Sign in to follow this  
Nico Corr

Which should come first; the career/work experience or the graduate degree?

Recommended Posts

I've been trawling this site and many like it for the past 2 years as in preparation to eventually apply for graduate schools specializing in my desired career path (international relations). I've been working full time while attending undergraduate classes from a top 5 Public School. I got pidgeonholed while seeking work after high school, and have been stuck in the education field, mainly in school administration for the past 10 years.  I've had my eye on making a career switch for some time, but haven't been successful for lack of having a degree, no connections to anyone in IR that could help make the switch, etc. I graduated in May, and have upped my efforts for the upcoming application season. I've taken the GRE once, and look to do so once more before the deadline to improve my scores. I've always been under the impression that in order to make such a career change, the most appropriate way to do so is to go to grad school in the desired field to get a degree which will allow you to gain the requisite knowledge, experience and connections to get a job. The more I talk to some people in the field, and the more I read other poster's threads, it appears to me that that notion is questionable.

I've read some threads on here and other places, that affirm that it's best to already have at least internship experience, connects, military experience or Peace Corps experience before even applying. Someone else I talked to that works for the federal government told me its better to get your foot in the door first, then get your employer to foot the bill for your degree.

These points are problematic for me on a number of counts: I was never interested in joining the military. Because of my personal and financial situation, I haven't had the luxury of taking on unpaid internships that often times help students get their foot in the door. I also don't have the luxury of spending two years on some foreign adventure with the Peace Corps to teach children in remote parts of Africa English, or help people in Rural Mongolia dig a well, as much as I would like to do those things. I also don't have "connects" that can help me snag a job in this field. It also seems to me that most of the people who apply for and get these jobs already have years of experience as well as advanced degrees. My question is, is grad school the best way to make this career switch, or would it be best to some way find an "in" to the IR field before attending grad school?

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

International relations is a very broad field.  What kinds of jobs/employers are you looking to work for?  In my experience, the people who are successful in this general field, and particularly within international development, have experience living and working abroad.  That's why a lot of people recommend Peace Corps.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
6 hours ago, Nico Corr said:

I've read some threads on here and other places, that affirm that it's best to already have at least internship experience, connects, military experience or Peace Corps experience before even applying. Someone else I talked to that works for the federal government told me its better to get your foot in the door first, then get your employer to foot the bill for your degree.

Yes, it is indeed best to have one or more of those things before starting grad school in the field. But, best doesn't mean it's going to be feasible for you.

A lot of this advice is intended for undergrads who plan to take out 150k for SIPA on the assumption that they'll graduate and walk into a GF at the UN and other people who have a rosier view of IR or the work world in general, and who may have not taken the time to fully explore their options. Somebody with 10 years of work experience is in a different boat. For someone like you I'd say that grad school is probably the better way, because you do have work experience that you can spin in a relevant way, and because you're kind of running out of time to make a good career change. 

The thing about IR is, it's a very competitive field. People say that it's better to build a network/relevant experience/protected status/some other kind of tenure in the field before you get a degree because, once you have the degree, you'll still have to build those things, otherwise you're not getting a job. It is entirely feasible that you will still not get a job in IR, even with a degree, because you do not have those other factors and cannot get them. People intern unpaid for years, spend decades as contractors - it's a thing. This field is messed up. If you cannot get a foot in the door any other way (which, again, for somebody in their 30s is much more feasible than for a 21 year old that can totally do Teach for America at least), go ahead, get the degree - but keep in mind that you still have to hustle.

As you already have experience in education, and if you're okay continuing work in that realm, at least for the initial while, I'd recommend you also look at strong schools of education (e.g. Harvard, maybe Columbia), which typically have a strong policy component. There are a lot of IR jobs to do with education/education policy, and it may make a more cohesive professional narrative than an MPA (I don't know if it will - I'm just making a suggestion). Just keep in mind that unpaid internships or a pay cut (in real terms) may be in your future.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

"I also don't have the luxury of spending two years on some foreign adventure with the Peace Corps to teach children in remote parts of Africa English, or help people in Rural Mongolia dig a well, as much as I would like to do those things."

 

Why do you say that?

