Should I consider grad school if I already have a good job?
May 7, 2007 9:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm 26 years old and already making a good living. Should I consider going to grad school for international relations or international affairs?

(Asking anonymously because co-workers read AskMeFi)

I am an advertising copywriter and freelance journalist in my late twenties who is interested in studying international relations in a graduate school setting or international law in a law school setting.

Foreign policy and economic development fascinate me to no end and always have. What I want, more than anything else, is to be able to find a job that relates to it.

At the same time, despite my love of reading through back issues of the Atlantic and attending lectures from any visiting diplomat who happens to be in town, I have to face the fact that I am doing well in my current profession. I make approx. $60k a year, work with well-known clients and am on a career path that if all goes well will see me making six figures by the time I'm 30.

But at the same time, if I go to grad school, it would have to be full-time. My current job requires me to work over 70 hours a week and I simply wouldn't be able to balance the two while giving either one the attention it would deserve.

What I want to know is: Is going back to school in the hope of landing a job in the field I truly love a good idea or just some crazy pipe dream?
posted by anonymous to Education (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. More education is always a positive, even just on a personal level. If the education doesn't pan out into your dream career, you can always fall back on who you know from your current profession. If you are doing well now, and you say you work with well known clients, keep in touch with them. You can always spread the word that you are looking to get back into the field.
posted by spec80 at 9:35 PM on May 7, 2007

I don't think that IR programs will get you what you want.

You sound like what you want is to enter foreign service. There have been several questions about this before on AskMe, but I can't be arsed to find them.

Graduate degrees in the IR subfield of political science aren't likely to help you with this. IR degrees, unless you find a program that's very strongly practioner oriented, are not "How to do it" professional degrees, they're "Why do they do it that way?" academic degrees. You sound like prime fodder for doing a semester or two of graduate school before you realize that it's not what you want.

The other thing to remember is that if you end up in a related field, you will not spend your time reading back issues of the Atlantic and having erudite conversations with suave diplomats. If you end up in foreign service, you will spend much of your time denying visas to random foreigners and mailing home dead Americans.

I'd suggest finding people who are already in the business at a fairly low level and talking to them about what the field is actually like to work in, and about what sort of preparation you might want or need.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:45 PM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I dont know much about your industry but i can answer this question:

What I want to know is: Is going back to school in the hope of landing a job in the field I truly love a good idea or just some crazy pipe dream?

going back to school to get a better job is about as far away from pipe dream as possible. A pipe dream is chasing something that so few people achieve that the odds make it near improbable. Sadly I am well versed in pipe dreams.

That said, I do not know if grad school is whats needed for you to get a job in the field you want.
posted by crewshell at 9:52 PM on May 7, 2007

You don't say whether you like/love your current gig, only that you're doing well at it. That's not the only question, of course, and probably not even the most important one, but it's worth considering. Could you do this for the rest of your career?
posted by SuperNova at 9:54 PM on May 7, 2007

Answer the following question:

Happiness is:

A) Making six figures by the time I'm 30.

B) Having a job that truly fascinates me and interest me to no end.
posted by Ookseer at 9:58 PM on May 7, 2007

I think a good idea is to decide what it is you want a prospective graduate degree to do for you, and then call up some graduate advisers in the relevant program(s) and talk with them about it. In my experience (in other departments) they're pretty realistic and may provide you with some options you hadn't thought of.

Ask them about giving you some faculty and/or graduate student contacts to email some questions to too.
posted by sevenless at 10:06 PM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have a good friend who has a master's degree in international relations, who speaks several languages fluently, who has traveled and researched in multiple countries, and he just got laid off from an entry level data entry job. It's a tough field to get a job in if you don't know what you're going for.

You need to identify specific existing jobs that you would like to hold, and find out how the people who hold them now got there.

Do you want to work in third-world countries teaching women about reproductive health or distributing mosquito nets to prevent malaria? A master's in public health might be better than in IR.

