Graduated Learning: Life after College

I got my degree, I got a job…now what?

Seriously Considering Grad School March 21, 2011

I’m very wishy-washy when it comes to making most of my decisions.  And I get even more anxious the bigger the decisions get.

Which is why I’m feeling incredibly anxious about the idea of going to grad school.  But I know it’s important.

Every once in a while, I start thinking about going back to school.  It’s usually around the time I go to an interesting lecture, symposium, or other educational event.  Sometimes it’s when I talk to my sister, who is pursuing her Ph.D. right now.  And I’m usually reminded about grad school whenever people at work discuss the opportunities through their advanced studies programs.

This time around, I was talking with a coworker about my goals at our company.  We recently both had our yearly performance reviews, and with that, we were required to list our goals for the following year.  So he asked me what my goals were.  My near term (within the year) goals were basically to get better at technical writing and presentation and to get even more involved on higher level work within the project I am working on.  But long-term?  I want to be like the people I work with now who are basically genius problem solvers.  I want to be a subject matter expert. I know some of their skills and knowledge merely comes from experience.  They’ve been working a lot longer than I have.  But I also know that if I really want to keep advancing up the engineering ladder, I’ll need some advanced education.

The plus side of all of this is that my company is really supportive of this sort of ambition.  They’ll reimburse me for classes I want to take.  And if I decide to go back to school full-time, they’ll pay for my tuition, and still pay me half my salary while I’m gone.  It’s a pretty sweet deal.  Granted, you’re committed to the company for a few years afterward, but I don’t mind that.  I’d want to stay at a job that I enjoy!

So, what’s next?  Between my craving to learn more, my desire to advance in my career, and the sweet deal my company offers, this decision is a no-brainer, right?

Just thinking about this plan makes me really anxious.  I have to figure out what schools to apply to, what degree I’m going for (Masters vs. PhD), and what subsection of my major I want to study.  Materials Science and Engineering is a pretty vast field.  I took a lot of classes in polymers and environmental materials selection during undergrad.  And my internships were mostly in metallurgy.  And now I’m working mostly in ceramics.  So, I could go in any of those directions.  Do I pursue what I loved in undergrad, or get more schooling on my main focus at my job (since, well, they’re paying for it, and I’d want to do what would be good for my career)?

I also realize that I would like to go to grad school sooner rather than later.  It gets tougher to go back to school the longer you’re away.  I’m getting pretty used to this post-college lifestyle.  Then again, I could try going to school part time…which would take FOREVER.

I’m still very unsure of what I am going to do.  But I keep seeing signs in my life that I need to get serious about my grad school ambitions.  I can’t put this off forever.

To those of you who have gone to or are currently going to graduate school, how did you make all these important decisions?  I feel so overwhelmed!

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