Saturday, January 31, 2015

Should You Go Back to School? Part Two

When I decided to go back to school back in the late 1990s, I had this fantasy of becoming a scientist. I love reading so-called pop science books like A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, The Coming Plague by Laurie Garrett, and Collapse by Jared Diamond.

I'm not saying I thought I could become the next Stephen Hawking or anything like that. But one can dream...
Stephen Hawking

By NASA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What I love about science.

I love science because I'm fascinated by the mysteries it seeks to reveal. I also love it because I enjoy learning new things. And because I like "big ideas."

Of all the scientific disciplines, the ones that I've tended to read about the most are physics and psychology. I realized that I see these as the two most basic aspects of science: physics seeks to reveal the underlying structure of, well, everything; psychology seeks to reveal the underlying structure of how we perceive, well, everything.

After years of on-again, off-again college classes, and as I quickly approached a sobering mile-marker in life (my 50th birthday is less than 2 years away), I knew I had to make a decision about which degree I wanted. And I had to commit to getting that degree as soon as possible.

The degree I chose.

I chose psychology for a variety of reasons, even though there is a debate among some scientists as to whether or not it qualifies as a "real science." I think it does, although I find the debate interesting.

My reasons for choosing it were personal, practical, and professional.

  • Personal: I like the science of psychology, reading about the brain, learning about human behavior.
  • Practical: It was one of the degrees for which I needed neither additional math credits nor foreign language credits.
  • Professional: With an advanced degree I think my job prospects in research are pretty good.
The psychology department at Kennesaw State University seems to be solid. KSU itself is considered to be a top up-and-coming school.

My plan is to apply to a PhD program after KSU. I've looked at three: Emory University, Georgia State University, and Georgia Tech. Each is very different, so I need to do more research to find out more about them. A PhD program is appealing to me in part because they cover tuition and pay a stipend.

I have a back-up plan.

If I cannot get into a PhD program for psychology, my back-up plan is to get the online Master's of Library Science degree from the University of Kentucky. A friend of mine did that and now works for a university library. He loves it. He's known me for over 25 years and recommended that I look into it.
Steacie Science and Engineering Library at York University

By Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

While it isn't my first choice, I know I'd enjoy working in a university library. Plus, it would be a tenure-track faculty position at most universities.

Decide what you love.

I'm not saying to do what I did and major in psychology if you go back to school. But find what you love, or least what you enjoy. That way you won't lose your enthusiasm for school when the going gets rough.

So, tell me: Are you considering going back to college? What are you thinking of majoring in?

Next: A multi-part series on what it takes to get the most of going back to school.

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