My head is cluttered with thoughts
July 15, 2010 11:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm going back to school. But I keep have this weird feeling that I don't know what I'm doing, even though I've got it all planned out, but my thinking keeps getting sloppy and jumping. Please help me figure out how to organize my next steps.

After meandering around in various jobs after getting a master's degree, I've decided I want to attend pharmacy school and I'm primarily interested in bioinformatics, though I'm pretty flexible and the idea of being a nuclear pharmacist seems cool. I'm 30. My BA and MA were in the social sciences, so I'm doing a one and half year informal pre-pharmacy course at the local community college.

I have $17,000 on hand, am taking out a subsidized Direct Loan that covers tuition and keeping the $17K in the bank for emergencies. I live in Rockville, MD, which is expensive, and I'll be living with my partner who will be paying the rent. I'll be taking 12 credits, all lab classes, and 1 public speaking course that is 3 credits (so 15 total).

I'm looking for 8-10 hours a week of work so that I can pay for groceries. My hope is I can find an internship related to pharmacy. I considered becoming a pharm tech and applied to those jobs, but there's a pharm tech program at the college and I learned that the local retail pharmacies are hiring certified pharm techs with experience.

My other thought was looking for internships/part-time jobs at biotech companies in the area. The links on the website of the school I'll be attending are broken and the sites for these that have internships actually want you to have some kind of skill. I'm still in the very early stages of my scientific learning and have no lab experience.

Then I thought, I can volunteer at the hospital and get a part-time job being a receptionist at a medical office or something like that. My coursework is going to be pretty demanding though, and I'll need some flexibility when exams come up.

This is at the point where I start feeling extremely confused about where I should be directing my energies. Do I talk my way into an internship at a biotech or pharma company? Do I get real and take whatever job offers the most flexibility? Should I get a job bagging groceries? Do I volunteer and take a part-time job? I need at least $200/month so I'm not overdipping into savings.

Furthermore, what do I do about the whole bioinformatics interest thing? Just read about it in books at the library?

I'm supposed to take the PCAT next June, so there's that, too, as something I need to factor in, as well as spending time with my partner.

I'm terribly confused, I'm not sure why (it might be analysis paralysis), and I'm not quite sure how to settle everything into a rock solid plan. I have to confess that I feel afraid leaving my job (as a ditherer, I don't really have better skills than the average recent college grad, so if this all blows up in my face, I don't know how I'll find a well paying job).

Any ideas?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
So, you already have an MA in the social sciences and you already have a job, which job is (probably) related to the social sciences in some way. Now you want to switch to pharmacy. There is nothing wrong with pharmacy as a career, but you seem to have invested a lot of effort in developing a different career. Why the switch? The easiest thing to do might well be to continue your existing career but to cut back your hours, so that you have spare time in which to study pharmacology and bioinformatics. Other than that I will note that if your income requirement is at least $200/month, that is quite modest; virtually any job will generate that much income. For most working people, $200 is the income that they earn in a couple of days.
posted by grizzled at 11:35 AM on July 15, 2010

Mod note: From the OP:
Grizzled, I haven't at all developed a career. In fact, my MA isn't even related to what I do now, which is low level proofreading work for a law firm which I hate. I simply got a silly MA that I never used and it didn't really give me any skills. I actually took this job just to save up for school. Also, I asked my work if there was any way for me to do school and work concurrently, and due to the nature of my job (long hours, some days no work, some days a ton of work and long hours and no advanced notice), it is impossible to keep my job and go to school at the same time. I finished four pre-reqs already through the community college's online venue, but I'd have to disclose that they were done online, and that makes me less competitive than if I did the bulk of them in a physical classroom setting. Furthermore, just taking one class at a time as I've done for the past two years, has been a bit difficult due to the way my job is. So that's conclusively out. Besides, they already hired my replacement.