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/31/2017 at 12:48 PM, MaxwellAlum said:

International relations is a very broad field.  What kinds of jobs/employers are you looking to work for?  In my experience, the people who are successful in this general field, and particularly within international development, have experience living and working abroad.  That's why a lot of people recommend Peace Corps.

A job with the foreign or civil service of State, analyst positions with a four letter agency or the private sector are what would interest me. I have tons of experience working with foreign nationals at my job, and people whose primary language isn't english. Haven't really had the time, opportunity or $ to live or work abroad. Peace Corps would be great, but I don't have the luxury of spending two years doing it. Maxwell is actually one of the schools I am looking at. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/31/2017 at 6:26 PM, ExponentialDecay said:

Yes, it is indeed best to have one or more of those things before starting grad school in the field. But, best doesn't mean it's going to be feasible for you.

A lot of this advice is intended for undergrads who plan to take out 150k for SIPA on the assumption that they'll graduate and walk into a GF at the UN and other people who have a rosier view of IR or the work world in general, and who may have not taken the time to fully explore their options. Somebody with 10 years of work experience is in a different boat. For someone like you I'd say that grad school is probably the better way, because you do have work experience that you can spin in a relevant way, and because you're kind of running out of time to make a good career change. 

The thing about IR is, it's a very competitive field. People say that it's better to build a network/relevant experience/protected status/some other kind of tenure in the field before you get a degree because, once you have the degree, you'll still have to build those things, otherwise you're not getting a job. It is entirely feasible that you will still not get a job in IR, even with a degree, because you do not have those other factors and cannot get them. People intern unpaid for years, spend decades as contractors - it's a thing. This field is messed up. If you cannot get a foot in the door any other way (which, again, for somebody in their 30s is much more feasible than for a 21 year old that can totally do Teach for America at least), go ahead, get the degree - but keep in mind that you still have to hustle.

As you already have experience in education, and if you're okay continuing work in that realm, at least for the initial while, I'd recommend you also look at strong schools of education (e.g. Harvard, maybe Columbia), which typically have a strong policy component. There are a lot of IR jobs to do with education/education policy, and it may make a more cohesive professional narrative than an MPA (I don't know if it will - I'm just making a suggestion). Just keep in mind that unpaid internships or a pay cut (in real terms) may be in your future.

Thanks for the response. I agree with you on pretty much all points. Being 30 I don't think i'm necessarily "running out of time", but I am trying to make this switch urgently, because I know i'tll be harder to make this change the longer I wait. I know IR is competitive, but I figured that my proximity to DC and my already substantial work experience would give me if not at least a slight edge over other people seeking jobs in this field. I didn't realize the market was that bad. Forbes recently listed a Master's degree in IR to be one of the best investments in 2016;

https://www.forbes.com/pictures/fjle45gfkg/no-5-best-masters-degree-for-jobs-international-relations/#79f02b65414c

I have actually looked at Grad programs in International Education at one of the bigger schools like Harvard, Penn etc., but I don't know if those would interest me, and even if I were to do them, I'd be stuck in the same field. I don't make a lot to begin with in my current position, so I don't know how much of a pay cut transitioning would be. I know a few people in State and within the DoD, but I don't know if I would be able to parlay those connections into a job. One of the people I know at State told me they could give me a good work reference, but they couldn't help me get a job at State. 

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 11/1/2017 at 9:04 PM, irapplicant1776 said:

"I also don't have the luxury of spending two years on some foreign adventure with the Peace Corps to teach children in remote parts of Africa English, or help people in Rural Mongolia dig a well, as much as I would like to do those things."

 

Why do you say that?

 

What I meant by that was I do not have the luxury of time or money to go around the world doing the wonderful work the Peace Corps does. 

Share this post


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

A job with the foreign or civil service of State, analyst positions with a four letter agency or the private sector are what would interest me. I have tons of experience working with foreign nationals at my job, and people whose primary language isn't english. Haven't really had the time, opportunity or $ to live or work abroad. Peace Corps would be great, but I don't have the luxury of spending two years doing it. Maxwell is actually one of the schools I am looking at. 

I can't speak too specifically to getting jobs at State, but one thing I recommend you look into is placement of a program's graduates into the PMF program, which is one of the best ways to get into the federal government.  The PMF website should have lists of who was a finalist from each school.; I love Maxwell and had an awesome experience there, but I know a bunch of people were disappointed by how few of us got into PMF.