Do you want to work for your nation's government representing its citizens and interests abroad? No degree necessary, look in to the Foreign Service.

Do you want to work for the UN or World Bank? The pay can be pretty good for those at the top, but you pretty much need a Ph.D.

Do you want to study a region of the world, conduct research, and share what you've learned? Your best bet is to become a professor, and you'll need a Ph.D.

Do you just want to spend some time in a foreign country? There are lots of opportunities for English speakers to teach their language abroad, or look in to the Peace Corp.

Do you want to work for a think tank? You're going to need a Ph.D., a record of thoughtful writing, and a good amount of experience as a professor or Foreign Service or World Bank or NGO employee.

Do you have a specific region of the world or country you would like to study or specialize in? Would you prefer to be a generalist?

My guess would be that a master's degree is not going to do it on its own. You might pick up a copy of the Economist and go through the job ads there. Look at the job descriptions, the qualifications. What interests you?

Also worth pondering, jobs in IR only exist in decent numbers in a few cities -- New York and DC, in the biggest numbers in the US. Do you want to live in one of these cities?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:18 PM on May 7, 2007 [3 favorites]

Consider that $60k a year is $29 per hour, if working 40 hours per week. At 70 hours per week, you're making $16.50 per hour.

So, yes, while doing well, in the grand scheme of things you may not be doing as well as you think.

Put another way, you could work two full time jobs (35 hours would count as full time at many employers), each for 30k , and have 2 sets of benefits.

Or, you could have an "office job" for 40 hours and a 30 hour gig at a coffeeshop or bookstore, and make about the same as you do now.

I say this only to put the matter in perspective... that perspective being that you are working very, very hard for your pay. It may not be quite the cash cow you think it is, therefore that might help your decision making.
posted by Ynoxas at 10:24 PM on May 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

What about getting a master's in development studies instead of IR? It seems much less theoretical, with lots of applications in NGOs and in politics, economics, and the media.

And if you did it in the UK instead of the US, you could be done in a year instead of two or three, which might save you money. Here's a well-respected program to consider.
posted by mdonley at 11:21 PM on May 7, 2007

Here's a direct link to the MA courses.
posted by mdonley at 11:22 PM on May 7, 2007

Tangential answer: I assume you've thought about putting your current skills to work in the area you think you might love? Aid agencies need people to do PR work (though not all have loads of money to pay for it). Governments and international organizations need staff to sell policies and educate the public in developing nations (ie something simple like a "condoms are good" campaign or something more complex like helping to promote economic reforms). News outlets need reporters in distant locations. With proven writing skills and the ability to make freelance sales, you're starting off better than a lot of people.

Law school: It's a lot of work, most of which will have nothing to do with your stated goals. Not that there aren't people in law school now with those same goals, but...

it requires years in a classroom at best making no money, and at worst spending tens of thousands of dollars. A couple years after jumping into international development with your current skill set, you'll know whether it's your thing, know more about where you can make a difference, and you'll be able to answer you own questions better than anyone here can.
posted by jaysus chris at 11:29 PM on May 7, 2007

I have an MA in international studies, from a UK university (like mdonley said, it is cheaper and shorter.)

It didn't seem to do a whole lot for the careers of my classmates. I decided to go back for a PhD after that, so I can't speak for myself.

Maybe see if there is a part-time MA program online or where you live that you can do at night... then you have more options for the future. You could always get the MA and then go back to your current career if nothing comes of it.
posted by k8t at 11:51 PM on May 7, 2007

PS, and obviously cut back on your workload to see if you could go part-time.
posted by k8t at 11:52 PM on May 7, 2007

(I'm in the middle of writing my thesis, and tired, so take this with that grain of salt)

You might be able to do more on international relations and international economics as a journalist than as an academic. And way more people will care about what you have to say - no one listens to academics about international relations or economics, they call up reporters. (My husband is writing his thesis in international history - you should hear him gripe.) Also, you get to see international relations happening -- journalists travel to Iraq, academics attend seminars in London with generals, but aften never get out to see any international relations actually happening.

