Should You Work While in Grad School? A Pep Talk By Someone Who Has Been There and Done That.

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I have never been terribly fond of black and white thinking. That is probably why I did not take well to debate in High School. In debate, people must argue for one side or another, whereas the issues always seemed gray to me.

If you are looking for a clear yes or no answer to the question in my title, you will have to go elsewhere. Because in this blog, I can’t give you one. Instead, I want to share with those of you who are either considering graduate school or already in graduate school, my experience working while in graduate school, and my observations and opinions on who should and should not work while in school.

A few years ago, when I had just graduated and was already thinking about graduate school, I asked a number of people if I should work while in school. They all told me not to. I talked to people who did part-time programs, full-time programs, those who went to Harvard, those who went to a state school, and they all gave me the same answer: Do not work. Guess what? I went ahead and did it anyway.

Initially, I had thought of taking everyone’s advice. I would enroll in a full-time program and take a break from working. However, I found myself overwhelmed with the thought of student loans. Additionally, when I decided to apply for my Masters in Business Analytics I did not have pressing responsibilities to my family, or other relationships. I did, however, have a job that required more than 40 hours a week, and travel on weekends, which I imagined would severely affect my ability to participate in a part-time master’s program.

Enrolling in graduate school caused me to rethink my career.  I knew I wanted to keep working because I was not prepared to burden myself with hefty loans, especially since I did not have a ton of responsibilities outside of school.  I had to decide what kind of job I wanted to do. I thought about doing part-time work, internships, general marketing, and business analytics. I eventually opted to contract in marketing for a large company and left a stable first job with a start-up. While this decision was hard, and a huge risk, in the end, it’s allowed me to gain some amazing experience with some Fortune 500 companies in tech space. Although I do not have as much time to dedicate to my work as a non-graduate student would, I feel that my mix of experiences as a professional and a student make me a better student and a better employee. I bring new skills to the table that I can leverage at my job, and I have real world examples to share in the classroom. Additionally, I have avoided having to take out loans. Overall, the two major pros of working while in school are that I gain invaluable experience and I am not in debt from school.

It’s not all sunshine and butterflies, however. And while my cons are relatively minor to what others who work while in school experience, they are still cons I want you to consider before I move on to speaking about what cons look like for those students who are prone to anxiety, have a family, or have a demanding job. The cons I’ve dealt with mostly have to do with a lack of ability to connect, workout, be there for my family and friends, and the fact that I can’t give work the 120% I try to hold myself to. Before I started school, I made it a point to spend a few hours a week networking and connecting with former colleagues, I went to the gym every other day, and I cooked a fancy meal, which I served with wine, for my family every week. I spent my weekends exploring different locales and going out with friends. I also spent a good amount of time outside of normal working hours working, and organizing so that I could impress my team. With the addition of graduate school, I consider myself lucky if I hang out with one friend, once on the weekend, make it to the gym twice, and I do not have any time to connect or network. Surprisingly, what I miss the most is having the ability to drink a glass of wine with my parents on a weeknight. Graduate school comes evening classes and homework, I’m lucky if I manage to scarf down a proper dinner let alone cook once a week. I’ve also grown distant from friends, and don’t have a ton of time or patience when it comes to cultivating new relationships. Finally, I do miss some work meetings because of my evening classes, and I cannot give my work the 120% that I would be putting in if I wasn’t in school. Fortunately, I have amazing managers who support me and don’t mind these issues, but not everyone has that support.

While I do think that the decision for me to work and go to school was right for me, I do not think it is for everyone. With any program that is rigorous and time-consuming; you will likely get 5-6 hours of rest a night, have homework, and work pressures. Add into this mix, children, a spouse, any sort of anxiety, or external pressures and you can see that it is a recipe for fatigue, exhaustion, stress, and anxiety.

 

The decision to work while in school comes down to one underlying question, which then leads to a number of other questions.

 

Do the cons outweigh the pros?

  1. How supportive is your family, or spouse?
  2. What are your responsibilities?
  3. How were/are you managing your current schedule?
  4. Does financial stability and career mobility outweigh the effects of lack of sleep, exercise, and quality time with friends and family for you?

