would you choose your education/career path again?

The shu box asked a really interesting question to her MD peeps– if they had to do it all over again, would they?  We thought we’d extend that to higher education more generally, not just MDs but other post-bachelor credentials.

Do you wish you’d gotten higher education (earlier, given that you could always get some now)?  Would you choose to get higher education again?  Would you have done things differently?

#2:  I’m very happy with my education.  My PhD program treated me a lot better than #1’s program treated her, and I still talk to my dissertation advisor.  I still collaborate with fellow students in my program and we have published together frequently.  I am facebook friends with some of my former professors (and one or two, with whom I’m not friends, I’m glad I never have to encounter them again).  I probably should have published more in grad school, but I did some, and that was fine.

I am reasonably happy with my career choices, even though I’m now a career-changer.  I did what I set out to do: got a tenure-track job and then got tenure.  I’m glad I did that; if I hadn’t, I would always have wondered if I could.  I wish the job had been somewhere less soul-sucking.  But it’s turned out ok, and I can’t say I have regrets.

#1:  Man, if I could go back and redo the phd program now I would be so badass.  They would think I’m a genius.  I kind of wish I’d taken a year off and gotten some maturity and knowledge before starting, but if I’d done that I probably wouldn’t have gotten into the program that I did.  And, realistically, I probably wouldn’t have ended up getting a PhD at all if I hadn’t stayed directly on the academic path because as ambitious and amazing as I am, I tend to get interested in things the more I know about them so whatever path I started on was most likely going to be one I took to the end.  But who knows!

I do seem to have gotten over most, if not all, of the PhD trauma and I like my current job and current socioeconomic status a lot.  So I think I’m happy with the path life has taken me on.  DH is pretty happy with his current job now too, so I (mostly) no longer feel guilty about the years he spent in a job he didn’t like so much (and by extension, the PhD program he went to so I could go to my #1 choice program).  (He, btw, has no regrets, so it’s irrational for me to feel the least bit guilty.)

There’s an alternate world me out there that is probably deliriously happy moving to SF right after college with DH and the two of us making bank during the dot com boom (DH moreso than me– I probably ended up without stock options).  We’ve bought a house when the market was at a low and are happily living the good life.

But I suspect there are many alternate world mes out there in various states of happiness.  Even though it might not have seemed like it from middle school (where I was bullied) and graduate school (where I suspect birth control pills and poor eating habits added to my anxiety), I’m essentially a happy person who tends to bloom where planted.

What about you?

57 Responses to “would you choose your education/career path again?”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    In engineering (corp world $50BB chemical company), it’s almost as if PhD paths are more limited. Yes, they are the only degrees that will allow you to get on the hard core research and product development paths, but I also almost never see them in manufacturing, sales, marketing, management (unless it’s to manage other phd’s). Also, the research function is performing poorly right now and one of the reasons people are sighting is that the function is being run by PHD’s who don’t necessarily have the right leadership skills required to do what’s required To achieve the larger business goals.

    Anyway, there is a lot of bias at my company of what PHds can and can’t do and not all of it is justified. I am good with just a bs. The ROI didn’t work in my world. Starting salary is a little better but not enough to justify the years of extra torture and low income, plus I never had the desire to pursue the academic path.

  2. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I’m very happy with my educational path, both PhD and post-graduate professional degree. They both have taken me places and afforded me career opportunities that I have deeply enjoyed. I am very satisfied with where I am now, as a tenured proressor at an ILAF medical school, and I am extremely good at my job.

    Having said all that, I’ve been in the same institution doing the same job for far longer than ever before in my life. I know exactly how to do what I do, and I do it well. But I am kind of feeling like I’m ready for some kind of new challenges.

  3. Leigh Says:

    I have no regrets about my path, though I do wish I hadn’t hemmed and hawed for five years post-undergrad before applying to a MS program. Some days I wish that I’d done some research while in undergrad, but my undergrad institution didn’t have any professors doing research in the areas that I realized I was interested in by the end of it. From internships, I knew what working in industry looked like, but I had no idea what research looked like, so it was a one-sided clear choice to go to industry instead of applying to grad schools. I don’t regret not going to grad school right away though. Most of the people I know with PhDs in my field ended up going to industry and continuing in academia and they started where I did salary-wise, but many, many years later.

