but I feel stifled and unhappy in them and know I don't meet my full potential. By default, I am probably better in slightly casual places, at the very least. I'm just not a dress suit, briefcase-in-my-smartphone every day kind of person.

If it's more the environment, what about working for other people in general? Do you mind that at all? Or do you ever get the feeling that if you were maestro-in-chief, you could probably kick butt?
posted by circular at 9:51 PM on March 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


From joan_holloway: Based on all of your strengths, I am going to suggest information architecture.
Is this not essentially user experience design? I am qualified for this now, I should think, but I do want to generally move away from web design. Have you worked as an IA or know someone who has? Can you tell me a bit about it?
From tau_ceti: Many businesses need project management to some degree or other, so you have a bit of flexibility in terms of industry.
Project management could be good for me, maybe, as I already do that a bit with my husband's business, which continues to grow (freelance web programming). It seems like the work would vary a lot for that role, depending on the industry. Will have to research a bit more. Thanks for the suggestion. :)
From andreapandrea: ...i am wondering why it is you feel like you need to get a graduate degree right away.
I think the problem with my bachelor's degree is that I tried to do something that was fairly practical that still had some connection to the arts, but I should have known anything like that was a little too good to be true. Maybe especially since I did a double major (multimedia and media theory), it meant I dabbled in a lot of stuff but didn't become an "expert" of anything in the "jack of all trades, master of none" sense. I did change up a few classes, so I had a bit more focus on new media theory, but that's the problem; my interest was in theory, and one has to admit there's not a lot of work in that outside of Academia!

What I am doing now--freelancing--was what I was partly doing before university. Web design is what I have the most practical experience in, but I'm not that interested in continuing it for a variety of reasons. When trying to apply to other things, I've found I just don't have enough skills within any one thing outside of what I'm doing, not to mention experience--since everyone's supposed to have five years of that. Or, on the other hand, [blank] industry's in a fragile state due to the economy, outsourcing, or digitization. I considered moving forward with a degree that would maybe put me in fiction editing, but it's far too much of a risk for the kind of money it'd take to get the degree, so I'm tossing that idea out.

What trade did you go into? I should have mentioned I'm not at all opposed to going into a trade, either, but I didn't know of any off the top of my head that aligned with my interests.
From circular: What made you want to ditch web design? With this level of uncertainty, and the risks that accompany getting a master's degree, it seems a bit questionable.
I haven't really ditched it. It's more like the designing/graphical side of it is what interests me most, but that's what I've gotten the least amount of work in, at least as a freelancer. (As an aside, I should mention that freelancing itself has become less appealing to me with time. The hours are great, sure, but I think I'd like more interaction.) I don't think it's for lack of skill that I've not gotten much graphical design, as bigger clients are willing to have me, but rather according to how much competition there is in the work with outsourcing for middle-range/typical jobs. Ironically, I was getting design work before I went to university. I think if I'd stuck with it then, rather than gone to uni, I would have built up enough experience to make a name for myself and just do design. Instead, I came into it in full at basically the height of a recession when outsourcing is common business practice. As a result, a lot of the work I've gotten is front-end coding and some documentation, rather than design (only on occasion). My husband is a freelance programmer with me, and his experience has been quite different from mine, as globally, there are fewer with his advanced skills.

I'm looking to get a master's degree because I feel web design was where I was most likely to be able to make money from my artistic side but haven't found that to be the case for me personally. I could learn more powerful programming languages and essentially do what my husband is doing, but I really hate it.
Thought about part-time instructorship @ a local junior college?
This is great advice, but I know nothing about junior colleges! (Actually, I know very little about American colleges.) Do I need any special certification to do this? Are jobs like these posted, or should I contact unis directly and just ask?
If it's more the environment, what about working for other people in general? Do you mind that at all?
I worked for a news agency for a time. That was all right, though I could have had a better boss. By far, the most annoying thing was getting through with work hours before I was "supposed" to and not being able to leave because I was salaried. I like to stay busy or be a lazy bum, not pretend to be busy while actually being lazy! So, I hated that aspect of that particular job, but in general, I think I'm fine working for/with people. Controlling my own hours was part of the appeal to freelancing, but for now at least I'd like to trade that for more interaction with people and to explore some other interests. Thanks for all your thoughts!
posted by iamfantastikate at 11:28 PM on March 8, 2012


