Author Topic: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?  (Read 7146 times)

PrezZaphod

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Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« on: December 17, 2019, 11:40:16 AM »
Life situation: 24 year-old male, single, no dependents, (currently) Southern California in the USA.

Gross yearly salary: $77,400 (with a couple thousand dollars more due to overtime)

Yearly take-home: $54,600 ($4550/mo)

Yearly Retirement Account Contributions: $1550 (current balance $3820) (Roth 401k, maxing employer match)

Other pay deductions (yearly):
Medical: $840
Dental: $50
Total: $910/year

Tax withholding: $21,000 (2 allowances)

Current expenses/saving:
Food - $175/mo
Rent - $750/mo
Utilities (gas + electric) - $50/mo (averaged over a full year, costs are highly seasonal)
Misc - $100/mo
Spoiler: show
I know, I might get yelled at for a big "misc" category, but I get a haircut every ~2 months, buy a new pack of soap and shampoo at Costco every ~3, see a movie between zero and one times per month, buy between zero and two books per month, refill my bus pass monthly but sometimes twice a month, pay for gas for friends every few weeks, buy some clothes twice a year - I budget this as "misc" because my spending in these areas is erratic and I don't want to maintain a full-on yearly budget. $200/mo is a "do not exceed" number that I sometimes get close to, but my [tracked] average spending here is ~$100/mo and I dynamically adjust my spending to hit that average over time, targeting normalization within 2 months. Round off to entertainment/kicknacks $70, household + personal maintenance $30 if you must

Long-term spending - $100/mo (this is a virtual account transfer, not an expenditure)
Cash savings - $100/mo (see Assets for justification)
Therapy - $200/mo (paid out of HSA, which has no additional contributions from the employee side, but I'm running out of money for it)
Total (minus therapy): $1275

Subscriptions:
Costco $60/year
NYT Crossword $40/year
Total: $100/year / $8/mo

Debt service: ~$3,200/mo (>=$2,900 in 4 paycheck months, >=$3,900 in 5-paycheck months - spare cash not saved or spent goes here)

Assets (as of Dec 1):
$8,500 savings (much lower than I'd like with high-deductible healthcare)
$1,200 long-term spending, currently earmarked for furniture, cats, grad school applications (on credit card until end-of-month account settling), and moving expenses

Liabilities:
NO short-term debt
Private student loan - $16,550 (started at $62,060) @ 4.81% fixed-rate (refinanced). Projected payoff May 2020 (possibly April depending on tax refund).
Federal student loans - $18,360 (started at $20,500) @~4.00% fixed rate (dollar-averaged, "true" APR will be less since I'm going to target the higher-interest components first). Projected payoff ??? (it is possible that between Christmas, a birthday, and a tax refund I will be able to pay this off before the fall, but I do not expect that to happen and am not yet able to budget around a grad student stipend. If I am not able to pay this off I will probably find a way to refinance while I still have fat paychecks coming in and repay within a couple of years.)
School-subsidized loan - $5,000 @ 0%, no repayment schedule (my school administered this loan out of its endowment directly; I do intend to pay this back once my other loans are gone, but don't expect they'll bother me about it for another few years)
Total: $39,910

Question:
Am I in good enough shape to go to grad school for mechanical engineering in the fall?

What I'd be missing out on:
~1 year of maxed retirement account contributions
Vesting in another ~$2,000 of retirement account contributions
$10,000 cash savings target

What I'd be gaining:
Quality of life. I hate this city and am in a pretty bad depressive spiral due to a total lack of social life and a pretty terrible living situation, and I don't want to incur moving expenses twice in a short period of time. Gaining QoL without increasing spending is not a real possibility.
Career trajectory. A PhD in mechanical engineering aligns with my career goals and I have serious doubts about my ability to stay fresh and sharp for another year given the skill decay I've experienced in the past year and a half.

Given that I'm trading off qualitative vs quantitative gains, I guess what I'm really asking here is: "just how stupid is it to take a low-wage job for 5-6 years in my mid-20s when I don't have any substantial savings?"
« Last Edit: December 17, 2019, 04:42:24 PM by PrezZaphod »

Gronnie

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #1 on: December 17, 2019, 11:48:14 AM »
I'm not sure I follow on the skill decline statement. Are you not currently working as an Engineer?

PrezZaphod

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #2 on: December 17, 2019, 12:23:32 PM »
I'm not sure I follow on the skill decline statement. Are you not currently working as an Engineer?

Yes, but the skills I use at work and the skills I'd use in a PhD program are pretty different. I'm losing theoretical knowledge.

Personally, I would not recommend entering a Ph.D. program while still in debt, especially because in this case it seems to be more of an attempt to escape from a situation you are miserable in rather than a real passion for academic research. Ph.Ds are hard.

To be clear, I do really want to pursue a PhD. I've been putting most of my pay towards debt payoff in order to pursue a PhD. My question is whether I have done a good enough job. Sounds like the answer is no, and I'm one dumb fucker :(
« Last Edit: December 17, 2019, 12:28:34 PM by PrezZaphod »

PrezZaphod

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #3 on: December 17, 2019, 02:01:25 PM »
Quote
As you weigh your options I would encourage you think carefully about how you are going to get rid of that debt on a grad student stipend.  Don't drag it around for any longer than you have to.

No, you're right. It just hurts to realize that I didn't do a good enough job. I came here hoping that I didn't have a good reason to give up and cancel my applications, but I don't think that's the case. Just should have saved more.

ysette9

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Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2019, 02:18:59 PM »
What is your highest degree you have now?

I have a BS and MS in engineering and my husband does as well, his being in mechanical engineering. We have a friend from undergrad who also did a BS in mechanical and then went on to get a PhD. Iíve watched and compared our trajectories over the years.

From watching him it appears that for engineering at least, a PhD mostly slows you down. He started his working career at least four years after us and therefore lost out on that time for saving and investing. When he did graduate he found it a bit harder to find a job in industry due to the specialization done in grad school. We didnít compare salaries, but my experience recruiting and hiring college grads at all levels taught me that a PhD brings you into a large company at a level 3 (vs 1 for a BS). It took me about four or five years of work experience to move from level 1 to 3. That all means that we ended up at pretty much the same place in our careers at the same time, with the difference that my husband and I had 4-5 years of work experience and associated savings under our belts while our PhD friend did not.

The masters has been a good career payoff.
If you want to do research, academia, or other specialized areas then a PhD can make sense. But otherwise I feel the ROI curve inverts moving from MS to PhD for engineering and it isnít worth the blood, sweat, tears, and most importantly lost earnings.
« Last Edit: December 17, 2019, 02:20:33 PM by ysette9 »

Freedomin5

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2019, 02:59:37 PM »
If you really want to go to graduate school, I think you should go while your chances are still good to get into grad school and while you are still young and without dependents and other financial responsibilities.

In your situation, I wouldnít cancel applications. I would aggressively try to pay off as much of those loans as possible before starting grad school. And I would only accept a program that provides a stipend so that I would not need to incur extra loans for my grad degree.

Finally, from an earnings perspective Iíd probably go with a masters and not do the PhD. My friend has a masters in mech eng, and she stopped at the masters level even though she was offered a PhD position because she said it didnít make sense career-wise or financially. Especially if you still have a few outstanding student loans. In addition, Iíd try to live as frugally as possible and save money even on a grad school stipend.

PrezZaphod

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #6 on: December 17, 2019, 04:18:16 PM »
What is your highest degree you have now?

...

If you want to do research, academia, or other specialized areas then a PhD can make sense. But otherwise I feel the ROI curve inverts moving from MS to PhD for engineering and it isnít worth the blood, sweat, tears, and most importantly lost earnings.

A BS, and yes, the idea is to find R&D work that isn't accessible without higher education. I have zero interest in engineering management and little interest in consulting, which I feel makes R&D the most viable alternative career path. I do have R&D and design responsibilities at my current job and will have 2 years there by the fall, so afterwards my resume will show a doctorate and 2 years' mostly-relevant experience. No idea what this will look like compared to people who have never been full-time in engineering or what my immediate earning potential will be, as most of the points of comparison I have involve going straight from undergrad to graduate. It does seem like it'll make it easier to find summer positions if I choose not to do research, though.

If you really want to go to graduate school, I think you should go while your chances are still good to get into grad school and while you are still young and without dependents and other financial responsibilities.

...

I would aggressively try to pay off as much of those loans as possible before starting grad school. And I would only accept a program that provides a stipend so that I would not need to incur extra loans for my grad degree.

The first part is my major concern. I feel very hesitant about trying to start grad school with a terminal PhD degree past 25. I am not considering non-compensated positions (which are scarce in ME in the first place), and the only way I could increase my savings enough to pay off everything between now and fall would be to become homeless. However, I'm likely to see a tax refund of ~$5,000 for 2021 due to the drop in income after leaving my job (assuming my 2021 tax return looks like my 2019 tax return, given that I started at my current job in the summer of 2018), and that'll go a long way to finishing off the federal loans.
« Last Edit: December 17, 2019, 04:52:01 PM by PrezZaphod »

Finances_With_Purpose

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #7 on: December 17, 2019, 06:41:44 PM »
So the big questions here are what your post-graduate income would be, how you'd pay any on them while in school / cover your expenses, which are both difficult, versus today.  It would also help to know your loan interest rates - because I assume you'll go into deferment while you're back in school. 

Good job paying as much as you can down now.  That's the best thing you can do to help yourself move ahead, no matter which path you take.

PrezZaphod

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #8 on: December 17, 2019, 07:16:56 PM »
So the big questions here are what your post-graduate income would be, how you'd pay any on them while in school / cover your expenses, which are both difficult, versus today.  It would also help to know your loan interest rates - because I assume you'll go into deferment while you're back in school.

Present rates are in the OP. I will probably refinance the federal loans shortly before leaving my job; I expect to be able to get < 3% on the balance (projected to be ~15k), which I will continue paying in grad school, as a typical stipend is actually above my present monthly spending and I expect to be able to decrease my rent by at least 20%. The nice thing about ME programs is that PhD positions are essentially universally compensated unless you're a very marginal admit, and I am definitely not very marginal.

imolina

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #9 on: December 17, 2019, 08:23:36 PM »
What is your highest degree you have now?

I have a BS and MS in engineering and my husband does as well, his being in mechanical engineering. We have a friend from undergrad who also did a BS in mechanical and then went on to get a PhD. Iíve watched and compared our trajectories over the years.

