Help, I’m in My Twenties and I Can't Get Out
July 29, 2013 11:13 AM   Subscribe

After graduating into the recession in 2009 with a B.A. in neuroscience and English I spent the first couple of years of my post-college life just trying to get by rather than focusing on “What I Want To Do With My Life” or pursuing grad school or a career. Now that I’ve had a few years of job stability and the economic freedom to do something different, what should I start doing with my life?

I just can’t shake this feeling that I’m coasting rather than living up to my full potential. I have a pretty decent job, but I initially only intended to stay for a couple years until I figured out where I should go for grad school. The only thing stopping me is that, well, I’m just not sure what kinds of things I should be pursuing instead.

Part of my just wants to quit and move to Seattle or Portland (I only live in DC because it was where people were landing jobs. I’m pretty meh on DC aside from the career opportunities. I don’t hate it, but it’s not where I see myself for the long-haul) and/or apply to a ton of grad school programs and sign up for any that will fund me. At this point, I guess I’m looking for any advice on what would help me make the next step in my life.

What kinds of careers sound like they would match my interests and skill sets and what kinds of things, like graduate education or skills, would help me excel in said career?

Would it make more sense to stick around in DC and apply for a different job with more responsibility, or is it a good time to mix things up and head Northwest?

If I were to move to Portland/Seattle what kinds of jobs are reasonably available for someone with my skill set?

If I went back to school, what programs would be most likely to fund me?


Things That Might Be Relevant

-I really like being in school and I have a really diverse set of academic interests (art history, bioethics, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, public health policy. I even considered going to school for industrial design at one point) so I feel very overwhelmed in trying to decide what sort of thing I would study if I went to grad school. I mean, it all looks good to me.

-Currently I work in the communications department for a large non-profit. I started as an admin temp answering the phone three years ago and eventually got hired full time. I proofread documents, write press releases, make lists of “influential people”, research and fact check, analyze data, make spreadsheets, and produce infographics to display this data.

-I realized that I’m actually pretty good at graphic design (having had absolutely no training of any kind) although I only really use Publisher. I’d like to get better with InDesign and Photoshop.

-I initially thought I wanted to be a science writer. I love reading up on current science stuff, and I am pretty good at translating complex ideas into simpler more consumer friendly stories. But, I have been too shy to actually try to pitch stories or even keep a blog for myself. I am working on making a recent story on ticks and lyme disease by Carl Zimmer into a zine as practice.

-People have often told me that I would do well with medicine (I have most, but not all pre-med requirements already) or an MPH. Multidisciplinary programs really appeal to me, but I’m not sure how practical they really are.

-I did much better in my English courses than my lab science courses in college. I did not particularly enjoy working in a lab setting and discovered that I probably wouldn't want to pursue a typical PhD academic scientist track.

-I do not qualify for residency status in either Virginia or Maryland, which makes going back to school in the DC region extremely expensive without funding. Going to school, even as a non-resident, in Portland is considerably cheaper even at full price.
posted by forkisbetter to Education (7 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
I only live in DC because it was where people were landing jobs. I’m pretty meh on DC aside from the career opportunities. I don’t hate it, but it’s not where I see myself for the long-haul

My warning for you, then, is to be careful about your next steps because a lot of job/career skills in DC are essentially non-transferable outside the region.

I feel very overwhelmed in trying to decide what sort of thing I would study if I went to grad school. I mean, it all looks good to me.

Don't go to grad school!

Possibly you could leverage your communications job over to a science publisher or university PR department to be their on-staff science writer who writes press releases and explains/promotes the latest scientific discoveries to the public and the press. That way you could do what you want without having to worry about pitching stories.

With your quantitative skills, you could provide some of the quantitative justifications for policy issues like those advocated by scientific trade associations.
posted by deanc at 11:39 AM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: which makes going back to school in the DC region extremely expensive without funding. Going to school, even as a non-resident, in Portland is considerably cheaper even at full price.

At this point in your life the only way you should EVER consider graduate studies is if someone if offering you full funding and there's a clear end point to your program of study. Going to graduate school on your own dime (or on loans) for nebulous reasons is a bad gamble that you will almost always lose. As far as programs that are good about funding, check out STEM related programs at state schools.

It sounds like you have a pretty good handle on some very valuable "soft skills" (writing being a major one) have you considered looking into Science, Technology, and Society studies as a way to bridge the gap between your soft skills and an understanding in valuable hard skills? Not all STS programs are the same, but most of them offer a comprehensive interdisciplinary plan of study with the opportunity for hard skill development. You could also look into any number of "post-undergrad" certification programs that are offered by pretty much every university in the US. But again, research and pick wisely, you'll probably be paying on your own dime (student loans are usually not available for these programs). YMMV.

By the way, I just had a coworker around your age in a similar situation as you up that just up and left DC for Portland for a "new beginning" and she loves it. She said getting away from her old situation and out of her comfort zone gave her a chance to really figure out what she wanted out of life.
posted by playertobenamedlater at 11:41 AM on July 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


Best answer: We overlap in some of our interests and background, and I posed a similar question to metafilter a few years ago, too.