If you answer yes to question four, then consider working while in school. It allows you to be debt free, and gain immediately applicable experience. However, if you need to prioritize your health, and or your family, do yourself a favor and dial down somewhere. Put off school or get just a part time job so that you can manage school without taxing yourself.

If you do decide to work while in school, prepare yourself to deal with stress, fatigue and significantly less free time.

Hope you enjoyed my pep talk (which I squeezed in between work and graduate school reading ;))

 

 

 

Why I Don’t Want An MBA.

Buying a purse, a pair of shoes you didn’t need, or saying yes to whipped cream on top of your already calorific pumpkin spice latte are normal impulse decisions. Going to grad school? Not so much. For me however, opting for a grad school degree in Analytics was an impulse decision, only because I had taken a thorough approach to ruling out the type of grad school degree I did not want. Namely, an MBA. This  process of ruling out an MBA allowed me to hone in on what I did, and did not, want out of grad school.

My entire grad school application process spanned about 2 months. My decision to apply to only one school and immediately accept after getting in was not normal, and I’m not sure I condone it. I think you have to do what is right for you. If you’re interested in learning how, what, where, when why…feel free to reach out, but that is not what this post is about.

Instead, in  this blog post I am going to address everyone who has ever asked me to justify my decision to opt out of the MBA, at least for now.

Why am I not getting a MBA? 

I have 3 key reasons for not wanting and getting my MBA

  1. I don’t think I need it.
  2. I don’t think it will give me the skills I want.
  3. I don’t think it is worth the financial investment.

 

Do you need graduate school?

I suggest people who are thinking about grad school evaluate if they actually need a graduate program. This is probably helpful for both MBA and non-MBA Grad School seekers.

Here are some great articles to help you evaluate if you actually need grad school.

Forbes: Why You Shouldn’t Go to Grad School

USA Today: When Grad School Makes Sense

New Yorker: The Impossible Decision

I turn to these articles and sources to offer you perspective, because I don’t feel qualified to tout my own ideas of who does and doesn’t need grad school. For me, it was clear after reading these articles, among others, that I did not need an MBA.

Will graduate school give you the skills you seek?

Here are some articles that I looked at when evaluating if an MBA would give me the skills I sought.

Forbes: 10 Reasons You Don’t need an MBA

3 Bad Reasons to get an MBA

This last article is actually from a post-grad, and probably my favorite.

Life After the MBA

 

I do not believe and MBA gives business undergraduates an impressive set of skills that will make a 70k- 150k investment worth it. I understand many disagree with me. Even I’ll admit if you are a top 5 caliber MBA candidate, that Ivy-League degree may be well worth its salt.

If you want an MBA, you’re excited to get an MBA, and you can afford an MBA, I’m not discouraging it. Like Joshua Rothman states in his article for the New Yorker, “We make these decisions, I suspect, not because we’re rational, but because we’re curious. We want to know. This seems especially true about graduate school. It’s designed, after all, for curious people—for people who like knowing things. They are exactly the people most likely to be drawn in by that whispered ‘Come and find out.’ ”  

I am not in a financial position to simply go and get an MBA because it would be a fantastic experience, which I am sure it would be.  So due to my finances I am asking, will this expense be worth the skills I would get out of it?

An MBA program teaches you how to manage your time, present yourself well, and understand business concepts on a deeper level. None of these skills are things I seek. However, for an engineer, a biology undergrad, or a creative writing major, an MBA might be exactly along the line of skills they seek. Overall, I recommend you evaluate the skills you need, and identify the price you’re willing to pay to get them.

Is graduate school worth the financial investment?

I am not a fan of people who say education is always worth the cost. In a world of Google, YouTube, Khan Academy and several other free learning resources, I really do not feel thousands of dollars spent on an education you didn’t benefit monetarily from are worth it. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments, but for the remainder of this post I am going to stick with the idea that sometimes an education is worth the investment, and sometimes it is not.

For example, do I need to pay 1,000 for an advanced excel course, or am I better off watching 4 hours worth of videos on YouTube? I’ll opt for YouTube thanks.