From watching him it appears that for engineering at least, a PhD mostly slows you down. He started his working career at least four years after us and therefore lost out on that time for saving and investing. When he did graduate he found it a bit harder to find a job in industry due to the specialization done in grad school. We didnít compare salaries, but my experience recruiting and hiring college grads at all levels taught me that a PhD brings you into a large company at a level 3 (vs 1 for a BS). It took me about four or five years of work experience to move from level 1 to 3. That all means that we ended up at pretty much the same place in our careers at the same time, with the difference that my husband and I had 4-5 years of work experience and associated savings under our belts while our PhD friend did not.

The masters has been a good career payoff.
If you want to do research, academia, or other specialized areas then a PhD can make sense. But otherwise I feel the ROI curve inverts moving from MS to PhD for engineering and it isnít worth the blood, sweat, tears, and most importantly lost earnings.

I am also an Engineer and I was going to pursue PhD but decided against it. I could not take 4 years of more study and having very low income. As a PhD student in Canada you most likely are paid by the University to do research and to be a teaching assistant so you don't have to go into debt but you can barely survive with the money.  Go for PhD only if you love academy and research, those are the best jobs for PhD graduates. Otherwise, I feel most of companies don't really require PhD and prefer people with experience vs PhD.

PrezZaphod

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #10 on: December 17, 2019, 08:42:11 PM »
As a PhD student in Canada you most likely are paid by the University to do research and to be a teaching assistant so you don't have to go into debt but you can barely survive with the money.  Go for PhD only if you love academy and research, those are the best jobs for PhD graduates.

That's the plan. And I'm already living on less than I'd make with a PhD stipend, so I think I'd survive. Summer employment also seems pretty possible.
« Last Edit: December 17, 2019, 08:47:17 PM by PrezZaphod »

Freedomin5

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #11 on: December 18, 2019, 05:19:18 AM »
What is your highest degree you have now?

...

If you want to do research, academia, or other specialized areas then a PhD can make sense. But otherwise I feel the ROI curve inverts moving from MS to PhD for engineering and it isnít worth the blood, sweat, tears, and most importantly lost earnings.

A BS, and yes, the idea is to find R&D work that isn't accessible without higher education. I have zero interest in engineering management and little interest in consulting, which I feel makes R&D the most viable alternative career path. I do have R&D and design responsibilities at my current job and will have 2 years there by the fall, so afterwards my resume will show a doctorate and 2 years' mostly-relevant experience. No idea what this will look like compared to people who have never been full-time in engineering or what my immediate earning potential will be, as most of the points of comparison I have involve going straight from undergrad to graduate. It does seem like it'll make it easier to find summer positions if I choose not to do research, though.

If you really want to go to graduate school, I think you should go while your chances are still good to get into grad school and while you are still young and without dependents and other financial responsibilities.

...

I would aggressively try to pay off as much of those loans as possible before starting grad school. And I would only accept a program that provides a stipend so that I would not need to incur extra loans for my grad degree.

The first part is my major concern. I feel very hesitant about trying to start grad school with a terminal PhD degree past 25. I am not considering non-compensated positions (which are scarce in ME in the first place), and the only way I could increase my savings enough to pay off everything between now and fall would be to become homeless. However, I'm likely to see a tax refund of ~$5,000 for 2021 due to the drop in income after leaving my job (assuming my 2021 tax return looks like my 2019 tax return, given that I started at my current job in the summer of 2018), and that'll go a long way to finishing off the federal loans.

Are there any ways to increase income? Take on a roommate? Overtime work? Part-time job teaching English online? Delivering pizzas? Or something else that would work in your current situation?

wellactually

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #12 on: December 18, 2019, 07:36:25 AM »
I think youíd be fine to do the program in the fall. It seems like youíll have maybe 10k ish on the federal student loan which is already a fairly low rate and which you plan to refinance. The $5k in borrowed money from the other school is in a good spot. And youíre used to living on very little.

If you are working on a PhD, youíll have access to cheaper mental health services. It also sounds like this would be a move from a hcol area to hopefully a much more affordable longer term location.

Finding a good program that meets your financial needs is of course key. But youíre paying off over $3k in debt a month and have a lot of earning potential and no debt outside student loans. It also sounds like there is a lot of personal value in moving. Just keep grinding and focus on ways to keep the move as low cost as feasible.

ysette9

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #13 on: December 18, 2019, 07:45:54 AM »
What is your highest degree you have now?

...

If you want to do research, academia, or other specialized areas then a PhD can make sense. But otherwise I feel the ROI curve inverts moving from MS to PhD for engineering and it isnít worth the blood, sweat, tears, and most importantly lost earnings.

A BS, and yes, the idea is to find R&D work that isn't accessible without higher education. I have zero interest in engineering management and little interest in consulting, which I feel makes R&D the most viable alternative career path. I do have R&D and design responsibilities at my current job and will have 2 years there by the fall, so afterwards my resume will show a doctorate and 2 years' mostly-relevant experience. No idea what this will look like compared to people who have never been full-time in engineering or what my immediate earning potential will be, as most of the points of comparison I have involve going straight from undergrad to graduate. It does seem like it'll make it easier to find summer positions if I choose not to do research, though.
What like of R&D work do you want to do? Do you have an industry in mind? Being an ME, do you like design? I can understand not wanting to be a project manager or consultant. In my work experience though while there are people who eventually pivot into those areas, there is still a large need for engineers to be engineer and do engineering. Would that interest you?

Can you find some people who do what you are interested in and have some informational interviews with them to see how they got where they are?

ysette9

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #14 on: December 18, 2019, 07:53:44 AM »
I realize I have one more PhD anecdote friend. :)

Early in my career I worked with a brilliant woman when we were both level 1 engineers. (Doing cutting edge materials engineering for a classified program actually). We both worked a few years and then around year 5 or 6 she got tapped on the shoulder by corporate R&D bigwigs to go get her PhD on the companyís fine. Pretty cool. She has been working on that and maybe it is taking a bit longer than normal, but sometime that happens with theses. Anyway, I think she is finishing up and in the interim Iíve reached FI.

Laura33

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #15 on: December 18, 2019, 07:59:15 AM »
First, please stop talking about yourself negatively.  You are not stupid, you have not failed to do a "good enough" job.  You have busted your ass to use 3/4 of your monthly take-home to pay down your debt, you are living on very little despite a salary that would trigger others to go out and buy new cars and go on fancy vacations, and you have a goal and have executed a plan to get there.  All of that is huge.  That is the type of behavior and decisionmaking that is going to set you up to succeed no matter which path you follow. 

FWIW, I am also in the camp that says MS is a decent terminal degree and Ph.D may be limiting -- my DH has a Ph.D, and in his career trajectory, he would have been much better off with an MBA instead.  But that's him -- that's not you.  You have wanted to get a Ph.D for years, so much so that you have lived like a monk to pay off your debt to be able to afford it.  So what if you don't maximize your earnings in your career?  If a Ph.D will allow you to enjoy what you're doing while making enough for what you need for a happy life, that's all that matters.  And hell, if you enroll in a MS/PhD program and decide it's not for you, or you find a great job/research opportunity, you can quit after you get the MS, right?

I am also debt-averse.  But I also think, based on your numbers, that you are in a solid enough position to go for it now.  Even your worst-case scenario has the private loans paid off and the government loans paid down quite a bit.  And who knows, with a few more bonuses, a few more minor expense cuts, or a slightly larger than assumed tax refund, you may be able to wipe that federal loan out entirely. 

But more importantly, I think you need to do it for your mental health.  You sound, quite honestly, depressed and desperate.  You seem pretty miserable where you are now, just nose to the grindstone to get the monkey off your back, putting up with a bad living situation, all so you can afford to free yourself to go back to school.  No one should live like that.  If where you are and what you are doing is making you miserable, do something different.  Now.  That doesn't have to mean grad school -- but if you do decide to stay put for another year to get everything paid off, then for Pete's sake change up what you're doing with your days to let a little sunlight in.

Malcat

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #16 on: December 18, 2019, 08:14:43 AM »
Laura's advice is pretty much what I was going to say.

I do want to add though that PhDs tend to be extremely hard on your mental health. You have a world of options available to you, and making a change to better focus on your mental health is probably a great idea. However, I have major major concerns about a PhD being the kind of place that will help you on that front.

PrezZaphod

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #17 on: December 18, 2019, 09:32:33 AM »
Are there any ways to increase income? Take on a roommate? Overtime work? Part-time job teaching English online? Delivering pizzas? Or something else that would work in your current situation?

I'm living in a rented room with no car, so I don't have anything to capitalize on there. I do have a bike, but the road conditions, lack of bike lanes, and frequency of accidents have actually scared me off of using it. I also don't really have access to a quiet space to do online interpersonal work, so that's out unless I buy a whole noise-isolating setup. I have the certs to be a CAD monkey, but licenses are expensive and I don't have enough contacts to ensure a positive RoI while building up a portfolio. Overtime is my only real practical way to get a little more money without spending first, and I will probably work on doing a bit more.

What like of R&D work do you want to do? Do you have an industry in mind? Being an ME, do you like design? I can understand not wanting to be a project manager or consultant. In my work experience though while there are people who eventually pivot into those areas, there is still a large need for engineers to be engineer and do engineering. Would that interest you?

Can you find some people who do what you are interested in and have some informational interviews with them to see how they got where they are?

I'm applying to programs with a design focus, hoping to work on flextural and underactuated mechanisms. There's so much we don't yet know about how to design those optimally, and the advanced tech we do have is pretty limited by that fact. Reasonably big applications in the areospace and robotics fields and an active area of research, and although it seems like most of that research is currently being done in China US institutions are working on it.

I don't have any personal or professional contacts in these fields. In a few years I might, but I'm fresh out of school and none of my family are engineers, so everyone I know that isn't at my office is at L1, and my current company is very... production-focused.  It's also way too early for me to feel safe sending internal signals about possibly leaving. The close engineer friends I have that are a few years ahead of me are also mostly going to grad school, actually. Some for a master's, some for a PhD. Regardless, I don't really have anyone to talk to about it.

Laura's advice is pretty much what I was going to say.

I do want to add though that PhDs tend to be extremely hard on your mental health. You have a world of options available to you, and making a change to better focus on your mental health is probably a great idea. However, I have major major concerns about a PhD being the kind of place that will help you on that front.

