Author Topic: Working through graduate school?  (Read 1097 times)

rtkaratekid

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Working through graduate school?
« on: March 11, 2018, 03:01:42 PM »
Hey everyone! Long time lurker first time contributor here!

My wife and I have a pretty sweet situation right now. She's the current breadwinner as an accountant, and I am the one still working on my career.

Because this isn't a case study, I'll spare the details on life in general as we feel like we've got a pretty good grasp on things, but questions inevitably arise...

In this case it's about me going to grad school. I have an undergraduate degree in Neuroscience and, while interesting, it doesn't afford great job options unless you continue on to Medical or Graduate school.

After working as a CNA for a year and a half (and hating it the whole time) and shadowing doctors and PAs I decided that healthcare isn't for me. The idea of going into academia and doing research sounded cool till I realized how hard it is to get tenure/get research funded. I met a few professors who even lost their jobs because they lost funding and that about sealed the deal.

So now I've settled on a career/job in data science and am going back to grad school to learn fundamentals of software development and data management/analysis. I'm really stoked on it as I love working with data, always have, and just wasn't aware there was a career that revolved around just working with data!

This is where my question begins...

-The program has a flat rate for tuition, including most of the  course materials (computer, software, etc.): $38k

-I currently work for the University of Utah (where I will be attending school), if I maintain a 75% full time employment status, my tuition will then be half-off, so $19k.

-We have the money saved up to pay the whole tuition out of pocket regardless if it's half off or not. No debt needed! Woot!

-The program is 16 months (Aug 2018-Dec 2019). The advantage of this is that  I can jump into a career with the skills gained and portfolio made much faster than a traditional master's program of 24 months. Time is money right?

-We will move to student housing and our rent will go down from $1,000/mo to $600/mo. We will be able to walk/bike to school and work easily (we can at our currently place too fyi). Woot!

-The current job I have is NOT compatible with the grad program. It is three 12 hour shifts a week. During school I will have class every day till noon, and then potentially some classes in the afternoons. With that grad school schedule and the amount of time I am forecasted to need to study (2-3 hrs per credit hour, ~15 credit a semester, ~9-12hrs study time...), it seems that I won't be able to find a 75% FTE job that could work around my schedule and afford enough study time very well.

-In an ideal world I would be able to find a job at the university that would allow me to work 30hr/wk and study on the job... but that's unlikely unless I did night security work. Which working night shifts I've learned is a sure fire way to tank all of my productivity rather quickly.

-I just began working a "side job" as a rock climbing coach where I'm paid a luxurious $30/hr. The amount of work I have is completely up to me and how motivated I am to advertise and get clients (I currently have zero and have a hard time telling people to shuck out hard-earned cash for my services, but such is the life of a mustachian, let me know if you know anyone who's interested ;). There is basically no set schedule, just when me and my client have time to meet up. My schedule is flexible and my work-load is flexible. Because of the high hourly pay, I would make more doing 10 hrs/wk of that than 20 hrs/wk of almost any other job I can find.

-In my opinion, I should just work that gig for the first few semesters of school to see how the balance goes. Then I may seek an internship doing data science during the last half of the grad program, as I will have afternoons mostly open. But I would again either want flexibility, or the ability to work remotely while doing so.

-My wife is advocating for me to get a job at the university, on top of this coaching gig. Her reasoning is the half-off deal on tuition, I do have a small 401k that I'm only 40% vested in (so if I leave now/august I'll get 5k instead of 10k... I may need to check the numbers on that again) that I will lose if I stop being an employee at the U, and that we'll be farther ahead financially if I work a more traditional job during school-- maybe even enough to put a down-payment on a home.

-My biggest worry with this is that while I am a decently clever person and good student, it's historically taken me a LOT of time to study and do well in hard classes. I've been diagnosed with mild ADHD before, so that could contribute. I worry about work affecting the quality of my schooling enough that it would then sabotage my efforts at starting a career or being expert in it. I do not have a background in software development or coding aside from some video games I made with Visual Basic in high school, and the amount of Python I've been able to learn in the past couple months. I worked through my whole undergrad until the last semester when I quit my job, and that semester I put in 8-10 hours of studying a day on top of attending classes, and that was good enough to get me A's and B's in a neuroscience undergrad (3.7 semester gpa, 16 credits).

-The math definitely makes it look like working 30hrs/wk is a great idea, but I wonder if it's worth sacrificing whatever quality level my education can attain for the sake of earning something like an extra $4k over the 16 months. I don't necessarily know how to quantify the quality of education to then weigh it against the amount I could earn over those 16 months.