According to Adam Hayes’s article for  Investopedia “If somebody cannot afford the cost, cannot get into a top program, or does not have the time to juggle work and study, there are fortunately other good options to pursue such as the CFA or a Master’s degree in Finance or Economics.” You can read the rest of his article here

This brings me to my final decision, I am not getting an MBA. For me the type of MBA I was qualified to pursue was just not worth it. Instead I am pursuing another good option, a Master of Science in Business Analytics. I’m not going to advocate for it here. It was a very personal, and very impulsive decision to pursue this degree, and has a lot to do with my undergraduate education in  applied statistics, research interests, and the types of roles and companies I was exposed to after graduation.

Check out what Forbes has to say about the Big Data degrees here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

My advice to college seniors; Don’t worry about it.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on my last year of college, mostly because my sister and many of her friends are approaching their final years in college. Some are even turning to me for advice. I wish I had the answers for you, I really do. A ton of people will have “advice” for you, whether or not you are seeking it. I don’t suggest you throw caution to the wind and ignore words of wisdom people have to offer you. I simply suggest that college seniors try not to be overcome with anxiety and worry when faced with the prospect of  facing the real world.  A lot of advice will come your way, and you may choose to take it, or you may choose to ignore it. If I were to go back, I would tell myself to seek advice from those people who seem the happiest with their post-graduate life, and whose careers are similar to what interests me.

My final two years in college were both exciting, and stressful. On the one hand, I finally turned 21 and discovered a world of exciting nightlife, close friendships, and cocktails. On the other, I panicked. I was trying extremely hard to “figure it all out” before I graduated. Figuring it all out entailed a summer of the most mind numbing internship I have ever experienced, GRE’s, grad school apps, and spending the last six months before graduation mass applying to thousands of jobs on Indeed and Linkedin. Only to find no job, not get into the graduate school of my dreams, and experience a heart-wrenching reality check that I would be moving home after four years of freedom.

Three weeks after moving home, I was comfortable with the idea of no graduate school, home cooked meals every night, and an internship that did not bore me out of my mind. Had I skipped taking the GRE’s before I was 100 percent sure of what I wanted to do, traveled, or stayed home and read, instead of earning money by doing work I hated, would my career have plummeted? Had I  spent more time with friends, and less time applying to jobs, would I have missed some major career opportunity? I think not.

Don’t get me wrong, a huge part of the reason I landed an internship so quickly is because I was already looking for work before graduation. Additionally, I recently applied to graduate programs ( in a completely different field), and not having to take the GRE while I worked made this process considerably easier. However, I don’t think my life would be vastly different two years after graduation had I not worried about those things, and simply tried to enjoy the last bits of my undergraduate experience.

For a lot of people my life is not the definition of success. Two years after graduation, I’m still saving by living at home, I don’t have a manager title, but I am happy. I’ve recently accepted an amazing position in marketing operations  with a large corporation, I have a fantastic group of friends and mentors, and I feel really well-adjusted to my life. I still don’t think I have it all figured out. I have yet to own a home, or attend graduate school, meet the person of my dreams, have children etc. However, I am not the only one who doesn’t feel like I have it figured out. People who have graduate degrees, are millenial homeowners ( in California!), and have amazing titles, are married, have kids, or are comfortable with their decision not to do any of these things, don’t feel that they have it figured out. People who are in their late twenties, early thirties, working at the Google’s and Facebook’s do not think they have it all “figured out.” No one really has it all figured out, and you don’t really have to.

I recently attended a Business Marketing Association ( BMA) event in downtown Mountain View, where I met VP’s, CEO’s and other senior professionals who were deep into their careers. Many of these people were trying to figure out the next steps in their life, some  were going back to graduate school after 15+ years working in one field, only to study something completely different from the field in which they had cultivated a career. Life is fluid, decisions are not final, and it is OKAY not to have all the answers right this second.

At this point I am going to leave you with some words of wisdom a truly amazing professor told our class before graduation. I don’t remember his exact words, but he said something along the lines of “In your professional and personal life you are going to face a great deal of challenges, and how you deal with them is going to define your life.”

Don’t worry about figuring it all out, live your life and the answers will come. (At least that is how it seems to be working out for me.)

 

 

Social Media Tools: A love – hate relationship.

You know those relationships, the ones where you want to kiss and strangle your partner at the same time? I think it’s one of those experiences you have to go through at least once to fully appreciate a normal, stable relationship in the future.