I do appreciate these concerns. I don't mind lots of hard work and do mind the place where I am. Working on interesting problems with friends in engineering school was the happiest time in my life, and the social isolation, lack of access to nature, and high housing costs are my major drivers of stress. At none of the places I've applied would any of these problems get worse.
« Last Edit: December 18, 2019, 09:39:43 AM by PrezZaphod »

Malcat

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #18 on: December 18, 2019, 10:24:34 AM »
Laura's advice is pretty much what I was going to say.

I do want to add though that PhDs tend to be extremely hard on your mental health. You have a world of options available to you, and making a change to better focus on your mental health is probably a great idea. However, I have major major concerns about a PhD being the kind of place that will help you on that front.

I do appreciate these concerns. I don't mind lots of hard work and do mind the place where I am. Working on interesting problems with friends in engineering school was the happiest time in my life, and the social isolation, lack of access to nature, and high housing costs are my major drivers of stress. At none of the places I've applied would any of these problems get worse.

Perhaps not, but a PhD would invite a whole new world of other intense and incredibly difficult to manage stresses.
It's not the hard work either, I've never met a PhD who can't handle hard work. I loved school, and truly expected to adore my doctoral program, until I got there and the experience was so dehumanizing, I felt like a caged animal the entire time and could frequently be found shuffling down the hall exhausted at the end of a 16 hour day muttering to myself "I should have been a fucking hairdresser."

My doctorate isn't a PhD though, so perhaps some of the many academics around here can chime in with more directly helpful input and things to consider. @maizeman care to chime in with some specific subject matter expertise maybe?

Looking back, I really really wish I had paid more attention to the many warnings that my program and subsequent career were going to be brutal. At the time, I shrugged it off with "yeah, but I love a good challenge" or "Sure, but I have the personality for this type of thing" or "it will be worth it". It's not that I can't handle it, it's that all along, I had A LOT of options and by casually disregarding the level of suffering I was voluntarily entering into, I was not making the most balanced of choices.

Don't get me wrong, I love my career now, but there are a lot of careers to love that don't require the kind of sacrifices that a doctorate could demand of you.

I'm not at all saying you shouldn't do it, I'm encouraging you to realistically look at the very real and MAJOR down sides of taking on a PhD in order to figure out if it will actually provide a net positive to your life.

PrezZaphod

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #19 on: December 18, 2019, 12:21:57 PM »
The experience was so dehumanizing, I felt like a caged animal the entire time and could frequently be found shuffling down the hall exhausted at the end of a 16 hour day muttering to myself "I should have been a fucking hairdresser."

...

I'm encouraging you to realistically look at the very real and MAJOR down sides of taking on a PhD in order to figure out if it will actually provide a net positive to your life.

Consider this advice taken. To be clear, I am absolutely planning on talking to the students at the schools and at the labs I'm interesting in working with privately about the conditions there before accepting an offer. If they seem miserable I will not go. I fully understand that some grad school environments are corrosive and/or abusive and have made avoiding those environments a high priority. Same reason I didn't even look at a SpaceX job. I have no interest in a position where the principal challenge will be something other than the work or the motivation to do it.
« Last Edit: December 18, 2019, 12:25:33 PM by PrezZaphod »

maizefolk

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #20 on: December 18, 2019, 07:07:44 PM »
Hey I got pinged. I don't have a PhD in engineering but I do have a STEM PhD, and work with a lot of engineering PhD students (as well the mentoring the students in my own group which is STEM-but-not-engineering).

Grad school (the full time kind, not the "my company paid for me to get a PhD part time") is really hard on a lot of folks mental health. You're doing a really hard thing, surrounded by other people with really poor work life balance (I include myself in this category) so you tend to wrap more and more of your self worth up in whether your project is going well or poorly.

And the big difference between working on projects as an undergrad and working on projects as a grad student is usually undergrads are given problems where someone already knows the answer (or we at least know a solution EXISTS). In grad school a lot of the problems you'll work on are ones without a solution. But at the same time it's impossible to ever prove (to yourself or to your PI) that a solution doesn't exist. So everyone spends an awful lot of time with things not working right, and an awful lot of time worrying the reason things aren't working right is that they're not smart enough, or not working hard enough.

That's not saying don't do it. Looking back on it, I really enjoyed the years I spent working on my PhD. But in the moment there are a lot of nights walking home from campus in the dark at 10 pm at night wondering what I was doing with my life and why everyone else's science was working wonderfully* while mine was stalled out, and a lot of negative self talk about how I was clearly too lazy, or too dumb, or too broken.

So that's the positive grad school experience (if you avoid the toxic labs and funding problems and supervisors who don't want their students to graduate). There's also an amazing sense of accomplishment when you succeed and, hopefully, a lot of camaraderie with the grad students who come in and suffer alongside you. So I'm not saying "don't go to grad school." But in my observation, both living through it and now mentoring or collaborating with other people going through the same experience, almost everyone has some real dark times along the way. So do go in with your eyes open about that.

*Because people talk about what's going right on their thesis, but tend to be more private about what fails. Basically the same problem as trying to judge how normal people's lives are from facebook posts.

Random asides that occurred to me reading through the thread:

-Don't assume that the cost of mental healthcare will go down in graduate school (I think this was someone else who mentioned it, but I'm still going to bring it up). Student health insurance plans are a mixed bag from school to school. I just had a meeting about our plan and it turns out basically every therapist in the city I live in is out of network for the student health plan and our out of network plan is TERRIBLE (high deductible, low copy, extremely high OOP max)

-You've got a handle on the basics: don't go to a program that isn't willing to pay you to get your PhD. Aim for an RA, not a TA. Make sure it's in a lab that has a history of both A) funding and B) actually graduating students in no more than 5-6 years. Talk to current students to make sure they don't tell you to run for the hills. This is all very sound stuff.

ysette9

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #21 on: December 18, 2019, 08:38:28 PM »
You may also want to wander over to @Nippycrisp Ďs journal. Somewhere in the numerous pages there he reflects back on his grad school experience. Or maybe he would care to add in a readerís digest version here. In any case his journal is a good read, even if it isnít always relevant to this thread.

nippycrisp

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #22 on: December 18, 2019, 09:49:52 PM »
Nippycrisp has joined the par-tay. I can confirm grad school ain't so rosy. Mine went by faster than most, but I wouldn't make that mistake again. Should we page @Tass for a more contemporaneous perspective?

I'd say listen to what the folks with advanced degrees are saying. Really listen. Think about it. At a minimum, find recent alumni from the program and see what they're doing now. Then see if people without PhDs have the same job.

People have covered the mental health part of getting a doctorate, so I'll address another: You're considering walking away from a white-hot job market to work for peanuts. When you get out, it might not be so rosy. Find someone who job hunted in 2009 and ask them how easy it was to get a job fresh out of school. You didn't mention specifically how important FIRE is to you, but you're almost certainly adding 5-7 years (or more) to your working life. Also consider that many people burn out in grad school and hate what they do by the time they finish.

Lastly, I'm not an engineer, but I was under the impression that PhDs don't mean a whole hell of a lot in that world. Very different from biomedical, for example.

wellactually

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #23 on: December 19, 2019, 08:24:11 AM »
@maizeman - Yeah, I said that about the mental health costs. I live in a research university town, so just speaking from the experience of having several friends in graduate programs and tons of friends who work in the system. Our university has significant mental health resources for students and all of it is covered. If you have to go outside the system, that probably would be hard. But the resources within the system are many.

@PrezZaphod - I've never done grad school, let alone a PhD program. But none of the close friends who've been going through programs have expressed regret that they chose this path. One of those is in her last semester of a 6 year program and got married and had two kids during her program which was across the country from all their support systems. One of the others finished his PhD last year and is now in a fellowship. He got married and went through a bad divorce during that time. So they each had a lot of stress concurrent with their work.

There is of course a ton of frustration expressed with the bureaucracy and headaches about stipend security, grant delays, and unreasonable demands upon their time. Honestly, I sometimes feel like people in the higher education world forget that things exist outside that world. I've been a public employee at the state or local level for 8 years, so bureaucracy feels unavoidable. I'll say the commonalities among the people I know who've been successful and felt successful are that they have a very clear vision of where they want to go, they absolutely love school, and they have very good relationships with their advisers.

Someone above mentioned a joint MS/PhD option. If you're concerned at all, that seemed like a really good option with a logical exit ramp.

Tass

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #24 on: December 19, 2019, 10:19:48 AM »
I can confirm grad school ain't so rosy. Mine went by faster than most, but I wouldn't make that mistake again. Should we page @Tass for a more contemporaneous perspective?

Like nippycrisp, I would not go to grad school if given the choice again. I haven't quit because I'm closer to the end than the beginning, and I think I will be able to do interesting and rewarding things with the degree once I get it - but I also think I could have found other interesting and rewarding things to do without it. I am grateful for much of my experience in grad school - I really have learned tons - but I doubt it's ultimately been worth the real misery I've also experienced. Frankly, my PhD is not going to be a very impressive one. For the first time in my life, and after several grueling years, I've decided I'd rather take care of myself and be a mediocre student than expend every effort to be an outstanding one.

To be fair, it sounds like you've already tried some of your other career options. That does give you a little more context from which to make this decision. Still, I would only recommend a PhD if you have a career goal that requires it and that you're completely sure about. Grad school just isn't worth it for its own sake.

You mention that a PhD aligns with your career goals, but don't provide details, so I'll leave you to judge that for yourself. However, I am seriously skeptical that grad school would improve your quality of life when you mostly seem to reference your living situation. Spending money to move again sucks, but if that's really the problem, a PhD is not going to solve it. I would sort that out before making this decision. A PhD is not an escape from other life problems; it's much more likely to magnify them.

Same caveats as above that I'm a STEM PhD, not an engineer. I want to highlight a few points that others have made:

Looking back, I really really wish I had paid more attention to the many warnings that my program and subsequent career were going to be brutal. At the time, I shrugged it off with "yeah, but I love a good challenge" or "Sure, but I have the personality for this type of thing" or "it will be worth it". It's not that I can't handle it, it's that all along, I had A LOT of options and by casually disregarding the level of suffering I was voluntarily entering into, I was not making the most balanced of choices.

THIS. In college, I was an excellent student balancing a heavy workload with no mental health challenges, and even from that best of possible starting positions, the reason my PhD is the hardest thing I've ever done is 100% the emotional and mental health side of it. It can be incredibly demoralizing.