  4. gwinne Says:

    Yeah, my life has turned out pretty fantastic, despite the odds.

    My profession is absolutely right for me. My specific job less so, but given the market the fact that I’ve gotten two tenure track jobs (and now have tenure) I cannot complain.

    When I talk to undergrads considering my profession, though, I tell them NOT to do what I did.

  5. Flavia Says:

    I hated grad school, and was an anxious, unhappy, depressed person throughout most of it — it isn’t going too far to say it was the most unhappy period of my life. I hardly recognize myself when I look back. And it was years before I was fully over that experience.

    But. . . I think it was worth it. I love my life now, and think it and my career are more interesting and rewarding than anything I could have otherwise had. My job isn’t perfect, but like you I generally tend to be optimistic and to see the opportunities within the limitations. More importantly, the PhD gave me access to ways of thinking and being, and to people, I don’t think I would otherwise have known. My leisure time and everything else are enriched by the habits of thought and ways of reading and understanding the world that I encountered in my training.

    (And, oddly, I seem to be genuinely friends with most of the people I knew in grad school, though I didn’t feel close to them then, or even that they liked me.)

  6. Norwegian Forest Cat Says:

    I am still pretty early on the career track (in postdoc-land), and my opinions on what I want to do with my life have changed a lot since I started grad school (which was straight out of undergrad). I was probably 50-50 split between a faculty/research job and a faculty/teaching job, but learned a whole lot about how the world really works in grad school and was basically flipping the bird to all of those ideas by the time I graduated. I realized I am really good at figuring out the best/fastest way to answer questions, but I really don’t care much for deciding what the most awesome/fundable/sexiest questions are (even if I’m relatively good at that, too). I think I’d be a really terrific (academic or industry) lab ninja someday. So, a PhD might open up a few additional doors for most/all of the career options I’m interested in, but an MS would have probably been sufficient for some of those jobs since I like benchwork better than I like people-wrangling.

    If I had to do it again I wouldn’t change a lot of things, but I’d make sure my PhD advisor actually gave a crap about the futures of his trainees – more than one of my former labmates have been screwed over by papers taking YEARS to get out (if they get out at all), and I’m likely going to find myself in the same boat. It would be a shame though, because I really loved the people I worked with and they all taught me a lot (science and otherwise).

  7. chacha1 Says:

    After getting my B.A. I was accepted to Georgia Tech’s graduate management program. I lasted one semester there, finding it a festering boil of greed and cynicism (this was 1987). After a brief hiatus, I enrolled at Georgia State for an M.A. in history. It took me almost six years to complete the degree thanks to working full-time, then my first thesis topic withering on the vine (no primary sources in the U.S.), then a delay due to my advisor’s wife getting cancer.

    Once that was done, there was no way in hell I was going for a Ph.D. The market for liberal-arts instructors had tanked and there were no prospects, and the “learning more and more about less and less” didn’t really appeal. I’d started working in a law office and was making more there, by the end of five years, than I would have as an associate professor.

    I’m not sorry I took the degree, though. It taught me a lot about how to learn and how to write. And it probably helped me get jobs in law, even though it’s not directly related to the work I do. It’s a big neon sign saying “This Person Finishes Things That Most People Never Attempt,” which is not a bad sign to have blinking on your resume.

    If I had had less conventional (or, indeed, *any* meaningful) “counseling” in high school, I think I would have been steered into engineering, which would have meant a completely different (alternate universe!) life. I like my life pretty well, so I don’t have regrets about that either. :-)

  8. CG Says:

    I really enjoyed my Ph.D. experience–great chair, good committee, and I scoped out a dissertation for myself that was very manageable to complete and has (finally) led to three publications, which was my goal. My actual job, I’m less sure about. I’ve found life on the tenure track filled with a lot of negative and not much positive reinforcement. I didn’t realize how hard teaching would be for me, and how much trouble I’d have gearing up for it year after year. I do love having a seasonal job, and being pretty much in charge of my own time–those are both huge components of what job satisfaction I do have. I get excited about figuring out how to attack problems (research design). I like writing and I’m good at it. I’m up for tenure this coming year and I think I have a pretty good shot at it (a blessing or a curse?).

