My Gut Is Saying "Run" but My Brain is Scared
September 25, 2012 12:31 PM   Subscribe

I posted this question a few months back but would like to... ask again with a little more details. I bit the bullet and signed up for classes again, and after my first half day back, I'm now at home having a panic attack regarding my decision. I'm a historic preservation graduate student, and after a whole year of freaking out about what I want in life, all I really want is a job that pays well, or an incredibly marketable skill. I doubt I will get either with this degree.

I uprooted my partner and toddler to pursue a master's degree that I thought would lead to employability, but after hard core market research and speaking with many, many people, I've realized this is as big of a gamble as going for an MA in art history. I've gone in circles trying to figure out how to make old buildings = money, and have pursued research and internships in construction (with the hope of landing a job with a preservation contractor), and if I continue, will be looking into real estate, business plans, marketing, ect.
But at the same time, I've signed up for a computer science course at MITX, CodeYear through Codecademy, and have applied for a scholarship with Treehouse. My brother is a long time programmer and web developer, and is really motivating me to pursue a career in technology. I believe I would be good at it, and that the things I want in a career (creativity, growth, and a paycheck) are (possibly?) a given with this path. However, if I were to leave my graduate program, I will absolutely not be pursuing any coursework through traditional means (i.e. paying tuition, taking out loans, ect). I just want to know, is this a good idea? Had I been childless and partner-less, I would be less sheepish about changing paths this drastically.
posted by ohmansocute to Education (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
In general, the first day of a new plan is not the best day to change plans. Also in general, if you're having a panic attack, you should go to a comfortable safe space, have a little something to eat and drink, and give yourself some time to calm down before you make any big decisions. So my first piece of advice is: deep breaths, you don't have to make a decision today.

Now - to evaluate your options -

What is the situation with your current degree plan? Can you defer your admission by one year?
Have you taken a loan? If you withdraw, can you cancel the loan somehow?
Have you paid tuition from your pocket? If you withdraw, do you get a refund of some or all of it?

What is the situation with your plan B?
I don't fully understand - you are enrolled in grad courses in preservation, but are planning to take CS courses elsewhere at the same time? Have you paid money for those courses/what happens if you withdraw?
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:41 PM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

If what you want in life isn't likely achievable though this school, then stop going to that school. Throwing good money after bad isn't a recipe for success.

It's not wrong to be practical. It's not wrong to get the skills you need to get a well-paying job to help support your family. But be practical about your practicality. Don't make decisions in the midst of a panic attack.

You might have made a mistake. It's okay. Happens all the time. The moment you leave your school, you don't ever ever have to deal with it again.
posted by inturnaround at 12:49 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Usually schools have a drop deadline that's a few weeks after the start of classes. Find out when the drop deadline is. Keep thinking about this until you need to make the decision and it will give you more time to sort out what you want.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:53 PM on September 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, I wish that I could go back in time 15 years and tell my old self to drop out of the M.Arch. program when I wanted to, instead of listening to everyone else's advice to stick it out.

However, I do think it's wise to stick with it (and keep soul searching) until near the drop deadline.
posted by Kriesa at 1:02 PM on September 25, 2012

What do you want to do?

Maybe think about taking a leave of absence--presuming that's possible in your program--and spending some of the time you'd be spending in school doing an internship with a contractor who works on historic preservation, and some of the time working on the programming or other skills you're interested in developing as another path?

That would give you a chance to figure out what you actually like doing. My sense (based on my husband's being a computer research scientist with lots of programmer friends) is that there really aren't reams and reams of jobs for entry-level programmers out there right now, so I'm not sure that alone is going to be your ideal employment fallback. And if you don't like doing it, it's certainly not going to be your ideal employment fallback.

Are you still working at a job as well as going to school?
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:04 PM on September 25, 2012

Response by poster: I am doing an internship with a contractor- my supervisor has his MS in historic preservation. In addition, I bartend nearly 30 hours a week. I've barely enough time to blow dry my hair.
posted by ohmansocute at 1:08 PM on September 25, 2012

Response by poster: Also, the deadline for dropping and receiving 90% of my tuition back is in 5 days.
posted by ohmansocute at 1:09 PM on September 25, 2012

Is there a way to simply take a semester, or a year, off (leave of absence, deferring admission, etc) but keep your option open to return?
Or if you pull out now, would you lose your spot in the program?
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:17 PM on September 25, 2012

Best answer: I have a PhD in public history (granted May 2012) and I'm working right now as a cataloger in a public library. My major focus was historic preservation, but I also have a strong background in libraries and archives and it's been way tough to find a job. The biggest employer of HP folks is the federal government and they aren't doing much hiring until the fiscal future settles down after the election. Other groups, your state and local historic preservation agencies are hit hard by the recession as well.

