graduate school

My Shifting Values of Higher Education and Dream-Job-Chasing

I recently became a fan of Marty Nemko, and it was the video at the bottom of this page that did it. There is a man who has consumed a lot of higher education and also worked for and in such institutions (both teaching and evaluating, at Berkley), yet he says higher degrees are often unnecessary and indeed a bad choice for many individuals.

This is no new idea; really, it’s very folksy wisdom in some ways.¬† America is obsessed with chasing dreams (a great thing), and we’re all about “finding one’s passion in life.” There a plenty of business podcasts and tweets telling us to quit our jobs and start our dream coffee shop. To an older generation, though, perhaps this sounds ridiculous.

After all, how many accountants ever had a burning desire to do accounting?

I’m not saying people should keep a job they’re miserable with, but I do say:

Finding a job you’re passionate about might not be as important as finding a way to be passionate about your work.

Some say it’s not what you do that matters but how you do it. Perhaps that oversimplifyies things a bit, but you get the point. A recent podcast from The Art of Manliness (Brett McKay) interviewed Cal Newport. Cal and Brett mentioned the research he found for Cal’s book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love. I listened during breakfast and thoroughly enjoyed it. You can find it here.

Here’s why I care:

I was in college for two or three years (it’s hard to keep count, considering how long I was there), and I had no major. After finally choosing Global Studies, I decided I wanted something more–practical. I wanted to teach, so I changed my major to English, with a minor in Secondary Ed and kept Global Studies as a second minor. By the way, this was after the two photography classes I took that went towards no part of my degree. I then proceeded to accept a scholarship to study Chinese for a year in Hangzhou, which counted nothing toward my degree but was an awesome experience that changed my life. I married my wife there; in fact, she’s one of the main reasons I applied. ūüôā

I now study at Harding School of Theology for a Masters of Divinity and love every class. Nonetheless, I’m 26 years old and married, so I spend much time thinking about work and school. For me, I have to balance the two, and the ratio is always an area I debate in my head: should I work more? Should I study more and finish sooner?¬† Do I need this big degree or should I go for a shorter M.A.? I can only answer for myself and not for you.

That being said, here’s my two cents:

One shouldn’t go to college just because it’s the next “logical” step for a high school student with good or decent grades. If one does go, unsure of what to study, I recommend choosing a narrow degree in business (if engineering or another topic isn’t clearly calling to you), and sticking with it: Get in, get out. Then, if you realize you want to do something else, pursue a master’s in that field.

If you really are passionate about something that doesn’t make lots of money, pursue it. But ask yourself if you need a degree to start doing that kind of work. If you want to be a writer, I’d suggest you just start writing and save your work. Build a portfolio and present yourself in front of the person you want to work for.

If you decide to go to college, though, spend some serious time studying careers before you start. Don’t lolly-gag. Look at the United States Department of Labor’s free Occupational Outlook Handbook online, and you can find estimates on specific careers (that you’ve never even considered, perhaps!): projected growth rates/demand, salaries,¬† required training, et cetera. An entire branch of government is dedicated to this research. Take advantage of it.

Watch Marty Nemko’s video. I like his observation that community colleges might be a great value! That’s great news for folks in McMinnville, Tennessee and just about anywhere. Watch the video to hear his thoughts based on experience and researching and working in that field. His job, after all, is to assess these things. Give him a listen and see what you think. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

This has little to do with intelligence and much more to do with pragmatism. Of course continuing¬†learning is good for everyone, but bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees are not the only route to a smart, successful, and happy lives. Experience, seminars, internships, apprenticeships, certificate programs, trade schools, and community colleges are valuable options for continuing education.

What Colleges and Graduate Students Don’t Want You to Know:


Additional Resources:


Spring “Break” Update

Spring is upon us, and we are ready for a break like never before. What do we plan to do during the break? Study.  Where do we plan to go? To the grocery store and back. We are not, though, without food, though the grocery was without bread for at least one night when it snowed. This is, after all, still in the south.

snow foot

Now for small news. This blog will hopefully be more focused now: ¬†I bought a domain name ¬†(¬†to host a landing page with links to my¬†r√©sum√©, a biographical section, and my blogs. It is a simple website still in the works¬†and serves as a more professional place to present myself online for career purposes. I am keeping¬†this blog,¬†though, for “personal” use, and by that I mean stuff my close friends and family will be interested in. It is still public. I might make another blog in the future for academic writing.

In other news,¬†Linli has taken an internship for a public accounting firm and is enjoying that, along with her Graduate Assistantship at University of Memphis, plus four classes, and the CPA exam preparation. Throw in four cups of my classes, a tablespoon of tutoring, and a dash of air to breath–and you’ve got yourself one beavery, busy little family.

studying hard

Now let’s hear about what I’m learning (since that was the whole purpose of coming to Memphis)–in addition to patience and perseverance.

The first class of the week, on Tuesday morning at 8:15, is Greek II. We began the semester with participles, then moved on to subjunctive mood, additional uses of infinitives, contract verbs, and more. Instead of explaining each of those now, suffice it to say that our professor, Dr. Allen Black, is helping us out as much as he can, but the key is to put in the appropriate amount of hours¬†outside of class. We’re only in class three hours a week, but we should study at least nine additional hours per class. That’s a lot of Greek.

(By the way, I’ve included links to each professor, in case you’re interested! I really appreciate them; they’re all brilliant yet really humble.)

After Greek we have chapel, and afterwards I usually walk home to eat lunch with Linli. At 1:00pm, though, comes Counseling Skills with Dr. Ed Gray. I have learned so many practical things about counseling that I really feel equipped now to counsel in a private setting. Before this semester, I really didn’t want to do any counseling, but now I feel pretty prepared.

Thursday nights from 6:00-9:00 I have Old Testament Survey with Dr. Rodney Plunket, who is the pulpit minister at White Station church of Christ. He and his daughters both have PhDs in Old Testament, so learning from him is an excellent experience. He is having us read some 300 pages of ¬†text per week; we’re looking for the “Grand Narrative” of the Old Testament: what God was doing from Genesis to Malachi. Wonderful class.

Once a month, Dr. Kevin Youngblood commutes from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, to teach us about the Minor Prophets. We read, reread, reread, and then create synthetic outlines for  four prophets each month, give or take, and read particular commentaries for each one. That class is packed and for a good reason. Dr. Youngblood is a full time professor in Searcy and preaches at Downtown Church of Christ. (Click here to hear some of his sermons). He recently crafted a commentary on Jonah that was just released in January with Zondervan. Click here for a video of him talking about the book. 

So, those are my classes. Again, the¬†work to be done outside of class is what requires most of “my” time. I actually have two weeks “off” because this week is full of classes for people who cannot be here regularly or else choose to take a class intensively: meet eight hours a day for five days and do the rest of the work outside of class. Next week is spring break, so I have two weeks to catch up on what I’m behind on–which is almost everything. There is no thing as “finishing your homework”–there is simply ¬†quitting¬†homework and¬†running out of time.

I hope you are ready for the time to change this Saturday night and for spring weather to roll in soon. I know I am.  Memphis has had her cold front, but I can feel the heat rising, and it sure gets hot here and is actually more humid than Middle Tennessee. Sweat falls differently here, and I should probably go drip some over a book.

Have a great weekend.

P.S. I’m giving up Facebook and Twitter during Lent, but I am allowing myself to blog because it requires more dedication and allows more explanation. I will also still let this blog sync to Facebook for your convenience, but I will not see any comments there until after Good Friday.