Share this post


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

I can't speak too specifically to getting jobs at State, but one thing I recommend you look into is placement of a program's graduates into the PMF program, which is one of the best ways to get into the federal government.  The PMF website should have lists of who was a finalist from each school.; I love Maxwell and had an awesome experience there, but I know a bunch of people were disappointed by how few of us got into PMF.

Yes, PMF is extremely competitive. I know someone who works for Dept. of Interior through it. Maxwell I just learned has an executive IR Masters program in cooperation with CSIS here in DC. Probably will be much cheaper than GW, SIS or similar programs. It's actually my #1 program of interest. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

@Nico Corr I mean I don't know about Forbes. I only work in the field and am speaking from experience. You linked me to a picture that's taking up half my computer screen with 2 lines of text with no citation or even indication for where their data is coming from, so I can't even respond intelligently to this thing. imo IR is a huge and varied field, and it's stupid to make a generalization about the salary and growth dynamic of careers as varied as FS, IMF, the development consulting arm of the Big 4, and small-time NGOs that focus on teaching English to female refugees from sub-Saharan Africa. I wouldn't even take it upon myself to advise anyone about getting Federal jobs, because I don't work in that system, or about getting jobs around education, because I don't work in that area. If you know people who work at the institutions you want to work at, rather than asking them to get you a job (which is rather presumptuous when you're networking and can bias people against you fyi), ask them how one gets a job at their institution. The answer may be highly structured and specific, or it may be some iteration of "get lucky". Run your educational plans by them. 

It's not that the market in IR is bad as much as that there is no market for IR in the way that there is a market for teaching or occupational therapy. There are economists who work in IR, there are data scientists that work in IR, or doctors, or educators, or transgender activists, and your job prospects will vary greatly with your skillset and experience. Your prospects will vary based on what organization you are in or want to be in. For instance, veteran status will do wonders for your employment prospects in the Federal government and with private companies that contract for them, but it is meaningless in UN-affiliated employment. I don't even know what you want to do within IR. I do know people who made the switch after 10 years in an unrelated industry, via a graduate program, but they all had really marketable skills (strategic language fluency, significant experience abroad, quant) and they're all essentially starting over, by which I mean internships, short-term contracts, and 5 roommates in Petworth. My sample is small so of course this is anecdotal. I will only say, if your desire to go to grad school and take on debt rests on the assumption that you're going to get that $91,000 median salary, don't do it. This may be feasible in the private sector doing consulting, etc, but for the public and non-profit sectors, that is quite high. If you're just looking for a cushy sinecure, try to grow your career in education administration. With what I know of your background, this will be much easier to do.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
13 hours ago, Nico Corr said:

What I meant by that was I do not have the luxury of time or money to go around the world doing the wonderful work the Peace Corps does. 

If you say that because you support dependents then I can understand. However, I think a lot of people tell that to themselves because they see Peace Corps as something getting in the way of career advancement, or too big of an opportunity cost financially. In any case, the Peace Corps does not cost have any direct costs besides the work that you give up while you are volunteering. There were quite a few people 30+ years old in my cohort. For me it led to a full ride at AU and a job working in international exchange with China thanks to the experience and language skills I gained living there. That being said, I would certainly never recommend serving in the Peace Corps just for the career benefits.  

Edited by irapplicant1776

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 11/6/2017 at 10:36 PM, irapplicant1776 said:

If you say that because you support dependents then I can understand. However, I think a lot of people tell that to themselves because they see Peace Corps as something getting in the way of career advancement, or too big of an opportunity cost financially. In any case, the Peace Corps does not cost have any direct costs besides the work that you give up while you are volunteering. There were quite a few people 30+ years old in my cohort. For me it led to a full ride at AU and a job working in international exchange with China thanks to the experience and language skills I gained living there. That being said, I would certainly never recommend serving in the Peace Corps just for the career benefits.  

Yes, I support dependents, so it's difficult for me to participate in these kinds of programs. I have found a number of smaller internship programs that only last a week- 2 weeks abroad and I am considering those. I figured 3/4 of the people participating in Peace Corps were doing so for career benefits in the same way people do City Year or Teach for America. 

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

Sign in to follow this