That said, I got both of my advanced degrees with the opinion that the would not get me a job. I got the degrees I wanted because I wanted to study that. Not because I thought there was a job at the end of the rainbow. I'm applying for everything that comes my way, but I can make ends meet with the library gig. It's not perfect and I do some days feel like I wasted 6 years on a degree I'm not using, but I'm okay with it on most days.

On one hand, I'd tell you not to do something that doesn't make your heart soar. Because HP is not a career that is *ever* gonna make you mad cash. On the other, I think a combination of programming skills and an understanding of HP would be a really high demand set of skills and would encourage you to do both if it's at all possible.

Sadly, there are no easy answers to this one.
posted by teleri025 at 1:19 PM on September 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

So right now you've got a job as a bartender and an internship in the historic preservation field. Why not take a leave of absence from school and use the time you would have spent in class and doing schoolwork to explore the other career interests/possibilities, while continuing to explore historic preservation via the internship?
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:29 PM on September 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Not an exact answer, but my grad school had excellent counseling services. Chances are your school does as well. Why not see if they can get you in before the tuition refund deadline?
posted by smirkette at 3:50 PM on September 25, 2012

I answered in your last question!

I agree with what teleri025 says. Have you looked into GIS or anything like that? I agree that preservation + programming/tech skills are a good combo. GIS, databases, etc. I'd look into the ways that you can combine those skills - if nothing else, I've seen a lot of instances where the information collected via surveys, etc. could benefit from better databases, interfaces, etc.

Do you actually LIKE the preservation field? If not, do something else. It's ok! But if you do really like it, I think you can make this work and figure out how to combine the two.
posted by stefnet at 6:13 PM on September 25, 2012

Response by poster: I love old architecture. It makes my heart sing. However, I struggle with the field since so many people come along and sully it up with their academic nonsense to what should be a very simple approach to our built environment. This is why I struggle in the program. I have been searching for a niche within preservation that could be actually useful. I'm not interested in fighting stagnant legal battles with non-responsive property owners or working for the government and dealing with their shit budget and bureaucratic shenanigans. I also don't want to be an architectural historian. I want to see an old building go from blight to fancy schmancy hipster bar. I want to see these old buildings sing again.
I've thought about getting my real estate license, and trying to get into commercial properties. I just don't know about that one. I'm taking architecture courses on building construction so I can get my foundation on how a building is actually built. I've thought about combining HP with business and marketing coursework, and avoiding non-profit work all together (although I understand the absolute integral need for grassroots preservation work, I just don't think it's for me. A bit too fanatic.)
Then I thought, hey, you can use technology to pretty much do anything that has anything to do with anything interesting, right? Maybe I should be learning that instead. (I've thought about learning to code for a long time; this isn't really a last minute idea of mine.)
posted by ohmansocute at 7:37 PM on September 25, 2012

I still stand by my response to your last question. But this time I would add--any career decision made as a parent has to take your family into consideration, and I recall that you have a new baby. I'm sorry if I missed it if you mentioned this previously, but is your partner's new job in town bringing in enough to support your family without your contribution? If yes, great, I can see how picking a truly fulfilling if potentially unemployable field of study could make sense. If not, whether this career field will help you to supply your family with the steady income it needs is something to think about. I would not gamble on finding the type of employment that can consistently support a family in the historic preservation field right now, especially if incurring additional debt is part of the bargain. Pretty much full stop. I'm sorry to say that in such an unvarnished way.
posted by anonnymoose at 9:48 AM on September 26, 2012

Between your "sheepish" comment in the OP and your last update in which you sound like you're Really not into the academic program, it sounds like you Really don't want to continue with the program (but feel guilty about that).

If that's case, and the only thing holding you back is that you feel sheepish? Cut and run now! Your family will forgive you for changing your mind, but it'll be tough on ALL of you if you keep doing something you don't like in the hopes of little pay off. Especially while so incredibly busy otherwise.
posted by ldthomps at 10:21 AM on September 26, 2012

Or, in other words. Listen to your gut. Tell your brain to listen to your gut. If your gut is making sense, Go With It.
posted by ldthomps at 10:22 AM on September 26, 2012

Response by poster: Actually, my partner is unemployed at the moment. Hence my sheepish ness. And as for my job- my boss is a mental case. I am seeking a different job.
posted by ohmansocute at 11:02 AM on September 26, 2012

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