    In an alternate universe, I might have gone to architecture school and become a self-employed residential architect. I would have made no money, especially during the recession. I probably would have struggled with whether I had a career or a hobby. There are probably aspects of client service that would have annoyed me, especially when dealing with people who can afford an architect. All in all, I think things turned out okay, but I do still consider making a change, to what I don’t know. I’m not really up for any more school at this point.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I knew a lot about teaching when I got my T-T job, having done a boatload of it beforehand. I was lucky because that made my transition a whole lot easier. However, I hated it more and more with each passing year, even as it became easier and easier time-wise. It got worse emotion-wise, or else I just had less and less patience for what it did to me.

      • CG Says:

        I fear I’m headed down the same path. I guess you probably don’t have any tips on how to turn that around…

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I’m sorry, I don’t know how to make it better. I know how to change your teaching to make it less onerous (standardize grading rubrics, an iron-clad syllabus, rules about email, having students do more in-class discussion/writing, etc.) but I don’t know how to make it better. So I quit. Haven’t regretted it for a minute!

  9. Leah Says:

    I typed a super long comment and lost it. The tl;dr is this:

    I am who I am because I learned from my experiences. That’s better than having regret.

  10. crazy grad mama Says:

    I’m still in the middle of the PhD trauma, so I lean towards not going that route if I had to do it all over again. Like Norwegian Forest Cat, I enjoy (and am decently good at) solving problems, but not so good at coming up with exciting problems to solve. I’d major in engineering or computer science and skip grad school. But then I wouldn’t have met my husband, so who knows where my life would be now – maybe I would be less happy in the end.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I’ve found that the exciting problems to solve bit has gotten easier. Usually what happens is during the course of one project there’s an important piece of information that I need that it turns out hasn’t been answered yet, and that spins off into another project. Or while I’m reading the literature, the thing I need has been answered really badly.

      First I couldn’t come up with stuff, then I came up with a lot of stuff that had already been answered using the strategies I’d come up with to answer them (progress!– at least they were good ideas!). Now I have more projects than I have personpower to answer in a timely fashion.

      • crazy grad mama Says:

        Maybe I’ll get there. So far, the unanswered questions that I think are important turn out to be considered tedious / boring / generally unfundable.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        #2 here. My ideas are mostly unfundable but I have a lot of them (now). I was scared that after my dissertation I’d never come up with new research ideas. Eventually I had enough ideas that when I sat down to write a 5-year plan of research, I wrote down enough ideas for a whole career’s worth of research even if I never came up with another idea again. It was SO reassuring. Hang in there, you’ll get there! Or don’t hang in there and do something else instead, that’s fine too.

    • Norwegian Forest Cat Says:

      Sorry for the PhD trauma – it seems like something crappy happens to just about everyone somewhere along the line! One thing that has become super apparent in my (almost completed) first year post-grad is that your current situation is a great way to inform yourself about things you’ll change down the road – workload, expectations, your advisor, etc. I am much, much happier in New Lab than where I was before, and I think that’s because I knew which things about my old advisor I wanted to keep and which ones I really, really needed to avoid. :) I hope you can hang in there for now and find something that is your jam for the next step!

  11. anandar Says:

    I am happy to have a JD (and will be even more happy this summer when, after 12 years of clerking and legal aid work, I will pay off my loans (which has been slow but not hard thanks to school LRAP)). As a credential, the JD accurately conveys at least some of my skills (which of course have been further developed by being a lawyer)– detail-oriented, quick, good judgment. The fancy school is a smart-person stamp, which is useful every once in a rare while (less in CA which is less prestige oriented).

    But I wish I had done a joint JD/MSW, because I think it would have been an even better reflection of who I am and what I enjoy. And I love teaching, for instance, but do not love law students so much–having the credential to do more lay teaching would be great. But it may happen yet!

  12. Kellen Says:

    I thought I would graduate, work for a couple of years, and then do an accounting PhD. Right now, I’m not interested in getting a degree that might severely limit where I can work (vs having a regular accounting degree, which means I can work pretty much anywhere in the U.S.).

