Thoughts on an Old Project

Readers: This is a really old draft that I wrote sometime in 2010.  Its about my graduate degree and how annoying it was finishing school and not having a job.  I’m still not sure if the degree was worth the cost (even though 3/4ths of it was paid for by the school) but as of right now, I’ve submitted my final draft to my professor – short version, I decided to finish it)

I’ve been working on something since the fall of 2007.  It was originally supposed to take 2 years and when I began, it was something that I wanted to do, and I also figured that it would increase my starting salary and make it relatively easy to advance or move to different spots if I felt so inclined later in my career.  In short, it seemed like a no brainer, so I went ahead and started.  Now, I’m not so sure if I made the right choice.

While some people could have (and indeed, did) predict that the recession was going to happen, I didn’t really see it coming.  The recession has changed the calculus on all of the things that I had thought about this project when I started it.  Nothing expected has come to fruition, and partly because of this, I’ve put it on the back burner to the extent that I don’t even try to kid myself that I’m going to work on it/finish it.  I have very little motivation to continue to work on the project, and I’m wondering if I should completely throw in the towel and not finish at all.  First, a little back story.

I was in school when the recession first set in for the country, and prepared to finish up 8 months or so after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September.  Soon after, I figured it was prudent for me to start applying for jobs.  I had relatively few restrictions as I wasn’t really tied to any place and was willing to move just about anywhere.  After sending out applications numbering in the 100s (I wasn’t counting, but had I known the response, probably should have considered it) I failed to hear anything back for months.  I kept going, and right before school was over things started to break.  I was able to line up 3 interviews in the span of 2 weeks, which was far more promising than anything I’d heard for the past 6 months.  I was made an offer and accepted, packed up my things and moved.  After multiple changes to my first day of employment, they finally told me what I had been suspecting all along: I was out of a job.  I called up my old employer and asked if they had room for me, which they did (Job 1), but it wouldn’t be a benefited position, and it would mean quite a bit of driving.   It didn’t matter to me, I needed an income.

After a while there, I kept looking for positions and eventually found one (Job 2) that I accepted (for much, much less than I figured I would be making), but decided to keep my old job.  I knew my car was going to go soon (It did) and I wanted to pay down my debt quicker.  I was finally making money, but my project quickly got put on the back-burner, and over time desire to finish the project waned and effort put in to finish it vanished.  The more I thought about it, the more I began to wonder: Should I even finish it at all?

It was started as something I did to increase my income – both in the short and long term.  When I took Job 2, it was for less money than I could have been making had I forgone the project and looked for work.  It didn’t increase my income in the short term, and given where I’m at right now, it does not look like an income increase can come from it in the long term either, as I’d have to start back at the bottom in a different (but semi-related) field, and begin to work my way up.

Along with that, every bit of time that I spend trying to complete this project represents income lost from Job 1.  When I’m working there, I’m getting paid, and if I’m working on this project, I’m not.

As of right now, I continue to pay lip service to the idea of finishing the project, but it’s just that.  I feel like I don’t have much motivation to finish it, and my efforts would be better utilized elsewhere.  As far as I see it now, the only reason I have to finish the project is because I started it.  While I know that not finishing things is a sin to some, at what point does it make sense to continue to waste time by finishing this when I don’t think much will come from it, now and in the future.

Though I still have not officially “finished” I do know that having a graduate degree has helped me get my foot in the door for quite a few interviews – not to mention me raising my salary by ~20k per year over the last 2 years.  The unfortunate thing is that if I got back into the field where my grad degree is, i’d take a 50% pay cut right off the top, as I’m currently utilizing skills that I learned while an undergrad.  Naturally, I’m not going to do that even though I enjoy reading about the field.

This isn’t really meant to be anything more than a cautionary tale about grad school – namely, dont take out too much money for it.  If you really want to go, I suggest finding a program that will get you a higher salary, or like me get a program that will cover your tuition and you get a stipend for teaching or research.

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7 thoughts on “Thoughts on an Old Project

  1. I have found that working completing going to school in the industry that you like a real help. It lets you see on the inside what things are like. It also lets you learn about what types of skills people are looking for in that industry. This allows you to adjust your schooling accordingly. It has worked well for me.

  2. I am confused…did you finish school but not the project you promised a professor? Regardless forget the sunken costs and do what is right for your family!

  3. Oh yes, minimizing debt is always a smart move. When I visited a school, a few folks I spoke with said recruiting has been fairly robust and they are deciding between $1ooK+ offers. So hopefully it continues by the time I graduate. But it’s never a good idea to overestimate your salary and use that as an excuse to take out more loans than you need.

  4. Finish the degree. When I was working on my MBA in 2001, I lost my job. I was unemployed for over a year, so I couldn’t afford to finish. I finally got another job with pay lower than I expected and started back to school a couple classes at a time. I moved to another job in 2004 and finished my MBA in December 2004. I received a huge unexpected raise for finishing. You never know what it will bring. And having something not finished drove me crazy.

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