This blog post has been in the making for about a couple of years now, when I first received a Facebook private message from a former student who wanted to go to graduate school. I just never got around to writing it until I noticed that the question has been coming up more often, not just from students who would visit me at the office but also from colleagues in the game development firm that I worked for last year.

Ok, so let me just compile the gist of most of the questions:

  1. My parents do not trust that my art degree will get me anywhere. Should I get another bachelor’s degree in the sciences this time?
  2. I enjoyed doing my thesis on [insert computer science topic here]. Should I take a master’s degree now so I could expound on that further? Is it worth it?
  3. I am graduating this year but I want to study further. I would like to go into graduate school but what field should I get into?

Believe me, the PM transcripts are very long but I always begin my response with one question:

Why?

Not everyone is suited for graduate school. Heck, a lot of university instructors, who are actually required to obtain master’s degrees in order to maintain their posts at the university, have difficulty finishing their theses. I ask the above question because graduate school requires a certain level of commitment and no small amount of passion and determination to complete.

So let’s break these questions down into digestible bits.

 

Grad school to make yourself more marketable?

Hm. Another degree is not necessarily the answer. Though I have to admit that when I was a fresh grad, I wanted a job as a web programmer because I can do web before it even became known in the country. Unfortunately, I had a bachelor’s degree in the Social Sciences (Behavioral Studies) so I took another bachelor’s degree because no one would hire me as a web programmer due to my educational background. They all wanted to place me in Human Resources. Did I regret that second bachelor’s degree? Part of me does. I could have continued on my multimedia career path (via freelance jobs supported by a solid portfolio) and just gotten a master’s degree earlier instead. You can’t tack a second bachelor’s degree at the end of your name but you can do that when you complete your master’s. Besides, it doesn’t make sense to take formal schooling for a field that you already know about long before the academia discovered its existence. This basically answers the question about whether it’s better to get another bachelor’s degree or just head straight for graduate school.

Now for that issue regarding your parents’ impression. Again, I ask, “What would you like to do?” Remember, it’s not your parents who are going to be taking this up and they’re not the ones who are going into your field either. So make sure you really will like what you’re going to do because there’s nothing sadder than a person stuck in decades of unhappiness.

But if you are one of those people who are both artistic and scientific at the same time (a common problem for INFJ type personalities like me), don’t despair. You can be a bridge between the industry and academia.  Cartoonist Jorge Cham has a PhD in Robotics, which means no matter what anyone says about what you can and cannot do…what you want CAN BE DONE.

Basically, if you want to make a lot of money, you can do this whether or not you have an MBA. Just focus on your strengths, be decisive about your priorities, demand an uncompromising amount of commitment from yourself, discover your own resourcefulness. If you can do that, money will not even be a problem in the long run.

 

When to take your master’s degree?

Believe me when I say you need a minimum of two years work experience before you can take one. Those are the rules for most universities. There are schools that will admit you even if you’re straight out of college, BUT keeping up will not be so easy. Most likely you will be in a class full of managers who already know the ins and outs of their businesses and can actually relate their experiences with the theories and frameworks that your professor will discuss. If you are a fresh college grad getting into your master’s, do note that you may need to work doubly harder than those who have gotten enough work experience.

 

What field should you get into?

That’s a tricky question and questions of this nature actually require one-on-one discussions, which is probably the reason why my former students would often visit me just to seek counsel. But if you want to get quick answers from me, I always recommend getting an MBA (Master of Business Administration). It is the most fluid and is applicable to all fields, much like psychology.

I noticed that many entrepreneurs with MBAs (at least the ones who took their MBAs seriously) have streamlined business processes, favorable business practices, and sound business ethics. Many of them are a lot more humane (thanks to Knowledge Management and Intellectual Capital courses) than entrepreneurs who’re just in it solely for the money. If you don’t plan to go into business, you can still use your MBA to improve processes in the academe or in your own office.

In my personal opinion, I think it’s better to get a degree that is not directly your line of work but is still  connected. For instance, if you are in the field of game development and your degree is in Computer Science, getting a degree in Behavioral Science will be a good idea because the practice of Human-Computer Interaction combines these two disciplines. You’ll be able to gain insight about your business/industry from a totally different perspective this way. Let me give you a concrete example: Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn and Executive Vice-President of Paypal has a BS in Cognitive Science degree and an MA in Philosophy.

