My life as taken a couple of bizarre twists this semester. In addition to being “chosen as an alternate for” but really rejected from the Fulbright program, my girlfriend (shit… what to call her? Let’s go with Elphaba for right now) got into grad school in Denver. She’s getting a terminal Master’s. In the interests of fairness (and having a glorious two years off from grad school), I’m moving out there with her and taking a break from my pursuit of a PhD.
The question, then, is what to do with myself while I’m out there. There seem to be essentially three options (excluding sitting around drinking and playing Call of Duty all the time; this has already been vetoed):
My god. A nine-to-five for real money. That sounds so great. The real question is, what can I do? By the time I arrive at the foot of the Rockies, I’ll have a Bachelor’s in Political Science with a minor in Spanish, and a Master’s in Sociology with a minor in Statistics. I can program (in order of descending competence, from “Mediocre” to “Capable of adding numbers”) in R, VB.Net, MATLAB, SPSS, and SAS. I know ArcGIS. Basically, I’m good enough at computers to impress the hell out of the ignorant and make into onto the bottom rung of True Geekdom. So I think there are a fair number of places I could work:
- A university, of course. One of my dear friends here, Beezy, worked for a research center when she had some downtime between her coursework. Pros: decent money, sharpens the right skills, access to university resources. There are a ton in the Denver metro. Cons: if I have to do GIS work for somebody’s watersheds research, I will kill.
- A market research firm. I think I’ve got an ideal skill set for market research – and based off of some of the studies that I have tracked back to market research firms, I at least have better formal training than many directors of research at these places. Pros: A lot more jobs available, better pay. Cons: Boring work, harsher deadlines, selling my soul to the Devil.
- A brewery. New Belgium, my all-time favorite American microbrewery, is in Fort Collins – and there are many others in the area. I am an experienced homebrewer. Pros: I LOVE BEER. Cons: Pay sucks, and I will probably become an alcoholic.
Like I said, there are an awful lot of universities in the area. I don’t think that any of the soc departments in the area really specialize in the same sorts of things that I do, but I could take two years to beef up one of my side skills:
- Stats: I love stats. I hate stats. Either way, I have a minor in it so far, and picking up a Master’s would, in addition to being totally awesome, make me a beast of a candidate for any position that requires teaching methods. I’m not particular concerned about the department I take stats from, either, as long as it has good teachers. On the other hand, I am somewhat terrified of what true graduate-level stats are like. I’ve managed to scrape by without knowing calculus this far, but I don’t think I could get by in a statistician’s stat theory class without it.
- Geography: I also love geography. Significantly less hatred here. I have a profound love for pretty maps, and an even more profound love for understanding the spatial aspects of social life. You can check out my Pretty Maps page to take a gander at some of my work. I enjoy it.
- Neuro… something. -ology, -science, -chemistry, -psychology, -economics – I’m not really sure which would be best for me. But I believe that pretty much all human behavior can be explained by our efforts to get delicious brain candy; where it gets interesting is how we learn what gets us brain candy, retrain our brains about what tastes good, and what impact that all has on our interactions with others. I think that habituation and learning are really fundamental to understanding human behavior. Neurowhatever would help me understand that most micro of micro social science. Plus, I’d be able to use terms that sound less stupid than “brain candy”.
There are a few challenges to going back to school, though. It costs money, rather than earning it; I’m not sure I would be able to finish by the same time Elphaba does; and it would mean that I wouldn’t have the glorious free time a job would afford me. Beezy is pulling hard for me to stay in school, but that’s only because she’s afraid that if I leave the academy I’ll never come back, and then who will program for her?
Her fears are justified.
Of course, I could always get a job and then take some courses on the side. This is Elphaba’s preferred option. She thinks, and I am inclined to agree, that it would be fairly awful if we were both in grad school at the same time. This would allow me to have real income for the first time ever and a fair dose of free time, while still advancing my education and keeping my foot in the boat. I could wrap up a GIS certificate in two years for sure, which would go nicely alongside my stat minor. I could also dabble in both of the other fields.
What do you think, O wise handful of readers? Do you have any insight that would make this a little less ambiguous? Basically, at the end of these two (to two-and-a-half) years, I would like to get into a really bad-ass school for my PhD program and not be any further in debt than I am going in. Sound reasonable? Let me know if you have any advice.