And the big difference between working on projects as an undergrad and working on projects as a grad student is usually undergrads are given problems where someone already knows the answer (or we at least know a solution EXISTS). In grad school a lot of the problems you'll work on are ones without a solution. But at the same time it's impossible to ever prove (to yourself or to your PI) that a solution doesn't exist. So everyone spends an awful lot of time with things not working right, and an awful lot of time worrying the reason things aren't working right is that they're not smart enough, or not working hard enough.

This is most of why it's incredibly demoralizing. Toxic work environments often contribute as well, obviously, but those are possible to avoid with a little luck - maizeman's point is not.



For what it's worth, lots of people go to grad school in their late twenties and early thirties. This is not a train you're going to miss if you take more time to think and save. I'd like to say the opposite is also true - that you can always quit after you start - but realistically, it's a huge psychological challenge to feel like you're quitting. It's better to try to be sure ahead of time. I suspect you need a more stable life and mental health situation before you can assess that fairly.

PrezZaphod

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #25 on: December 19, 2019, 12:36:59 PM »
I think I will be able to do interesting and rewarding things with the degree once I get it - but I also think I could have found other interesting and rewarding things to do without it.

...

To be fair, it sounds like you've already tried some of your other career options. That does give you a little more context from which to make this decision. Still, I would only recommend a PhD if you have a career goal that requires it and that you're completely sure about. Grad school just isn't worth it for its own sake.

...

I am seriously skeptical that grad school would improve your quality of life when you mostly seem to reference your living situation.

...

And the big difference between working on projects as an undergrad and working on projects as a grad student is usually undergrads are given problems where someone already knows the answer (or we at least know a solution EXISTS). In grad school a lot of the problems you'll work on are ones without a solution. But at the same time it's impossible to ever prove (to yourself or to your PI) that a solution doesn't exist. So everyone spends an awful lot of time with things not working right, and an awful lot of time worrying the reason things aren't working right is that they're not smart enough, or not working hard enough.

This is most of why it's incredibly demoralizing.

...

For what it's worth, lots of people go to grad school in their late twenties and early thirties.

I think this captures most of your main points; to be completely clear, I mostly talk about my current situation in the OP because I was following the case study outline. The rest of the story is that as a development engineer on a fast track to doing principal electromechanical design work for my current company I am deathly bored. The most exciting stuff I've done for the past year and a half has been the kind of detailed modeling work that you turn into something you can publish in an academic setting. The underdefined problems are like crack to me. The spreadsheet calculating and CAD monkeying are fine and the specification cross checking is a particularly abstract kind of hell, but there's something about figuring out exactly how and why things move that grabs me. It latches on and I can't let it go. The ability to do work like that (both academically and professionally) is all that I expect to get out of a PhD.

Insofar as I expect my other problems to go away, they'll go away in 8 months whether or not I go off to grad school. Once my debt is paid off I am very much planning to stop living below the literal poverty level. If I sound desperate it's because I am; paying off this debt is a race against my own health. But that's the case whether or not I decide to go back to school.

I do understand that it's possible to head to grad school later, but I also strongly believe that sooner is better for career development. Two years' professional experience is, I think, enough to start above standard PhD entry level if I'm good at leveraging it, but I fear that accumulating much more than that now won't help me much then.
« Last Edit: December 19, 2019, 12:45:09 PM by PrezZaphod »

monarda

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #26 on: December 19, 2019, 06:09:06 PM »
Lots of good comments here so far.

To add- (with the qualifier that I got my Biology PhD in 1994), my undergrad student loans were frozen throughout all of grad school. My PhD was 8 years long. Then they resumed accruing interest. I don't know if student loans these days are anything like this.

I'm generally a happy person. I was less happy in my job just after college, because I was limited by it. I was less happy in my first postdoc because the day to day work was quite boring to me, even though the general subject was interesting.

If potential income is motivating you, then don't go to grad school. If the complex problems only advanced degrees will allow you to address are a motivation, then you might find that, or you might be disappointed. There are a lot of miserable and stressed-out grad students in PhD programs all over the world. Someone once told me that choosing your PhD advisor is close to being as important as choosing your spouse.  It's true. Choose carefully.



Laura33

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #27 on: December 20, 2019, 07:58:50 AM »
If I sound desperate it's because I am; paying off this debt is a race against my own health. But that's the case whether or not I decide to go back to school.

Not to beat a dead horse, but:*  this is true only because you say it is.  No matter what you decide to do, please remember that if your health is losing the race, you can change your decision.  You're the only one who has decided he needs to pay off the debt over 8 months; it would be equally reasonable to do so over 16 months or 2 years if doing so would make you less miserable now. 

Prioritizing your small remaining debt above your own mental health is not rational and suggests that you may already be closer to that line than you realize. 

*Meaning:  let the flogging commence.

Malcat

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #28 on: December 20, 2019, 08:00:40 AM »
If I sound desperate it's because I am; paying off this debt is a race against my own health. But that's the case whether or not I decide to go back to school.

Not to beat a dead horse, but:*  this is true only because you say it is.  No matter what you decide to do, please remember that if your health is losing the race, you can change your decision.  You're the only one who has decided he needs to pay off the debt over 8 months; it would be equally reasonable to do so over 16 months or 2 years if doing so would make you less miserable now. 

Prioritizing your small remaining debt above your own mental health is not rational and suggests that you may already be closer to that line than you realize. 

*Meaning:  let the flogging commence.

100% agree.

If you aren't happy with the priorities you have set for yourself at this time, then set different priorities.


PrezZaphod

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #29 on: December 20, 2019, 08:11:03 AM »
Please remember that if your health is losing the race, you can change your decision.  You're the only one who has decided he needs to pay off the debt over 8 months; it would be equally reasonable to do so over 16 months or 2 years if doing so would make you less miserable now. 

Prioritizing your small remaining debt above your own mental health is not rational and suggests that you may already be closer to that line than you realize.

If you aren't happy with the priorities you have set for yourself at this time, then set different priorities.

I mean, I'm miserable, but it's better than spending another year perpetually terrified, which I also am with this much debt hanging over me. $40,000 in non-dischargeable debt is ~ 4x my current gross assets. This is and should be terrifying. As long as I can avoid cracking mentally, this probably gives me the best result in terms of happiness * time, and to whatever degree this lifestyle is harming my relationships it's already too late to save them. It sucks, but all my other options suck more.
« Last Edit: December 20, 2019, 08:14:05 AM by PrezZaphod »

Laura33

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #30 on: December 20, 2019, 08:37:12 AM »
Please remember that if your health is losing the race, you can change your decision.  You're the only one who has decided he needs to pay off the debt over 8 months; it would be equally reasonable to do so over 16 months or 2 years if doing so would make you less miserable now. 

Prioritizing your small remaining debt above your own mental health is not rational and suggests that you may already be closer to that line than you realize.

If you aren't happy with the priorities you have set for yourself at this time, then set different priorities.

I mean, I'm miserable, but it's better than spending another year perpetually terrified, which I also am with this much debt hanging over me. $40,000 in non-dischargeable debt is ~ 4x my current gross assets. This is and should be terrifying. As long as I can avoid cracking mentally, this probably gives me the best result in terms of happiness * time, and to whatever degree this lifestyle is harming my relationships it's already too late to save them. It sucks, but all my other options suck more.

Have you actually evaluated a variety of options, or have you just "awfulized" to the extremes and decided to stick with the devil you know?

I.e.:  how secure is your job?  You're not particularly happy in it, I get that, but are you about to get fired or is the company about to go under?  Are there other similar jobs you could get if you lost/quit this one?  If the job is stable, then fixating on paying your debt in 8 months vs. 2 years is irrational.

On the flip side:  if you decided to postpone grad school for a year and extend your debt payoff schedule accordingly, what kind of changes would that allow you to make to your current daily life that might improve it?  Could you move to a better living situation?  Could you afford to do more of a hobby that you really enjoy, or join a club that you're interested in, or spend time volunteering for something that is meaningful to you?  Could you reinvest in your current friendships, or work on making new ones? 

Or:  what about job-searching now for the kind of job that would be more fulfilling?  Never hurts to see what's out there, right? 

I know, I know, horse is dead, autopsy commencing, stop whacking at it.  But the thing is:  I am dealing with depression and anxiety.  And the kind of thought process you are laying out here sounds very much like those two things -- because the insidious thing about depression is it convinces you it's not worth trying to change anything, and of course the anxiety piles on by persuading you that the world will fall apart if you do.  I mean, you really, really sound like me a couple of years ago, right before things got so bad that I couldn't bring myself to do my work anymore and finally admitted I needed help. 

I wouldn't normally whip any of that out in conversation -- amateur psychiatry is fun!! -- but you have said that you are getting therapy, so you are clearly aware that you have something going on in your head.  So please at least consider that your current analysis may not be an accurate portrayal of your actual choices and the likely consequences of each.  At a minimum talk to your therapist about it, ok?

Malcat

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #31 on: December 20, 2019, 09:02:50 AM »
Please remember that if your health is losing the race, you can change your decision.  You're the only one who has decided he needs to pay off the debt over 8 months; it would be equally reasonable to do so over 16 months or 2 years if doing so would make you less miserable now. 

Prioritizing your small remaining debt above your own mental health is not rational and suggests that you may already be closer to that line than you realize.

If you aren't happy with the priorities you have set for yourself at this time, then set different priorities.

I mean, I'm miserable, but it's better than spending another year perpetually terrified, which I also am with this much debt hanging over me. $40,000 in non-dischargeable debt is ~ 4x my current gross assets. This is and should be terrifying. As long as I can avoid cracking mentally, this probably gives me the best result in terms of happiness * time, and to whatever degree this lifestyle is harming my relationships it's already too late to save them. It sucks, but all my other options suck more.

I had literally over *ten times* that amount of debt when I was in my miserable job.
I understand the race against time that you describe better than even you can possibly understand.

My work wasn't just damaging my mental health, it was rather literally ripping my body apart. The more I worked, the more risk I ran of never being able to work again. I was racing against the clock just to get to zero net worth before I became too permanently disabled to make my $3000 minimum monthly payments on my debt.

I'm actually pretty cool with it though.

