I need a plan
June 7, 2012 5:35 PM   Subscribe

My situation is as follows: I graduated from high school in 2008. I have since been taking classes very part-time working towards a B.S. in Biochemistry. I do not have any student loan debt and have been working in retail. The problems:

My situation is as follows: I graduated from high school in 2008. I have since been taking classes very part-time working towards a B.S. in Biochemistry. I do not have any student loan debt and have been working in retail.

The problems:

1. I am not interested in doing entry-level research, or any research. The thought of doing lab research makes me want to cry.
2. I do not feel that going to pharmacy school, medical school, or veterinary school is feasible financially.
3. Financially and emotionally I am a mess. I recently quit my job because after two years I could just not take it anymore. It was mind-numbing and depressing work. However, I have another job lined up that seems promising.
4. I have medical debt, however, and am greatly worried about how I can support my mother in the not so distant future. She has helped me financially as much as she can and I want to be able to take care of her.

What I need (doesn't everyone?) is to get on an efficient track to making money in a good field. I have stupidly meandered for too long already. If I want to finish my Biochemistry degree within the next two years, I need to be taking 18 credit hours a semester for every semester including summers. This feels daunting if I have to be working full-time and taking challenging courses. But maybe it's possible. But when would I have time for homework and studying?

I need a plan, because right now I'm sinking. Things are partcularly rough at the moment. I am currently taking a summer calculus class. I did have some money to pay for it but then my car broke down and I had to use the money for repairs. I used up all of my aid for the fall and spring semesters, so I owe the school 1700 dollars for the cal class. For some reason I didn't get the Stafford Loan. I also have 1000 dollars in credit card debt, and more than 1000 dollars in medical debt (no health insurance). Very little left over for food, but at least I'll be working again soon.

I do have other interests and skills, so maybe science isn't for me. But I do love science. I also love literature, writing, art, and computers.

So my questions are:

1. Should I finish up the Biochemistry degree, and just do it slowly?
2. Is it actually feasible in my situation to then go on to post-grad studies in a professional field?
3. Pick something else?
4. How to make a plan that includes going to school, or maybe not, as I know some fields value knowledge and experience over a degree, such as IT?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (15 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It does not sound like attending school full-time is feasible for you. So the two-year plan is not really an option.

It also sounds like you quit a job before you had another in place. Right now you have a prospect only.

I would think a limited course of classes aimed at learning a trade would be the best bet. I do not know where you live, but in general if you can earn $12-15 per hour based on your current level of ability, you can probably earn $20-$30 with a skilled trade. (Modify numbers as needed.)

Then you have many more options available to you.
posted by yclipse at 6:09 PM on June 7, 2012

IMHO, unless you have an IQ of 150, eidetic memory and never need to sleep, the 18 hours a semester on top of a full time job thing sounds like the career planing version of a overly aggressive diet that no one can stick to.

I didn't exactly hit the workforce with a college degree at age 23 and when I did, my debt situation was about on par with yours. Within a year of getting a professional type job I was pretty much out of debt and today my 401K is in like the 80th percentile of people 10-20 years my senior. So it's doubtful that you've screwed up your life forever just five years out of high school.

The question I have to ask is, why does the idea of research make you want to cry? A lot is going to depend on that.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:09 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

I graduated from high school in 2008 as well. Right now I have about a year and a half left in my degree (biology).

I am currently doing 16 credits with a part time managing job (30 hrs per week), no classes during summer. And it is killing me. I have no time for anything and my school performance has decreased so much I actually failed a class for the very first time during fall of last year.

Of course, YMMV. But if you want to dedicate any time at all to learning the classes you're taking, I wouldn't try to work full time and do 18 credits.
posted by cobain_angel at 6:37 PM on June 7, 2012

Where are you located? Can you specify which university you attend since this is anonymous?

The reason why I'm asking is because some universities have academic plans which allow you to complete a 3 year degree rather than a 4 year degree. I'm not sure if this is common for ALL universities, but if your university offers this then it might be worth completing the courses that are necessary if it's less than 5 courses.

