Welcome to the GradCafe

Hello!  Welcome to The GradCafe Forums.You're welcome to look around the forums and view posts.  However, like most online communities you must register before you can create your own posts.  This is a simple, free process that requires minimal information. Benefits of membership:

  • Participate in discussions
  • Subscribe to topics and forums to get automatic updates
  • Search forums
  • Removes some advertisements (including this one!)
lovehopeful

Over-educated and Unhappy

17 posts in this topic

Posted (edited)

The title of my post says it all -- I am unhappy with the way things have turned out for me since college. I turned 30, and I need advice.

I graduated from a top-20 research university in 2009. I was a very good student (3.5 GPA), but my life spiraled out of control in my senior year when extenuating personal circumstances postponed my doctoral application plans. After two years of low-paying data entry temp positions, I enrolled in a master's program. First in social work (couldn't land a job after graduation) and later in education (studying the history of education fascinated me). I finally applied to doctoral programs with no success (all rejections). But  the hopeful side of me believed that I could work in a college or university with my master's in education. Both my master's degrees were from top-5 programs. Unfortunately, I got job interviews but no full-time job offers. I could land part-time/temporary work but not the coveted full-time job that could launch my career.

Disappointed with my lack of progress, I uprooted myself to the Washington, DC area hoping that would improve my employment options. I picked DC because I owned no personal vehicle and public transportation was very dependable. With no luck of landing a full-time job at a nonprofit or university in DC, I enrolled in another master's program in a related social science field. I landed several teaching assistantships which have helped me professionally but I feel academically unchallenged and unmotivated -- I can capable of doing doctoral-level work. When I applied (again) for PhD programs, I got all rejections. Meanwhile, I have continued to apply for full-time jobs with no success. Federal employment is also unrealistic due to veteran preference. 

I think "cultural fit" and lack of stable history has much to do with my dismal results. I feel over-educated for entry-level positions but under-experienced for middle-management positions. If things don't improve in a year, I may move back with my parents. As I get older, I get more depressed that I picked the wrong fields (despite doing well in them). If I do not become a university professor (which is possible), then I do not mind a director role in an education nonprofit or university administration (not student affairs). Is this career path realistic without a doctoral degree? 

Edited by lovehopeful

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I can't say if your career path is realistic without a doctorate, but I am wondering if you solicited any feedback from doctoral programs that rejected you.  I know programs are very busy, but every once in awhile you can get some constructive criticism if you ask.  From what you've said it doesn't seem your GPA was the problem, but there had to be something.  Not a good personal statement?  Lukewarm LORs?  Not a good fit with the department?  A gap in training/experience?  I'm in a different field, but I too was rejected during more than one application cycle and found improving the areas I was told were weaker was helpful.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's hard, but I would advise decoupling how you think of your happiness for career success. 

Any of the options you list are going to be hard to land even with a PhD, and I think you overestimate the amount of happiness you'll get from the "challenge" of the work.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I don't doubt that you're capable of doing PhD-level work, but from your writing it doesn't sound like a PhD is a good career move for you right now. I think you are much too focused on the joy that a doctoral program will bring you, and I doubt that any program could measure up. Grad school doesn't generate instant happiness, and neither does a job as a university professor. I think it's important to be realistic and realize that getting such a job is incredibly difficult. For someone who's been drifting and has done three masters degrees, I think it's a concern. I didn't read anything in your post that convinced me that you should actually do a PhD. You don't sound focused on a particular field or question; instead, you're attracted to a mystical perfect job post-PhD that doesn't exist. It's important to realize that a PhD is a long and difficult road, and that the majority of people who go into it will not get a job as a professor. Don't go into it only to get that outcome, because it's just not realistic. I think instead it might be a good idea to do two things. One is get help improving your mental health. The other is try to think about career goals, broadening your sights beyond academia.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

Quote

I was a very good student (3.5 GPA)

For a PhD applicant, a 3.5 GPA is not a very good GPA. It's just enough to not raise eyebrows - assuming this is cGPA, not GPA in major. Average admitted GPAs in PhD programs range from A- to higher.

Quote

But  the hopeful side of me believed that I could work in a college or university with my master's in education. Both my master's degrees were from top-5 programs. Unfortunately, I got job interviews but no full-time job offers.