If you want a deeper discussion because you have already graphed your life plans in your head, by all means, drop me a comment and I may be able to give you a customized answer that other readers can also benefit from.

 

Is it worth it?

Hell, yeah! You’ve probably heard a lot of holier-than-thou/discouraging remarks on the internet about Bill Gates and Steve Jobs dropping out of school and still turning out to be two of the richest men in the world. My question will then be, “How many Bill Gates and Steve Jobs do you know?” Heck, I know of more people with graduate degrees that are also successful: Pixar president Ed Catmull, Google CEO Larry Page, Google Executive Chariman Eric Schmidt, Paypal Executive VP and founder of LinkedIn Reid Hoffman, ALL the research scientists of Proctor & Gamble

Who do you think Bill Gates and Steve Jobs hired in order to build their empires of technological greatness?

But again, I would have to stress that this should be more of a personal endeavor than a financial one. Most graduate degree holders find themselves in the academia and the famous people I have mentioned above simply obtained those degrees for the sake of personal development. They really do love to continuously innovate.

As Reid Hoffman has written:

And there are at least three things that successful professionals eventually figure out about their careers. You won’t find them in any of your text books. And your school doesn’t teach them.

Full write-up about Reid Hoffman’s book “The Start-up of You” from Business Insider can be found here.

What I can guarantee that you will be able to extract from graduate school, however, are the following:

  • Sharing best practices with your classmates and professors.
  • Developing a deeper understanding of the rigors of research.
  • Developing the ability to work within and formulate various frameworks.
  • Developing the ability to apply real-life scenarios into your studies while also applying your studies into real-life situations. This is actually a fun cycle.
  • For those who are relentless in pursuing grad school while maintaining a full-time job: Mastering the art and discipline of time-bending. When a person condescendingly tells me that I have no idea what to do with my life because I juggled part-time teaching, a full-time job, grad school, blogging and other activities listed on my portfolio, that simply means that person has no idea how time-bending works. [Grad school+Full time work] unlocks this ability.
  • Building connections with people from various sectors. This was my most surprising discovery about graduate school. This became a critical success factor in the development of many of my projects.
  • Unlocking hidden levels in your career. I thought my former professors were kidding when they told me that getting a PhD opens doors for you. Of course, a lot of industry doors immediately closed themselves against me. I have to warn you: Except for Anino Games, no non-researching company in its right mind would want to hire a graduate degree holder. When you do get that degree, you will become an (expensive) entity that is difficult to understand outside of the academe. BUT you’d be surprised at the number of other more important doors that will open for you. These doors are what will matter. Trust me on this.

Anyway, let’s take a break from all this serious discussion and enjoy this cartoon, illustrated by Jorge Cham, of your future as a graduate student:

phd030110s

“Piled Higher and Deeper” by Jorge Cham
www.phdcomics.com

On a personal note:

I spent 11 years obtaining higher educational degrees because I wanted to, not because I felt that I needed to fulfill some monetary requirement. (i.e. “At the age of XX I should be earning XXXXXX or I would be a complete failure.” Are you kidding me?) For a true introvert like me, the most fantastic form of interaction is one with people who share the same passion for learning and innovation as I did. I seriously enjoyed interacting with my professors and classmates in graduate school and some of us ended up working on lucrative projects together. (When we’re not being nerds, though, we talk about food, fashion and hair care tips.)

Here’s an unexpected bonus: I only RECENTLY realized that obtaining my PhD actually was a good decision because it turns out that the academe financially rewards even part-time faculty for having one.

So now, whenever someone questions my educational path (which ran in parallel with my industry path), I simply say, “It’s a retirement plan.” I cannot imagine myself doing nothing when I retire so I would like to continue teaching when I’m too old to spend sleepless nights developing video games. You think I can imagine myself doing PhD studies when I’m in my 60s? I’m not THAT gifted.

I’ve had older people tell me that I was crazy for wanting to attain such a high level of formal education at a young age (“Why are you in such a hurry, you already have a master’s degree!”), only for them to realize later that they should have done so when they were younger. My philosophy is: Do it while you’re young, while you have time, and more importantly, while you have energy.

In any case, perhaps the simplest answer to condescending and narrow-minded questions is this meme I found on my Facebook newsfeed:

thinkbigtimferriss