However, if there are more than 5 courses needed to complete the degree than I'd recommend not bothering to complete the requirements. Taking your time to complete the requirements means that you will be spending more time and energy long-term on something that you don't seem interested in.

Instead, submit a university/college withdrawal form specifying that you will be taking a 1-3 terms off because it sounds like you are exhausted (and understandably so) and unsure about what to pursue. I did this during the Winter semester and it was a wise idea. It allowed me to work more hours too which was great.

Speaking of working, how much will you be earning/hour at your new job? If it's minimum wage then look elsewhere. I'm getting paid 15/hour at my workplace where I work as a claims representative which essentially involves me working at an inbound call center and helping people file claims. There are a lot of inbound call centers that are open 24/7 which would be great for you regardless of whether or not you are in or out of school. This wouldn't be long term, obviously, but it can be a good job for 1-2 years so that you can figure out what you want to do next.

I have $1000 in credit card debt and the good news is that it's not THOUSANDS of dollars in debt at this age. But, it sucks because it's not easy paying it off.

Book an appointment with a financial advisor so that you can have 50/a month or 100+/month automatically transferred over to your credit card. Develop a plan with a financial advisor so that you can figure out a practical way to take care of the school loan and medical debt.

Good luck with whatever you choose to do. As someone that's in their early 20s, I have learned that a lot of things in life can be changed. Focus on the now. Take small steps and everything will be okay. It's not too late to pursue something else and as overwhelming as it is, you will be able to pay off the debt slowly but surely. Take care of yourself.
posted by livinglearning at 6:41 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Within a year of getting a professional type job I was pretty much out of debt and today my 401K is in like the 80th percentile of people 10-20 years my senior.

The critical part of this statement is "getting a professional-type job." I have (essentially) a BS in biochemistry, and I can tell you that in today's economy it qualifies you for exactly zero professional positions beyond those available to every Tom, Dick and Harry with a college degree; I make $12.50/hour. These days, even industry lab jobs tend to pay in the $12-14/hour range and offer limited possibilities for advancement without an MS.

You need to look very closely at the kind of positions your degree will qualify you for. Since you already have a toehold in the sciences, I think you should consider an educational track which prepares you for some kind of certification in an allied medical profession--these are often not traditional bachelor's degrees. Some do involve working at a lab bench (or biosafey cabinet, etc.), but many of them involve nothing even close to lab work.

The local regulatory environment and the selection of programs offered by nearby institutions are important considerations. Some of these are only offered by a handful of schools in the US; some will be common. Often, the professional association or certifying body for a specialty will be able to direct you to accredited programs which qualify you to sit for a certification exam, so I've linked to the ones I know of.

At the certificate/AS/BS level:

ADN (associate's-level nursing degree) or BSN
Registered dental hygienist (ADHA)
Medical lab technician and medical technologist/medical laboratory scientist (ASCP, AMT, AAB, NAACLS)
Occupational therapy assistant (AOTA)
Specialist in blood bank technology (can be a certificate-type/one year credential) (AABB, ASCP is the certifier, I think)

There are also MS-level options which are far cheaper and faster than medical school ($30,000 to $70,000+ and eighteen months to two years rather than [$whatever ungodly amount medical school costs] and four years plus residency), if the cost is your main concern and you're close enough to finishing your BS that the sunk cost bothers you. You won't be earning a doctor's salary but you won't have the concomitant debt, and you'll definitely be able to make a comfortable middle-class-professional living right out of the gate.

Pathologist's assistant (if you're in Detroit, I believe Wayne State still offers a BS-level program)
Occupational therapist (AOTA)
Physician's assistant (NCCPA)
Respiratory care
Perfusionist (ABCP)
Clinical nutritionist
Medical physicist (CAMPEP)
Speech-language pathologist (ASHA)
posted by pullayup at 7:06 PM on June 7, 2012 [10 favorites]

If your university (or a university nearby) offers one, I would look at converting your degree into a medical technologist/clinical laboratory scientist 3+1 or 4+1 program: three or four years of classes plus one year of clinical training. If you've completed the majority of your science prereqs it might only be a year before you're qualified for a job which can pay ~$18-24/hour.