5 or 6 acquaintances of mine graduated with their education masters in this most recent class. All of them from top programs. Those of them who are not working at entry or mid-level positions in run-of-the-mill schools and districts are all on temp contracts or doing internships. The ones who are doing work that I, an outsider, perceive as more prestigious have previous relevant work or academic experience (e.g. one got a nice opportunity in POC empowerment, and she has been doing race work since her undergrad thesis). I get the feeling that the field is competitive and a degree doesn't guarantee you a job.

Quote

I think "cultural fit" and lack of stable history has much to do with my dismal results. 

I think you're right. You don't say what your field is, but it seems like you've gotten a lot of unrelated degrees, not just subject-wise, but in terms of how they connect to your career. It seems like you got a degree in one professional field, but didn't work in that, then in another, didn't work in that either, and so on. Rightly or wrongly, you seem flaky. I struggled to get my first job out of undergrad as well, it is NOT easy out there, but I think, at a point, it may be worthwhile to stop getting degrees and consider if it's something else, like your soft skills, that needs attention.

Another factor is that, and I'm trying to put this nicely (I really am, mods!), your expectations are unrealistic. It is not possible - it is almost certain that you will not become a professor. That you would be "content" with a director role anywhere is likewise out of touch. These are all extremely competitive positions that aren't just handed out to people with 3.5 undergrad GPAs. They aren't handed out to people with 3 publications in top journals and a PhD from MIT either. You need to be an expert in your field, an exceptionally hard worker, and well-liked by your colleagues to get them. There is also a not-insignificant element of luck. Most people with PhDs don't end up in those jobs.

Quote

I picked DC because I owned no personal vehicle and public transportation was very dependable. 

lol :) To quote something I read on the internet, the DC metro sets itself on fire every day.

Edited by ExponentialDecay

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

1 hour ago, fuzzylogician said:

I don't doubt that you're capable of doing PhD-level work, but from your writing it doesn't sound like a PhD is a good career move for you right now. I think you are much too focused on the joy that a doctoral program will bring you, and I doubt that any program could measure up. Grad school doesn't generate instant happiness, and neither does a job as a university professor. I think it's important to be realistic and realize that getting such a job is incredibly difficult. For someone who's been drifting and has done three masters degrees, I think it's a concern. I didn't read anything in your post that convinced me that you should actually do a PhD. You don't sound focused on a particular field or question; instead, you're attracted to a mystical perfect job post-PhD that doesn't exist. It's important to realize that a PhD is a long and difficult road, and that the majority of people who go into it will not get a job as a professor. Don't go into it only to get that outcome, because it's just not realistic. I think instead it might be a good idea to do two things. One is get help improving your mental health. The other is try to think about career goals, broadening your sights beyond academia.

I agree with this and would emphasize that it was difficult to detect any passion in your post.  You say you want to be a professor but you don't say why, and you don't have any idea what field you would want to do it in.  It's hard to imagine how it would be possible to achieve your goal without feeling passion for the field you next stumble onto.

In your shoes I would spend a lot of time reflecting on what subject I'm actually passionate about, and to what I'd like to dedicate my life's work.  I speak from experience as I am currently transitioning from an unchallenging career into a field that not only fascinates me, but one that I believe will be extremely fulfilling as well.

Edited by 3dender

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Everyone, thank you for your feedback. It seems I did not make myself clear in my original post. My intended field at this point is education which is what I have most of my (part-time) work experience. My GPA in the master's programs are higher (3.7-3.8). The PhD programs that rejected me were social science-related (education, sociology, etc.).

I also stated that becoming a university professor is less likely at this point, which is why I mentioned alternative careers like the nonprofit sector and university administration (I was never attracted to residence life; most of my coursework focused on theory and research). Becoming a director is a goal which I know requires rising up the career ladder (if only I can get my foot in the door with a full-time offer). Staying continuously updated in the field is IMHO better than being long-term unemployed/earning no income. 

I hope this clear things up. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 minutes ago, lovehopeful said:

Everyone, thank you for your feedback. It seems I did not make myself clear in my original post. My intended field at this point is education which is what I have most of my (part-time) work experience. My GPA in the master's programs are higher (3.7-3.8). The PhD programs that rejected me were social science-related (education, sociology, etc.).

I also stated that becoming a university professor is less likely at this point, which is why I mentioned alternative careers like the nonprofit sector and university administration (I was never attracted to residence life; most of my coursework focused on theory and research). Becoming a director is a goal which I know requires rising up the career ladder (if only I can get my foot in the door with a full-time offer). Staying continuously updated in the field is IMHO better than being long-term unemployed/earning no income. 

I hope this clear things up. 

