I’ve had this discussion quite a few times with a close friend, always seemingly failing to convince her that it’s not an effort in vain and it’s certainly not a waste of time.
Yesterday, published a debate showcasing viewpoints from experts in the industry and academia on what a master’s degree is worth and, although, I can understand their focus being a simple return on investment, I think a master’s degree is not just about getting a higher salary. What I learned during my two years as a master’s professional candidate at The University of Iowa helped me become a better journalist. And, perhaps, a better person.
For me, it was a process of personal awakening. Here’s an excerpt from my master’s thesis:
This project represents much more than my ticket to graduate from The University of Iowa, although that might be counted as one of the goals. This project traces my own quest to overcome my fears of disability. I ventured into this project laden with assumptions, stereotypes and prejudices. As I waded through texts on disability studies, I began to realize the complexity and depth of the issues involved. But it was meeting and talking with people that brought the issues to life. Books analyzed the schism between the worlds of the disabled and the non-disabled; human beings illustrated that divide – and also showed me how it could be crossed. Although I still haven’t overcome my deep-rooted fear of confronting disability in myself or a loved one some day, I have come to appreciate and understand that disabled people have lives whose quality should not be judged by those of us who have never experienced disability first-hand. It was not easy to open up to those I regarded at least subconsciously as lesser than me because of their disabilities and my so-called abilities. But by the end of the process, they had helped me learn more about myself than I ever imagined.
As a master’s student you are afforded the privilege to learn, not by rote, but by stretching your mind. You exercise your brain muscles, you learn rigorous research skills, you care about the subjects you choose, you exhibit focused interest and you’re exposed to a lot more intellectual debating that you probably never had time for, or cared about, as an undergrad. You also get more time with professors, aligning your interests with theirs, making it more of a symbiotic relationship than one where you’re just absorbing like a sponge and spitting out learned material.
You discover yourself. You find out your strengths and weaknesses and you get a chance to polish the former while eliminating, to whatever extent possible, the latter. And when you step out into the world, you know better.
When I applied for my first job right out of grad school, I wasn’t considered a fresher. Those two years of my life accounted for valid “professional experience.” And people value that, no matter which industry you’re in. Down the line, you’ll see how many people are impressed by the fact that you have a master’s degree — why? Because not many people do. (Almost) Everyone gets a bachelor’s these days…that’s basic. What you have to offer a prospective employer is something more.
You were passionate enough about a subject to set aside the time to explore it further; you went through extra academic trials; you persevered for something you have a demonstrated interest in; and you thrived. A master’s degree on your resume reflects a lot of who you are.
At the end of the day, if it gets you a higher-paying job or that coveted promotion, great! But know, that that is not the real reason why you pursue graduate education. You do it because you love learning, you want to grow, you’re inquisitive and you’re committed. It’s because you want to grow personally and professionally. It’s because you care.