There was over a quarter million left when I quit my miserable, high paying job, which dramatically extended my timeline to being debt free. Not only that, but I diverted a large portion of my very reduced income to extremely expensive high end training so that I could work part time, making less money, but doing much more meaningful and much less physically (and mentally) damaging work.

For me, I'm actually incredibly grateful that my physical injuries forced me out of the miserable and toxic job. The physical benefits of not being constantly, literally physically tortured by my work are great, but really, it was the relief from the mental suffering that benefited me the most and completely turned my life around.

It's incredibly difficult to make responsible life decisions when you are miserable and mentally unwell.

I completely understand the corner you think you've painted yourself into.

PrezZaphod

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #32 on: December 20, 2019, 12:19:40 PM »
Have you actually evaluated a variety of options, or have you just "awfulized" to the extremes and decided to stick with the devil you know?

I.e.:  how secure is your job?  You're not particularly happy in it, I get that, but are you about to get fired or is the company about to go under?  Are there other similar jobs you could get if you lost/quit this one?  If the job is stable, then fixating on paying your debt in 8 months vs. 2 years is irrational.

On the flip side:  if you decided to postpone grad school for a year and extend your debt payoff schedule accordingly, what kind of changes would that allow you to make to your current daily life that might improve it?  Could you move to a better living situation?  Could you afford to do more of a hobby that you really enjoy, or join a club that you're interested in, or spend time volunteering for something that is meaningful to you?  Could you reinvest in your current friendships, or work on making new ones? 

Or:  what about job-searching now for the kind of job that would be more fulfilling?  Never hurts to see what's out there, right? 

I know, I know, horse is dead, autopsy commencing, stop whacking at it.  But the thing is:  I am dealing with depression and anxiety.  And the kind of thought process you are laying out here sounds very much like those two things -- because the insidious thing about depression is it convinces you it's not worth trying to change anything, and of course the anxiety piles on by persuading you that the world will fall apart if you do.  I mean, you really, really sound like me a couple of years ago, right before things got so bad that I couldn't bring myself to do my work anymore and finally admitted I needed help. 

I wouldn't normally whip any of that out in conversation -- amateur psychiatry is fun!! -- but you have said that you are getting therapy, so you are clearly aware that you have something going on in your head.  So please at least consider that your current analysis may not be an accurate portrayal of your actual choices and the likely consequences of each.  At a minimum talk to your therapist about it, ok?

My job is fairly secure, my bigger worry is that if I lost it or got in a bad accident or something I'd have ~2 months to avoid default, so my risk tolerance towards that possibility is extremely low. As far as looking for something new goes, I feel that until I have a full two years' professional experience at least I'm going to have a very hard time finding something not at entry level, and honestly this gig was a hell of a catch in terms of finding something comparatively not-boring.

IF I postponed grad school, I'd feel obligated to max my tax-advantaged accounts and bulk up my emergency cushion. Maybe I'd be able to find a slightly nicer place, but I don't think I'd gain much because of that. If I chose to spend instead, I think I'd be happier, but the thought of doing so scares me. I could probably pick up a hobby, but the location I'm in is such that I don't think I'd be able to make friends or join a club - there are none around. I've checked. It's a pretty depressing little corner of the world to be in, which is why none of my coworkers live nearby.

I have talked to my therapist about it, but (per herself) she's not especially well-qualified to make judgment calls about my financial situation. I know I'm being too anxious, but I don't know how much too anxious, and it's really hard to tell when I'm currently following the plan I came up with and thought was a great idea when I wasn't depressed. Regardless, the fact that I have two people here of all places telling me that maybe I wanna spend more is definitely making me think about it more seriously. The idea of letting go of the grad school dream just... hurts. I don't have any mid-term goals other than being debt-free and going, and pushing both of those to back to medium-long-term where I felt they were a year and a half ago would be hard for me. And I don't really have any short-term goals at all. Maybe TMI, but my girlfriend of nearly 3 years left me in August, and that's left a big hole in my life that I've been using those goals to fill, insofar as that's been possible. I recognize that that's not necessarily the best idea, but it seems at least better than wallowing, which is the only other real option that doesn't require me to upend my life. Maybe upending my life is the right choice, but the idea of doing so scares me.

It's incredibly difficult to make responsible life decisions when you are miserable and mentally unwell.

Ain't that the truth. I'm still mostly convinced that the "responsible" thing is to keep my nose on this grindstone as long as I can bear it, but like I said, you guys are doing a good job of shaking my conviction.

Malcat

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #33 on: December 20, 2019, 12:42:36 PM »
Have you actually evaluated a variety of options, or have you just "awfulized" to the extremes and decided to stick with the devil you know?

I.e.:  how secure is your job?  You're not particularly happy in it, I get that, but are you about to get fired or is the company about to go under?  Are there other similar jobs you could get if you lost/quit this one?  If the job is stable, then fixating on paying your debt in 8 months vs. 2 years is irrational.

On the flip side:  if you decided to postpone grad school for a year and extend your debt payoff schedule accordingly, what kind of changes would that allow you to make to your current daily life that might improve it?  Could you move to a better living situation?  Could you afford to do more of a hobby that you really enjoy, or join a club that you're interested in, or spend time volunteering for something that is meaningful to you?  Could you reinvest in your current friendships, or work on making new ones? 

Or:  what about job-searching now for the kind of job that would be more fulfilling?  Never hurts to see what's out there, right? 

I know, I know, horse is dead, autopsy commencing, stop whacking at it.  But the thing is:  I am dealing with depression and anxiety.  And the kind of thought process you are laying out here sounds very much like those two things -- because the insidious thing about depression is it convinces you it's not worth trying to change anything, and of course the anxiety piles on by persuading you that the world will fall apart if you do.  I mean, you really, really sound like me a couple of years ago, right before things got so bad that I couldn't bring myself to do my work anymore and finally admitted I needed help. 

I wouldn't normally whip any of that out in conversation -- amateur psychiatry is fun!! -- but you have said that you are getting therapy, so you are clearly aware that you have something going on in your head.  So please at least consider that your current analysis may not be an accurate portrayal of your actual choices and the likely consequences of each.  At a minimum talk to your therapist about it, ok?

My job is fairly secure, my bigger worry is that if I lost it or got in a bad accident or something I'd have ~2 months to avoid default, so my risk tolerance towards that possibility is extremely low. As far as looking for something new goes, I feel that until I have a full two years' professional experience at least I'm going to have a very hard time finding something not at entry level, and honestly this gig was a hell of a catch in terms of finding something comparatively not-boring.

IF I postponed grad school, I'd feel obligated to max my tax-advantaged accounts and bulk up my emergency cushion. Maybe I'd be able to find a slightly nicer place, but I don't think I'd gain much because of that. If I chose to spend instead, I think I'd be happier, but the thought of doing so scares me. I could probably pick up a hobby, but the location I'm in is such that I don't think I'd be able to make friends or join a club - there are none around. I've checked. It's a pretty depressing little corner of the world to be in, which is why none of my coworkers live nearby.

I have talked to my therapist about it, but (per herself) she's not especially well-qualified to make judgment calls about my financial situation. I know I'm being too anxious, but I don't know how much too anxious, and it's really hard to tell when I'm currently following the plan I came up with and thought was a great idea when I wasn't depressed. Regardless, the fact that I have two people here of all places telling me that maybe I wanna spend more is definitely making me think about it more seriously. The idea of letting go of the grad school dream just... hurts. I don't have any mid-term goals other than being debt-free and going, and pushing both of those to back to medium-long-term where I felt they were a year and a half ago would be hard for me. And I don't really have any short-term goals at all. Maybe TMI, but my girlfriend of nearly 3 years left me in August, and that's left a big hole in my life that I've been using those goals to fill, insofar as that's been possible. I recognize that that's not necessarily the best idea, but it seems at least better than wallowing, which is the only other real option that doesn't require me to upend my life. Maybe upending my life is the right choice, but the idea of doing so scares me.

It's incredibly difficult to make responsible life decisions when you are miserable and mentally unwell.

Ain't that the truth. I'm still mostly convinced that the "responsible" thing is to keep my nose on this grindstone as long as I can bear it, but like I said, you guys are doing a good job of shaking my conviction.

FTR, I'm definitely NOT one of the people suggesting you spend more. I'm the person suggesting you change whatever you need to change to be less miserable.

Only once you are less miserable will you be able to responsibly make such a massive decision as to whether or not you want to go back to grad school.

I say this, like Laura, as someone who has gone through a spectacular level of hell this past year, and the most rational path my brain can think of is to, yeah, go back to fucking school.

Seriously, I became convinced several months back that the key to my happiness was doing ANOTHER graduate degree!!!

Now, I still might do it, but thanks to my wisdom about burnout and suffering, I now know to focus on removing the factors that are negatively affecting me before making major lifestyle decisions and to not get sucked into panacea-type solutions that seem like an oasis in the desert.

Very very few things in life will *make you happy*, but A LOT of things can make you fucking miserable. Step 1 is always purging the misery-making things. Figuring out the happy-making is far more nuanced and requires approaching it from a solid foundation of mental health.

Basically, you can't positive your way out of a negative.

PrezZaphod

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #34 on: December 20, 2019, 12:56:33 PM »
FTR, I'm definitely NOT one of the people suggesting you spend more. I'm the person suggesting you change whatever you need to change to be less miserable.

Only once you are less miserable will you be able to responsibly make such a massive decision as to whether or not you want to go back to grad school.

I say this, like Laura, as someone who has gone through a spectacular level of hell this past year, and the most rational path my brain can think of is to, yeah, go back to fucking school.

Seriously, I became convinced several months back that the key to my happiness was doing ANOTHER graduate degree!!!

Now, I still might do it, but thanks to my wisdom about burnout and suffering, I now know to focus on removing the factors that are negatively affecting me before making major lifestyle decisions and to not get sucked into panacea-type solutions that seem like an oasis in the desert.

Very very few things in life will *make you happy*, but A LOT of things can make you fucking miserable. Step 1 is always purging the misery-making things. Figuring out the happy-making is far more nuanced and requires approaching it from a solid foundation of mental health.

Basically, you can't positive your way out of a negative.

It sounds like you're suggesting I defer my decision until I've paid off my loans, which due to deadlines requires me to defer admission for a year. I don't think I have the mental fortitude to continue paying at this rate without something to look forward to.

Malcat

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #35 on: December 20, 2019, 01:03:18 PM »
FTR, I'm definitely NOT one of the people suggesting you spend more. I'm the person suggesting you change whatever you need to change to be less miserable.