I kind of feel like I am in a love-hate relationship with my current social media tools. I’ve tried several, stuck to a few, and likely to meet others in the future. I mentioned in a previous post that I am trying out HootSuite Pro. A colleague warned me that it’s reporting was not exactly ideal, but with my budget and the reputation Hoot Suite has, I went with it anyway. I don’t entirely regret my decision, but I am not stoked by it either.

I mainly use Hootsuite for Twitter, and the reporting I use is also mainly for Twitter, it helps me track my week to week mentions, retweets, and follows. Those features are okay, but meager. Moreover, Hootsuite’s paid point system to get more reports out of its reporting capabilities seems extremely stingy to me considering I am paying $19.99 monthly for the service already.  I wish that Hootsuite came with free competitive analysis reports, comprehensive pre-set  templates, and that the uploader document template didn’t give my computer a near virus attack every time I tried to download and update it.  Overall, I love the basic, scheduling capabilities of Hootsuite, but it leaves a lot to be desired in terms of reporting and competitive analysis.

Some people argue that you can’t expect to receive everything you need from one relationship, which is why we have family, friends, and respective others. While Hootsuite is my main squeeze for day to day scheduling, on Fridays I like to spend time with my new best friend Fanpage Karma. For anyone looking for great analysis that compares their social media sites including Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, I highly recommend this free service! The only downside is that it does not track LinkedIn or Slideshare ( but maybe that says more about the mix of social media that I handle as opposed to the majority of Social Media Managers).

Maybe one day I will find that tool that is an end all for my troubles, something stable, reliable, affordable, and the relationship will be all encompassing, but for now I’m in a love-hate relationship with my tools. Neither of which fully meet my needs, but which together, manage to get the job done. I’d love to hear about other social media tools and reporting features

 

The Perks and Perils of Living with Parents

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“If you’re still living at home when you are 18, you’re a loser” these were the words my Social Studies teacher told our sixth grade class. I am not sure what she would say about me, at age 23, fully employed, and still living with my parents.

When I graduated from high school, my ultimate goal in life was to get as far away from my parents, my community, and the overall “bubble” I perceived the Silicon Valley to be. I was the only one in my close friend circle to flee the state for college. At 18, if you had informed me that at 23, I would be happily living with my parents post-graduation I would’ve been shocked, and possibly even depressed.

College didn’t live up to my unrealistic expectations.  I never seemed to be able to mesh peers the way I am able to connect to the people in the Bay Area. Somehow the culture of coffee, craft beer, peace corps, and study abroad was just not “my thing.” A fast paced, tech marketing job on the other hand, suits me just fine. So does the  brunching, green juicing and yoga fanatic culture of the bay area millennial scene.

I consider myself rather lucky to be home. I’ve found it much easier to find interesting work in California.  Honestly, when I first moved home, I fully intended to move out. Nearly two years later, I’m not so sure. I have a stable job. Many people with smaller incomes than mine manage to move out and get by. I think the issue is I’m not sure I want to “get by.” The choice for me, came down to financial freedom, versus financial security. I picked security. This choice has come with its perks and its perils.

Let’s start with the perks. I live in a spacious home, with a bedroom and bathroom to myself, and roommates who never have wild parties or skimp on rent. I spend none of my own money on groceries or utilities or rent. In other words, I save a lot of money. The majority of it is disposed into various retirement/savings accounts for when, if ever, I can afford to buy a house in this area. The rest mainly goes to gas, car payments, and eating out. I’m now on a strict #90dayshoppingban, so the money spent eating out is decreasing.  I’m still frugal. I try to pack lunch daily, and limit dinner outings to 2-3 times a week. My goal is to save as much money as I would spend on rent, as if I am paying rent. Yet, there are times I allow myself to invest. During my time home, I’ve spent  a considerable amount of money in pursuing education, traveling to visit friends. Moreover, I’ve been able to pick jobs based on interest, as opposed to a paycheck.  

