Why I Chose the Debt - Grad School Edition

Let me start by saying this was not an easy thing for me to decide. Every time I ponder this question, my answer evolves. As I learn more and am able to better articulate my initial intuition I’m collecting the answers listed below. You may relate, you may not, but I wanted to articulate (with brutal honesty) some of the less-sexy reasons that people do not often admit.

Frankly, like most of the ambitious people I know, I have contemplated graduate school since high school for 3 main (not super noble) reasons;

  1. Competitive Status - I try to be elite in everything I do. I have that ever-churning drive within me that sometimes makes it hard to be satisfied with accomplishments, e.g., I contemplated not walking at my high school graduation because it seemed like a waste of time. When my mom told me that is was a big deal and I should take the moment to appreciate it I shrugged. She then asked me why I felt that way and I responded, “not-graduating was never an option”.

    From conversations with peers later on in life, I discovered that I’m not the only one that struggles with taking the time to appreciate the milestones and accomplished goals. Now I make a conservative effort to take time and appreciate my progress but I would be lying if i said that applying to graduate school wasn’t slightly driven by the fact that I simply expect it of myself. I want to be in the elite category concerning my work compared to my peers and my sisters (they set the bar high and I simply cannot be the slacker of the family), but also for myself…because the woman I imagine myself being is at the top of her field breaking molds and ceilings. Therefore, I always felt like I should have a masters degree.

  2. Money - UH DUH. Raise your hand if you have been paying for everything on your own since you graduated from high school? Oh my student loan peers, getting settles on the graduation blocks only to realize you have one of the biggest hurdles . within the first yard of the sprint and some of your friends simply don’t. My parents helped where they could but I graduated with a lot of skill from my hard work and even more debt. So a pay bump for the knowledge that I am acquiring in graduate school is always welcome.

  3. Fear - Because I’m scared my job will be replaced by technology that could do it better. This one’s the ringer and I feel like a lot of people may relate. Being a perpetual daydreamer with my mind always 3-5 years ahead, I started realizing that if the industry made a few changes it wouldn’t need the role I was in at the time. Cue the competitive drive… I want to be in the forefront of my field (or at least not in the nose-bleeds… bottom section of general seating at the least) discovering and evolving, not executing plug-and-play designs. That desire to always be learning is WHY I PICKED THIS FIELD. Who gets into technology thinking “mmmmmm this nice comfy never-changing job where I get to do the same things everyday until I retire”…?

    Refocussing, the idea that if I was running a business (a kind of business I would want to work for) then I know the steps I would take in the product development process that could free me up of a couple 6-figure salary employees, including the bad-ass lead UI designer. That thought actually lead to my current research. In Usability class one day, my favorite University of Texas professor (so far… apologies for the unpolished formatting if you’re reading this) Eric Nordquist went on a tangent that I kind of added fuel to. One of those “RIGHT?!” moments. Anyhow, he starts talking about how crazy it is that as User Experience (UX) professionals our job is supposed to be to make the user’s experience better. Simple, right? So we gather all of these data points, and we talk to all of these people including Toni about what she likes, what she doesn’t, what else she uses, and what would make her life easier that we may be able to achieve through our product. Still with me? We then take everything Toni said and try to find ways to combine it with what Amber said… and LJ… and Javi, Katie, Arturo, Ashton, Kerry, Shana, Sarah, Phillip, Hailey, April, Klint, Kevin, Sandy, Tom, Tiara, Savanna, Lauren… Do you see where I’m going with this? Now instead of “Toni finds clean black and white interfaces with a lot of whitespace easier to comprehend and use”, I have, “4 out of 20 people prefer minimalist aesthetics, 5 out of 20 prefer colorful, and 11 out of 20 prefer a blue and grey combination”. So what do you do? Logic says you go with blue grey and now poor Toni is having Windows circa 2004 flashbacks.

The above 3 reasons also explain why I feel pressured to learn how to code, but I digress (currently struggling with machine learning assignments, why I chose to . start here I will never know). I hope my bare notions help someone realize that it’s ok to not answer the question; “Why go back to school?”, with, “Because I want to save the world/ Because my career requires it”. Sometimes you just want to learn and sometimes you need to pivot. I look at some of my classmates who came straight to graduate school from undergraduate and I can’t help but think if I did that I would have prolonged the start of my career (because some people do still care that you have X amount of years experience no matter how badass you think you are) and I probably would have doubled my debt only to graduate, realize I wanted to do something else, and went back to graduate for a different set of skills.

So there, those are the honest reasons why I went back and I regret nothing. I am learning, I am growing, I’m freaking PIVOTING with the best of them.

Until next time,

wine & ink