-Many non-mustachians I've talked to about their school during their master's programs have said they definitely couldn't have worked during their masters programs. They've also pointed out my concern asking whether it would be better to come out with $15-19k off my tuition because I was working, or to bite that bullet in order to make up that amount rather quickly when I actually begin a career.

So there you have it, I tried to keep things somewhat organized for the ease of mustachians everywhere. I would really love to hear what fellow frugals have to say instead of the non-mustachians I've been talking to.

Category (multiplied by 16months)     Value

Tuition                                             -38400
Tuition w/ half-off                             -19200
Rent                                                -9600
30/hr wk job                                     23000
20/hr wk job                                     15300
10/hr wk coaching job                        19000
Quality of education                               ?
Internship during second half?                ?

letired

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Re: Working through graduate school?
« Reply #1 on: March 11, 2018, 03:49:54 PM »
It sounds like you've thought a lot about this! I have some questions/clarifying questions that might help you. Apologies for the GIANT WALL OF TEXT.

1) have you confirmed 100% with your current job that you cannot adjust your schedule to accommodate the proposed class schedule and/or drop your hours?

2) is the program you are interested intended to be a full-time program, or is there a part-time or extended track? This is something that is probably worth discussing with the folks who run the program, and probably has the biggest impact on what you decide to do.  If the program is intended to be a full-time program where you do not work in addition to taking classes, it is going to be Very Difficult to shoehorn in a job. If it can be done part-time, it seems like re-arranging your schedule gets significantly more possible, especially if it is on a short-term basis.

In the event that it's a full-time program, what scholarships or teaching assistantships or research assistantships are available? Exploring that angle seems like a really strong option. (those last two also generally come with a tuition waiver/reduction and a stipend) In a regular STEM advanced degree, if you aren't getting funding (tuition waiver + stipend), you really should think at least twice about doing that program, but this might be a different type of program more akin to an MBA or something?

Something else that might be useful here is sitting down with a big sheet of paper and a course catalog and outlining the various options. Are some classes only offered spring or fall semester? What options are there to take summer semester classes? Which things are pre-reqs to other classes? All those things affect the amount of time it takes and the feasibility. I did my STEM undergrad in 4 years, largely thanks to doing this before my sophomore year so I knew exactly what I had to take and when.

3) When do you have to commit to the program? Because at the very least, it seems like you have a few months to build up your roster of gym clients! Getting this hustle going and focusing on weekend clients seems like something to focus on regardless! And as a person who has also done grad school (research masters), this could either be perfect, since it forces you to take breaks and get out of the grad school vortex and be efficient with your time, or it could be terrible and a time suck and be a real problem with getting your  school work done.

4) Finally, do you have the job placement numbers on this program? And what is the local job market like? Data science is , like, so totally hot right now! But a program is only as good as its placement statistics. Your science background will probably help a lot, but watching many friends and acquaintances try to make the jump, it can be very challenging (depending on the local market, etc) to actually pick up a fully fledged data science job, especially without an advanced science degree (disclaimer that I'm biased since that's where my social circle is). It might not matter as much if this program is for a fully-fledged masters degree, but that still leaves you competing against the astronomy/biology/whatever PhD who has abandoned the quest for a tenure track job and has 10 years of advanced stats experience, not to mention whoever is bailing on living in California and has a few years of actual experience. I don't want to be discouraging, but a realistic analysis of the local job market is KEY! For example, there are a TON of people in my area looking to get junior/their first software developer job, and the market is completely saturated.

You also mentioned internships. If you can jump on this sooner rather than later, that almost always helps! Bonus: the should be paid!

rtkaratekid

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Re: Working through graduate school?
« Reply #2 on: March 11, 2018, 04:21:20 PM »
Hey letired! I don't mind the wall of text at all :)

1) Yes absolutely. They won't even let people in nursing school go part time! It's full time or nothing!

2) The program is a solid (no spring/summer break) 16 months full-time. There is no extended track or part-time option unfortunately. The courses themselves are actually already outlined and set, so I won't even be needed to register for classes, as they are already pre-determined. I am considering earning an offered "Certificate in Big Data" on top of the program, depending on how much it adds cost and value wise, that is something I WOULD need to figure out.

I discussed working with the director of the program, and he said while they don't forbid it, they don't encourage it as they feel the work load would be such that working during the program would be too difficult, especially since I only am familiar with Python at this point and not C++ or Java. I'm inclined to think they are biased, but I don't know how biased...