These are lab jobs, however, so if you want to get out of the lab altogether, it might not be what you're looking for.
posted by pullayup at 7:23 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

It might also be worth checking aaa close you are to an associates degree right now---at the university where I work, they have associates degrees that are essentially just the core requirements, which you may already have done.
posted by leahwrenn at 7:52 PM on June 7, 2012

Consider getting a certificate or associate's degree from a community college. You might have already met most of the requirements, and the costs are much lower.

Consider working in environmental science or technology.

Here's a good database about different careers in the U.S.:
posted by maurreen at 8:32 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

What do you want to do? if you're only 2 years into a degree you have a lot of flexibility to change still without wasting a lot of time. The pre-reqs for biochemistry should apply to most science or tech degrees pretty easily so maybe take a bit of time and think that through. Then go for it. It sounds like you're going to have a struggle no matter what, and that's fine, it's going to be a lot less sucky if you are working for something you reallyreally want.
posted by fshgrl at 9:34 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I want to finish my Biochemistry degree within the next two years, I need to be taking 18 credit hours a semester for every semester including summers. This feels daunting if I have to be working full-time and taking challenging courses.
I was in the same position as you. I did two years as a research assistant and decided it wasn't for me. I got my biochemistry degree after a few advisors told me to get it and go for grad school in my desired program since I was a year away from graduation. And I regret it because I kept putting off grad school and I didn't want to go into debt.

If I could do it over again, I would have stopped pursuing my biochemistry degree and changed my major. No matter what anyone said. You can spend two years hurting yourself trying to get good at a field you really have no desire to work in and try to break into another area of work anyway, or you can spend 3 or 4 years becoming great in a new field. Two years is nothing compared to forty years.
posted by chinesefood at 10:49 PM on June 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you are smart enough to do biochem, you can do IT. And some IT professionals in academia get tuition exemptions. Sure you have to work your full-time job and it will take awhile to get a degree, but the classes end up being free in such a situation and you make a respectable salary while you are doing it. I did this for some time and I have no formal training in IT, I'm completely self-taught.
posted by melissam at 11:38 PM on June 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please listen to this pullayup and chinesefood. I recently received my biochem BS. You are pretty screwed if you don't want to get an advanced degree, and then you're even more screwed. It's a good degree to become a high school science teacher, and that's about it.

Turns out a hard science B.S. is just about as practical as a history degree. Not many people realize that until they earn one. DO NOT go into debt for this degree, especially if it's causing you misery.
posted by WhitenoisE at 1:59 AM on June 8, 2012

I am a biology professor, but not your advisor. I strongly encourage you to talk to your advisor. If you were my advisee, I would tell you that 18 hours per semester is a sometimes thing and for most people is not sustainable for multiple semesters. I would/ never encourage someone working more than 20 hours per week to take an overload.

Also, biochem is a lot of work, especially if you don't really want to go into research or health science.

First, are you sure that you are not interested in any health careeres. Check out Explore Health Careers. There may be a career track that you haven't considered that might really appeal to you.

I would also ask what it is you like about biochem. If you like the biology, but not the lab, you might look into the other biology majors available, to see if a more organismal biology or field based track or an environmental science track might appeal to you more.

If you like the computational side of biochem, you might be interested in bioinformatics, which is a career direction you could take within biochem. Or you might want to change your major to chemistry, with a computational focus, or consider an applied math program.

So that's what I would tell you. But I very strongly encourage you to talk to your advisor, who can give you advise much more particular to your school and your personal situation.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:39 AM on June 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Have you thought about teaching chemistry or biology? If you are enthusiastic about science, but don't like research, maybe teaching at the high school level could be a good option. The job would be pretty stable and give you decent pay.
posted by Jurbano at 4:18 PM on June 8, 2012

If I were you I would check out the medical "tech" programs offered by community colleges in your area. Where I live the median salary for a radiology tech is something like 50k or 60k per year. YMMV but I don't think it's a bad bet for that small of an investment, and you can always keep at your bachelor's once you're done.
posted by cairdeas at 9:31 PM on June 8, 2012

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