Author Topic: Experiences going back to school after FIRE?  (Read 1117 times)

YoungInvestor

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Experiences going back to school after FIRE?
« on: March 21, 2019, 07:25:29 PM »
Hi,

While I've always had an interest in science and doing research, I chose to pursue a field in which a good work-life balance and high salary would be achievable. This worked in that I am now in a fairly high paying job (120-140k/year in my mid-20s) which I do enjoy, even though it's not a passion.

Due to this, I've always had this secret plan of going back to school to study biomedical sciences as a sort of second career without financial imperatives.

I'm set to reach a basic FIRE at around 32-34 years old, perhaps sooner if my salary continues to increase. So assuming I'd be in my mid-30s, I'm wondering what it would be like to be a student among people in their late teens at that age.

Also, if I choose to pursue scientific research, I'm looking at being a grad student in my 40s. Somehow it feels like that would be awkward. It also feels like doing what you want is the whole point of FI anyway.

Do some people here have similar objectives or is anyone going through (or went through) that process? What should I do to make sure that's the right decision?

Even if you have different goals, any thoughts? I'm sure lots of people with different objectives have similar concerns.

Thank you!

DadJokes

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Re: Experiences going back to school after FIRE?
« Reply #1 on: March 22, 2019, 08:28:59 AM »
I wasn't financially independent, but I did go to college in my late 20s and early 30s on the GI Bill. I went to a university that has a very large non-traditional student base, but I still felt like the picture below.

It didn't really make a difference- I wasn't there to socialize. I got along pretty well with the professors though.

Retireatee1

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Re: Experiences going back to school after FIRE?
« Reply #2 on: March 22, 2019, 09:04:54 AM »
I felt more like a prisoner at college than I ever did as an employee...

ender

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Re: Experiences going back to school after FIRE?
« Reply #3 on: March 22, 2019, 09:13:46 AM »
Grad schools tend to be more diverse in terms of age than undergrad (at least somewhat).


LifeHappens

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Re: Experiences going back to school after FIRE?
« Reply #4 on: March 22, 2019, 09:23:59 AM »
@Cherry Lane FIREd a year ago and started school this past fall.

Cherry Lane

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Re: Experiences going back to school after FIRE?
« Reply #5 on: March 22, 2019, 12:57:29 PM »
Thanks for the tag, @LifeHappens !  Yes, I FIREd at 43 and started grad school a few months later (at 44).   I am twice the age of a few of my classmates and ~15 years older than most, but there is one student in the program who is older than me.

I am friendly with my classmates, but they are not my social circle.  I've lived in this town for nearly 20 years, so I wasn't concerned about that.  Age difference hasn't been an issue for me, but part of that is I don't think of myself as being as old as I am.  And I look a bit young for my age, so most students don't realize just how much older than them I am (until I reference something like my school bag being 23 years old, used in my last semester of undergrad).

I'm studying a field completely different from my undergrad or employment fields, because the subject matter interests me and school is free (through the GI bill).  I don't have any specific plans to work in the field (or work at all) when I am done.  That requires a little bit of creative sidestepping when professors or fellow students ask about my employment goals.

I'm enjoying classes and learning, but being a full-time grad student is more work than I had anticipated.  It is more stressful than my career was (and has caused me more gray hairs - so much for looking young!), but that's mainly because I can't turn off caring about grades even though they don't really matter.

I'm happy to answer any questions you have, YoungInvestor.

Tass

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Re: Experiences going back to school after FIRE?
« Reply #6 on: March 22, 2019, 02:36:44 PM »
Man, my whole career goal at this point is to ESCAPE grad school...

Graduate school is indeed more diverse in age than undergrad - I started at 22 and I was very nearly the youngest in my class. There are plenty of grad students in their thirties. 40 would be older than average.

You didn't say what degree you have already, but if you have a bachelor's in an unrelated field, you might not need another one in biology. After all, you won't need all of the Composition 101 gen eds that most freshmen take. Maybe you can find a master's program where you can be more focused.

If you really want to do biomedical research, start as a lab tech for someone whose work you find interesting, get a feel for the way labs run, and use that to leverage your way into a PhD. Lots of dedicated techs impress their professors and get a good word in when they apply to the same school, and then they can hit the ground running.

All of this comes with a huge caveat: PhDs are not fun, or at least mine isn't so far. You do not spend every day pursuing new knowledge and working on disease cures. It can be repetitive, boring work, without the promise of any accomplishment at the end. Much of the work is not particularly intellectual. Some people love it anyway! It turns out not to be for me.

HappyCheerE

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Re: Experiences going back to school after FIRE?
« Reply #7 on: March 22, 2019, 05:20:57 PM »
Not FIREd yet, but I'm getting a second bachelor's (free, the beauty of working in higher ed), one class at a time, at a large public institution. So I've been a 50+-year-old among 18-22s for many years now (I'm 54 with another 5 years to go, unless I can FIRE and pick up the pace!) If you're interested in the subject, it's kind of great. The professors are happy to have questions that aren't about what's going to be on the exam. The self-knowledge and experience reduces any stress about exams etc. The kids are either weirded out and give you a wide berth, or friendly and sweet. Personally I'm not particularly interested in the stresses of grad school, but after this degree I'm looking forward to MOOCs and auditing until I die!