I was you. I was so you. Ugrad in psychology. I transitioned to systems administration and then eventually specialized in business intelligence and datathe administration on SAS. I do not enjoy programming for long stretches and so shy away from it. I gravitate toward jobs and employers where i have a lot of autonomy to solve problems without rigid micromanagement. It is important to me to get to wear many hats in my job (proj mgt, proposal writing, systems admin, and such. You may enjoy proposal writing even if its technical bc you get to be creative. Currently i work as a consultant for CSC and its the best job I have ever had. To get further along the path you can opt for an ms in information systems as these programs often have fast tracks for students with ba degrees that were not in compsci.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 5:17 AM on March 9, 2012


I have a good few years on a somewhat similar profile to you, coming more from the technical side (first degree in engineering, strong artistic streak) and forging a career of sorts doing design work on the Web. The economics of this industry don't always favor small businesses or independent designers, and large companies are, well, large companies. But it's a good life if you don't weaken.

So here are a few ideas based on my reading of your situation. Sorry in advance for emphasizing the creative-small-business-owning route, which you seem to want to get away from, but given your skills I am certain you could build a rewarding career in this direction if you wanted to.

1. Try developing your creative web/UX skills at Masters level at design school. The field is deep and wide, and constantly changing. Rather than looking for existing roles to apply your skills, think about how you would like the technology to support your interests, and take that into a laboratory environment, along with your experience in data management, designing and editing.

I have no idea how to find equivalent courses in the States, but I did a vocational post-graduate degree in new media production (the above, essentially) at a Dutch design school a few years ago, and it made a huge difference to my career. It helped me hone my conceptual and communication skills, and more importantly, made it much easier to get hired by professional organizations. Basically, it transformed me from a struggling freelancer into a business owner with proper customers and interesting creative projects.

2. You should definitely consider how you can join forces with your husband, regarding content and data management. Is there a specialized product-based service you could offer around your editing/data management, or even training skills? You could use this as both a means of support for and perhaps even a usage scenario for a masters exegesis.

3. You might wish to reconsider your attitude to marketing/advertising. This is not to say that your instincts aren't basically correct, but if you want to progress in the creative side of the Web, it's actually rather hard to avoid. Even if you find work with broadcasters or other media organizations, the marketeers are never far away. I've been pretty lucky to have had limited contact with that side of the industry, but advertising wields untold influence on the web, and eventually you'll run into clients whose expectations are shaped by it.

*
This is all based on my own experience, so feel free to MeMail me if you'd like to know a bit more about any of it.
posted by Elizabeth the Thirteenth at 8:34 AM on March 9, 2012


This is great advice, but I know nothing about junior colleges! (Actually, I know very little about American colleges.) Do I need any special certification to do this? Are jobs like these posted, or should I contact unis directly and just ask?

I would just walk around and ask. If it's anything like my area (I'm in California), there will be huge demand for electives around design & the web. You shouldn't need any special certification as long as you can demonstrate your experience in the field somehow. And I never saw a single job like that posted anywhere, but funnily enough they acted like they were always desperate to find teachers... :-) You won't be considered a professor or anything of course, probably just an "instructor" but be prepared for students to call you "Ms. So-and-So" and raise their hands to ask to go to the bathroom and whatnot, because many of them just got out of high school. I taught a mix of those types, career professionals, homeless, and retirees. Really fun to make all those connections.

I taught two 3-credit classes every semester, plus a 1.5 credit class that spanned two Saturdays. Those Saturdays were longggg days but still fun to polish my basic teaching methods.

Anyway, highly recommend it because it's difficult to find an equivalent way to get the same experience.

