Sunday, November 08, 2015

Two masters degrees? Using college as a crutch?

My most read blog post is one I published in April 2007, called, "For students: Don't collect degrees." It was prompted by a question I received from a student:

As someone who is in on the business/medical/policy of today's health care system, what do you think about the career prospects of those pursuing a joint JD/MPH? Is it worth it?

Virtually every day--even over eight years later--it tops the list on my blog statistics in terms of viewers, and it has prompted about three dozen comments.  I'm very pleased young people have found it helpful as they consider their career paths.

Here's the latest inquiry that's come across the transom:

Mr. Levy, I would appreciate your thoughts. I have a MPA in H.C.Administration and a MS in Organizational Change Management. I've been a generalist as I enjoy change and have many interests: acute, ambulatory, and long term care as well as work in social services providing services to individuals with I/DD and in behavioural health.

I seem to have gravitated towards social services and have thoughts of State or Federal government though I would probably become overly frustrated with their pace.

I guess I have a couple inquiries: If I persue (sic) a doctorate or JD, what concentrations would round-out my Masters? Also, I would love to work abroad or for an agency where there might be intermittent travel. Would you have any suggestions?

Thanks for your thoughts. 

And my reply:

Whoa, you have two masters degrees and you want to go back to school for more? My first reaction is that you've already spent enough time getting degrees and that it's time to get more experience in the work place and figure out what you really care about doing.

But if you want to get a Ph.D., it should not be to "round out" your masters. You only get a Ph.D. for one of two reasons: (1) To become an academic and be a professor somewhere; or (2) to work in a place like the World Bank, where they seem to value that degree. As to what field you should pursue for a Ph.D., you'll need to pick a field where you can make an original contribution to the field. Based on what you've learned and experienced to date, can you imagine what that might be? If not, don't even think about getting a Ph.D.

As to a JD, you only go to law school to become a lawyer. You don't go to law school to round out your education. It is a trade school. It is not a place to expand your intellectual capital, unless, again, you intend to enter academic law and become a professor. If so, you should, again, have a sense of where you can make an original contribution to the field.

On the professional front, if you fear that the state or federal government would be too slow for you, don't go there. Slowness is the nature of government. It is designed to be slow and deliberative.

Your last point about wanting an agency where there might be travel suggests that you are putting the cart before the horse. First, find an agency that excites your passions and sense of purpose. If it involves travel, then you get a bonus. But, don't pick an agency that involves travel for the sake of the travel.

In short, it sounds like it's time to stop being such a generalist and get your hands dirty actually working in the trenches and doing something interesting and difficult. After a few years of that, you can figure out if more formal education is worth doing. Sorry, but your note suggests that you are using college as a crutch to avoid committing to some job where you will have to test out what you really care about. Take a leap!  

By the way, when it comes time to negotiate that new job offer, check out our book on salary negotiation and more: How to Negotiate Your First Job!


Carole said...

By any chance did this person ever mention their age, outside what you posted? Curious...
I probably would of said go for it- the more the merrier! but your advise mades perfect sense, more than likely he/she listened and used it.
Pleased these young folks can reach out to you for advice, even better you taking the time to give it to them.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more. Good job Paul.

SkibumWong said...

Paul, you are a classmate from DUSP class of '85, We connected 15 years later through Phil Herr when I was pursuing a second masters at MGH to become (and am now practicing) nurse practitioner. At that time for the benefit of those reading this, I was 45 at that time.

I practiced in primary care in rural areas including a short stint in rural Maine. In 2011 I started working in hospital medicine and still do, I have never looked back.

Debi Wong
MCP '85
MSN '02

Paul Levy said...

Thanks, Debi. Best wishes!!!