Back to school?

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Bill Catherall, Jun 28, 2002.

  1. Bill Catherall

    Bill Catherall Screenwriter

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    Well...I've been thinking about going back to my alma mater and getting my masters degree. I've got 2 reasons: 1) I really don't like the career I'm currently in and would like to change directions, 2) since the market is pretty bad right now for changing jobs I'm hoping that if I take a couple years off and further my education the market will rebound and more opportunities will be available when I'm finished. It's either that or I spend the next couple of years continuing my downward spiral into depression and hating my job. :p)

    My ideal would be to sell my house here and go buy a house close to school (the housing market there is about half the cost of what it is here, so I could easily buy a house and lower my monthly housing expense). Then I could get a job on-campus in the department and apply it towards valuable work experience.

    But I'm wondering what it takes to get a position as a student teacher or a research assistant. (I've got a degree in mechanical engineering and would like to pursue a masters in acoustical physics/engineering.) What kind of money does a student teacher make? Do research assistants get paid? If so, what's the average? I figure an on-campus job would be best if it can pay the bills and still give me time to study full-time.

    I'm going to have to be taking care of a family of 5 (3 kids) while going to school. So considering a housing payment of about $700/month, a car payment and insurance of about $400/month, and groceries for 5...is this possible while going to school full-time and still have time to spend with my family? My kids are still very young and really need their mom home with them. So if she works it would have to be done from our home. That's the way we both would like it. But if it's possible to do it without her working then it would make things much easier on her.
     
  2. Mark Romero

    Mark Romero Second Unit

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    Geez, Bill, your first 3 paragraphs sounded great. I was rooting for you. Then paragraph 4 popped up and I lost it. I would have a very difficult time quitting a job to go back to school with a family at home. But I wish you the best of luck. Whatever you decide, I think you will succeed.
     
  3. Bill Catherall

    Bill Catherall Screenwriter

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    Thanks Mark. [​IMG] You know you really hate your job when going back to the stress of school looks really appealing. [​IMG] And I'm not just seeing the past with rose colored glasses either. My last 1.5 years of school were literally hellacious. I was so burned out after graduation that staying for a masters (which, at the time I felt I should do) just made me feel completely nausious. I just couldn't do it. I had to get out. But now I'd gladly go back to it just to get out of what I'm doing now! Yikes!
    I've contacted one of the professors there. One that I'd be working closely with while getting a degree, and I'm going to get most of my information from him about how much this would cost me and whether or not it's affordable. I guess the program there requires grad students to be teachers assistants and research assistants, and the university will subsidize my schooling. I just have to find out how much that "subsidizing" is in real dollars and determine if this is doable. I've pretty much got my mind made up. If this is affordable then I'll be there as fast as I can pull a moving van out of my drive way! I just need to make sure my wife is good to go too.
    So has anybody else been crazy enough to leave a career and go back to school full-time? What has been your experience?
     
  4. Philip_G

    Philip_G Producer

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    I guess all I can say is there's always a way. I went to college and lasted a year, then went back after 3 years because I didn't like my career path either. I didn't have a wife and kids, so I didn't have that expense to worry about, but I've made it OK. You'll be able to get grants and financial aid up the ass (so to speak) because of your age and situation, so if it's something you want I'd take advantage of it if there's any way to swing it.
    I would imagine you could easily get a teaching position, anyone with a degree and real world experience should be able to find something in the engineering department easily. ALL my professors are retired professinals or ex military, not many of them have much more than a BS AFAIK. Most U's have a policy that staff can take XX number of credits per semester for free, so who knows, maybe you can hang out in academia for a few years as a prof. and get your masters for free, never know, you could find you enjoy teaching and have found a new career.
     
