The Amusement Park of Decision
Imagine that you are on the carousel in the middle of a large amusement park on an extremely foggy day without a map. You can hear the fun rides all around you and occasionally you can see the tops of the roller coasters through the shifting fog. You want to ride them all but you know that you only have time for a few, if you can get to them — the fog makes it difficult to see which paths connect and how to get there. To add to the difficulty, you’re already on the carousel having a really good time.
This is how I feel about going back to school and choosing a masters program. I’m on the carousel. I’m having a great time. I like my jobs, I like my house, I like my neighborhood, I like my garden, my car — pretty much everything really. We’re in a good place. We’re not rich, but we make enough that if we’re not reckless we’ll do just fine with taking care of the kids, taking occasional trips and having fun and saving for retirement.
While I like the carousel, I wonder what it would be like to ride one of the big roller coasters. The dentistry roller coaster sounds very interesting and rewarding. I know I’d do well on the Geographical Information Systems roller coaster. A ride related to gardening and plant sciences perhaps?
Batman, the Ride
When I was 14 or so my dad too me to Six Flags, Great America. It was the summer that Batman, the Ride opened and I HAD to ride it. I waited over two hours in line to take a 90 second ride. It was AWESOME. Especially to the 14 year old me. Current me wouldn’t wait for 2 hours in line for much of anything. I would rather ride something slightly less popular (and possibly less fun) several times instead. Maybe it’s the college grad in me doing a cost benefit analysis, I’m not sure.
One of the difference between a masters program and Batman, the Ride and a master’s program is that the master’s program lasts forever. Please note: I wouldn’t really want to ride the Batman ride forever but if I got to take a couple extra loops around the track the 2 hour wait would be looking better.
Cost Benefit Analysis
Assuming that any masters program I choose would be enjoyable and let me support my family I’m left to consider a few major factors. Three of those factors are:
- How much would I enjoy a career in X (including subject matter and time I can spend with my family — a whole other discussion)]
- Where could we live with a career in X.
- How much money would I make with a career in X
- How long would it take for me to complete a masters in X
While I have to guess at the values of these factors it’s obvious to me that I’m going to have to make trade offs somewhere. Let’s compare Dentistry and Geographical Information Systems for a minute.
- I think that GIS would be more enjoyable than Dentistry (although I think I would like both a lot).
- We could live almost anywhere we want with Dentistry. GIS would probably require us to live near a big city.
- I would probably make more money in Dentistry.
- It would take at two years longer to complete a DDS than to complete a Masters degree in GIS since I need to go back and do a year of pre-requirements before I could even apply.
How do I decide what factors should be the priorities? Is the chance to live wherever I want and make more money worth the less enjoyment at work and the extra two years of school?
Even deciding on a major the first time around these are the sorts of things I was thinking of. IT has been good to me and I like it a lot. I love my current jobs and the projects they involve, but I get the feeling that the carousel is going to get boring eventually.
There Is No Batman
It turns out that while Batman, the Ride is super fun, I actually like wooden roller coasters better. I love the rattly clack of the car on the track as it clunks up the hill, the brief pause as it crests the top and the long swooping flow of rushing air as you go down and up the long parabolic hills.
When I went to Six Flags that summer, I didn’t know that I loved wooden roller coasters. I hadn’t really ridden any roller coasters before and Batman caught my eye. It was a HECK YEAH! moment. When I saw the suspended seats and the loops I had to ride it.
I think part of why it took me way to long to settle on a major and graduate from BYU was that I was looking for Batman. I wanted a major that gave me the same HECK YEAH! feeling. Eventually I got bored of riding the College Student Carousel and settled on IT as a major. I knew I could do it quickly, easily and without taking Calculus again. It was a good choice. IT was fun, I had great teachers and good colleagues.
Finding A Wooden Coaster In the Fog
While finding a HECK YEAH! Batman type masters program would be thrilling, what I really need is the masters equivalent of the The American Eagle. A masters program that would lead to a career I would want to ride for the rest of my life.
Just a few more times around this carousel and I’m off to get in line. I don’t want to be on this carousel when the park closes. I hope I pick a good ride.
I know that a DDS isn’t technically a masters program. I could also pick an improved career that doesn’t need more education. Planting my flag with a startup or taking over a certain popular newspaper are also valid options to be considered.