How much is my Master's worth?
February 12, 2007 7:59 AM   Subscribe

WannabeEditorFilter: I hated my first year of grad school, with its accompanying anxiety attacks, no free time, surly students, and pages of really boring reading. I'm halfway through my Master's and I am dreading going back.

After my first year of grad school studying English literature, I took a year's leave of absence. I'm nearing the end of that and it's time to decide if I really want to go back. I am working in a job that I love -- but it's temporary.

Pros:
- I would be fully funded (TA position includes tuition, stipend, benefits)
- My Master's might allow me a higher earning potential over the rest of my life (?)

Cons:
- The aforementioned anxiety attacks, which I am starting to fear more than that which causes them (teaching and writing stress)
- I am really enjoying having weekends off for the first time in forever, and the new freedom of having no homework to worry about when my day work is done

My eventual goal is to have a full time proofreading, copy editing, or content editing position -- a stable office job with benefits and weekends off. I love to proofread, and I am very good at it; I have many references and a decent amount of experience.

How important is the Master's?
posted by fiercecupcake to Education (12 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
If proofreading and copy editing is really what you want to do, there are postgraduate certificate programs, like this one from the University of Washington, that might help you more than a Lit Masters. From my understanding, though, getting work as a copy editor is often more a function of who you know that what you know. Even if you already know everything there is to know about grammar, editing, etc., a program like the one at UW (I'm sure there are others near you) might get you internships that can help get your foot in the door.
posted by arco at 8:11 AM on February 12, 2007


For what it's worth, I had several fulltime jobs as a copy editor (with some content editing, writing, proofreading, fact-checking and production duties) after getting a bachelor's in journalism. It's not the world's most glamorous job, but I did love the fact that I could leave my work at the office once the day's work was done, and I never worked weekends.

If your bachelor's degree is in a liberal arts field, you might get called to some interviews ... at which point you'll be given editing tests. Actually, I think there was another question on AskMe last night about how to get an editing job ... scroll down!
posted by lisa g at 8:15 AM on February 12, 2007


It's importance might be limited in the short term, but as you move along in your career I think the benefits accumulate. Once you reach a certain level, you may find that moving to the next job after that will be made much easier with an advanced degree.

So it depends, really, on your vision of the future. If, for you, a job is about finding something you are OK to stay with and punch the clock indefinitely, then maybe it doesn't add much. If your vision is to move along into jobs with increasing responsibility and remuneration as you gain experience, the MA is going to be extremely helpful to you.
posted by mikel at 8:23 AM on February 12, 2007


I don't know if you can afford this, but if you want to be a proofreader or copy editor, you might be better off getting a master's in journalism or the like. What you need in the long run is a thorough knowledge of a number of styles: Chicago Manual, AP, possibly AMA because there's a growing market for medical proofreaders.

I will tell you that editing jobs tend to require late nights and strange work schedules, at least for beginners and especially at newspapers.

If you don't return to grad school, there are a number of worthwhile alternatives. (And honestly, a degree in English literature may be helpful in book publishing, but not in newspaper or magazine publishing.)

Here are a few:
1. MetPro's copy editing program is a terrific way to get started. They'll send you to New York for a full year of intensive training. They also provide you with a stipend and an apartment. In your second year, they'll send you to a different newspaper where you'll work as a full-fledged copy editor. Bear in mind that this is a Tribune Company program, and the company is currently in a sad state of affairs.

2. MediaBistro has copy editing and proofreading courses, among others. MediaBistro also provides a lot of networking opportunities. You won't get a degree or any sort of certification out of it, but you'll have some knowledge and experience.

3. Check out the Journalism School at Columbia University. The Radcliffe Publishing Course (an M.A. program) recently moved there, and they also have an editors workshop. From what I understand, Columbia is a great place for networking, and the coursework is nothing like what you'll experience in a literature program. It is more of a financial investment than anything else, worthwhile if you don't know anyone in the industry and want to learn the basics.

Finally, a master's degree is great, but not necessary. It all depends on your route. Without the degree, you may need to work your way up the ladder a bit more, but the key in the long-run will always be to have a great portfolio of work and to know people who can help you find the right jobs.

Good luck!
posted by brina at 8:25 AM on February 12, 2007 [1 favorite]


I've been an editor for 15 years, on and off, both in-house and freelance. I have a bachelor's in history, and no special certificate. Acquiring a certificate has helped some of my friends find work, but mostly it's who you know. Unless your goal is to edit in a field that requires specific technical knowledge (computer stuff, law stuff), I don't know that a master's will help you, though it probably won't hurt. In my experience, you get to be an editor by being an editor. Put up signs at your U. offering to proof/copyedit dissertations, the journal papers of professors, etc. Does your school have a publishing house? If so, talk to someone there.
posted by rtha at 8:26 AM on February 12, 2007


FWIW, I'm a proofreader at a moderately well-known company and I have a BA in linguistics (which was infinitely more applicable to an editing career than English literature). I never once considered going for a Master's; an advanced degree is in no way a guarantee of a higher salary.

As far as "it's not what you know, but who you know" -- I disagree that networking carries more weight. It can certainly help you find a job more quickly, but good skills can still take you pretty far if you're searching on your own.
posted by phatkitten at 10:06 AM on February 12, 2007


My thought: If you're this upset, don't go back. Or, at least not yet. It's one thing to have "butterflies" or be a little apprehensive. But to dread it this much is a sign. Wait on it or take time off.

Also, in a field such as yours, doesn't one really need a Ph.D. to make any kind of higher pay?
posted by sneakin at 10:15 AM on February 12, 2007


The aforementioned anxiety attacks, which I am starting to fear more than that which causes them

This is a sign of panic disorder. It's normal to be stressed about grad school. It's not normal to stress out about the possibility of anxiety. I'd talk to someone about that, because that's extremely likely to resurface in a different situation, or make you avoid entire situations altogether.
posted by desjardins at 10:29 AM on February 12, 2007


I've been an editor for five years, and it's something I fell into by accident. My purely subjective experience tells me that a master's in literature probably will not improve your job opportunities or pay, but a journalism degree might if you're wanting to work for a newspaper or magazine. That said, I've never felt the need to pursue an advanced degree. (I've worked in government, high tech, and marketing.) The story might be different if I wanted to work at, say, a textbook publisher, where degrees in math, science, and history are valued.

Good editors are hard to find. With the right skill set and a bit of experience, I think you can find the sort of job you're looking for.
posted by lunalaguna at 10:54 AM on February 12, 2007


fiercecupcake - I live in Austin, too. If you have any questions about the market for editors here, send me an e-mail.
posted by lunalaguna at 10:57 AM on February 12, 2007


So many helpful answers! It's good to hear from people in the field.

Thanks, desjardins: Yes, it has surfaced in other areas, too. Right now, my insurance is crap and I am afraid to even start looking at psychiatric evaluation/treatment. I am definitely prepared to deal with this soon, once the finances catch up to it.

Lunalaguna: Thanks. I will be emailing you!

I should say that there could be a third option: finding a campus job that I could work while attending school, therefore avoiding the teaching aspect. Those are few and far between, however.
posted by fiercecupcake at 11:52 AM on February 12, 2007


I'm an editor, and have been for just a few years, but I don't have any formal editing qualifications. My masters was in international relations, which helped get me an interview and a testing session for my job (involved in politics), but my experience is that ability, not qualifications, is what gets you over the line.

I recommend that, rather than going back to school, you volunteer edit / freelance for a while. Many pieces of paper edited by you will look better than one piece of paper from a university!
posted by Lucie at 7:45 PM on February 12, 2007


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