    My boyfriend is in a PhD program, and I (happily) work with several PhDs at work. Their experiences seem so wildly different. One woman had her kids during grad school. I commented on how that must have been difficult, but from her response it sounded like it wasn’t bad, since she had a flexible schedule, worked at her own pace, etc. My boyfriend, meanwhile, has to be in lab 6 days a week, and doesn’t take days off unless we are going out of town. (Not even things like Memorial Day Monday.) Having a child while on that sort of schedule would be terrible. Another coworker said his PhD years were his “favorite job except for the pay.” It sounds like the same school, or even degree, can vary significantly depending on the adviser.

    Some days I think about doing another degree in something completely different (creative writing! art!) but I know I wouldn’t have liked the income-situation if I studied that the first time around. I like accounting work. Some days I think about going back to school after saving up enough (how much?) from current lucrative work, and studying something more art-related.

    I don’t think I would change my past career path, but I do think a lot about the potential to get on a totally different career path in the future.

  13. OMDG Says:

    MD-PhD here, currently training in Anesthesia, want to do Critical Care. Unequivocal yes over here. Even though I’m still in residency. Even though parts of my training have sucked tremendously. I feel like I was made for this job.

  14. Miriam Says:

    I had a horrible Ph.D. experience with an absentee adviser and no meaningful mentoring and ultimately not getting to defend my basically finished dissertation, but I don’t know what I would change if I could do it over again. I loved the city the Ph.D. program brought me to and the research experiences I was able to have, so I don’t think I would choose a different program or to not go at all. There is a completely different path that I would try to push fresh-out-of-undergrad me on if I got to time travel, but it was not something that I could ever have known to try when I was that age.

    So even though I work in a completely different career and arguably the whole degree program was a waste of time, I have no regrets about doing it. :) Also, I do think I gained valuable research skills that help me in my current career and in life in general.

  15. Mrs PoP Says:

    Grad school was utterly terrible, but I’m glad I went and I’m glad I quit with a consolation masters. I grew a lot as a person through that and learned to stand up for what was important to me rather than doing what others always told me was in my best interest. Don’t have any real regrets over career moves, either. Each step on its own had merits and drawbacks, but overall the path has been good.

  16. David Says:

    I am a full prof at a good university and generally happy with my career path. The only thing I would change is maybe to apply to grad schools in economics instead of geography. I had studied both as an undergrad but did better in geography and didn’t have the confidence to apply to the econ schools and waste those application fees and if I did get in have a more difficult time and maybe drop out. I mostly work in economics now but could have done with a more solid training.

  17. Revanche Says:

    As much as I was the kid who didn’t intend to get married, there’s a huge part of me that’s glad I made the choices I did because it led me to marrying PiC and it’s been a really good thing for both of us. If I could choose to change anything, it would all be about health, not career.

    Career: though I never would have guessed I’d be doing this specific thing, I did achieve a significant measure of what I aimed for, probably because my reasons for it were consistent. I always wanted to make enough to support my family/families and have enough autonomy to suit my nature. Those worked out.

    I always wanted to be Dr. Revanche but that was totally a vanity thing. I wanted the trappings of high achievement and thankfully I always knew that my desire was both base and unwise so I wasn’t fool enough to pursue it. Kind of wish there was any ROI in getting a Masters but there really isn’t for what I do.

  18. SP Says:

    My friend asked me just yesterday if I would do anything differently if I went back to freshman year of college. I had a really hard time answering the question, because every choice led me to where I am. I don’t spend much time thinking about the past and what I would change. My brain doesn’t naturally work that way (and I generally don’t encourage it to). I’m much more future / plan focused.

    The only thought is that a “real” college search rather than limiting myself to mostly local/regional/low-cost/”within reach” schools would probably have been worthwhile. But that would be a totally TOTALLY different life. So I’d make the same choices.

    I did my MS while working, paid for by my employer(s), and I’m glad I started it within about a year after undergrad, as I can’t imagine wanting to dedicate that kind of time/effort right now. It added a better “brand” as far as education goes, but I wouldn’t say the knowledge is particularly useful in my day-to-day work.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I would do things differently in undergrad but it turned out well in the end. Mostly I’d keep the same junior and senior years, but f*ck up way less in the first two years than I actually did.