Here are 2 types of jobs that could be possible for you based on your interest, aptitude, and background (one of them I did, and the other I've observed and can only point you in that direction):

-Medical writer at a medical communications agency (or biotech/pharmaceutical company).For the med com agency, you just need to take a test and interpret science information from peer-reviewed medical articles and put it into another format (i.e. in words to explain it to a lay person, or a few PPT slides for a physician audience, etc.). Doing well on the test is one of the main criterion to get hired - and these companies either prefer: 1) people with a lot of science/medical background or 2) English majors who like and have an aptitude for science (I think that you would fit in with companies that hire the group 2 and your neurosci major would be a plus). If you worked at such a company, you would not need to pitch anything -they tell you what to write and in what format. Ninety-nine percent of what you write is related to some medical area and some people decide to specialize and write about 1 or 2 areas. When I posted a similar question before, Tentacle had the same background as you and also described how to get hired at such a company. As a heads up, though, the work at these companies can be hectic. If you want more info, as in how you could prepare for the tests or a list of companies that do this (by location), memail me and you can pick companies in DC, OR,or WA.

-Another possibility is working at universities doing continuing medical education (CME) work.The people who I have met that do this job usually have an undergrad degree and an aptitude for science. Their jobs usually include writing grants, reviewing material for accuracy,editing, etc. These type of jobs are not as hectic, but are often lower paying. However, if you work for a university, you often get tuition benefits, so you can explore if you want to try higher education for free.

In your local area, I would also poke around and see if NIMH has anything (not at the bench science level, but see if they have anything for writing, communications, policy, etc.).
posted by Wolfster at 12:15 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


Of COURSE you like being in school and studying. Everyone does! It's fun, you have friends and there's not a lot of pressure and you get to play at being an adult without the full-on responsibilities. You have a legitimate reason not to pull the trigger on long term relationships, housing, jobs, etc. Even if you're poor, there's no stigma because you're in school, EVERYONE is broke.

When you're in the adult world your decisions have consequences, some good, some bad. You're constantly measuring yourself against the achievements of others. Who's married, who's having babies, who's doing well financially, who won a Pulitzer.

Hardly anyone lives up to their potential. The sad fact of the matter is that most of us are better than our jobs, we've learned to live with it. We salve our disappointment by cashing our paychecks and doing a DAMN FINE JOB.

Do not, under any circumstances, go to grad school as something to do. Certainly not in your prime earning years.

If you know for a fact that you need a doctorate and research experience for the next stage of your career, AND it's a full free-ride, well climb on board. But if you're just looking for a way of avoiding growing up for two years, don't do it.

I have a friend from high school, a lovely and brilliant guy. Totally does the math thing. We've kept in touch lo these 30+ years and he did what you're proposing to do. He went to grad school and was the adjunct associate math professor, pretty much everywhere. I think he's now teaching pre-school or something. He's happy as shit and I won't deny it, but no way is he living up to his potential. Grad school guaranteed him nothing, and he has yet to get out of that whole undergrad lifestyle. It's fine for what it is, but I don't think you see yourself at 50 with no pot to piss in, chasing after rug-rats.

Only go to grad school if it's going to lead to something solid and specific. If not, find a job in the region you're interested in, and do it well for a couple of years. Grad school isn't going anywhere.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:16 PM on July 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


Deanc: "My warning for you, then, is to be careful about your next steps because a lot of job/career skills in DC are essentially non-transferable outside the region."

Not sure what path your career has taken, deanc - but unless you work in some hyperunique field there's a market for plenty of highly skilled people, whether they made that skillset in DC or elsewhere.
posted by waylaid at 1:26 PM on July 29, 2013


"But, I have been too shy to actually try to pitch stories or even keep a blog for myself."

Frankly, I'd work on this, before deciding about moving, or grad school or life path. What you're doing now to pay the bills is okay, but if you're really a good writer and good at translating science into everyday language--you could have a far more interesting career and make good money as a writer/editor. You don't have to be a tap-dancing extrovert to work as a journalist or writer.

I don't think shyness is a defect but rather than hide out in grad school or doing administrative work that's not really stimulating you, I'd suggest that you find a way to learn about communicating your real talents and interests in a way that feels authentic to you. Because, otherwise, you're in Portland, and you're still doing the same sort of stuff, only with more rain and better coffee.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:31 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Best answer: Back to Work: The Vocational Wheel

If you're looking for some interesting thoughts and commentary on your situation, you might give this episode a listen. The hosts respond to a listener who wrote them about his "quarter life crisis." Maybe it's just because I haven't yet arrived at midlife, but I've really felt that the quarter life crisis is a much more tangible phenomenon than its midlife counterpart.

Anyway, Back to Work is a pretty entertaining podcast and even provides some useful advice on occasion. At the very least, you might gain a laugh or two.
posted by toots at 1:45 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]


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