Let’s face it, industry doesn’t suit everyone. Three years ago, I left my job in Silicon Valley and returned home determined to find a new path. I wasn’t satisfied with how much I knew. Four years of undergraduate education in Biomedical Engineering had given me a broad foundation, but not a specialty.
Suddenly, grad school didn’t seem so much a financial drain as a second chance towards realigning my interests. But of course, I did plenty of research before deciding on this course of action and you should too. Let’s begin by considering the Pros and Cons.
Since I’m secretly an optimist, let’s start with the pros of going to grad school:
- A chance to specialize
When I was studying Biomedical Engineering, I took a lot of mechanical design classes that fed my interest towards design and product development. I thought for the longest time that I would be happy as a Mechanical Engineer. However, my job experience introduced me to systems, Operations, process development, and Ergonomics. My need to understand these fields led me to IE and I’m happy to say I think I made the right choice.
While IE isn’t niche, its interrelated enough that I can specialize in more than one subfield of my choosing. So getting a Masters in IE has afforded me the opportunity to build on top of my BMED knowledge.
- A reprieve from reality
Industry is not what we expect it to be when we’re cocooned in our safe college world. Unless you’ve done extensive internships as an undergrad, you may not be prepared for the real world. I know I wasn’t and it hit me hard. I felt incompetent and overwhelmed. Most times I was so lost I didn’t even know how to ask for help!
I don’t regret my work experience, but I knew I needed to learn more and regain my confidence. Grad school has allowed me to rebuild that portfolio and I’m now eager to build my career.
- An opportunity to follow your passion
Maybe you made a mistake choosing your major the first time. Grad school might be your shot at chasing your dream major and then finally landing that dream job. If you have the background or are willing to take extra classes to fill the gaps, grad school can allow you to change disciplines. It might take you longer to graduate, but it will serve you well in the long run.
Now for the cons:
- Money, money, money!
We all know that with our screwed up education system, money is always a stitch. Grad school comes with a hefty bill and unfortunately, even if you get into top schools you might have to foot all or a portion of the expense. Most graduate programs at the Masters level don’t give stipends or scholarships to students. However, a large number of PhD programs come with a stipend (although if the new GOP plan passes, this might not be the best option). If you’re planning to pursue engineering/business/science fields, then the money will sort itself out in the long run, but I would think twice before venturing into the softer fields. If possible, combine the soft field with a technical field for a competitive advantage.
- Small or no ROI
Unfortunately, not all degrees are equal when it comes to ROI. While getting into grad school is the easy part, juggling finances is another. I’ve invested the salary I earned over the year I worked to pay for grad school. In doing so, I’ve had to weigh my opportunity costs, but this has kept me from taking out loans. I can graduate debt free, but I know not everybody is so lucky.
The choice of field you go into for your graduate studies has a huge impact on how much, how quickly, and how sustainably you’ll earn money upon graduating – if you can find a job first. Hence, science/business/engineering fields have a leg up. We’re entering A.I. Age and these fields are only going t increase in importance. So if your interests aren’t seeing any job growth in the market, I urge you to weigh your options carefully, unless you’re financially well off.
Despite having to hit the books again, dig into my savings, and take a break from the real world, I’m glad I’m in grad school. My experience has made me a better student, engineer, and person.
If you’re in grad school or are considering grad school, what experiences or questions do you have?