Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Looking forward: Professional Development reprise

One of the first things that I did when I got my layoff notification in 2014, was I took the GRE again.

The Graduate Record Examination is one of the tests that may be required for admission to graduate school. It's not the only admissions test, there are others like the LSAT for law school, but it's the one most commonly used for science, engineering, and humanities degrees.

In fact, I had taken the GRE once before, in 2003, as part of admission to my M.A. program. In that case, I was allowed to take classes on a provisional admission, while I completed the requirements.  When I returned to Purdue for distance learning, I successfully argued that I already had one graduate degree, so the GRE could be waived... but I had seen indications that for doctoral programs, I would need to take it again.

Ordinarily, I like to give a bit of time between academic programs. It seems to me that the semester schedules compress learning - I'm so busy trying to squeeze in readings, homework assignments, projects and exam preparations, that I don't always have time to explore or apply the classroom learning to the real world.

So, time away from school helps me let the knowledge settle, to test it against my experiences in "the real world," and to begin applying what I've learned.

But what I didn't know in December of 2015, was what my future would hold. When, or if, I might find a job. As an undergraduate, I assumed that I didn't have money to go directly to graduate school, so I started my career in industry. Since then, I've learned more about the graduate school process, about Fellowships and grant money... that there are schools that will essentially pay you to earn your graduate degree.

So, if my job search wasn't panning out, I could apply to graduate schools for an opportunity like that. It would have been hard: selling the house, moving, finding a University with good public schools nearby, starting over again. But it would have kept us fed.

And it didn't work out that way. I did find a job, locally, so we didn't have to move again. My kid stayed in the same school, my husband kept up with his activities, I like what I'm doing. But I begin to wonder - where do I go from here?

See, when I first read about Story Musgrave, ahead of the Hubble Space Telescope repair, I thought "6 degrees. I think I could manage that." And then there was Michael Griffin, with his 7 degrees. But there is also the practical side: Where do I find the time? What do I study? What advantage would the degree(s) offer?

I already have an M.A. and an M.S.E., so I don't see much advantage to a third Master's degree at this time, although there are plenty of things I would like to continue studying. A second bachelor's degree could be interesting, allow me to gain more breadth, perhaps more minors, and round out my experience. But the real advantage at this phase of my life would appear to be a Ph.D.

Before I finished my M.S.E., I thought I would go for a Ph.D. in Political Science. As much as I hated politics, I would go into one of the most political industries, and it seemed that if I could pair technical experience with education, there might be opportunity there. But I looked into that further, and it was not recommended. So now I'm thinking of just a slight branch over to Computer Science and Software Engineering.

There's also the career. One of the things I considered while I was looking for work, was that it might be time for me to look at and apply to the Ivy Leagues again. I'm not nearly the same person who was rejected from MIT at 17. But because the industry does change, 7 years to a research degree seemed like a long time to be "out of touch" with professional experience.

So far, I've doubled up, and done my graduate degree programs part-time, night school, while working full-time. Most doctoral programs have a residency requirement, they don't go for distance-learning at that level. Now that I am staying in this location, there are local schools that would allow me to study part-time, even for a doctorate. They aren't Ivy League, but they are here. One of my local friends did her Ph.D. in computer science, while working part time. In fact, all three of her degrees ended up being from the same school, which I've heard is not usually recommended. But she pointed out two things: 1) working in Industry gives her the diversity of thought / practice, and 2) for Industry, the school is less important than the diploma.

Some of the other options, for me in my situation, are to go for certifications, or a license.  With the right paperwork, I could take the Professional Engineer Examination and go for licensure. In fact, had I gone the route of starting my own business, I would need to do that. Right now, working for someone else, I fall under the Industry Exception.  Other options include PMI certification in Project Management, INCOSE certification in Systems Engineering, and/or IEEE Computer Society certifications in Software Development.

Another of my friends calls this a "target-rich environment." I could achieve any, or even all, of these goals, as soon as I select one and do the work required. One at a time would be best, as it is a lot to do simultaneously. Right now I am still studying the options, considering what advantages and disadvantages each of these goals has, both the cost of doing them and the opportunity cost for not doing them. I'm still letting the M.S.E. gel, still learning a lot about the new job... still hesitating on which goal to go for next.

If you have experience with any one of these certifications or academic programs, I'd appreciate your thoughts.