Should I go back to school for a second degree?
August 15, 2007 8:59 PM   Subscribe

Should I go back to school for a second degree in something I feel very passionately about?

I need advice on what I should do with my life at the moment. I hate to ask about this on the Internet, but I can't get any *intelligent* advice in reality world. Hopefully somebody out there has gone through some similar experience and could offer some input.

Some background information: I am just turned 24 years old and I graduated over a year ago with a BS in Business (Accounting spec). I currently work a job that has nothing to do with my degree (I do not like accounting) and is in high demand. Due to the high demand, I make a decent amount of money (45 an hour at the moment, which will be going up soon and can go as high as 100 an hour in the next couple years if I go independent). Although the money is right, I do not like the job at all - I find it tedious and boring. It also requires me to travel a lot, which is to say that I am never at home.

I took the job because I had planned on going to Law school and the work I do is great for experience. The person I work for still expects me to go to Law school so that I can work as an attorney for him when I get out.

My problem is that I can't see myself doing something I am not passionate about. Although the money is great, I am unable to justify doing something for the rest of my life that I hate just so that I can achieve monetary success. I have thought long and hard about what I am passionate about, and one subject keeps coming to mind - the subject of science (in general). I have always dreamed of research as a career but was sidetracked because I did what other people expected me to do (ie business degree).

So, long story short: should I go back to school and get a second bachelors degree in a scientific field in order to achieve my goal or just stick with my current situation? A new BS degree will take me probably at least 3 years because I haven't taken any of the required lower division courses (Physics and Chem - I have taken calculus but need need additional courses in math). A graduate degree after that would be another couple of years. In addition to the time it would take, I also would have to leave my current job since travel is the main part of the work.

Thanks in advance for any advice you can give. I didn't go into full detail on a lot of things because I noticed this 'question' was already getting too long. If you have questions for me, let me know. I am just really hurting for some sound advice.

Thanks again.
posted by misled to Education (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You have already made two career choices (accounting and law) that haven't worked for you. Before you start down this road, I suggest you take the time to do some research about what the jobs might look like once you get your degree. What kind of science do you want to do? What kind of setting (corporate lab, academics)? Talk to as many people as you can who are already doing what you might want to do and find out what it is really like. Most schools have some alumni networking and/or career counseling center - they could probably put you touch with people from your alma mater who have jobs in the sciences. There are lots of annoying, tedious, and political aspects to research jobs (not to mention the difficulty of finding one depending your field) So do a reality check to make sure that you would like the actual jobs that are out there, not just what you imagine the jobs to be.
posted by metahawk at 9:08 PM on August 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Ideal situation would be to have a job you enjoy while making a lot of money. While that doesn't happen for everybody, you've learned what you want to do now. A couple of things to consider:

1. While science isn't quite 180 degrees from business, people who wanted to study science quit because it's too hard and change it to business. You should determine if you are capable of doing the work before investing your time and money. While determining this, you should consider how long it's going to take and also the fact that BS in science in general doesn't land you a job in that field. With a BS in any science degree will, at most, land you in a research lab...meaning you're going to need at least master's to spread your wings in your field.

2. Money - You don't have to worry about money now, you're young and have plenty of time to make money. At the same time, however, you should consider changing to a career that's going to provide a certain level of financial stability. No matter how rewarding and fulfilling your job is, if you don't get paid enough, you'll be miserable. i.e. Teachers-while it can be very rewarding, the reality is that money doesn't reflect one's needs.

3. You can do SOOOO much with your accounting degree - while the laws have changed so that you need to get additional course work to be a CPA, being an accountant or in financial field doesn't mean you're gonna be punching numbers in a calculator. You can find a job in the science/technology field that you're interested by advancing your current degree. People do it ALL the time.

4. One thing that caught my eyes was that you described your job as tedious and boring. In order for you to get your bachelor's in science (any science), you have to do a LOT of tedious and boring work, especially the beginning courses. I'd suggest you learn more about exactly what you want to do in which scientific field, and try to know as much as possible about that position.

I want to encourage you to pursue what you want to do because you're young enough to be able to discover new outlets but you're also old enough to know what you want in life. My only hesitation is my first point on your changing from business to science as opposed to the other way around. It's going to be hard to do especially after being out of school for a while.

People often go to law schools and b-schools after being out of school for several years, but very few go to med school after being out of school for years. You could be talking about other subjects (engineering, R&D, etc) but still, that's going to be difficult.

Best of luck.
posted by icollectpurses at 9:22 PM on August 15, 2007

Follow your bliss.

Seriously. You are young enough, and if you have the resources, GO FOR IT. You will not regret it.
posted by nonmerci at 9:23 PM on August 15, 2007

You have about 60 years of life ahead of you. If you do not do this, you will spend those years wondering what might of happened.
posted by LarryC at 9:40 PM on August 15, 2007

I agree with metahawk, that you should carefully consider if a career in science is what you really want. I know people at the tippy top of their respective scientific fields, and they've worked like slaves to get there, and it's still friggin' hard every day they work. Which is not to say that it's bad; you just have to be passionate about it.