However, it’s not all large bank accounts and endless disposable income. There are cons to living with your parents. These cons likely differ from person to person.  My parents constantly feel the need to monitor my career, lack of a grad school degree, and relationship status.  These things bother me less with time, but I’ve also gotten absolutely no better at dealing with them. It’s annoying to live with your parents. It’s annoying at 16. It’s  even more annoying at 23. I also constantly worry that I am postponing being a full fledged, independent adult. Nonetheless, if you have parents living in a city that you want to work in, and they’re nice enough to let you stay with them for an undefined period of time, rent-free, it is a genuine luxury. To anyone who has the opportunity to move home, granted they find and want to work in their hometown, I recommend that they seize it, and suck it up for a year or two. After all, it will probably be the last time you get a chance to see your parents on a day-to-day basis, and it’s a good step towards financial security if you learn to budget as though you have moved out.

Social Media on a Budget

 

This year at Redis Labs I’ve been tasked with upping our social media presence. 

I recently updated our LinkedIn and Glassdoor pages. This was really fun, especially because it gave me a chance to look through our funny sales kick off and holiday pictures.

In addition to the more hiring oriented websites, I am also trying to organically grow our Twitter followers and increase the amount of Facebook traffic to our company website

Managing multiple social media sites has been very time-consuming. Leaving me strapped for time on other responsibilities like promoting our Regional Round Table events and planning for an upcoming conference  (IBM Interconnect)! Thanks to Splash, I have sites up for both of those events :), you can read more about Splash on my post on “Event planning tools that saved my life, or maybe just my event..

Due to my constraints on time, I’ve been seeking tools that will allow me to schedule posts, and give me analytics on the impact our social media channels have.  I’ve been struggling to find options that fit a lean start-up budget. I asked our recently on-boarded PR team for their opinion on good analytics tools for our social media. The options they recommended costed thousands of dollars per month! Not exactly what I had in mind..and not exactly budget friendly for a start-up. However, we’ve come to a consensus that HootSuite’s $9.99 “Pro” plan should fit my needs. I definitely love my free account with HootSuite due to its’ ability to let me set posts in advance and edit on screen. I am also looking forward to an upcoming webinar that will teach me about analytics capabilities the Pro Hootsuite plan can offer. After some playing around with this tool, in February, I hope to post a review of my experience with it.

In addition to my free HootSuite plan, I’ve also started using SumAll, which gives me a weekly report on metrics. So far, I am only using SumAll for Twitter, so every Tuesday I get an email summarizing the number of tweets that went out the week prior, number of mentions, retweets and so on. SumAll’s user interface was slightly confusing for me, but the free weekly report alone saves me enough time to justify my recommendation that other marketing professionals consider trying to figure it out. I also want to add a word of caution, the SumAll posts your weekly report directly to your Twitter, which is not something I wanted to advertise on our company Twitter, so I had them remove that feature for me. I imagine most businesses do not want to have that post either, so if you do try this tool, go ahead and specify that you don’t want SumAll to post to your social media sites.

For more on social media on a budget check out some other useful blogs on the subject

3 Social Media Marketing Plans for Every Startup Budget

No Budget Social Media

Now that I’m working with a lean start-up budget at work, I am also trying to bring some budgeting into my own life. You can read about my personal 90 day no shopping ban on my Tumblr here.  Happy 2016, and happy budgeting!

 

 

Work to Live or Live to Work?

Americans have long been deemed the opposite of Europeans when it comes to a work life balance. We don’t know how to enjoy life. While France and Italy are famous for croissants and fine leather goods respectively, we are famous for….McDonalds? The grab and go lifestyle? Maybe this reputation is rooted in America’s history, when the Puritan’s migrated from Europe, bringing with them a culture of hard work. Not to mention that even the Native American’s who we stole the land from seemed to have a culture dedicated to farming, without much luxury. Europe, even business centric Europe, is different. You do not see a sweatpants and Starbucks crowd in London, women even dress up to go grocery shopping!

That work to live culture is being challenged… at least by those who can afford to challenge it. If you have the luxury to contemplate a work life balance I think this is a good moment to pause, reflect, and perhaps feel some gratitude. There are a lot of people out there, who for varying reasons, do not have an opportunity to even think about work life balance. It is very much a #firstworldproblem. Personally I admire those people who freely choose careers like cardiac surgeon that leave them with little to no work life balance. Executive CEOs who take two weeks or less of maternity leave because they would rather spend that time at work. I also admire those people who choose to prioritize their personal lives, the committed stay and home moms, dads, or simply the everyday folk who follow of regimen of not checking emails on the weekend or after work. Others, like students who have to support themselves and pay for their education, or people who have to work two jobs just to make ends meet remind me that choosing to value life over work is truly a gift that not everyone has.