Unless you have a very good reason, you shouldn't be applying to PhD programs in multiple fields. It indicates a lack of focus.

Do you have work experience in the field(s) where you want to get a full-time job?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, lovehopeful said:

Everyone, thank you for your feedback. It seems I did not make myself clear in my original post. My intended field at this point is education which is what I have most of my (part-time) work experience. My GPA in the master's programs are higher (3.7-3.8). The PhD programs that rejected me were social science-related (education, sociology, etc.).

I also stated that becoming a university professor is less likely at this point, which is why I mentioned alternative careers like the nonprofit sector and university administration (I was never attracted to residence life; most of my coursework focused on theory and research). Becoming a director is a goal which I know requires rising up the career ladder (if only I can get my foot in the door with a full-time offer). Staying continuously updated in the field is IMHO better than being long-term unemployed/earning no income. 

I hope this clear things up. 

Education is one of the those fields where you need multiple years of full-time experience before you are going to be competitive for admission at a selective education PhD.  I am not sure what subfield that you are interested in - but I would start applying to entry level jobs and be really flexible about where you are willing to live.  

It also might be easier to get a job in whether your part-time experience was.  I know in higher ed if you don't want to do traditional student affairs work - people will look at academic advising, undergraduate admissions, registrar, college access programs like GEAR UP, etc.  Admissions is generally a safe bet because there is a high turn over from year-to-year and offices should be posting soon (if they haven't already) for the next batch of admission officers for the fall.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Do you know this illustrated guide to a PhD? 

http://matt.might.net/articles/phd-school-in-pictures/

I like it a lot because it makes an important point: A PhD is about specializing in something very specific and very narrow. You seem to have a different trajectory that's more geared toward breadth than depth. That's perfectly fine, nothing wrong with that (no cynicism here!), but it's just not what a PhD is about. The field you've chosen is also one that requires a good deal of practical work before you're a strong candidate. So I think for now @ZeChocMoose offers you very good advice: get some more practical experience (along with some counseling, I think). Be more flexible in where you live, especially keeping in mind that what you save in transportation costs you may be spending away on rent (the DC area is expensive!). I think you should only apply for a PhD from a place where you're focused and motivated, not drifting into it. I also think you should only be applying if you can accept that it might then be the last stop on this particular train, and you'll have to get off at the end of the PhD road if you can't find work in your profession -- a quite possible eventuality. A PhD makes you eligible for certain jobs, but it makes you overqualified for quite a few others, and it's also time taken away from working and gaining other experience. All of those factors should go into making the decision. Whatever it is, I think this coming cycle should be a time where you look for more practical experience and a stable job, not a time where you should be applying for grad school. 

 

the-illustrated-guide-to-a-phd1.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 hours ago, lovehopeful said:

The title of my post says it all -- I am unhappy with the way things have turned out for me since college. I turned 30, and I need advice.

I graduated from a top-20 research university in 2009. I was a very good student (3.5 GPA), but my life spiraled out of control in my senior year when extenuating personal circumstances postponed my doctoral application plans. After two years of low-paying data entry temp positions, I enrolled in a master's program. First in social work (couldn't land a job after graduation) and later in education (studying the history of education fascinated me). I finally applied to doctoral programs with no success (all rejections). But  the hopeful side of me believed that I could work in a college or university with my master's in education. Both my master's degrees were from top-5 programs. Unfortunately, I got job interviews but no full-time job offers. I could land part-time/temporary work but not the coveted full-time job that could launch my career.

Disappointed with my lack of progress, I uprooted myself to the Washington, DC area hoping that would improve my employment options. I picked DC because I owned no personal vehicle and public transportation was very dependable. With no luck of landing a full-time job at a nonprofit or university in DC, I enrolled in another master's program in a related social science field. I landed several teaching assistantships which have helped me professionally but I feel academically unchallenged and unmotivated -- I can capable of doing doctoral-level work. When I applied (again) for PhD programs, I got all rejections. Meanwhile, I have continued to apply for full-time jobs with no success. Federal employment is also unrealistic due to veteran preference. 

I think "cultural fit" and lack of stable history has much to do with my dismal results. I feel over-educated for entry-level positions but under-experienced for middle-management positions. If things don't improve in a year, I may move back with my parents. As I get older, I get more depressed that I picked the wrong fields (despite doing well in them). If I do not become a university professor (which is possible), then I do not mind a director role in an education nonprofit or university administration (not student affairs). Is this career path realistic without a doctoral degree? 

