Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Ramblings at 1am

I've been thinking a lot these days about what to do next. I love my job, I love Taiwan, I may not love our apartment but I love the location, and I love the freedom, ample free time and vacation time, self-direction, security and good money I get from doing a job I happen to love. (Well, the teaching part of it. I don't love the report-fillin'-out part, or the part with the meetings).

However, I do feel recently like I've been hitting a wall - same job for three years, same apartment, same good money. The years, however, are starting to bleed together, and I'm starting to feel like I've learned all I can from my current job and would like a chance to learn more (the "mastery" part of "autonomy, mastery, purpose"). Plus, I won't say too much here but I am less than satisfied with the outcome of my last salary negotiation.

It does seem like the next step is to further my education and credentials and (yes) get a real certification. Merely being very, very good at what I do is not going to suffice forever. At some point, to keep moving up, I'll need a piece of paper that says yes, in fact, I am very, very good at what I do. And hey, I might learn something too.

Sounds like "time to go to grad school!", right?

Maybe wrong.

Reading this: 100 Reasons Not to Go to Graduate School

and this:

...has made me really think about whether I want to go down that road, and if I do, how to do it, when to do it, and what to aim for. I already know an academic career is not for me - I'm intelligent enough to get there, but I don't function as well as I used to in the academic paradigm. Life in the working world has given me a sort of rogue, learning-is-so-much-broader-than-most-people-realize feeling about knowledge, its acquisition and its dissemination. I learned the hard way at Shi-da that this more real-world-embracing, non-ivory tower view of knowledge is not always welcome or respected. (Yes, I can speak Chinese with a Taiwanese twang, and no it does not mean that my Chinese is inferior. It means that it's actually Chinese in the place I live. Real people Chinese. That real people speak. Not bobblehead newscasters or Tang dynasty poets).

Reason #16 in the first link above also really resonated with me - where you live will be chosen for you. Even if the above was no issue, Where you live will be chosen for you would be the ultimate dealbreaker. Where we live is very important to us and only we can choose that.

Then, of course, there's the fact that the last thing I want to do is face life as an adjunct, which is the sordid underbelly alternative to respected academia. Since I refuse to have where I live be chosen for me, I'd almost certainly have to resign myself to this fate.

There's also the fact that I'd be entering grad school after starting my career. I don't have the money to fund it and am not willing to go into much more student debt. I refuse to live on ramen for years. I make good money now - giving that up to live like a student again is not a trade-off I'm yet willing to make for an advanced degree. We're not talking "belt tightening", we're talking "I hope this cardboard box covered with fabric remnant holds up as a coffee table" and I'm not interested. Been there, done that.

So, if I were to go to grad school, it would be for a degree directly related to work experience - a teaching certificate, or maybe a degree in Linguistics that would be as good as one in my field. I wouldn't try to parlay it into an actual academic career.

The good news is that the blog and article above are aimed at people who intend to do exactly the opposite: it's aimed at people trying to get into academia, not those seeking further education to brighten their career prospects outside of academia.

I would have to have a way to fund it that wouldn't leave us hideously broke or in debt. Not sure how to do that yet. If at all. Answer #1 - don't get the degree in the USA. It's cheaper elsewhere.

I don't know if I would like grad school in Taiwan, based on my experience at Shi-da. Got to do more research on that, and see if there's anything here I realistically can do in English, as I am only slightly confident that my Chinese is up to the task.

There's also the fact that I don't do split lives well: if I were only a student, I'd work my tail off. As an employed person, I work my tail off. Can I do both, even if I reduce work hours? Can I make my brain divide down the middle so I can juggle both? So far I've proven fantastically inept at it, as I do tend to be very focused (ask Brendan someday about my inability to "see" street signs I'm not looking for, or not hearing 90% of what he just said because I was absorbed in reading. It's a positive and negative trait). One would slide, and I worry about that. I feel like I'd have to not be working to be able to devote my full brain to studying. It would be challenging material, and I'd have to read books that are not engagingly written, therefore necessitating forcing myself to finish them. Nothing saps motivation to read more quickly than academic writing. It's hard enough to juggle studying Chinese and working, especially when one is fed up with the more venerable Chinese learning institutions and gone back to self-study.

Another idea: just get a certification (a few semesters - easy, but get a good one) and proactively train to improve, and get the rest of my knowledge from the working world. Don't worry about the full-on Master's unless it's something I can fund and have a plan for transferring to direct career use.

Just some thoughts...


Kim NYC said...

Hey, hope you find your way. That 100 Reasons blog is equally fascinating as it is depressing. I have 2 Master's degrees - one for a career that I abandoned 3 years after I entered it, and the other in a field that I'm desperately trying to get into. (With no luck so far, btw.) And now I'm 30 with lots of degrees and not a lot of work experience. (Which looks fabulous on a resume. If you don't live on Earth, that is.) Hope you have better luck. A certification program sounds like a good idea.

Anonymous said...

Hey, so I'm commenting not on your post (grad school is not my destiny, and I'm good with that) but on your comment on APW today. I just wanted to say, off that forum, that I TOTALLY UNDERSTAND what you mean, and I too have done the same thing. Mine was more a direct argument (mother abandonment =/= dead mother) but I feel the same way, and it made me feel surprisingly sad, and judged. And shamed. So yeah. It's not just you.

Anonymous said...


I've been following your story since I first saw you on OBBT last year. I couldn't find an email address or I would have sent you a private message. I just wanted you to know that I agree wholeheartedly with what you wrote on APW. I've had even worse treatment on my own blog. I stopped commenting there regularly as a result, but did come out of the woodwork yesterday after I read your comment. Thanks for saying it (and thanks for following up and sticking to your guns).

Also, I went to grad school instead of getting a certification, and now I'm a bit stuck and wish I had gone for the certification (for whatever that's worth).

catherine_sr said...

Our brains are traveling down similar paths! I've been pondering a return to grad school, too, and I'm also ambivalent for many of the same reasons you cited. I yearn for the intellectual stimulation (and, of course, a new skill set), but I already have a MS and I'm not sure how I feel about taking on the hard work and financial sacrifices again.
Re: the Taiwanese twang. I took a Mandarin summer class at UC Berkeley many years ago during college. The professors wanted me to eradicate my Taiwanese accent. I found that especially annoying because my parents grew up in Taiwan. I may be studying Mandarin as a second language, but it is still important for me to come out sounding like my parents when I speak their native language.

Jenna said...

Any professor who wants me to eradicate the Taiwanese accent I've picked up gets told "No, I won't be doing that, sorry."

If that had been the only issue Id've just told the Shi-da MTC "teachers" (I'm not convinced they're teachers in anything more than name; they certainly haven't been trained in how to teach language effectively) to shove it and kept talking in a more local accent. It was that plus all the other issues there that made me realize I didn't want to give them my money anymore.

It also wasn't entirely about politics, but it is true that as someone who leans heavily green/brown, I felt very uncomfortable at a school that was so steeped in KMT brainwashing.