But beyond that, if you do the things that you should to make a careful consideration (talk to people in your potential field, read up on related scientific journals, etc.) and decide that you'd really like it, do it. Don't let the money you're making now (let alone the money you may be making later) stop you.

I know it's going to sound cliche, but life's too short to make chasing money around a priority, unless you happen to really like chasing money around. 20 years down the road, you'll look back with pride and satisfaction on the things you've accomplished in your career, rather than with regret at the life you've "wasted" doing something you don't have any passion for, regardless of how much money you have to show for it.
posted by Brak at 10:04 PM on August 15, 2007

What do you do now?

There are some low level science jobs that you might be able to snag to see if it's what you want.
posted by 517 at 10:05 PM on August 15, 2007

I'm pursuing a career in the hard sciences, and though it's a lot of work (and certainly has its downsides), it's been worthwhile to me because of the joy I get from it. So I'm with Brak. I say go for your dreams, but make sure you know what those dreams are before you commit a lot of years and late nights to them. If you have some of the introductory-level background (and maybe just a little bit more), and if you can make the time (which I suppose would mean having already quit your job), I'd suggest applying to physics or chemistry REU programs for a summer. They're sponsored by the National Science Foundation, and are basically paid internships in academic labs. If you can make it happen - and I suspect your motivation will seem compelling to the admission boards if you do apply - then it could give you a good idea of what exactly you'd be getting yourself into. Maybe you'll love it! Maybe you won't. Either way, it would be a very valuable experience.

I can't say for sure, but I suspect that the same sort of avenues exist in corporate science. Try and get an internship or a low-level job in a lab, and decide if it's really for you. I will say that if you decide to stick with academia in the physical sciences, you're probably looking at a Ph.D. (some schools don't even offer a masters anymore), so, five or six years. From what I've heard, the corporate world is more open to hiring people with Masters degrees, though, so it just depends what you really want to do.

So follow your dream, but be well-informed before you do it. Perhaps just taking the undergraduate-level work (which you might even be able to do while still working part-time) would help to direct you. Find some graduate students and talk to them. You're still young, so while you'll need to explain your somewhat unusual course on applications, I don't think there's any way it would hurt you as long as you're clearly dedicated and directed. Directed is key, but the undergrad years should give you time to find your particular passion, if you're really commited to it. If you try for an undergrad science degree and decide it's not for you, though, is there any reason you wouldn't be able to get back on track with your present career?
posted by you're a kitty! at 10:10 PM on August 15, 2007

Sock away the money for the next couple of years and take some introductory science courses on the side to see if you like them. You can take some intro courses online. After taking a few and doing more research into what kind of science jobs or career paths you are interested in, you will have a better idea of whether to go full time. Just give yourself a year or two to make that decision, but I suggest a deadline for the decision so you don't waffle around too much. Since you are making good money, invest as much as you can for the long term, because it's those final years of compounding most of us never get the benefit of. It's great to make some money when you are young because it will make many future years easier.
posted by Listener at 11:34 PM on August 15, 2007

I'm in a similar situation. I graduated with a degree in creative writing and an MBA, but so what? After being out of school a couple of years (at 26), I decided to go back to school for mechanical engineering, and haven't looked back.

If it's what you really want to do, dive in. You've got to do it balls to the walls if you feel any sense of passion. If you have the means (ie. the money) to do it, then what's stopping you? I've got no money, my job just pays my expenses, I live in one of the most expensive cities in the US, but I'm doing it. If it's what you want to do, nothing should stop you.

Education is cheap when you think about the return you get out of it. If law is not your passion, think about the next three years surrounded by unexciting, dry law books. Yuck, right?
posted by rybreadmed at 1:04 AM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'd say go for it, which may not be the sensible option, but you're still young enough to allow yourself to take risks.

I turned down an excellent scholarship for a PhD in History to start my own jewellery line, and while I now have considerably less money, it's also the happiest I've been for years. It's sort of the opposite example, but it doesn't matter - like nonmerci said, follow your bliss!

Oh, and excellent luck to you!
posted by Andorinha at 2:12 AM on August 16, 2007

Brak and you're a kitty have raised excellent points.

Some more questions for you:
- are you interested in science because it is the only field you associate with research?
- are you interested in being a scientist or in working with scientists?

One can do research (at times quite esoteric) in very many fields, including accounting. Accounting is a field in which there is currently a lack of professors with Ph.D.s and academic job prospects are good. Some very interesting research also occurs in business schools at the Ph.D. level, that might fit more with a layman's conception of "science" rather than their preconceptions of the field of business.

Also, one can work with scientists without being a scientist oneself, but having a Ph.D. helps.