I am really sorry to hear that your situation is not getting better despite you continuous efforts. After reading your post, I just wanted to point out few things that I've noticed. Since I do not your full story, please ignore the points that might not be relevant:

1) You have a huge pride on your previous degrees (top 20 unis, top 5 programs and etc...). While these are great achievements, people would like to see WHAT you did rather than WHERE you received your training. Don't get too fixated on your awesome academic history, focus on building your awesome practical/research/professional experiences that you can talk about in the interviews. Maybe one of the reasons why you were not successful in getting into PhD programs is because you are aiming for "top schools" or "top institutions." 

2) School, program, and GPA do NOT define a person outside of academic world (mostly). You have teaching and social work credentials so working with inner city schools as a teacher or a social worker would allow you to get the field experience you need to get to the director or middle management role that you want. Just having Master's and PhD alone will not qualify you for middle management jobs. 

3) PhD requires evidence of research efforts. Looks like your Master's degrees were professional degrees without research components. I would urge you to work as a research assistant or research coordinator under social work or educational psychology profs for 2 years before you apply for PhD programs again. Building your relationship with profs in the field is a good way to get awesome reference letters. 

4) There is no ONE job or opportunity that will set you for a successful career path. You need to get your hands dirty and look for lower level positions. Most importantly, you need to commit to a field of work (educational policy? history? mental health? child welfare? homelessness ????? what is your interest????). 

As others said, I think more schooling is not a solution for you at this point. I really do hope this help! 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Another issue I didn't see mentioned is this: you got interviews but you didn't nail jobs...that means you have some things going on in your CV/Resume that is interesting to people, but you may not be doing well in the interview stage. A job offer could very well be possible if you worked on that aspect and/or got feedback on your interviewing skills from someone.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On ‎6‎/‎18‎/‎2017 at 11:37 AM, lovehopeful said:

I think "cultural fit" and lack of stable history has much to do with my dismal results.

No has asked what you mean by "cultural fit." Exactly what are you led to think about this? I cannot imagine what type of "culture" would not be acceptable, as I have seen people of all ethnicities and gender on here who have been successful. I'm much older than you and although I was worried about age when I applied, I don't believe that had anything at all to do with the rejections I received--more likely scenarios were my interests weren't in line with their wants/needs. Your undergrad grades, while OK, might not be even reach the minimum for the programs you were looking at. I think the lowest GPA of the programs I applied to were in the 3.7-3.8 realm. My GPAs were 3.82 (BA) and 4.0 (M.A.) and I was rejected at 5 of 9 programs I applied to. Education doesn't guarantee a high starting position or even a job. I made more as a paralegal in a large international firm in Denver (with only a continuing education certificate to my credit & 20+ years experience), than I will ever make as an English Professor, should I be able to actually get a tenured position. One doesn't get a Ph.D. to make a lot of money. The other posts have really good advice in them and you should give some thought to focusing on those things. Good luck!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, ExponentialDecay said:

@cowgirlsdontcry cultural fit as in work/department culture. 

Sometimes that just happens even though everyone tries to make sure it doesn't. If it was more than one program, then you need to really look at what you were thinking and doing and why the fit was so poor. If you don't work out what is causing the issues, then you could potentially make another poor choice of schools and end up with the same poor fit. I believe that everyone feels like a fish out of water when beginning a new program or starting a new job. I'm very nervous about beginning a Ph.D. program. It's a different place and I don't know what the expectations are, but I also know that by the time I'm there for a month, I will fit in.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I echo much of what has been said.

You seem to be wanting to do a PhD because you can't find a job. And viceversa. It is unclear –in your post– what your expectations and and professional aims are, and that may bleed into your interviews/PhD applications. Let me give an example: you started your post excusing yourself for not applying to a PhD right after college because of personal circumstances. As-is this would harm any job/program application. I think you are right, you have good credentials and you should get into programs. Yet, you may want to revise the way you market your work. What are you saying in your applications that is not compelling enough? 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

What stands out to me in the OP is the absence of people. As in, networking connections. Degrees mean nothing if you don't have a network to tap into.

My advice would be to find a mentor. Cold call/email if you don't have one person who can connect you to someone to help you write your resume or get experience or help craft your Ph.D applications. 

Also, do you use LinkedIn? If not, I recommend it. Not only is it great for organizing your accomplishments, but you can basically stalk the profiles of people in your dream positions. It also helps build your network in a somewhat informal manner.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now