Only once you are less miserable will you be able to responsibly make such a massive decision as to whether or not you want to go back to grad school.

I say this, like Laura, as someone who has gone through a spectacular level of hell this past year, and the most rational path my brain can think of is to, yeah, go back to fucking school.

Seriously, I became convinced several months back that the key to my happiness was doing ANOTHER graduate degree!!!

Now, I still might do it, but thanks to my wisdom about burnout and suffering, I now know to focus on removing the factors that are negatively affecting me before making major lifestyle decisions and to not get sucked into panacea-type solutions that seem like an oasis in the desert.

Very very few things in life will *make you happy*, but A LOT of things can make you fucking miserable. Step 1 is always purging the misery-making things. Figuring out the happy-making is far more nuanced and requires approaching it from a solid foundation of mental health.

Basically, you can't positive your way out of a negative.

It sounds like you're suggesting I defer my decision until I've paid off my loans, which due to deadlines requires me to defer admission for a year. I don't think I have the mental fortitude to continue paying at this rate without something to look forward to.

No, that's not at all what I'm saying.
And the fact that you interpreted it that way is...concerning.

Laura33

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #36 on: December 20, 2019, 02:37:37 PM »
My job is fairly secure, my bigger worry is that if I lost it or got in a bad accident or something I'd have ~2 months to avoid default, so my risk tolerance towards that possibility is extremely low. As far as looking for something new goes, I feel that until I have a full two years' professional experience at least I'm going to have a very hard time finding something not at entry level, and honestly this gig was a hell of a catch in terms of finding something comparatively not-boring.

IF I postponed grad school, I'd feel obligated to max my tax-advantaged accounts and bulk up my emergency cushion. Maybe I'd be able to find a slightly nicer place, but I don't think I'd gain much because of that. If I chose to spend instead, I think I'd be happier, but the thought of doing so scares me. I could probably pick up a hobby, but the location I'm in is such that I don't think I'd be able to make friends or join a club - there are none around. I've checked. It's a pretty depressing little corner of the world to be in, which is why none of my coworkers live nearby.

I have talked to my therapist about it, but (per herself) she's not especially well-qualified to make judgment calls about my financial situation. I know I'm being too anxious, but I don't know how much too anxious, and it's really hard to tell when I'm currently following the plan I came up with and thought was a great idea when I wasn't depressed. Regardless, the fact that I have two people here of all places telling me that maybe I wanna spend more is definitely making me think about it more seriously. The idea of letting go of the grad school dream just... hurts. I don't have any mid-term goals other than being debt-free and going, and pushing both of those to back to medium-long-term where I felt they were a year and a half ago would be hard for me. And I don't really have any short-term goals at all. Maybe TMI, but my girlfriend of nearly 3 years left me in August, and that's left a big hole in my life that I've been using those goals to fill, insofar as that's been possible. I recognize that that's not necessarily the best idea, but it seems at least better than wallowing, which is the only other real option that doesn't require me to upend my life. Maybe upending my life is the right choice, but the idea of doing so scares me.

Oh, man.  Honestly, I hurt for you just reading this.  Your fear and anxiety and hopelessness just permeate every word.  Please go to your therapist, now.  She doesn't have to be an expert in your finances; she simply needs to be able to identify when you are being driven by anxiety/depression rather than logic.  This hits kinda close to home:  when I was pretty early on, my therapist ordered me to go buy myself some clothes.  Not because I needed clothes; but because my knee-jerk response to the suggestion was "I can't."  Because part of my depression was hyper-focusing on the finances, because it was something I could control, and everything else seemed so completely out of control and scary.  I did not want to spend a penny more than absolutely necessary, because that was my insurance against the world falling down around me -- it was my excuse to stay in my recliner and avoid everything.

I'm not going to tell you to spend money -- that was just a suggestion of one way to make life better if you decided to stay for another year.  What I am going to suggest is that you start from the assumption that the status quo is not working, and something needs to change.  You may have had a great plan in theory when you started.  But if it doesn't fit you right now, then it's not a good plan for the real you, in the real world that you're living in, and so you need to change it to something that fits better. 

In a perfect world, you'd have your loans paid off in full by now and be free to go to grad school.  But you don't.  So what's the next-best alternative?  Is it to take a chance on grad school now, to escape boring work and what sounds like a horrible place to live, even though it means extending the loan payoff a bit?  Is it to stick with the job another year to get the loans paid off, but to find other changes you can make in your life to drag you out of your own head and back into life -- even if that means spending a little money on hobbies or moving and extending the loan payoff a few more months?  Is it to look for a new job on the theory of "what the hell, I may not succeed, but I'll never know unless I give it a shot"?  Seriously, put everything on the table -- except continuing what you're currently doing.  Who cares if it upends your life, when the life you are currently living is making you miserable?  I mean, if you're living in a hellhole with nothing to do and no friends and no clubs and no hobbies, why the hell are you even still there?

Also note that if you're worried about not being able to work, you can get disability insurance to protect against that.  This worry, like many of the worries you have voiced, is irrational -- not because it could never happen, but because the degree to which you are letting that worry control your life is entirely disproportionate to the actual risks involved.

ETA:  fixed stupid typing brain farts
« Last Edit: December 20, 2019, 03:32:45 PM by Laura33 »

Malcat

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #37 on: December 20, 2019, 02:58:42 PM »
My job is fairly secure, my bigger worry is that if I lost it or got in a bad accident or something I'd have ~2 months to avoid default, so my risk tolerance towards that possibility is extremely low. As far as looking for something new goes, I feel that until I have a full two years' professional experience at least I'm going to have a very hard time finding something not at entry level, and honestly this gig was a hell of a catch in terms of finding something comparatively not-boring.

IF I postponed grad school, I'd feel obligated to max my tax-advantaged accounts and bulk up my emergency cushion. Maybe I'd be able to find a slightly nicer place, but I don't think I'd gain much because of that. If I chose to spend instead, I think I'd be happier, but the thought of doing so scares me. I could probably pick up a hobby, but the location I'm in is such that I don't think I'd be able to make friends or join a club - there are none around. I've checked. It's a pretty depressing little corner of the world to be in, which is why none of my coworkers live nearby.

I have talked to my therapist about it, but (per herself) she's not especially well-qualified to make judgment calls about my financial situation. I know I'm being too anxious, but I don't know how much too anxious, and it's really hard to tell when I'm currently following the plan I came up with and thought was a great idea when I wasn't depressed. Regardless, the fact that I have two people here of all places telling me that maybe I wanna spend more is definitely making me think about it more seriously. The idea of letting go of the grad school dream just... hurts. I don't have any mid-term goals other than being debt-free and going, and pushing both of those to back to medium-long-term where I felt they were a year and a half ago would be hard for me. And I don't really have any short-term goals at all. Maybe TMI, but my girlfriend of nearly 3 years left me in August, and that's left a big hole in my life that I've been using those goals to fill, insofar as that's been possible. I recognize that that's not necessarily the best idea, but it seems at least better than wallowing, which is the only other real option that doesn't require me to upend my life. Maybe upending my life is the right choice, but the idea of doing so scares me.

Oh, man.  Honestly, I hurt for you just reading this.  Your fear and anxiety and hopeless just permeate every word.  Please go to your therapist, now.  She doesn't have to be an expert in your finances; she simply needs to be able to identify when you are being driven by anxiety/depression rather than logic.  This hits kinda close to home:  when I was pretty early on, my therapist ordered me to go buy myself some clothes.  Not because I needed clothes; but because my knee-jerk response to the suggestion was "I can't."  Because part of my depression was hyper-focusing on the finances, because it was something I could control, and everything else seemed so completely out of control and scary.  I did not want to spend a penny more than absolutely necessary, because that was my insurance against the world falling down around me -- it was my excuse to stay in my recliner and avoid everything.

I'm not going to tell you to spend money -- that was just a suggestion of one way to make life better if you decided to stay for another year.  What I am going to suggest is that you start from the start from the assumption that the status quo is not working, and something needs to change.  You may have had a great plan in theory when you started.  But if it doesn't fit you right now, then it's not a good plan for the real you, in the real world that you're living in, and so you need to change it to something that fits better. 

In a perfect world, you'd have your loans paid off in full by now and be free to go to grad school.  But you don't.  So what's the next-best alternative?  Is it to take a chance on grad school now, to escape boring work and what sounds like a horrible place to live, even though it means extending the loan payoff a bit?  Is it to stick with the job another year to get the loans paid off, but to find other changes you can make in your life to drag you out of your own head and back into life -- even if that means spending a little money on hobbies or moving and extending the loan payoff a few more months?  Is it to look for a new job on the theory of "what the hell, I may not succeed, but I'll never know unless I give it a shot"?  Seriously, put everything on the table -- except continuing what you're currently doing.  Who cares if it upends your life, when the life you are currently living is making you miserable?  I mean, if you're living in a hellhole with nothing to do and no friends and no clubs and no hobbies, why the hell are you even still there?

Also note that if you're worried about not being able to work, you can get disability insurance to protect against that.  This worry, like many of the worries you have voiced, is irrational -- not because it could never happen, but because the degree to which you are letting that worry control your life is entirely disproportionate to the actual risks involved.

What she said ^

I will add though that I am virtually uninsurable due to my medical condition, which tends to result in spontaneous death.

Even then, leaving a toxic job and delaying paying off my monstrous loan was worthwhile.

Your reality just isn't what you think it is. It's just your pathology that's telling you that you don't have options.

PrezZaphod

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #38 on: December 21, 2019, 11:20:55 AM »
No, that's not at all what I'm saying.
And the fact that you interpreted it that way is...concerning.

Sorry, I definitely misread you. Chalk it up to phoneposting.

This hits kinda close to home:  when I was pretty early on, my therapist ordered me to go buy myself some clothes.  Not because I needed clothes; but because my knee-jerk response to the suggestion was "I can't."  Because part of my depression was hyper-focusing on the finances, because it was something I could control, and everything else seemed so completely out of control and scary.  I did not want to spend a penny more than absolutely necessary, because that was my insurance against the world falling down around me -- it was my excuse to stay in my recliner and avoid everything.

Wow it's me. :V (And yes, this exact subject has come up in therapy).

