Last weekend, I received my Masters of Public Administration from the University of Illinois at Chicago – or rather, I should say, I received a nice leather folder with an advertisement for purchasing graduation photos inside of it.
A lot of things have changed for me professionally since I decided to apply to graduate school in 2010. I’ve had three different jobs, left the field that I was planning on pursuing for the rest of my life, and started working in an awesome for-profit role helping nonprofits. My original intention in getting an MPA was to become a director of development and, eventually, a nonprofit CEO. While I’m still fascinated by the nonprofit sector, I’m finding that I like being on the periphery, able to draw on my experience and expertise to help the folks who are in the trenches every day.
Still, I’m really, really glad that I got my degree. First, it was a personal goal. I’d always intended to get an advanced degree and dilly-dalleyed a bit after college, but knew that the time would quickly come when if I didn’t do it, I wouldn’t do it at all. Second, I’m glad that I did an MPA. It’s given me a great mix of skills that can be useful in the nonprofit and government sectors and helped me understand how those sectors interact with each other and the for-profit sector. And finally, it definitely boosted my analytical skills. Whether I’m reviewing data at work or reading Noam Chomsky (that’s what I’m doing in my spare time these days), I can more easily make connections, see patterns, and explain and understand why they’re important. To me, that’s been the biggest benefit of grad school: it turned my critical thinking up to 11, to quote a classic film.
I’m also glad that I chose to go to grad school part-time while working full-time. Yes, it took me three years. Yes, I was putting in 12-hour days between work and school. And yes, it absolutely decimated my personal life at times. But I get the feeling that I got a lot more out of it than my colleagues, both for the grit that I needed to get everything done, and the fact that I could connect book learnin’ to street learnin’. I was the resident expert on corporate grantmaking and social responsibility in my Public Administration Theory class.
And now I get to spend my time on fun stuff, like the aforementioned Noam Chomsky, writing on this blog, learning how to make a pie crust from scratch, and becoming an SQL expert. Recommendations for further lifelong learning welcome, because I am likely going to be bored out of my mind within a few weeks.