  19. J Says:

    I loved grad school – both my master’s and PhD – I was lucky in lots of ways (good MS mentor, amazing PhD advisor and awesome fellow grad students in both places) plus I tend to thrive on pressure. Sometimes I wish I had followed a more linear path that would have gotten me to the awesome job I’m in now (e.g. going straight to a PhD program, not taking the first faculty job I had) but then that path would have probably led elsewhere and I really love where I am. So sometimesl I wish I would be going up for tenure a little younger than I am I can’t really regret the path that led me to here.

  20. becca Says:

    There is one alternative me who didn’t give up on gymnastics but developed an eating disorder and eventually triumphed over it and does triathalons and coaches.
    There is another alternative me who went to the elite boarding school and became a biomedical engineer and makes much more than I do now, and has an awesome kid, but is already divorced.
    There is another alternative me who gave up on undergrad and painted for a year and then went to Oberlin and then moved to Portland to open a brew pub/gallery and who is vegan and happily married to a woman.
    There is yet another alternative me who gave up on grad school and went back home to live in my parent’s basement, and was there for their last years and who just joined the Peace Corps and will end up designing websites and apps to support organizing protests.
    There is yet another me who kept the other doctor appointment and got a postdoc in San Francisco and who was wracked with guilt when my parents died and I was gone.

    Sometimes I do wonder about being married to a woman, but wholistically I’m pretty ok with this me for now.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      I dunno, actual me went to boarding school determined to become a genetic engineer and ended up in economics instead (because of experiences in said boarding school)…

      • becca Says:

        But actual you did not have my father chanting “the dismal science” in your ear.
        So my plans might well have changed, but not to economics. Now, if I’d given up on grad school and somehow found a way to finagle my way into Hopkin’s school of public health and taken some health economics, and *that* alternative me might be very happy. But I decided that possible me was a very low likelihood state, because Hopkins doesn’t have to take failed bench PhDs for the MPH program.

  21. jlp Says:

    Hm, I appear to be an outlier.

    I am quite happy with many aspects of my life, including my job. That said, I feel confident I got a PhD in the wrong field. My PhD is in a soft science, and a few years after I got it, I went back and got a masters in statistics. Now I wish I had a PhD in stats, or a computer science degree.

    To be clear: I don’t regret the first graduate degree. But if I could somehow know where I’d be now, I also wouldn’t do it over again. (Thankfully I got paid to get both my degrees, so at least I don’t have any school debt. If I did, I might feel regretful.)

  22. KeAnne Says:

    I don’t regret my path, but it has been a little different than what I anticipated. My undergrad is in English and I was supposed to teach high school en route to a PhD in English, professordom, etc. Instead I decided not to teach and ended up becoming interested in web development and databases, which was a good fit for me: hey, it’s all language, right? The liberal arts focus helped me succeed at my job and gave me a lot of opportunities. However, not being a “true” programmer, I got bored and returned to grad school for a MS in Library Science to get out of web development. It took me 5 years to earn it while working full time, and I quickly learned I did NOT want to work in a library but what I did love was research, data and analysis. While I don’t actually work in a library, I think the degree helped and now I’m our data/market research/knowledge management person at my org and on some high-profile projects at my university. And I make pretty good $$. I guess it’s been a bit of a long, strange trip? My goal is to help liberal arts majors understand the value they have in less obvious professions like STEM, web development, etc.

  23. Link love (Powered by burgers and stirfry) - NZ Muse Says:

    […] Would you choose your education/career path all over again? […]

  24. MutantSupermodel Says:

    I never got past the BA level, but even that I wish was different. I really wish I would’ve pursued something else. A B.A. in English is meh. I still dream of grad school. Maybe working with a bunch of scientists will fix that though LOL

  25. sherry @ save. spend. splurge. Says:

    Yes, 100% I’d do it all over again. Of course.. I love my job and the pay is great, which is the reason why I say that. I’m one of the lucky ones, for sure.


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