As for being a TA or RA, I only have a small background in software, so I wouldn't be qualified to be a TA (unless I'm missing something) until the time that I would probably look for internships anyway. I know a few of the neuroscience professors, but I doubt they would want me to be a TA for them if I'm not even enrolled in their program. Haha

3) April 15 is the commitment date. I am pretty confident I can get clients at the gym, I just haven't started trying hard yet, so maybe that's an unknown for now, but getting 10 hours shouldn't be impossible. Especially with 6ish months till school starts. If it becomes a vortex of distracting doom, I can always just let clients go. They might not be super happy but most people I've worked with so far have been pretty awesome about being respectful of my time since I have two jobs at the moment.

4) This program is relatively new, so they didn't have job placement numbers for me when I asked. What makes me feel like this isn't a poor investment however is that the University of Utah is an extremely reputable school, the local tech/software job market in the SLC area is really good ("Silicone Slopes", I'm also watching Glassdoor and indeed and seeing jobs posted for data science/analytics every day), this IS a fully-fledged masters degree (I saw that fewer than 3% of data scientists have only a BS), and, as a capstone project, I've been referred to a few of the Data-Science specialized professors in the school of computing in order to create a capstone project that will be a glowing jewel in my resume. I've already started pet projects at home (although the going is quite slow as I need to learn how to get the machine to do all the analysis a predictions I want it to). I guess finally is that I really actually enjoy this stuff, it was only after learning how cool of a job this was that I realized how "hot" it is right now.

I hope that answers your questions! I'm still leaning toward just doing the coaching gig... much to my wife's chagrin ;)

englishteacheralex

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Re: Working through graduate school?
« Reply #3 on: March 11, 2018, 04:26:01 PM »
I taught school full time while getting my master's in education. Took classes at night and over summer vacation. It took me three years. I had no life during the grad school epoch. I was not married or partnered and had no time for dating. I paid as I went and took on no debt for the degree.

It wasn't fun but now it's over and I make more money and am more employable and better qualified in general. It was worth it. Glad I did it before I had kids.

rtkaratekid

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Re: Working through graduate school?
« Reply #4 on: March 11, 2018, 04:33:23 PM »
That's intense englishteacheralex! I worked through undergrad and came out debt-free, but grad school is a whole new level. Do you think that because you were studying a topic that you were already working in and (presumably) had an undergrad degree in that it cut down on the amount of time you needed to study in order to master materials?

englishteacheralex

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Re: Working through graduate school?
« Reply #5 on: March 11, 2018, 04:43:44 PM »
Well, in my degree program, the whole degree revolved around a research project that I had to undertake that was much easier to make happen because I had my own classroom to test out my studies. So I would do a test study just to iron out problems and then re-jigger things and figure out how to do my data mining. A lot of my studies were based on the qualitative and quantitative research classes I had to take--we'd read a bunch of articles and a textbook and have to design studies around what we'd read.

The people who weren't working had to have contacts in the field, so in my case I found it far preferable to have a job in the field at the same time as getting the degree. The degree program was kind of like being a teacher on steroids. For a time period, practically everything I did with curriculum was informed by research I had to read for class. And I was recording in minute detail almost everything my students were doing.

There were no exams--the class revolved around reading research, reading textbooks about how to do educational research, and designing educational research studies. So I had to do a lot of reading and writing and data analysis, but...not a lot of the kind of learning that is best demonstrated on a test.

englishteacheralex

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Re: Working through graduate school?
« Reply #6 on: March 11, 2018, 04:45:14 PM »
And--yes, it was a totally different animal than undergrad. It was directly applicable to my job and both informed each other. I think if I had had to work full time AND try to get a degree in a totally different field...hard to imagine.

rtkaratekid

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Re: Working through graduate school?
« Reply #7 on: March 11, 2018, 06:45:36 PM »
englishteacheralex, that sounds like a tough, but pretty ideal situation for what you had going on!

Smokystache

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Re: Working through graduate school?
« Reply #8 on: March 11, 2018, 06:49:37 PM »
Couple of thoughts (I worked as a TA and on-the side as I got my MA & Phd ... but its been a while).

- The variance in level of workload in different graduate departments/programs is huge. I've taken some graduate classes in biological/medical areas, statistics, psychology, and education (to name a few). Some of these departments I could have taken a full course-load with a 40 hr a week job ... in some I would have barely survived if I just took a full load and a 10 hour a week job. As best you can, find where you program is on this continuum and then doesn't listen to people whose programs are at other places on that continuum.