If what you love is writing, you do a lot more of that in journalism. Academics is research, research, research, a bit of teaching, and at long last (finally having gotten something out of your research) a little bit of rushed writing in archaic language for a small audience. And you do the same thing for years on end. I was listening to the radio recently, and realised that a girl I went to high school with was doing some fascinating research and stories overseas as a radio reporter, and she would have something new every month. (Trust me, academics work for YEARS on the same issue.)

A masters in international relations and/or economics might help you break into the fields of international reporting, but a PhD is only worth it is you want to do academic research. A masters can be done in 1-2 years full time, or a little longer part-time.

I think you should read some academic journals along with your Atlantic reading. If you realise that you want to writing the kind of articles in the journals, go for graduate school. If you realise that you much prefer reading and would like to write things the Atlantic or The Economist, then you don't want to be an academic, you'd probably be much happier as a specific kind of journalist.
posted by jb at 1:42 AM on May 8, 2007

You need to think about (or maybe you have, in which case you need to express more clearly than you have here) what the outcome is you are looking for -- what job do you want to have, dealing with foreign relations or whatever? There are huge differences between being an aid worker, a diplomat, and a journalist, just to name three directions, and there are plenty more.

So I would suggest starting by figuring out some attractive career paths, and backwards-engineering from that to see what grad school (if any) is needed to get there. If you want to do international law, you will need a law degree; if you want to be a journalist, you could either pick up an MA or try and leverage your current contacts into opening an opportunity; and so on. As written, your question just isn't specific enough to really answer -- the grad programs you mention are fun, and people do them and get jobs afterwards, but without knowing where you want to go with it, it isn't clear what path is more appropriate for you.

I would suggest not worrying so much about the financial side -- as was mentioned, you aren't doing so great on an hourly basis, and you are giving up a lot of free time to boot. That said, you need to be really realistic about the cost of grad school relative to your income afterwards -- otherwise you can end up in the trap of not being able to take the job you want because of high student loan debt.
posted by Forktine at 4:26 AM on May 8, 2007

Could you find another journalism job that isn't as demanding in hours (writing articles for nonprofit that does international work for annual reports or such, or freelanding while in school)? While it's hard to balance at times, and not ideal if you want to do research or you don't have a foot in the door already, working and going to school if you're going for a applied/practical master's has its benefits. (Law school from what I've seen of friends does require full-time.)
posted by ejaned8 at 6:50 AM on May 8, 2007

If you realise that you much prefer reading and would like to write things the Atlantic or The Economist, then you don't want to be an academic,

Nor do you want to be a lawyer. Lawyers don't do policy; they work around the edges of policy. Multiply this by ten for international relations.
posted by ibmcginty at 6:51 AM on May 8, 2007

The few people i know with IR-type degrees either can't use them or just join the foreign service if theyre lucky. There's also the middle ground of working for a international non-profit (with little pay), but you wont exactly be discussing issues from the Atlantic as much as being assigned a job you're wholly unqualified for like event planner or project manager. If you dont live in an international city then you'll have to move to one. Non-international city jobs are rare, but you might luck out getting a job in a University's foreign students division.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:21 AM on May 8, 2007

A professor of mine has her Master's in Urban Planning and her PhD in Political Science. She has worked for domestic economic development agencies and think tanks and she currently consults with various foreign governments on economic development strategies. Lately, she's been traveling to an eastern European country to assist in their struggles with converting from communism to capitalism.

Anyway, I'm not headed in the same direction as her, but urban planning graduate programs DO have a lot of emphasis on economic development, though not necessarily international. Just a thought.
posted by desjardins at 7:51 AM on May 8, 2007

« Older How can I capitalize on a job offer I received but...   |   What was the name of that Philip Glass Piece... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.