Tass

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Re: Experiences going back to school after FIRE?
« Reply #8 on: March 22, 2019, 05:44:52 PM »
after this degree I'm looking forward to MOOCs and auditing until I die!

This part I'm on board with!

Gray Matter

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Re: Experiences going back to school after FIRE?
« Reply #9 on: March 22, 2019, 07:01:28 PM »
DH and I are FI and could be RE if we weren't such spendypants.  I quit my job at age 46 to go back to school (masters) and started a doctorate last fall at age 47.  I will be 52 when I graduate.  I am twice the age of the youngest in my cohort, most are between 27-33, and I was the only one of 15 in my cohort in her 40s when we started.  And I could not be happier.  Seriously.  I'm having the time of my life.  I feel like I won the lottery.  In fact, if I won the lottery, this is still what I would do.

One thing that was important to me was to pick a school that was diverse and committed to a collaborative learning environment (not a competitive one).  I have plenty of friends, so I don't need to my cohort to be my primary source of socializing, but I get along well with them and have, surprisingly, made two good friends that I get together with regularly outside of school (sometimes to study, sometimes for fun).

Studying exactly what you want, when you want, and with the clarity and perspective that age brings is awesome beyond words.  Like CherryLane, it is more work and more rigorous than I expected, but that's OK, because I WANT to be doing it.

SwordGuy

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Re: Experiences going back to school after FIRE?
« Reply #10 on: March 22, 2019, 08:21:21 PM »
If you're nice to people, helpful, and pleasant to be around, you'll get along with your fellow students just fine.   If not, not. :)

YoungInvestor

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Re: Experiences going back to school after FIRE?
« Reply #11 on: March 24, 2019, 06:18:48 AM »
Lots of great contributions, thanks a lot for the diversity of perspectives.


If you really want to do biomedical research, start as a lab tech for someone whose work you find interesting, get a feel for the way labs run, and use that to leverage your way into a PhD. Lots of dedicated techs impress their professors and get a good word in when they apply to the same school, and then they can hit the ground running.


That is a good point. I already have a BSc in actuarial science and an MBA. While going straight to grad school for a master's seems impossible where I am, I think I could reasonably get the new degree in 2-2.5 years, cutting significantly on my estimates.


If you really want to do biomedical research, start as a lab tech for someone whose work you find interesting, get a feel for the way labs run, and use that to leverage your way into a PhD. Lots of dedicated techs impress their professors and get a good word in when they apply to the same school, and then they can hit the ground running.


Even without any applicable skills? Most of my training and experience is quantitative- or management-focused. I'm open to it, but do I need to wait until I at least start the work on the BSc material?

Tass

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Re: Experiences going back to school after FIRE?
« Reply #12 on: March 25, 2019, 10:27:27 AM »
Most techs do probably have a Bachelor-level biology education, or are working on one, yes. Working in a lab probably isn't your first step. But don't let day one of a PhD program be your first time in a lab, either.

LiveFreeNow

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Re: Experiences going back to school after FIRE?
« Reply #13 on: April 05, 2019, 08:55:38 PM »
I don't know what's best for you but I hope these notes will help you figure out.

I didn't get to FIRE until I was in my mid '50s.  That's when I started my PhD.  It happened because I wanted to do "work," that is, spend a solid chunk of my time and energy, doing something I think is socially useful.  In my own case, that meant relevant in light of climate change.  I realized my strongest skills are the kinds of things one does in school.  I went to see people who do research that interests me, by good fortune right here in my town.  Bingo, great fit, better than volunteering.  They said the easiest way for me to become part of a research community is to get a PhD.  Mostly what that amounted to is doing exactly the kind of research I want to do anyway.  So here I am.

My social life still is largely with people I knew before school.  It's even richer now, though.  At school I get to be around people of all ages, or at least all ages 18 and up.  I like that.  I didn't even realize it at the time, but at my old paid jobs I spent most of my time with people at similar career stages as me, which meant more or less my age.  My 23 year-old office mate is a dear buddy I'd probably never have got to know well otherwise, for example.

I've gone back to school a couple times already.  This time the first year back was crazy busy.  I was learning so much that I want to know and I knew it was temporary so I didn't mind.  After that, being FIRE has given me a huge degree of liberty and I can't recommend it highly enough.  I can do research on the topics I choose rather than topics someone has got funded.  I spend my time on research rather than on chasing funding.  Being a (paid) teaching assistant was really fun until I realized it was eating up my research time, so after a couple semesters of that, I quit that too.  I get to work hard some weeks because I want to and take lots of time off when that's what I want.  I'm not in a rush to finish in order to get done while I'm funded so I don't have that pressure - though I'm moving along at a normal degree-completion pace despite not stressing over it.  I don't worry about future employment, which most of my fellow students must. 

Being older than average is a big asset for grad school.  You may have more perspective.  You may have clearer goals.  You may already know how to write a long document, or speak in public, or organize a months-long project, or have some other skills that younger students sometimes struggle with.  You may have already know how to live a social life that's pretty satisfying.  You may not be working 3 jobs to pay tuition.  Etc.  Oh, about the last part, tuition can be pricey.  Depending on your field, you may find, as I did, that a stipend for grad school, tuition plus some cash, just sort of finds you.  The salary part goes in the ol' savings account / investments since I don't actually need it.

And yes, this was a big switch for me - hard sciences, mostly physics.  I focused on history and sociology way back in undergrad.

Chase your dream!