My suggestion is to go to the library of a research university near you, if there is one, and just browse the academic journals. My other, preferred recommendation would have been to get in touch with professors in the sciences you had in college and ask them the questions you did here, but this does not seem to be applicable in your case. On the other hand, consider contacting professors you had in business and accounting courses and ask them about their research and what research careers in those disciplines entail. You might find a completely different perspective for those disciplines that was not evident when you were taking the required courses.

(Tedious and boring is unavoidable in academic research, especially as a graduate student.)
posted by needled at 3:21 AM on August 16, 2007

Think about whether you need to blow the large amount of time and money attaining another degree. You might not need a degree in that field in order to steer your life in that direction (although this is probably least true if your field of interest is some hardcore science).

With a business degree and some smart scheming, you might be able to think of a way to be involved in that field in a satisfying way, without having to get another degree.
posted by Caper's Ghost at 5:49 AM on August 16, 2007

I know a lot of people who sort of planned out their lives like you are - they find a degree they're passionate about, and then sort of assume that an awesome job will open up for them once they have this awesome degree. That doesn't usually work. Other people I know did the opposite - they found an awesome job they wanted, and then filled in the gaps in their education to get it. They reached their goals much more often.

So my advice is, instead of just going back and getting a BS because you love science, think about the job you want afterwards. Researcher? Professor? Whatever it is, research that job and see if it's suitable for you. Then go back and see what education you need for it.

Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 6:00 AM on August 16, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've seen some of this covered, but as a scientist I thought I'd coalesce some of the above thoughts using my own perspective.

You say research as a career. You may need to reason out what specifically you want to aim at. If you want your own research funding and research project as an independent researcher you will need a PhD plus postdoc experience. If science/research are what you love, you will find (if you get in the right programs) that getting those degrees are fun. BS or MS is not enough to have your own independent projects. There may be some wiggle room in corporate research where you can work for x years, do a good job plus your master's degree and you will get some independence.

If you don't want to get a PhD you can still do research, as an assistant, a technician, or an associate. You may not even need another degree to get into this, you can possibly find a job in a lab and learn the ropes. How far you can go depends on the atmosphere of the lab.

There is a certain degree of critical thinking that you learn with a science degree. Then you will learn the specifics - how a cell turns cancerous, for example. Beyond that, you practice techniques and get used to how scientific discovery works - two steps forward, one back. If you are doing an experiment worth doing it will fail 75% of the time.

You might try getting into a lab to see if this is what you want to pursue. You will find the analytical mind involved in accounting will help you in research. I find even my English minor comes into play into how to parse ideas.

Best of luck.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 6:14 AM on August 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, you just dont want to drop what you are doing because its boring. Especially if youre on a path leading to a successful non-shitty career.

All work compared to, say, the college lifestyle is pretty damn boring. At your age youve never held down a 9-5 career-like job. You may find yourself feeling the same way in 3 years when youre a lab technician making 1/3rd what you could be making in finance.

I wouldnt recommend dropping everything and announcing youre a scientist. Take a class at night or distance. Feel it out. Talk to other people in the program. See what a BS in this field makes (prob not much, the real money is in later degrees). Learn about how academic work and advancement really is like. After you've dripped your toes in this and have given yourself a lot of time to think you can begin making better informed decisions.

Lastly, peopel misuse the word "passionate" all the time. What exactly are you passionate about? The field? Or the idea of getting out of this career. If its the latter you'll find yourself in the same crisis but 10 years older and drowning in student loans. If your spare time isnt chock full of science like weekend trips with a telescope for astronomy, reading science publications, etc you might not be that passionate.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:11 AM on August 16, 2007

I have thought long and hard about what I am passionate about, and one subject keeps coming to mind - the subject of science (in general).

The fact that you didn't start off saying "I really need to be a scientist" is significant. You said "I don't think this is meaningful enough for me, I need to follow some random passion." Think about this.

You don't have a passion yet. You are trying to create one in order to justify your existence. This is normal and acceptable at your stage of life. Chill for a bit.

You are in a good position to set yourself up financially for your future. If you really want to follow your bliss then save up all the money you can so that you will have that freedom someday.

In the meanwhile, try to get exposure to science. Take night classes if you can. Find out if it's what you really want. Research science can be lonely, and is often without many external rewards. Do you want to be out in a field somewhere? Do you want to be in a lab? Do you want to be in a classroom? If you just want to be in the science industry there are many ways to do this from the business end of things. Look into that before you commit yourself to eight more years of school (a bachelors is usually not enough).

I followed my passion back into school to major in science and ended up as a science teacher, and I would never look back. It was a calling that I could not ignore, but it came after a few years of "what am I going to do with my life?" If you know what you want then my all means go for it! But don't head back to school just because your first job is meaningless.
posted by lisaici at 12:08 AM on August 21, 2007

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