How To Go Back to School in Something Completely Different

Last summer, I took a more or less calculated risk. I left my wonderful, full-time job (at GOOD, as a matter of fact) and went back to graduate school. This was a change, to say the least. Especially given that I had been in the working world for several years. And was moving from my home in sunny Los Angeles to Edinburgh, Scotland, which is sort of like going to serve in the Night’s Watch. And was going back for computer science after studying philosophy and working as a writer. I changed just about everything at once. Even my cash flow reversed!

Unless there’s no doubt whatsoever that you are doing exactly what you were put on this earth to do (maybe you’re Lionel Messi, or, you know, the Lionel Messi of accounting or whatever) you’ve probably wondered what it would be like to switch gears and go explore that other thing you were always interested in. Well, I did it, and I’m here to report back.

(Oh, and one caveat: The following is most relevant—if it’s relevant at all—for people who are considering off-the-beaten path things in the spirit of exploration. If you’re considering law school or medical school, both of which saddle you with life-altering debt and tie you to a career, the following probably doesn’t apply.)

Dip Your Toes in the Water First

This is pretty common sensical. Grad school can be expensive. And even if you’re funded, you’ll be sacrificing time and the salary you could be making doing something else. So test your interest first. I did some coding on the side to make sure I liked it—and even then I chose a one-year masters degree. (The one-year masters, by the way, is very popular in the U.K. I highly recommend it.)

If you’re considering culinary school, for example, maybe volunteer in a restaurant or bakery or construct some sort of cooking curriculum for yourself first. In other words, find a low-commitment version of the thing you may want to do and do that first.

It’s Actually Probably Not Completely Different

I studied philosophy in college; now I’m doing computer science. What could be more different, right? One’s all about logical reasoning and working with abstractions and uncovering inconsistencies and the other…. Well, the other is fundamentally also about those things. Actually, the differences are sort of superficial. Maybe you have a math background and you want to go study music. Read Gödel, Escher, Bach. Surprise! Music and math are totally related.

Even if you’re going from medieval history to astrophysics, there will be skills that transfer. At the end of the day, there are a few really important general cognitive tools—conceptual analysis, facility with language, mathematical reasoning, creative thinking—and most of them are useful in most contexts (the Messi exception applies here, too).

The Lifestyle Change Is the Big One

I was prepared for a really harsh adjustment to the academic aspect of school. But you know what? The lifestyle change was the curveball. All of a sudden I didn’t have a clear separation between work and free time. Eating out all the time felt a little irresponsible. I was surrounded by nerds instead of hipsters and yuppies (to generalize and stereotype). These are the adjustments that were hardest, not the work itself. This will be especially true if you switch cities, countries, or languages at the same time.

You’ll Be Better Prepared

In college, I was prone to procrastination. I often prioritized fun and then scheduled just enough time to get my work done. After working in a real job for many years, I just no longer have the same impulse to procrastinate. Working all day feels natural. If you’ve adjusted to the 9 to 5, you’ll be shocked at how good you are at getting stuff done in school. If you have classmates who went straight into grad school, you’ll shake your head when you see them pulling all-nighters. You’ll also approach school as an opportunity rather than an obligation. You’ll be more efficient and more motivated.

Know Why You’re Doing It

Yes, so this is all about exploration, but you should still know why you’re going back to school. If you’re following some latent and ill-defined impulse, it can be hard to articulate your rationale. But have some answer. Know you’re doing it because it’s on your bucket list. Or know you’re doing it because you needed a change. Or know you’re doing it simply to explore. You don’t need an answer that makes sense to everybody, just have some answer you can give yourself when you ask yourself “Why the fuck am I doing this again?” Because you’ll probably ask yourself that more than once.

Enjoy the Ride

If you do go back to school to change directions or explore, enjoy the exploration. Yes, you’ll have friends advancing along some clearly defined path towards some clearly defined goal. Maybe you’ll be tossing yourself off some mid-level rung of the corporate ladder you’re clinging to. That can be uncomfortable. But what you’re doing is spending a year or two or three having an entirely new experience, rather than settling for the same old routine. If you enjoy the ride, that can be an excellent way to spend your time—and, really, what’s more precious than time? It’s all we have. So enjoy it.

high dive image via shutterstock

via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less

There is no shortage of proposals from the, um, what's the word for it… huge, group of Democratic presidential candidates this year. But one may stand out from the pack as being not just bold but also necessary; during a CNN town hall about climate change Andrew Yang proposed a "green amendment" to the constitution.

Keep Reading Show less
Me Too Kit

The creator of the Me Too kit — an at home rape kit that has yet to hit the market — has come under fire as sexual assault advocates argue the kit is dangerous and misleading for women.

The kit is marketed as "the first ever at home kit for commercial use," according to the company's website. "Your experience. Your kit. Your story. Your life. Your choice. Every survivor has a story, every survivor has a voice." Customers will soon be able order one of the DIY kits in order to collect evidence "within the confines of the survivor's chosen place of safety" after an assault.

"With MeToo Kit, we are able to collect DNA samples and other tissues, which upon testing can provide the necessary time-sensitive evidence required in a court of law to identify a sexual predator's involvement with sexual assault," according to the website.

Keep Reading Show less

Villagers rejoice as they receive the first vaccines ever delivered via drone in the Congo

The area's topography makes transporting medicines a treacherous task.

Photo by Henry Sempangi Senyule

When we discuss barriers to healthcare in the developed world, affordability is commonly the biggest concern. But for some in the developing world, physical distance and topography can be the difference between life and death.

Widjifake, a hard-to-reach village in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a population of 6,500, struggles with having consistent access to healthcare supplies due to the Congo River and its winding tributaries.

It can take up to three hours for vehicles carrying supplies to reach the village.

Keep Reading Show less
via Keith Boykin / Twitter

Fox News and President Trump seem like they may be headed for a breakup. "Fox is a lot different than it used to be," Trump told reporters in August after one of the network's polls found him trailing for Democrats in the 2020 election.

"There's something going on at Fox, I'll tell you right now. And I'm not happy with it," he continued.

Some Fox anchors have hit back at the president over his criticisms. "Well, first of all, Mr. President, we don't work for you," Neil Cavuto said on the air. "I don't work for you. My job is to cover you, not fawn over you or rip you, just report on you."

Keep Reading Show less