'His Life of Academic Freedom', or 'School Is No Good For You'?
February 2, 2008 7:23 PM   Subscribe

I'm applying for a Masters in Theory, Culture, and Politics. Will I ever work again?

Hey folks,

It's quarter-life crisis time. I'm in the fifth and last year of my BA in English and Political Science at a small Canadian university, and have now applied for a variety of Masters programs at other programs. My top choice is the Masters in Theory, Culture, and Politics at Trent University. I've enjoyed the hell out of my BA and want more, I love the topic of the MA, and the more contact I have with the program and Trent U as a whole the more excited I become.

I'm not too concerned about the academic rigmarole of the program., but I am concerned about the effect that such a degree will have on my resume. Trent has a bit of a reputation (not entirely undeserved) as a hippie, liberal arts kind of place, and the name of the degree is less than business-oriented. I'm going into this with a desire to go into academics and become a professor - I love the work, I love teaching, and I'm (a little too) driven. But I'm also 22, and I know that it's pretty likely that I won't always feel that way.

So my question is this: how negative can a flippantly-titled Masters degree be in the real world job market? Would it even be remotely possible to find a job that would value that kind of academic experience? I know that this kind of program - abstract and theoretical - is often talked about as kind of a resume-killer, but is that really the case? Does anyone have experience with this kind of thing? I've been applying for other, similarly-titled programs: McGill's MA in Communication Studies, UVic's MA in Cultural, Social and Political Thought, so these questions aren't tied to Trent specifically.

Thanks for any reassurance!
posted by ZaphodB to Education (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like a great degree for working at a Starbucks should the tenure track fail.

"What I want to do to make money" is generally a question you should have answered in school, and I guess it's not too late for you given the Masters programs that are still available.

FWIW I "minored" in International Relations. It was just 3 UD courses, but with the rise of the internet and amazon.com, not to mention blogs, I kinda feel stuff like PoliSci that can be explored outside academia should probably be done on one's own dime and not in a formal setting.
posted by panamax at 7:44 PM on February 2, 2008

Best answer: If your goal is to become a professor, this sort of degree will be great. If your goal is to get into the business world, this degree is not really a great way to get there, but also won't hurt you. Figure out what you want - it sounds like you already know. You want to be a professor. So no problem.

Outside of that, nobody will penalize you for a successfully completed master's degree. They may not reward you for it, but it won't hurt you. If you are trying to land a consultant job, your masters in theory, culture, and politics won't make you stand out, not in the way an MBA would. But is that the kind of job you want? If not, try not to think too far into the future, or to predict overly much, and just do what makes the most sense now based on what you want.

In my experience, unless your degree(s) aren't specifically relevant to the job you are applying for, they are at most an item of mild curiosity for those doing the hiring, if anything. I'm political science and medieval history, neither of which has ever applied to any job I've had, and nobody gives a shit. Coworkers and bosses sometimes try to define me by citing those degrees, but neither factored into my hiring or into what kind of work comes my way.

Formal education is not job training. Rather, it never used to be. Education was about development as a person. Using it as vocational training is a more recent phenomenon, relatively speaking. If you are expecting/needing your job to pay off your education, well then it does start to be vocational in nature. Figure out whether your degree would be worth it if nobody else valued it or wanted to pay for it.

I really wouldn't worry about it. Many people don't know what they want and it sucks. You sound like you have some good ideas. Go with it, grasshopper! Keep doing that for the rest of your life.
posted by Askr at 7:52 PM on February 2, 2008

Best answer: Tenure versus Starbucks is a really false dichotomy. Are there people out there specifically looking for a Theory, Culture, and Politics Masters? Eh, probably not. But careers in business, if that's what it comes to, do not uniformly require a "business" degree. For that matter, the nonprofit world thrives on holders of graduate degree with brainy, unorthodox titles from liberal, hippie universities. Then there's always freelance, like that guy who hooks people up to the electrodes and graphs reactions to hot-button words so he can make lists of words for Karl Rove to get slipped into speeches to manipulate public opinion for the GOP. You could do that, only for someone less, you know, evil.

Sure: you may not always want to teach, but lots of people continue to want to teach and, you know, do so. Why borrow trouble? Pay attention to chances to learn about your potential opportunities. Ask a professor, so what do people who graduate from this program do besides teach? What do the people who write your textbooks do for a living? Cultivate relationships wherever the opportunity arises, your network is what stands between you and a job-hunt entirely mediated through the want ads. You sound like a pretty together person, relax and if you enjoy being in school, enjoy it.
posted by nanojath at 8:02 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If possible angle your graduate research towards pertinent issues: technology, mobility, politics, corporate power, communication, etc. If you go to Trent -- whose program is rather "cutting edge" -- be sure to set yourself apart by winning OGS scholarships, SSHRC scholarships, and Trent U scholarships. Go to lots of conferences in Ontario and beyond. Go to the school that offers the most funding/teaching opportunities since it will free you up and provide you with experience relevant to the post-graduation workforce. Demand funding. Try to publish in respected or cutting-edge journals. Basically, set yourself apart from the riff-raff. Get a supervisor that's friendly and supportive. Me, I began my doctorate here: http://www.carleton.ca/icslac/ , I've yet to see where I'll end up but I'm hopeful....
posted by rumbles at 11:36 PM on February 2, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Would it even be remotely possible to find a job that would value that kind of academic experience?

Yes, it is possible, but everything depends on you; that is, what you actually want to do, and how you market yourself.

For example, with your MA you could probably get a job at a research firm like Environics, or a market intelligence firm like IDC...the MA will provide you with the ability to design and carry out and manage sophisticated research projects, and I'm assuming that you are also an engaging and dynamic writer.

You could also work in government (I would recommend provincial rather than federal because the money is better) as a management-track employee. You might want to examine what it takes to get an MBA or an MPA, and take a few of the finance/accounting courses.

You can do anything you want to do with a degree: I have lousy undergrad Creative Writing (fiction) and Education (social studies) degrees from UVic, and I have worked as a speechwriter in government and a television copywriter and have worked as the main translator for some of the world's largest companies. I have also designed and carried out sophisticated industrial research projects, and, as a manager in government, am currently am considered to be a subject matter expert in the field of emerging technologies in the province where I live.

I went through a career transition from teaching, where, when I was down to my last few dollars in the bank in my early thirties with a family to support, I nearly started work at a call centre making 10 dollars an hour. But everything I set out to do has happened. I worked at it.

In Canada, people outside the academic world care very little for where you got your degree (unless we're talking B-school or law). Personal networks are very important, as is your track record of successes.

But you have to think strategically when looking for a job, you have to promote yourself, and you have to think about how you will add value to wherever you want to work.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:03 AM on February 3, 2008

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