Today I think I fall in the in-between. I work the 8 hours, check emails when I am home and on weekends, I work several weekends simply because of the nature of my work , and I will stay overtime occasionally or when I have to staff an event after work. The in-between worker chooses to find a happy medium. For me this means I leave to hit the yoga class, I take a few days off when I need to, I don’t come to work when I have the flu, and I value my career equally, if not more than my personal life.  When you love your job, I think 8 hours has a way of flying by, the weekends you work seem fun, you check emails and find it fulfilling to keep track of your overflowing inbox. However, because I am young, I think that I want to veer more towards my career because I can. When I first started this job I worked 12 -18 hours without rest fairly often, and didn’t mind it because I am unmarried, without kids, with few responsibilities and want to move up in my career and learn as much as I can while I still have the opportunity and freedom to do so. While I admire people who seek balance and even prioritization of their personal life, I find myself weary of young people who claim to want high career success while putting in only the minimum hours and avoiding the “startup life.” I recently went to a dinner, where a young, recently graduated, unemployed engineer told me he did not want to work long hours at a startup now, he wanted an easy life. My mental response to this was in line with Marty Menko’s quote in this Business Insider article “ If you can’t bring yourself to work 70 hours a week occasionally, or it feels like torture, you’re probably at the wrong job.”  I also feel that the “take it easy” mentality is exactly what gets us millennials a bad reputation in the workplace. If we don’t put in long hard hours now, when exactly, can we? In our mid-thirties and forties many of us will have additional responsibilities such as kids, spouses, mortgages, house upkeep etc.

 

Forbes had a recent article titled   “Study: Millenials’ Work Ethic is in the Eye of the Beholder” this article stated that 66% of elders find millennials hard to manage and 51% of elders say that millennials lack respect.  I don’t know the exact details of what specifically Millenials are doing that shuns them as hard to manage and disrespectful, but I think knowing these facts, we can try to alter our behavior. I do not want to get into the argument of “oh perhaps the older generations should be more accommodating,” and so on, I want to focus this blog post strictly on what is happening, and what millennials can do to improve the situation. If anything, maybe we can be less judgmental when it comes our turn to welcome Founders  into the workforce (this is a lovely new term for the generation that is post-millennials.)  For now, instead of embracing some work life ideal in our early career years shouldn’t we be seeking the acceptance of those above us, usually belonging to different generations, and trying to further our foothold, and gain a meaningful career, before we seek a balance?

If you haven’t been able to guess already, I am a little appalled by those who expect to have work life balance in their youth. Instead, I think these early career years are a time to figure out what work captures our interest, and makes us want to spend 8+ hours doing it every day. However, mine is one opinion among many. While I am strongly opposed to seeking balance in our youth, over working very hard during this time, there are certainly times when I imagine it is vital to prioritize life over work. For example, when someone is focusing on building a family. An article titled “Why Millenial  Working  Women are Leaning Sideways”  cited an analysis of surveys conducted by New York Times which revealed that mothers in this generation are “prioritizing jobs with flexible schedules over promotions, and many are factoring pauses into their careers in order to dedicate time to raising a family”Instead of seeking to choose between a career and a life women are taking time  to do both. They are essentially taking a pause from work to focus on life, and unpausing when they are ready. In cases like this I admire my generation’s creativity, and laud them for the ability to come up with a way to achieve work life balance as opposed to simply picking between work or family.

Most of us have heard the saying.. some work to live, others live to work. This saying may have been true in the past, and possibly even to some degree today. However, I think  this is a notion that is being  challenged . People are seeking to work and live life to the fullest by seeking work life balance. Perhaps more interesting to me, at least at this point in my career is  finding work that interests me enough to make a life out of it, or breathes life into me.  Maybe, one day, I will join others in leaning sideways, and seeking a balance, but for now I’ll take a page from Sheryl Sandberg’s book, and focus on leaning in.