In a perfect world, you'd have your loans paid off in full by now and be free to go to grad school.  But you don't.  So what's the next-best alternative?  Is it to take a chance on grad school now, to escape boring work and what sounds like a horrible place to live, even though it means extending the loan payoff a bit?  Is it to stick with the job another year to get the loans paid off, but to find other changes you can make in your life to drag you out of your own head and back into life -- even if that means spending a little money on hobbies or moving and extending the loan payoff a few more months?  Is it to look for a new job on the theory of "what the hell, I may not succeed, but I'll never know unless I give it a shot"?  Seriously, put everything on the table -- except continuing what you're currently doing.  Who cares if it upends your life, when the life you are currently living is making you miserable?  I mean, if you're living in a hellhole with nothing to do and no friends and no clubs and no hobbies, why the hell are you even still there?

I think that's really what I'm on this forum to figure out, in a sense. The one thing I am accomplishing by being here is making the numbers in the red column of my finance spreadsheet get smaller maximally fast. I've been treating my debt like an emergency for the past year and a half (and I've felt like it's an emergency ever since I incurred it), and I feel terrible enough already for not strictly following the rule:

Quote
You donít space it out all nice and casual with ďmonthly paymentsĒ, and you donít have a "budget", "entertainment allowance",  or any other such nonsense. You donít start a family or get yourself a dog, and you donít go out for drinks and dinner with your friends.

I don't really know what a reasonable alternative to what I'm currently doing looks like. How much more can I allow myself? I feel like as long as I'm able to stay alive and in shape to work, the answer should really be "nothing." Even trying to distance myself and treat it like a friend is asking for advice doesn't really help; my inclination would be to say, "do with as little as you can stand." And I know I can stand this for another half a year. It's just hard.
« Last Edit: December 21, 2019, 11:23:55 AM by PrezZaphod »

maizefolk

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #39 on: December 21, 2019, 11:48:38 AM »
Quote
You donít space it out all nice and casual with ďmonthly paymentsĒ, and you donít have a "budget", "entertainment allowance",  or any other such nonsense. You donít start a family or get yourself a dog, and you donít go out for drinks and dinner with your friends.

I don't really know what a reasonable alternative to what I'm currently doing looks like. How much more can I allow myself? I feel like as long as I'm able to stay alive and in shape to work, the answer should really be "nothing." Even trying to distance myself and treat it like a friend is asking for advice doesn't really help; my inclination would be to say, "do with as little as you can stand." And I know I can stand this for another half a year. It's just hard.

FWIW, I think there is some danger in saying "it's bad but I can stand it for another half year." I struggle with the same question myself. How much am I allowed to spend in myself beyond the bare minimum needed for survival?

I'm not in debt, and actually have a lot saved up. But bad things could happen, I might need money, and won't I feel bad about having spent money on non-necessities now if I end up out of money later?

TL;DR It's a hard question, but it is one you need to figure out an answer to, because it won't go away on its own in another half year when your loans are gone.

Sunflower

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #40 on: December 21, 2019, 11:58:21 AM »
I'll chime in as yet another person who did a Ph.D. and am not sure it was the right choice, but with a slightly different perspective than others on the thread.

I went straight from undergrad --> Ph.D mostly because I graduated in 2008 and there were no jobs, but also because I had no idea what I'd want to do if I looked for a job. This is probably the biggest reason grad school was a mistake for me.

My spouse did a Ph.D. because he has a deep and abiding love of the science. He's still in academia (I am not, and I'm not even in the field I got my Ph.D. in anymore) and I'd say that he's frequently still miserable in the way that many people are describing (tough problems, no funding, every day is a slog, academia is broken and the bureaucracy is terrible), but at the end of the day he still loves being in the lab and working on the kinds of problems he's working on. Looking back on each chapter, he says he stressed too much about the next step. "I didn't realize how good I had it in grad school!" "I wish I had just let myself get stuck-in to the science as a postdoc instead of stressing about what was next" which is easier said than done, but is so true. Part of the mental health pressures of grad school is that there's this cloud hanging over you that you have to get something (anything!!) to work, or else you'll be out on the street without a degree or a job. If there's anyway to avoid that thinking, I imagine you'll have a better outlook than 90% of your classmates. (Based on what you've written though, I'm not sure you will be able to? Definitely something to think about).

I'm not sure about engineering, but with my undergrad loans deferred, and a modest stipend, I was able to live a good grad student life, and save about $10K during grad school.

monarda

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #41 on: December 21, 2019, 12:06:22 PM »
Quote
You donít space it out all nice and casual with ďmonthly paymentsĒ, and you donít have a "budget", "entertainment allowance",  or any other such nonsense. You donít start a family or get yourself a dog, and you donít go out for drinks and dinner with your friends.

I don't really know what a reasonable alternative to what I'm currently doing looks like. How much more can I allow myself? I feel like as long as I'm able to stay alive and in shape to work, the answer should really be "nothing." Even trying to distance myself and treat it like a friend is asking for advice doesn't really help; my inclination would be to say, "do with as little as you can stand." And I know I can stand this for another half a year. It's just hard.

FWIW, I think there is some danger in saying "it's bad but I can stand it for another half year." I struggle with the same question myself. How much am I allowed to spend in myself beyond the bare minimum needed for survival?

I'm not in debt, and actually have a lot saved up. But bad things could happen, I might need money, and won't I feel bad about having spent money on non-necessities now if I end up out of money later?

TL;DR It's a hard question, but it is one you need to figure out an answer to, because it won't go away on its own in another half year when your loans are gone.

When I look back on how I was miserable in my boring tech job before grad school, I regret that I didn't apply to grad school and go a year sooner.
When I look back on how I was miserable in one of my postdoctoral fellowships, where the project had turned to a deathly boring phase, I stayed a year too long and really wished I'd have looked for a better position a year sooner.

If you already know that you want something more intellectually stimulating, do it NOW.  Go for it.  You'll most likely receive a fellowship in grad school. Or you might find a much more rewarding job without going to grad school. You might even be able to save. I BOUGHT A CONDO while I was in grad school. In Boulder. In the 1990's. I made close to $30K profit when I sold it. There's no way to predict what good might happen. Don't focus on the worry and the bad.

Regarding debt: Not an emergency. Don't think about the total debt amount, just think about how much it would cost to pay it off at a slower rate. Just consider the interest it would cost you. That's how I've become comfortable with carrying debt. It's all on 0% credit cards which doesn't bother me at all. I've never spent more than 2% to borrow anything (besides my mortgages, which are now 3% to 4%).

I like @Laura33's comment above. Go out and buy something. Get used to treating yourself now and then. Doesn't matter how. We just bought tickets to "Wicked" at our local arts center. We've seen "Hamilton". 
Put it in your budget. It'll address the point that maizeman brings up. There's NO OTHER USE for money besides spending it.
« Last Edit: December 21, 2019, 12:19:33 PM by monarda »

lutorm

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #42 on: December 21, 2019, 04:09:59 PM »
Looking back at my PhD, I'm still happy that I got it. Was it an optimal financial decision? Absolutely not. Was it fun all the time? No. But after 7 years of PhD (health problems, research not working, etc) and almost as many years postdocing before leaving academia it gave me a ton of experience, academic and otherwise. Our group of grads were a tight-knit, supportive bunch, none of us had toxic supervisors, and none of us took out loans to fund grad school. Those three factors I think are what made it acceptable.

It's not all about making money, and I think being paid (albeit poorly) to get the chance to do research for a few years was worth it for  me who's wanted to be a scientist since I was a kid. After doing it, I know I didn't want that career, but I wouldn't have known that if I hadn't tried. ;-)

PrezZaphod

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #43 on: December 21, 2019, 07:13:56 PM »
Part of the mental health pressures of grad school is that there's this cloud hanging over you that you have to get something (anything!!) to work, or else you'll be out on the street without a degree or a job. If there's anyway to avoid that thinking, I imagine you'll have a better outlook than 90% of your classmates. (Based on what you've written though, I'm not sure you will be able to? Definitely something to think about).

I'm also kind of interested in the reason multiple people seem to be making this inference. Dealing with frustration and open-ended problems has never really been a problem for me (there are a few stories from undergrad and work that are relevant here), and that kind of problem is actually something I enjoy. Because of that, I think I maintain a sense of perspective pretty well; at work I'm often the one encouraging some of the other junior engineers to step back and realize that our customers' hysterics aren't actually the most serious things on the planet. And with the experience I (will) have I feel extremely confident that I could go back into professional practice if grad school doesn't work out.

The reason the stakes feel so high right now is that I've seen how difficult it can be for other people at my age with my level of experience to get themselves situated. My minimum legal obligation on loan repayment is over $1,000 per month and my savings are practically nil. Without the loans I wouldn't be nearly so worried - at the very worst I'd be able to stay with my parents while searching, and I know that I can keep my monthly consumption expenses (including rent) south of $1,300 with relative ease. But I feel like I'm actually in pretty real danger of defaulting if something does go wrong. While that isn't the literal worst thing that could happen, it would undo so much of the hard work I've put in over the last two years. Repaying this debt hasn't taught me anything. It hasn't given me any experiences that I've valued. It's made me unhappy and stressed and led me to sabotage my relationships. I just want it to be over and I am terrified of it going on any longer. I really and truly believe that once I'm done I'll be able to maintain a reasonable quality of life without ever putting myself in a position to feel this way again.

nippycrisp

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #44 on: December 21, 2019, 07:53:42 PM »
I noticed the mental health stuff as well. You sounds like you're stewing in your own juices, unhappy and focused on making a change to rectify this, which you've identified as going to graduate school. Let's assume, for a moment, that this is an underlying problem. As numerous people pointed out, grad school is radiation for mental health. It'll eat into your quality of life in many ways. You will have very bad days, possibly weeks/months/years. My PhD program had a suicide rate of a little over two percent, and a dropout rate much higher. Modern graduate education works on a model where many students go in, are used as cheap labor, and then are culled in various ways, until only the most persistent survive as career researchers. It's not a life for someone who struggles to maintain equanimity or a level disposition.

But maybe that's not an issue for you. Maybe, as you seem to indicate, the issue is reducing risk of defaulting on your loans if you lose your job. This is a risk almost every person with college debt faces, and most people just default when a paycheck stops coming. But look at your solution: you want to go back to school and make less money. This will prolong your indebtedness, even if the sun is shining if and when you emerge from the cave of academia. If that's truly the cloud in your life, maybe knocking it out ASAP is top priority, then see if you still want to go to grad school.