- IMHO, the best use of your time during a full-time graduate program is to:
a) kill it in the courses (this doesn't mean necessarily doing everything for the best grade, but doing everything that impresses the hell out of the professor)
b) look for emerging areas in the field and get in on that (always good to be a job hunter who has experience in the "new thing" that everyone is looking for)
c) build relationships that will help with #b - this may be helping profs with their research/consulting ... but it may also be creating relationships with recent alums, companies that frequently hire from this program, etc.
d) put as much time into b & c as you can. This is the time to build your network within the field, establish your reputation, make connections. Don't expect to get paid anything or well during this time - volunteer for as many #b projects as you can (and still deliver quality work). At no other time will you have access to so many opportunities and a real excuse to work on a variety of projects. Think about it ... once you're employed, you can't go to different companies and ask if you can be an unpaid intern on a specific team/project ... but as a grad student, you have the excuse to do this.

This is an intensive program - think of those 16 months as the time you have to determine your trajectory in the field - whether you crush it or limp out of the program will have a huge effect on how well you can leverage the degree and knowledge for the time you're in the field.

So, in a more direct answer to your question: Spend your time on A-D. If you need to get some exercise and to feel like you're contributing to the family's income, then earn a little as a climbing teacher. But talk with your wife about your plan and why you're going to be working so hard for so little money for a short period of time, so that you can work less for lots of money and have lots of opportunities/options later.

letired

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Re: Working through graduate school?
« Reply #9 on: March 11, 2018, 07:01:10 PM »
Based on your response, I'm envisioning a program that is a much longer version of an advanced coding bootcamp combined with an asskicking in stats/math/analysis. If that seems accurate, I think @Smokystache probably has it right. If you want to cultivate a few climbing coach clients, that's not unreasonable, but it seems like the best use of your time is kicking ass and taking names in your program. For these types of programs, the people who get the best outcomes are the ones who put the most effort into their work and education. If something part-time comes up at the university, you can check it out, but I think it would mean taking on a lot.

Another thing that will be invaluable is making connections in the business/tech community. It looks like SLC has a few data/programming meetups that are relevant to your interests. I would recommend checking out as many of them as you can, and picking the best/biggest one to become a fixture at (more than one, if you can manage!). At this point, you've got ~2 years to make yourself a fixture in the community, learn a ton from people who do this every day, and position yourself as someone who is smart, motivated, and hardworking. These people will also have an invaluable perspective on what makes interesting and compelling capstone projects, and what interviewing for these kind of positions is like! Even better, keep your eye out for opportunities to do a presentation or talk on something interesting you are learning! People love that shit, and being able to talk comfortably and extemporaneously on technical topics is a #1 interviewing (and job!) skill.

lhamo

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Re: Working through graduate school?
« Reply #10 on: March 11, 2018, 07:14:05 PM »
Agree that you should not attempt to work a 75% FTE professional job while doing an accelerated masters in a field that is totally new to you.  The coaching gig sounds like it will provide maximum flexibility and if it proves too much you should be able to refer clients to other coaches.

rtkaratekid

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Re: Working through graduate school?
« Reply #11 on: March 11, 2018, 07:23:40 PM »
@Smokystache yeah those are great thoughts. I've also taken "scary" classes that turned out to be total breezes.
As for letters A-D, I completely see working as an obligation that would restrict my ability to network and impress those needing impressing. In the past when I've been super busy with work and school I would go to class and then peace out ASAP, never talking with professors or other students and I now realize, looking back, that it severely hampered some of the things I could've gotten out of school (other than education) but didn't.

@letired here's a link to the program and you can see how cut and dry it is(https://msd.utah.edu/). I'm kind of starting to think of it as a very high quality bootcamp situation that also affords excellent networking and project opportunities. I'm sure they would prefer to be thought of as something more than that, but to me this is just a tool, a really good opportunity to get into the field and really have a flying start. I'll definitely check out those meetups, I've read about a few of them and I'll have to make it a point to get out to a few before school starts.

letired

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Re: Working through graduate school?
« Reply #12 on: March 11, 2018, 09:12:36 PM »
Part of the bootcamp comment is me contextualizing things for myself :D and since its a professional degree, not a research degree, it seems like the focus really is on specific skills/background, not the more nebulous learning how to do research.

One thing I noticed is that the program seems very CS/software development focused, but you've talked a lot about doing analysis/data science. If the latter is your true end goal, I would seriously consider seeing if you can get a some more classes or experience on the stats/analysis side. You'll want a very solid understanding of basic and 'intermediate' statistics and experimental design if you're going for a data science job.