If you *do* have any problems with your experience level, you might look at extension programs for middle- and high-school students that are taught at local colleges. I taught a Saturdays-only course in 3D graphics and it was an incredibly rewarding experience. I still want to go back and help those kids along. Somebody begged for their special-needs daughter to be included, and she started crying almost the minute Mom left the room, but pretty soon we had her howling with laughter as we animated a photo of her dog on the screen. So great.

I worked for a news agency for a time. That was all right, though I could have had a better boss.


That boss comment and your other work environment comments made me wonder: Have you ever worked in a marketing department? I have never had better bosses or worked in more relaxed circumstances, ever. I once transferred from a software testing job to a marketing job within the same company (simply because I knew Photoshop / Illustrator), and it was like being released from prison! There's a mindset that goes with marketing (separate from the mass-marketing thing, which I would mention can be much different) that is very much about relationships and harmony. Really recommend it. Many of my best clients are marketing directors. They understand creatives and they LOVE to work your talents into their plans. I told one client that I wanted to do more illustration work, almost like it was this vague dream, and within a SINGLE DAY she sent me paying illustration work to do.

It's more like the designing/graphical side of it is what interests me most, but that's what I've gotten the least amount of work in, at least as a freelancer.

Have you thought about teaming up with somebody who already does this, and has tons of work coming in? That's what I did, and it was a great thing for my career. There is always creative work out there, especially in first-world countries where people are selling experiences and lifestyles.

So maybe there is a bit of a pre-judgment about creative careers that may be holding you back. Perhaps your husband's success amplifies these feelings a bit for you?

I originally studied computer science at university for the same reason--I really should have gone to art school, but I was told I could go to almost any art school I wanted, and didn't think I could make a living at it.

Now though, one of my colleagues is a freelance graphic designer of 28 years. She is extremely successful, is super-respected in the community, and is active in the arts scene. One of her biggest problems is having to turn down work! She can walk into a room, tell the client exactly what their problem is, and they practically throw money at her to solve it for them.

Just to test those waters, I really recommend doing some informational interviewing. Write down all those creative-but-impossible careers you think you'd like, and go interview some veterans. Just ask 2 or 3 of them for 10 minutes of their time, ask them what the pros and cons are, how they got where they are, and whether they think it's a viable career for you. You'll be so glad you did this. Personally, I know it's the reason I'm not an architect today. :-)

I'm looking to get a master's degree because I feel web design was where I was most likely to be able to make money from my artistic side but haven't found that to be the case for me personally. I could learn more powerful programming languages and essentially do what my husband is doing, but I really hate it.

If you really think you want a master's degree, I would do all of the informational interviewing you can on the subject. Talk to university counselors, people who got a master's degree, and people who didn't and pursued freelancing, etc. It's really a big decision and you should do it because you're mostly sure it's a good fit.

And there are so many successful web designers who don't know the big programming languages. Naz Hamid, Meagan Fisher, just tons of them. And there are some who only do HTML/CSS, and others who throw some JS in there, like front end developers (Havoc Inspired / Ryan Taylor). Have a look at Offscreen Mag and The Manual and you can find out more about them. This has been hugely inspiring to me.

Give yourself plenty of time, whatever you do. Don't judge yourself for not being an experienced graphic designer who's made a name for herself without at least 10 years of experience behind you. You can still become whatever you want, and please don't listen to the voice that tells us all that we need a certificate of some sort to allow us to be worthwhile.
posted by circular at 9:19 AM on March 9, 2012


I also wanted to suggest information architecture. And while yes, it is sort of user experience design, it also isn't what you sound like you do right now. Its a combo information design, pyschology, and technology. While there are lots of different paths towards becoming an IA, styding Library Sciences, Human Factors, or technical writing are common educational backgrounds. Those all sound like things youd be good at, and that would provide you with multiple options (including becoming an IA) upon graduation.
posted by Kololo at 9:48 AM on March 9, 2012


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