That's what I'd suggest. When I was struggling with job unhappiness, I would watch the numbers trickle down my spreadsheets and fantasize about all the things I would do when I was free. I wanted to drive an old car down to Patagonia. I wanted to play golf all day and finally shoot par. I wanted to volunteer to bottle-feed tiny wolf orphans, and a bunch of other awesome-sounding things. I even thought about getting a second degree for fun. When I actually became financially independent, many (but not all) of these ideas drifted away. They turned out to be pleasant fantasies to occupy the mind while I did the hard work of achieving something for yourself. I can't say for sure your idea of going to grad school is one such idea, but it certainly fits some of the criteria, given the small amount we know of you.

McStache

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #45 on: December 21, 2019, 08:27:35 PM »
This may seem counter-intuitive, but have you considered not paying off your loans as much as possible each month? One of the things I'm hearing in your posts is you feel close to the edge financially.  It might be an easier road to create a savings account that is earmarked for loan payment and put everything above the minimum in there that you would currently be prepaying, but then hold on to it until you can pay off a loan in full.  This will cost a little bit of interest (though not that much honestly), but buys you runway.

PrezZaphod

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #46 on: December 21, 2019, 09:59:58 PM »
I noticed the mental health stuff as well. You sounds like you're stewing in your own juices, unhappy and focused on making a change to rectify this, which you've identified as going to graduate school.

...

It's not a life for someone who struggles to maintain equanimity or a level disposition.

But maybe that's not an issue for you. Maybe, as you seem to indicate, the issue is reducing risk of defaulting on your loans if you lose your job. This is a risk almost every person with college debt faces, and most people just default when a paycheck stops coming. But look at your solution: you want to go back to school and make less money.

...

When I was struggling with job unhappiness, I would watch the numbers trickle down my spreadsheets and fantasize about all the things I would do when I was free. I wanted to drive an old car down to Patagonia. I wanted to play golf all day and finally shoot par. I wanted to volunteer to bottle-feed tiny wolf orphans, and a bunch of other awesome-sounding things. I even thought about getting a second degree for fun. When I actually became financially independent, many (but not all) of these ideas drifted away. They turned out to be pleasant fantasies to occupy the mind while I did the hard work of achieving something for yourself. I can't say for sure your idea of going to grad school is one such idea, but it certainly fits some of the criteria, given the small amount we know of you.

I feel like I've said all this already, but to reiterate: I do not expect grad school to fix all my problems. I don't expect it to fix any of my problems aside from my boredom at work. I want to go to grad school because I want to do graduate work. The thing I have identified, in my own mind, as a solution to my problem is being debt-free and somewhere other than here, or at least free from debt at rates that are burning holes in my bank account (and I fully expect to be able to hit that criterion as long as the private loans ends up paid off and I refinance again prior to quitting). My original plan was to move somewhere with my girlfriend and pursue grad school once all the debt was paid off, which would probably have put me ~a year behind my current schedule, since she wouldn't have wanted to live at the standard I'm currently keeping. But the plan was always to go. That hasn't changed in the last 3 years. The timetable is the only thing that has.

In addition, I sincerely don't feel that I have a particularly hard time maintaining my equanimity. But living here, especially with my girlfriend gone, I have no access to any of the coping strategies that help me. For me personally, the place I'm currently living is the most hostile and unhappy one I've ever had the displeasure to spend more than a week in. But a lot of that is because I'm living in the literal absolute cheapest accommodations I could find that fit my location requirements and had a kitchen. I'm unhappy in ways I mostly know how to fix. The cost to fix them even only comes to a couple hundred dollars a month. But that's enough to make me miss my target date on my debt, so I don't spend it.

One thing I could do would be to increase my standard of living and push my timetable back to where it was before August, but I also feel like money can't really solve the boredom problem. I'm itching to get back to really using my brain just about as much as I am to get out of here. When I told a professor I'm still close to that I was applying, his first response was, "I'm surprised it took you so long." My friends mostly took it the same way. I'm not denying that some of what I'm doing is running away from my problems, but I'm also running towards something that I've wanted for a long time. The question I have is whether sacrificing as much as possible in order to get there this now rather than a year from now is a wise course of action. The wisdom of the crowd appears to be pointing towards "no" so far, but opinions on whether I should wait or simply pay less of the debt appear to be rather split. And for myself, I'm honestly still tempted to go with, "why not neither?"

This may seem counter-intuitive, but have you considered not paying off your loans as much as possible each month? One of the things I'm hearing in your posts is you feel close to the edge financially.  It might be an easier road to create a savings account that is earmarked for loan payment and put everything above the minimum in there that you would currently be prepaying, but then hold on to it until you can pay off a loan in full.  This will cost a little bit of interest (though not that much honestly), but buys you runway.

This actually feels like a really good idea. I'm going to run it through my spreadsheet, but at first glance it'd cost me a couple hundred dollars max and give me a year's long-term savings' worth of peace of mind. Sounds like a good trade to me.

Malcat

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #47 on: December 22, 2019, 06:37:09 AM »
Part of the mental health pressures of grad school is that there's this cloud hanging over you that you have to get something (anything!!) to work, or else you'll be out on the street without a degree or a job. If there's anyway to avoid that thinking, I imagine you'll have a better outlook than 90% of your classmates. (Based on what you've written though, I'm not sure you will be able to? Definitely something to think about).

I'm also kind of interested in the reason multiple people seem to be making this inference. Dealing with frustration and open-ended problems has never really been a problem for me (there are a few stories from undergrad and work that are relevant here), and that kind of problem is actually something I enjoy. Because of that, I think I maintain a sense of perspective pretty well; at work I'm often the one encouraging some of the other junior engineers to step back and realize that our customers' hysterics aren't actually the most serious things on the planet. And with the experience I (will) have I feel extremely confident that I could go back into professional practice if grad school doesn't work out.

The reason the stakes feel so high right now is that I've seen how difficult it can be for other people at my age with my level of experience to get themselves situated. My minimum legal obligation on loan repayment is over $1,000 per month and my savings are practically nil. Without the loans I wouldn't be nearly so worried - at the very worst I'd be able to stay with my parents while searching, and I know that I can keep my monthly consumption expenses (including rent) south of $1,300 with relative ease. But I feel like I'm actually in pretty real danger of defaulting if something does go wrong. While that isn't the literal worst thing that could happen, it would undo so much of the hard work I've put in over the last two years. Repaying this debt hasn't taught me anything. It hasn't given me any experiences that I've valued. It's made me unhappy and stressed and led me to sabotage my relationships. I just want it to be over and I am terrified of it going on any longer. I really and truly believe that once I'm done I'll be able to maintain a reasonable quality of life without ever putting myself in a position to feel this way again.

Don't you think that virtually every other person who has done a PhD thought the same way?

Virtually no one takes on a PhD lightly. It's almost all people with the right personality, with a love of open ended problems who don't think that that kind of thing will get to them.

As I mentioned earlier, I felt the EXACT SAME WAY, I thought that I had a particularly resilient type of personality that would thrive in my program, I also knew that I had unique experience and skills that would give me huge advantages.

It WAS easier for me, I struggled less, suffered less abuse, spent less time studying, spent less time in labs, got to take on some extra challenges, which helped me A LOT professionally. I then pulled off some crazy shit when I started working that got included in a presentation to future graduating classes on "next steps". There's a slide about me that basically says "unless you're Malkynn, don't try this"

So yeah, I was 100% right. I was practically custom built for that program and professionally, I've had the exact same advantages.

It was still hell.

I was right, but I arrogantly ignored the constant warnings from people who knew a lot better than I did just how brutal it would be. I brushed it off with the same "yeah yeah, I'm actually okay with that" as you are, and I'm telling you right now that I DEEPLY regret it.

The program was less brutal for me, but it was still brutal. The career has absolutely been easier for me, but it's still a crushing career that's horrible for mental and physical health and I feel like a MORON for ignoring the obvious risks.

It's not that I wish I had done something different, it's really hard for me to say. However, I really REALLY wish that I had looked more objectively at the reality of what I was inviting into my life. I did not make an informed decision. I looked at my particular suitability to this career and mistook it for *negating* the negatives, when then simply isn't reality.

I strongly, STRONGLY suggest you read some of the journals of the people who have contributed to this thread. A lot of them are brilliant and extremely suited to their research work, and YET, they have gone through a lot of hell along the way.

Don't assume that those of us warning you just weren't suited for our challenges, some of us are actually exceptionally successful examples of our professions who have had it easier than most...and we're still warning you.

As for the debt, I completely relate. It's a crushing reality to live in.

However, as difficult as it is, you need to separate out the misery of the current debt/job situation from the major decision about your future. There are too many confounding feelings mixed in.

Can you possibly refinance your loan to a lower monthly payment amount? Could you borrow a few thousand from your parents to have as an emergency fund just so that you never have to worry about defaulting? I know personal lines of credit aren't as common there as they are here, but is that an option?

I really REALLY empathize with you on the debt situation, just don't let it drive major life decisions.

mistymoney

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #48 on: December 22, 2019, 07:08:42 AM »
So the big questions here are what your post-graduate income would be, how you'd pay any on them while in school / cover your expenses, which are both difficult, versus today.  It would also help to know your loan interest rates - because I assume you'll go into deferment while you're back in school.

Present rates are in the OP. I will probably refinance the federal loans shortly before leaving my job; I expect to be able to get < 3% on the balance (projected to be ~15k), which I will continue paying in grad school, as a typical stipend is actually above my present monthly spending and I expect to be able to decrease my rent by at least 20%. The nice thing about ME programs is that PhD positions are essentially universally compensated unless you're a very marginal admit, and I am definitely not very marginal.

Are your fed loans subsidized?

If so - They would stop accruing interest when you go to grad school, so from an inflationary perspective, you would be gaining ground on those over time while they sit there.

maizefolk

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Re: Case Study - am I in a good position to go to grad school?
« Reply #49 on: December 22, 2019, 08:07:29 AM »
+1 to McStash's point about saving up money that could be used to pay the loans if you lost your job until you have enough to pay them off entirely in one fell swoops.

That's the same advice I give people who insist on paying their mortgages off early, since, while a paid off mortgage does provide some additional resiliency, the bank will evict someone for missing scheduled mortgage payments just as fast regardless of whether you still only 70% of the principle or 10%. Lots of parallels to your current situation.