I realize that the amount is just 2 days work for most people and shouldn't be hard to make. Thanks for the tip. But, to be clear, I don't have a career (as I mentioned in my original question in which I said I've been dithering). I've just been working admin type jobs that have nothing to do with either of my degrees, trying to figure out a real career for myself, and I've found one that I'd like to pursue, and I'm trying to be serious and organized about it now.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:57 AM on July 15, 2010

The statement that you do low level proofreading for a law firm which you hate, is susceptible to two different interpretations. Which do you hate, the proofreading, or the law firm? Or both? Employers always prefer to hire people who already have experience in the kind of work that they want to have done, so if it's just the law firm that you hate, and not the proofreading, you might very well want to do proofreading or editing for some other employer. Your silly MA which does not prepare you for anything, still makes you a plausible candidate for the kind of work that requires some intellectual ability. Under the circumstances I think it would be ridiculous for you to apply for a job bagging groceries. Make use of your qualifications. There are lots of people who can bag groceries but who cannot proofread or even read. Even if you don't want to do any more proofreading, there are jobs where your existing degree, silly though it is, will give you some competitive edge. A college degree is often seen as a kind of extended competence test. It does not necessarily teach you how to do any job, yet it demonstrates that you are smart enough that you can be trained to do a job. So I advise that you look for work where your academic qualifications will be valued.
posted by grizzled at 12:45 PM on July 15, 2010

Okay, my situation is sort of similar (I'm 31, have a Bachelor's in a Social Science [econ], and am in the process of knocking out pre-reqs with the goal of going to Vet School), except I'm working two jobs and going to school part-time (2 courses, both with labs, in Fall and Spring, one in Summer, and I've got the GRE and Bio GRE looming).

I can see why you'd feel overwhelmed. For me it's a hell of a juggling act between school (grades are pretty important for Vet School, I assume Pharm School is similar) working my part-time job (where I get hands-on experience pertinent to my future career) and working my full-time job (which is the definition of underemployment but it pays my bills and provides insurance).

If I were in your shoes where going to school full-time were an option, I'd take whatever job offers you the best in flexibility and isn't mentally taxing. Of course getting work experience would be fantastic, and keep your options open as best you can towards that, but if the defining factor is making an extra few hundred bucks a month, definitely skew towards a job that won't interfere with your studies. You may want to check into work-study programs at your Commie College. Most of them are built for students: flexible hours and the ability to study while getting paid. That's what I love about my f/t job: it's physically demanding, but it's pretty automatic brainless work, so I can keep notes in my pockets and review stuff, or just let my brain chill a bit without adding further stress. In that sense, it's idyllic for me, but I'm much more prone to getting mental fatigue than I am physically.

To address this: I'm terribly confused, I'm not sure why (it might be analysis paralysis), and I'm not quite sure how to settle everything into a rock solid plan. I have to confess that I feel afraid leaving my job (as a ditherer, I don't really have better skills than the average recent college grad, so if this all blows up in my face, I don't know how I'll find a well paying job).

Yeah, I know that feeling. It's a pretty daunting road to undertake. I don't even get to apply until next Fall (and that's on spec with pre-reqs still pending) and my odds aren't necessarily great. There's definitely a sense of putting all of my eggs in one basket, going all in on my poker hand, etc. I just can't let my brain go down that road. Fortunately, I'm busy enough that I don't have many opportunities to over-think things, so I just Plug The Fuck Away and do my damnedest to keep juggling those balls. Do I stop down and shit my pants playing the "oh dear god, what am I doing? What if???" game? Of course. More often than I care to even admit to myself. But, cliche as it sounds, trying this (even if it takes two years and several thousand dollars) and failing is better than not trying at all.

I can't speak much directly to Pharm School or Bioinformatics, sorry. Nor can I guarantee that you (or I) won't burn out and crash. But I've found a way that's working for me right now, and with enough determination, personal-management skills, and understanding (and helpful) support, it can be done.

Feel free to (m)e-mail me for any reason. Sorry if this comment is kind of rambling, but I'm coming off of a 90-hour work/21 hour class two week period and I'm a bit frazzled.
posted by Ufez Jones at 7:36 PM on July 15, 2010

You don't have to sort all of this out right now. It's OK not to know what's going to happen next.

But for now, I would focus on study, and let the job stuff be secondary. See how frazzled you are in you first semester. Focus on getting a job that will pay you what you need, and during breaks look around for something more specific to your career.

Can you do your crappy job part time? It sounds like something you could even do from home.
posted by kjs4 at 11:23 PM on July 15, 2010

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