Work, or Master Degree?

Hey everyone! Firstly, my apologies for not having an update last Tuesday. If you follow my social media, you’ll know it’s because I had my convocation going on, so last Tuesday was a pure celebration day for me.

Which leads me to this topic today, as it’s a topic very close to my heart: Work, or go for a Master’s degree?

When I decided to do my Master’s, I had already been working for almost two years. I held a permanent position as an executive in Petronas Leadership Centre, and it was honestly as if I had landed my dream job right upon graduation. But after months of thinking and deciding, I resigned, and last Tuesday, I have officially graduated after two years of pursuing my Master degree.

Here I’ll put a disclaimer that these are only my thoughts and experiences, and that your situation is definitely not the same as mine. I wasn’t married yet when I pursued my Master’s. I was living with my parents. I had no debts, no commitments to pay. If I were to further my studies, it was under a full scholarship by Yayasan Tunku Abdul Rahman, the BTAR scheme. So my decision was purely after consulting so many people and deciding for the best.

To be honest, the main reason I decided to continue my studies was because I was offered the scholarship after winning the silver Pingat Tunku Award in 2013 for my degree. I always had known that I wanted to do my Master’s one day, so being offered a full scholarship that would pay for my tuition fees, books, and a living allowance so I did not need to work (and can thus focus fully on the Master’s) was what made me consider it in the firsy place. Otherwise, why would I have gone? I had a permanent job, where the basic salary was typical O&G luxury, especially for a fresh graduate. But I had no debts or commitments, so here is the first consideration.

Consideration #1: Do you have any debt or commitment to pay?

A Master’s degree is not just about tuition fees. It comes with a lot of hidden expenses. It’s about getting the books you need (I highly oppose the practice of photocopying books). It’s about spending money to do research through data collection, purchasing the software to do data analytics (again, I highly oppose using cracked or pirated softwares). It’s about paying for your room to rent, your daily expenses. My scholarship came with a monthly living allowance. So the question is, if you pursue your Master’s, throughout the duration, do you have a steady income to pay for all your daily expenses? If yes, move on to the next point.

When I did my Master’s, I had already two years working experience in my pocket. These two years, I want to highlight, is crucial. The idea of a Master degree is to go into a niche area in your respective field of interest. And the only real way to know what you’re interested in is to go out and experience the world first. There is a sky and ground difference between theory and practice. Learning theory alone will not tell you what field you’re truly interested in until you get your hands dirty. So we come to the next consideration.

Consideration #2: Do you have any working experience? If no, can you get it while doing your Master’s?

Honestly, if the reason you’re doing your Master’s degree is because you can’t find a job using your Bachelor’s degree, you’ve chosen the wrong reason completely. Unless you’re planning to become an academician through and through, never fall into the trap thinking you’ll earn more with just a Master’s. What I have experienced is that employers these days don’t care what certificate you bring, as long as you know how to do the job and you are mature enough for it. Experience leads to maturity. A piece of paper by itself does not. And yes. I do consider being a research assistant as professional experience. 

Why do I stress the importance of work experience? Firstly, my apologies, but having a Master’s degree does not make you unique. It’s the business of universities to recruit as many postgraduates as possible, so you’re not the first or last to graduate in your Master’s. If you did an MBA, there are thousands more who also did. What makes you unique are your experiences, combined with that extra degree. Ultimately, when it comes to finding a job, it’s more of what you’re capable of doing (skills) rather than what you know (knowledge). Which leads to the third consideration:

Consideration #3: Is your degree skills-based or knowledge-based?

If you just graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in history, and without working experience, you’re going to dive deeper and do a Master’s degree in history, apart from becoming a historian or academician, where else can you go? How marketable can you be to the workforce? If you’re pursuing postgraduate purely for knowledge, then go ahead. But if you want your postgraduate to give you a competitive edge when chasing your dream job after you graduate, then make the distinction between skills and knowledge courses.

Knowledge can and does expire, so you need to constantly update yourself. Skills can only be further honed. When going for a Master’s degree, ask yourself: which skill is being honed here? How can it add to the transferable knowledge you already possess? How can it add to yourself as a person? Ask these questions. And ask the most important question, which is the third consideration.

Consideration #4: Am I doing this for myself, or to play the rat race?

Everyone knows about the rat race. Who gets married first. Who gets children first. Who buys a car first. Who buys a house first. Who finishes their PhD first. And the list goes on. Trust me, if anything you do is driven by any of these races, you will struggle and regret it one day. The only thing you should race against someone is how much good you can do compared to them. This is, to me, life’s most important consideration.

Marry because you found the person you want to spend your life with, not because everyone is asking you when. Have children when you’re mentally ready to go through the learning curve. Buy a car if you need it, but buy what is within your means, not because you’d be embarrassed of what people would say. Buy a house when you’ve figured out your finances, not because you want to show off.

People who race against others actually live very sad and unhappy lives. Because they’ll never be satisfied. And they’ll always compare. So never compare. Making the decision to do your Master’s or start working is not a tough choice. Ultimately, it’s down to what is best for you. There’s never a rush to complete your Master’s.

Do I regret pursuing my Master’s? No. I do regret I had to leave my job to do it, but all things considered, it was my choice, and I know my reasons for making my choice. The question is, do you?

Maibreakstheice is a blog where I like to tackle life questions through my personal experiences and, where applicable, through my knowledge as a graduate in family counselling. Keep your eye out for updates every Tuesday, or subscribe via email to receive updates straight to your mailbox!

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