  5. Bill Catherall

    Bill Catherall Screenwriter

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    Well, I think I'm going to go for it. Unfortunately I've got to wait until the Fall 2003 semester before I can start (if I get accepted). It's too late to apply for Fall 2002 and they don't want to take Winter 2003 applications (I'd miss important classes only offered in Fall). Besides, I've got to take the Physics GRE test that isn't going to be offered again until November. They require that test score to be admitted. So I've got some preparation to do for that as well.
    This gives me a couple benefits. It gives me more time to get all my financial affairs in order before taking a big cut in salary. Also, when we sell this house we could have the benefit of just putting the profits into savings instead of another house without having to pay taxes. But then we'd have to look into some way of being able to afford a new house though...there's no way I could go back to apartment living. So the final bonus to waiting out the next year is that we'll hopefully be able to come up with some kind of plan to finance this without student loans. This will hopefully give my wife some time to come to grips with the idea. For some reason she's hesitant. It's not like we're currently in some kind of great financial situation. She loves the area...she went to school there too. We've often talked about moving back. She's not really attached to where we are now...so I don't really see the problem.
    The only downside I see is that I've got to see how I can put up with this current job for the next year. [​IMG]
    So I guess I get to start hitting the text books again to get ready for the GRE. It's a good thing I held on to those. [​IMG]
     
  6. DonRoeber

    DonRoeber Screenwriter

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    Bill,
    My fiancee is in a doctoral program here in Philadelphia. She graduated from U.Mass with a 4.0 in Biochem, and is now working on her PhD in neurobiology. The university that she goes to pays for her tuition, and gives her about $20k as a stipend. Her university doesn't require her to do any teaching. She's got about two and a half more years left before she gets her PhD. With her program, she's skipping right over a masters.

    Right now, I bring home most of the money and pay most of the mortgage. Once she's got her PhD, her starting salary will be about three times what I'm making now. So I plan on leaving my job, and going back to school to get my Bachelors. I went for a year, but didn't really enjoy it. Now I'd like to go back and get my degree. We'll also probably be starting a family around this time too, so I'll be available to take care of the kids (when I'm not in class, of course).

    Let us know what you end up doing.
     
  7. Jonathan Smith

    Jonathan Smith Stunt Coordinator

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    I also have a mechanical engineering degree (although I just graduated), and I will be starting my graduate work in the fall. I would say as far as your "average" stipend, you could expect anywhere between $1600-$2000 /month depending on the program, etc. One thing to keep in mind is that it is much harder to get funding for masters students than it is for PhD students because pretty much all the professors want PhD students. It's cheap labor and, since PhD's stay a lot longer, it's less down time getting people up to speed.

    Good luck with whatever you decide to do. I have always had a lot of respect for people who are able to leave work and go back to school, especially with families. I don't think I could do it, which is why I'm going straight out of undergrad. From what I have seen, grad students stay pretty darn busy, so you may have to get used to the idea of taking work home if you want to get home in time to spend time with the kids.
     
  8. Bill Catherall

    Bill Catherall Screenwriter

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    Yeah, the professor I've been speaking to said that they pay for tuition and give a stipend between $14,000 - $15,000 per year. During the Fall/Winter semesters they are teaching assistants or graders. During the Spring/Summer they are research assistants. I plan on living as close to campus as I can get, so even if I'm spending 10-12 hrs/day on campus, as long as I start early I'll still have my evenings free. No long commutes.

    I would have to get creative in trying to come up with the extra income. $15,000/year just isn't enough to live off of. When we were living there before with only 1 kid we were barely making it with a $20,000/year income. And that was with a $350/month rent. If we had $50,000 - $60,000 in savings then we could get along both years without a supplemental income. There's also always scholarships and grants.
     
  9. LDfan

    LDfan Supporting Actor

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    Bill, What kind of work do you do? From what I understand Mechanical Engineering is an extremely broad field. Would it be possible to switch to a different area?

    Good luck,

    Jeff
     
  10. Bill Catherall

    Bill Catherall Screenwriter

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    I design manufacturing tooling. Yes, I could just change fields within ME, but many of the other fields aren't interesting to me. And the ones that I am interested in are very hard to get into. I figure that with an acoustics degree on top of my ME degree I can open up more areas of interest.

    I've found that if you don't like what you're doing you just aren't going to be happy. The past couple of jobs I took because I needed the money, not because they interested me. Now I feel like I'm stuck in this field and I need to do something really different to get out before the inertia builds too high.
     

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